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Why language classes do not work

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28 messages over 4 pages: 1 2 3 4  Next >>
casinospt
Diglot
Newbie
Portugal
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Speaks: Portuguese*, EnglishC1
Studies: German

 
 Message 1 of 28
06 October 2008 at 8:54am | IP Logged 
Tim Ferriss has some good points:

What do you think?


http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/09/22/why-language -classes-dont-work-how-to-cut-classes-and-double-your-learni ng-rate-plus-madrid-update/

Edited by casinospt on 09 October 2008 at 9:26am

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maya_star17
Bilingual Tetraglot
Senior Member
Canada
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269 posts - 291 votes 
Speaks: English*, Russian*, French, Spanish
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 2 of 28
06 October 2008 at 11:17pm | IP Logged 
Strongly agree, especially with the second and fourth points. I brought myself to near-native fluency of French after 3 years of study, at a time when most of my classmates had been studying the language twice as long as me and still didn't know enough to even introduce themselves in French (I kid you not). I used books, CDs, movies, and immersion programs, and did not even learn the majority of French grammar.

This reminds me of All Japanese All the Time - a blog owned by a guy who learned the Japanese language to a solid level of fluency in 18 months (I know people who have studied Japanese for 8+ years and still cannot maintain a conversation). He took no classes and didn't learn any grammar; the learned the language by listening to audio 24/7 and reading/writing a few hours a day.

One learns languages by using them, that's all.
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Deecab
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
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106 posts - 108 votes 
Speaks: English, Korean*
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 28
07 October 2008 at 12:09am | IP Logged 
It is sometimes the only choice whether they work or not. Not everyone has the chance to immerse in a country or listen to audio 24/7. I don't think classes are necessarily bad; it's just limited.

The problem about classes is that, they do almost everything that you can do by yourself with the resources. So your progress will be slower than what you expected when it could have otherwise been faster.

And people who claimed to have learned language quickly put hours a day of learning. It's a matter of your devotion too.
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dutos
Newbie
Argentina
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35 posts - 35 votes
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 4 of 28
07 October 2008 at 1:15am | IP Logged 
It really depends on the student more than anything else. I know A LOT of people who study English as a 2L. Some of them acquire strong conversational skills in as little as a year (or less sometimes), while others take many years to get to the same level.

Usually the ones that acquire the skills the quickest seem to be the ones that do the homework and study on their own. **In other words, they're really and truly interested in learning.**
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dutos
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Argentina
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Speaks: English*

 
 Message 5 of 28
07 October 2008 at 1:35am | IP Logged 
Regarding the article, he's trying to put the whole process into a neat little cookie-cutter, and it just can't be done.

Point #1-- Materials are a huge factor, but a teacher has to make due with what's available and SUPPLEMENT the materials if need be.

Point #2-- I disagree:
If you have one student who is **a little** (I said a little.. I didn't say a lot!) weaker than the others, it can actually help. When the weaker student asks a question, let the other people attempt to answer FIRST. By doing that, the person who can give the answer gets an extra opportunity to reinforce what they already know (recalling and speaking).

AND guess what Ferris?? Some people are better at speaking and some people are better at writing. So who's really the smarter/better student? The challenge for the teacher is helping the student bridge the gap to become effective at all aspects of communication in a language.

-- Ferris keeps mentioning fluency.. how he achieved fluency in 10 weeks. Yeah right! Fluency to me means native abilities with no accent. Why doesn't he just use an objective measure like the European system? After all, he IS in Europe, isn't he?

-- To his credit, I agree with the conversational aspect, and to add further to it, the more stress you have, the better. People often say that alcohol allows for people to speak better in a foreign language. This is true, but it's also TOO EASY. Once you find yourself in a high-pressure situation, and you have to use your language skills, you'll wish that you'd avoided the alcohol.

I've never heard of this guy before, but does he sell anything, by any chance?

Edited by dutos on 07 October 2008 at 1:39am

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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4952 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 6 of 28
07 October 2008 at 2:11am | IP Logged 
dutos wrote:

Point #1-- Materials are a huge factor, but a teacher has to make due with what's available and SUPPLEMENT the materials if need be.


Why, as a student, would you go to a place with lousy materials, given a choice?

Also, some teachers are much better about supplementing than others.

dutos wrote:

Point #2-- I disagree:
If you have one student who is **a little** (I said a little.. I didn't say a lot!) weaker than the others, it can actually help. When the weaker student asks a question, let the other people attempt to answer FIRST. By doing that, the person who can give the answer gets an extra opportunity to reinforce what they already know (recalling and speaking).


A weaker student isn't the same as ones who slack off and do nothing. A sufficiently weaker student, even if trying hard, can make things less useful for everyone. No one expects all students to be 100% identically at the same level. Hence, you're addressing an entirely different issue.

dutos wrote:

-- Ferris keeps mentioning fluency.. how he achieved fluency in 10 weeks. Yeah right! Fluency to me means native abilities with no accent. Why doesn't he just use an objective measure like the European system? After all, he IS in Europe, isn't he?


Then your definition of fluency is essentially useless for non-native languages. It's equivalent to what this forum calls "native fluency"; a few non-natives achieve it. Most people set the bar for fluency rather lower: I'd certainly consider Joseph Conrad to have been fluent in English, despite his retention of a Polish accent. If you can speak 'flowingly' (ie, without having to pause to think of words and conjugations) and have conversations on arbitrarily topics, you're at 'basic fluency'.

Ferris has also used various European scales in other things he's written. That said, he's from the US.

dutos wrote:

I've never heard of this guy before, but does he sell anything, by any chance?


Yes, his book - which isn't language-related - and some edible supplements.

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dutos
Newbie
Argentina
Joined 4426 days ago

35 posts - 35 votes
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 7 of 28
07 October 2008 at 2:45am | IP Logged 
materials - I've never seen a single book that has everything.
I do agree with him on the idioms. Languages are filled with idiomatic expressions. I don't know how people can communicate very "fluently" without knowing them.

students - that's why they give placement tests. You can't have a beginner student in an advanced class. That's why I said that you can't have a HUGE difference. But a little difference can be a good thing.

Fluency - You sound very forgiving of accents. When Arnold Schwartzenegger arrived in America, he spoke broken English with a strong accent. I would not call that fluent. However, the English that he speaks today (even with a light accent), I would say that this is definitely fluent.
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Cainntear
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Scotland
linguafrankly.blogsp
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 Message 8 of 28
07 October 2008 at 4:50am | IP Logged 
Sorry, dotus, but the word "fluent" means "with flow". This is easier to understand if you know a bit of Spanish -- "o"->"ue" and all that, and the Spanish for fluent is "con fluidez", which describes the same idea of flowing.

As for the article, it's all bluster.

Section 1:
He says to choose a school for its materials, not its teachers, but gives no hints for determining what good materials are. The only concrete advice in that section is not to fall for the old "immersive" sales pitch. I agree with him on that.

Section 2:
As others have said, going as slow as the slowest student is not necessarily a bad thing. The author himself says practise is required. Most classes don't give you enough practise simply because they have a rigid curriculum and the teacher gets rushed. The best language class I had was by an old school headmistress who taught us at our own speed. It was an absolute beginners class' but by standard reckoning we should have all learnt at different rates. We all learnt pretty much as well as each other.
Demotion is not the way (except in extreme circumstances), as each level has its own content, and it's massively demoralising to be kicked into something "easier" and find yourself hopelessly lost because you're not familiar with the lexical content (vocabulary and idioms) of the course.

Section 3:
The not-entirely-profound statement "you need to use the language as well as study it" takes him four paragraphs. I agree on the whole with what he's saying.

Section 4:
I more or less agree with.

Conclusion:
His conclusion meanders a bit, and seems to simply be an overlong restatement of section 3. His bit about mistakes is too conventional, and provides no new insight.

I find the received wisdom of "only learn by making mistakes" to be entirely wrong-headed. In the case of learning to ride a bike, it is true. We learn to associate the feeling of being off-balance with the feeling of hitting the tarmac and we learn to adjust our balance in order to avoid falling. There is no conparable subconscious mechanism for correcting our language. A good class will minimise the probability that we make mistakes in the first place, and if we get rid of the old-school "prescriptivist" notions, then we're most of the way there. We can learn from our mistakes in language, but only so much. If we make a lot of mistakes we will only get ourselves confused by trying to remember not to do them all again. A few small mistakes are OK, lots of consistent recurring errors are nigh-on impossible to deal with.


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