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Quick Write 123111 “Self-assessing my speech”

As I reported in the QW pieces, I’ve been taking online English lessons for five straight nights. Initially I was going to launch this new project in 2012, after I finish all the school course work in May 2012 at the latest, but I just couldn’t wait to do so. Then my project started “unexpectedly” right after Christmas. Looking back a year ago December, I realized that I had stared something just before Christmas. My own blog. It seems that I have a tendency or liking for taking up a new stuff around Christmas. I’m guessing it’s just because Christmas is the time to be thankful and wish well to those around you, look back what you have and have not done during the year, and suddenly and abruptly feel like making up for what you could’ve done. Am I the only one who’d think that way?

I took five lessons so far and recorded two of them. I did so in order to self-assess my speech with instructors. Listening to your own recorded voice requires a decent amount of courage and patience (well, I know it depends on your personality). I occasionally record my speech in class to self-assess and improve the way I teach, so I’m a bit more immune to listening to my own (embarrassing) voice than those who’ve never tried doing so.

What I took away from those recordings was enormous. It came to me so clearly that I need to work on my pronunciation, sentence structure, vocabulary use, tempo and rhythm in speech, communication strategies including turn-taking and everything. You can learn a great deal from your own speech in online interactions. I mean “online interactions” as going-back-and-forth communications such as oral conversations and discussions. “Offline interactions”, on the other hand, refer to exchanging e-mails or texting, and basically through written language. Online interactions with English speakers require L2 English speakers like us to be much more spontaneous than offline interactions because the response time is much limited. Spontaneity requires a high level of automaticity of the language processing, and thus makes us realize what skills we need to automatize through repetitive practice. It’s even painful to listen to your awkward speech with an English speaker, but we should be reminded that it’s the pain that we need to go much further.

(40 minutes / 387 words)

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This is the IC recorder I use: Voice-Trek DS-51

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Quick Write 123011 “My first discussion lesson”

Tonight’s Skype session was an article-discussion lesson that I took for the first time. I had no idea of what such lesson is going to be like, but I wanted to take one. When the instructor asked what my interests were after a brief short small talk, I asked him to give me a brief description about the discussion lesson instead of answering his question. He soon understood my intention and sent me the link to today’s article titled “India Says No to ‘Ragging’”. http://rarejobdailynewsarticle.blogspot.com/2011/12/india-says-no-to-ragging.html

The impression I had for the article-discussion lesson was pretty good, means I might want to take such lessons for some time. The lesson structure is as follows:
1) Answer a couple of topic-related questions to activate schemata (=background knowledge)
2) Read 5 words with their definition and example sentences
3) Read the article aloud
4) Answer 3 or 4 comprehension questions
5) Answer 3 or 4 discussion questions

The target 5 words are “rampant, anonymously, shear, dedicate, and halt”, which caused me no problem and the passage is less than 250 word and plainly written. But to read the passage aloud and comprehend its content simultaneously without pre-reading, and to answer article-related questions successfully is a different thing. I suppose the effectiveness and the perceived difficulty of such a lesson depends on how familiar and relevant the topic and the passage are to the learner. The way I view tonight’s session is that an article-discussion lesson may be effective to foster the fluency and spontaneity of my speaking and I need to continue taking the lessons for at least several months to see something in my speaking skills.

(30 minutes / 273 words)

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Quick Write 122911 “The movie Freedom Writers”

My fourth Skype lesson was booked at 24:30. I got back home just 5 minutes earlier than that. I was informed by e-mail that the instructor that I initially reserved became unavailable. It wasn’t a problem for me because the instructor who was replacing him was the one who I booked a lesson the day after tomorrow. As soon as the lesson started, I was surprised or even impressed with how relevant his questions were to my current interests. He kept asking my views on English teaching and learning from various viewpoints and I had opportunities to organize my thoughts while reflecting on what I am and have been doing to my English.

When we were talking about how to teach writing, the instructor recommended me to watch the movie “Freedom Writers (2007)”. He said the story is about a female English writing teacher who encourages her students to write as much as they can without being too nervous about spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Before mentioning the movie, he asked me which I would think is more effective way to teach writing, to have the learners focus on grammar or to have them write without thinking too much about grammar and mechanics, such as spelling, and punctuation. I answered that we can’t ask learners for everything at one time and it depends on the objectives of the class and the learners’ proficiency levels. Okay, this is what I think. If the learners feel awkward to writing in English, it’d be better for them to focus on how to brainstorm ideas and organize their thoughts on a given theme to write on while minimizing the pressure to write “correctly”. But other times, it’d be educational to have them pay more attention to the grammaticality of their written products. I’d say what matters is not to overload learners with too many learning focuses, but to have them focus on a specific area to yield the best possible effect of instruction. I’d happy to know your thoughts on that, dear readers and visitors.

The instructor told me that in the movie the teacher has her students to carry a notebook with them all the time in order to write anything anytime. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so it’s just my speculation, but what the writing teacher aims to do is let her students know that they can write anything anytime in any ways, celebrating the pleasure and joy of producing something themselves. Yeah, I think I should definitely watch “Freedom Writers” to see if my that was just guesswork or not.is correct.
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(40 minutes / 428 words)

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"Freedom Writers (2007)"
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Quick Write 122811 “The third time’s the charm”

Do you know the saying “The third time’s the charm.”? It means something like the belief that the third time something is attempted is more likely to succeed than the previous two attempts. That’s MY I took the third Skype English lesson and I guess it just went as the saying goes. The instructor who I talked to is pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics and seems to be experienced in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) learners, so I had a feeling that we share some interests. I was going to pick an article to discuss with him, but I sort of decided to go more spontaneously, and it seems to have worked. During the conversation, he shared the knowledge on how to neutralize his English accent influenced by the first language. He said there is an English class titled “Accent Neutralization” in the Philippines to help ESL speakers polish their pronunciation to the level that they will successfully be hired by companies based in English speaking countries who’d outsource call-center personnel, but never wish their customers to realize that they’re calling to the office outside the country. I told him it was kind of “English Imperialism” and he kind of agreed. It’s sad, but is a reality.

His pronunciation sees almost no L1 influence and the way he speaks sounds so natural to me. Then I asked him to share the knowledge to brush up on pronunciation. This is how he “neutralized” his English accent.

1. Watch CNN
2. Read a newspaper particle with looking at himself in the mirror, acting like he’s a news program anchor
3. Listen to his recorded production for self-assessment. Compare it with the model rendition if available.

What he did to his English accent was basically “copying”. We need to be reminded that he learned English from very early age and English education in his country must be more intensive as well as extensive than the one we’ve had, yet the effort he devoted to working on his pronunciation was admirable nonetheless.

I asked an additional question. An important question for me; which do you think is better, working on the same material for days or changing the material every day. What do you think his answer was? He recommended to change the material day by day because he values the spontaneity. He pointed out that if you keep practicing the same material for days and weeks, you’d sound robotic and mechanic. Well, I may have a different opinion on that, but depending on the current level and the objective, it could be better to try a new material every day. I recorded today’s lesson by IC recorder and self-assessed my oral production before I started writing this QW piece and identified areas that I’d need to work on. I think I’ll talk about them after some more lessons.

(40 minutes / 475 words)

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Quick Write 122711 “Skype English Lesson”

For those who’ve recognized me as an English teacher, tonight’s QW theme might seem a promotional article aimed to advertise and sell MY Skype English lessons, but unfortunately (or fortunately, well it might be it!) it’s not. You know what? I took Skype English lessons myself! Surprised or appalled? Well, you might want to say “You’re a teacher and teach English to Japanese learners. Do you need to take English lessons yourself? Or are your speaking skills so low that you desperately need to work on them clandestinely?” Well, the answer to the first hypothetical question is “Absolutely YES”. We, teachers, are the ones who need to learn and keep learning so much more than our students do. The answer to the second question might be a little more vague than the first one, and might partially explain why I decided to take up my daily English speaking practice regimen. I’ll never be ashamed or hesitate to say that I need to maintain, develop, or brush up on my English speaking skills simply because that I’m an English teacher. I’m just an L2 speaker of English and need to keep seeking every opportunity to use and learn English as an EFL, English as a Foreign Language, learner . Do I sound strange?

I’ve known that online English lessons are getting popular among Japanese learners of English. Some of them actively tweet about online speaking lessons, particularly Skype-medium English lessons and advocate that they’re helpful as well as cost-effective. I’d always wanted to take a speaking class, but have been failing to secure time to regularly go to one of those well-established English schools in and around Tokyo. Then I started thinking “seriously” about taking up Skype English lessons which I suppose would enable me to take one-on-one speaking lessons or at least provide me with opportunities to speak English EVERY DAY. (Yes, “every day” is the key.) I abruptly felt like trying things out just two nights ago, and I did. Seemingly it was part of my hidden intention to avoid facing the reality that I need to cram for the upcoming graduation exam on January 7th at my grad school. (Wish me good luck, folks.) It’s obviously too early to talk about the effectiveness and efficacy of Skype English lessons. What I can say here at this very moment is that it all depends on how you avail yourself of it. I’ve talked to two instructors so far. One was good, but the other was far below my expectation. Tomorrow I’ll be talking to an instructor who’s been working on a master’s degree in linguistics according to his profile. I’m not very sure how the lesson turns out, but I’ll ask myself about what I’d really like to learn with him, like having discussions on a shared article. I’ll soon get back to you with updates on my new English learning project on Skype.

(40 minutes / 485 words)

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