Quick Write 083111 “Lower your anxiety wall”

It was the first day of the second semester at the foreign language institute where I teach once a week. The syllabus for the second semester that I distributed to the students includes the assignment of weekly recitation task and weekly submission of a Quick Write product to QWF. The objective of in-class Quick Write activity is, as repeatedly presented on the forum, to increase writing fluency which enables learners to write nonstop while putting their thoughts into English without reservation or hesitation. I’ve add the submission of their revised version of Quick Write piece to the forum after writing a draft for 10 minutes in class. It shouldn’t be an easy task to do to revise the piece and post it to the forum regularly, but I’m sure they’ll benefit from this practice.

First, it’s very effective to proofread your own piece and revise it. You can learn a great deal from yourself and your writing. You might want to look up words in the dictionary, search appropriate usages by Googling, and reread your piece many times for perfection. While scrutinizing your own pieces, you’ll learn a great deal of grammar and vocabulary which you’ll never be able to obtain from teacher’s feedback alone. You’ll learn a great deal from your own mistakes which will make you become closer to an independent, autonomous learner.

Additionally, it’s simply “fun” to post something online in English. To read your English piece online gives you huge satisfaction and sense of attainment. At the same time, some people could suffer from anxiety that their pieces might contain silly errors, or other learners would judge their pieces as low quality or laugh at their writing. I understand their sentiment to some extent, but I would like such people to consider “Which is more important, how other people would think of you and your writing as, or whether your writing skill would be improved?” The more you write and post your piece online, the less anxious you’ll feel toward your piece, I guarantee. It doesn’t mean that you can let errors untouched or you don’t have to revise your piece. If the anxiety is the only thing that prevents you from do more writing practice, you can just forget about others (What will they do for you to begin with? Almost nothing! ) and focus on your own improvement and progress. After all, it’s just “practice”, right? No one expects you to write like Hemingway or Haruki Murakami. Relax, and enjoy writing. Enjoy your practice.   

(30 minutes / 420 words)

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"Jump it over!"




Quick Write 083011 “Hierarchy of speaking skill”

I’m reading a book on English learning methodology called “残念な人の英語勉強法”. The title sounds rather shocking, but the content seems to be relevant to those who’d like to learn English while having their full-time jobs. Chapter 2 of the book covers undesirable English learning methods, and I found an interesting topic there. Mr. Masashi Yamazaki, the author, talks about the hierarchy of speaking skill which consists of the following three layers.

The basic layer: Pronunciation and Grammar.
The middle layer: Vocabulary
The top layer: Speaker’s Literacy

I suppose that there should be little argument regarding the basic and middle layers, though there could be situations, for instance, where the richness of vocabulary makes up the lack of speaker’s grammatical competency. What I found unique is the top layer, speaker’s own literacy. I’m not quite sure if the word “literacy” is appropriate or relevant to talk about this issue, but I agree that what really counts in trying to develop communication in English is the amount and the depth of the background knowledge and familiarity of the topic being spoken.

As the author suggests in the book, what if you understand what is spoken and what it means, but don’t have anything to say about? What would you say if one of your close English speaking colleagues asks you out of the blue like, “What’s your speculation on the possible risk in recent Dow futures trading?” If you’re an expert in the field, fine, you’ll start giving some lecture or go so far as to give financial advice. But I’m not at all an expert and will never say anything specific or beneficial except “What? ‘Dow futures trading’? Sorry, I have no idea. But what makes you think I can answer that question to begin with? You’re asking a wrong person.” or something like that.

The literacy that we discuss here cannot or should not be defined uniformly. The literacy you’ll need depends on what topics you’d like to or will need to speak in English and how you present your thoughts and ideas to your conversation partners. It is total nonsense that you have “nothing” to tell although you have impeccable, flawless speaking ability, isn’t it?

(30 minutes / 376 words)

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Quick Write 082911 “Celebrating 100th thread”

onight, Quick Write Forum (QWF) is celebrating its 100th thread. Since its launch on June 3rd, QWF has had lots of contributors and visitors who have been a driving force to make this BBS alive and exciting. As of August 29th, there are approximately 3900 page views, which average more than 40 daily visits to the forum. I’m grateful for every one of you who have shown interest in QWF, paid regular visits to the site, and contributed your valuable pieces. I would really appreciate your continued support.

Regarding my own writing practice, Quick Writing (QWing) has become part of my daily routine to the same level of brushing my teeth or taking a bath in a sense that I’d feel uncomfortable or there’d remain something necessary to be done if I didn’t do it. I once (almost) intentionally skipped QWing when I came home drunk late at night. The thoughts and feelings that I had the next day were much worse than a terrible hangover. I realized it was much, much better to do QWing no matter how drunk I was, no matter how unwilling to do QWing I was, no matter how lame and awful my QW product would turn out to be.

As the 100th thread was approaching, I tried identifying what QWing has given to me. Technique-wise, I have yet to recognize that my writing skill has been improved to a large extent. Each time I do QWing, I’d have the sense of attainment or fulfillment that I’ve done what I committed to myself, but I’m never fully satisfied with my QW pieces. Sometimes, I feel like abandoning the piece that I’m working on, and start from scratch. Other times, I find careless, embarrassing grammatical errors or questionable word-choices in my piece by myself, or by my friend’s insightful feedback, which in fact is a blessing for me to identify the type of errors I’d make unconsciously. Or, I feel awkward to post the product that I wrote in a very romantic mood, but found very cheesy and slushy after returning to be “sober”.

But for me, the quality, the value, or whatever I conceive toward my finished pieces doesn’t really matter. What really counts to me is keep QWing, producing a QW piece for my own learning. It may sound that I don’t take QWing seriously. It may make you doubt if the whole QWing thing is effective to English learning. Honestly, I don’t have valid counterarguments for those challenges at this moment. However, I’ll have something to argue back when I send my piece to the 1000th thread, instead. So far, the largest and most significant thing that daily QWing gives me is simply the joy of writing in English. The time to bask in the endless ocean of English. The moment to find out the right words, phrases, and sentences to depict my thoughts and ideas. The thrill to keep on writing not knowing where I’m headed for, and find the end of the long, dark tunnel. If you haven’t post your English pieces in any cyberspace, you’re missing something very exciting. Please post your own piece to Quick Write Forum. It will make you very proud of yourself and make you want to write more. I bet.

It’s only been three months. It’s just 90 days. I’d simply like to celebrate the fact that Quick Write Forum has its 100th thread thanks to all the visitors and contributors. And hopefully, the forum will be the venue for sharing the joy of writing with more and more English learners who haven’t experienced the pleasure that this daily casual writing practice brings.

Thank you again, everyone, for making this happen.

(70 minutes / 617 words)

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Quick Write 082811 “Capitalizing on Twitter addiction”

“You’re officially a Twitter addict.” That’s not what a shrink said, but what one of my friends said to me while we were dining at a Mongolian mutton barbeque the other day. You can say that again. Yes, I’ve been deeply into Twitter. Why I opened an account there was that Mr. Ishiwata, a renowned English teacher, strongly promoted starting Twitter and tweeting in English on his blog. I was skeptical of the SNS which was introduced in Japan just a few months before, and didn’t take his words seriously. Mr. Ishiwata kept reporting what he tweeted and the responses from his followers on his blog, and I gradually developed my interest in joining his community. I still remember that my very first reply was from Mr. Ishiwata himself, which encouraged me to stay on Twitter. Initially, I tweeted only in English strictly for my English learning as Mr. Ishiwata suggested, but soon realized I couldn’t connect to many people in Japan unless I tweet in Japanese. My anticipation turned out to be true, actually. Once I stared tweeting in Japanese as well, my followers began to increase. Now I mainly tweet in English because my objective of being on Twitter has changed since then. I’m on Twitter for my English learning with pleasure. Luckily, I have wonderful friends who are willing to talk to me in English and I heartily enjoy conversations with them. Also, Twitter can be my slate to keep track of my daily English practice. Plus, I enjoy expressing what’s on my mind in English in a plain, straightforward way. Those words come out of me, so everything is my own creation. And I can keep the record of my words to myself or to others as well as other people’s words that I’d like to retain. That’s really something, isn’t it?

I know that lots of English learners enjoy tweeting, but I also know that not many people tweet in English. That’s really a shame. I understand that they want their tweets noticed by the people with the same or similar interest in Japan, but I also understand that those English learners’ main interest, or priority is to be a better English user. So, why not take advantage of this free cyberspace where you can write anything in any language? I tweet strictly for myself and for my own pleasure. So, I don’t really care how people think of my tweets, how they react to them, or how my tweets contribute to raising my visibility as an English teacher while trying not to offend people in undesirable ways as much as possible. I’ve long known that I tend to stick to one thing that grabbed my interest. More candidly speaking, I’m kind of a person who is prone to developing an “addiction” to one particular thing. True. Once I get hooked on a movie, for instance, I’d watch it at least two or three times a day. Once I come to love one particular song, I’d listen and sing to it at least ten times a day. Now, I’m officially a Twitter addict. Thank you. So, why not capitalize on my addiction for my own English learning? I’ll keep on tweeting in English. It’s so fun, beneficial, and “addictive”.

(45 minutes / 544 words)

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Quick Write 082711 “Two difficult questions to answer”

There are two difficult questions for me to answer in terms of English learning. If I disclose this secret of mine, I would inevitably disgrace my qualifications as an English teacher if I ever have those. One is “How I learned English” and the other is “Why I (still) learn English”. I can vaguely imagine what those who ask these questions would like to hear from me, but the more seriously and sincerely I try to answer the questions, the more distant my answers will be from what I recognize myself and English learning as.

The first question, “How I learned English” takes at least three days to answer to begin with. No, just kidding. The encounter with English was when I took my first English class in junior high. Some of my classmates had started learning English at some local private schools, such as KUMON, and a couple of them were returnees from English speaking countries, but I didn’t know anything about English. I started English learning from learning how to spell A, B, C in both block letters and cursive styles, got surprised how troublesome it could get to remember how to spell each word. I learned everything from scratch, literally, and since then, I’ve continued learning English with a short break in my twenties. When I come to think of my English learning history, everything, and anything I did to my English learning has made the proficiency that I currently possess. I can definitely say that I am more proficient than last year, and much more proficient that five years ago. To explain how I learned English could get a quite long story, and I cannot pick up one moment or two when my proficiency was dramatically improved. This, I’m aware, is far from ideal as an English teacher. English teachers should be prepared to share some enlightening or thought-provoking episodes of English learning to encourage learners who asked such a question. I do have some memorable moments in my English learning life worth sharing with other learners, but cannot possible pin down how I learned English. (Do I sound lame? I guess so…)

The second question, “Why I (still) learn English” is much simpler that the first one, but yet not an easy stuff. All I can say is “Because I like it. Period.” I often recall the moment when my mother asked me if I’d ever got tired or bored of learning English seeing my studying English for hours and hours. I remember having replied to her like “Never. I can study English for all day. English is not just a subject that I study for a test. I just like learning it.” The thought I conceived at that time has never changed since then. Some twist of fate had me choose not to major English at university, but I’ve long maintained this “attachment” to English and English learning. So honestly, I cannot share how hate-to-learn-English-but-have-to people feel toward English learning. As a professional English teacher, though, it seems necessary or even imperative to imagine how they’d feel, think, and react to English learning as much as possible, but seriously, I’m aware that I’ll never fully share such sentiment deep down. I like learning in general, but English learning itself has occupied a special space within me since I encountered it. It’s probably more accurate to put it like “living with English” as my English learning friend describes.

(40 minutes / 573 words)

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