Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seminar with Paul Nation

On February 27 and 28 I attended a two day seminar with one of the world’s foremost experts on vocabulary acquisition theory and pedagogy. The seminar was held at an Onsen(hot spring) outside Sendai and coordinated by Sendai JALT. I had felt absolutely overwhelmed by work and completely burnt out but the seminar managed to reinvigorate me. At the beginning of the seminar Paul talked about 4 essential strands that should compose a foreign language class syllabus. Teachers should devote 25% of class time to each of the following strands:

Strand 1 - Meaning focused input: There is overwhelming evidence that comprehensible input with a few unknown items to the learner is essential for language acquisition. Paul recommends that the learners understand 95% - 98% of the words in the input with 98% being preferable. Meaning focused input can be accessed through extensive reading, communicative activities or listening to stories.
Strand 2 – Language Focused Learning: This denotes a focus on grammar and vocabulary as well as training in vocabulary strategies and intensive reading (reading involving translation).
Strand 3 – Meaning Focused Output: This is output in which the learner is trying to relay a message and is not worried about accuracy. Learners should use some unfamiliar items (at least 95% of their speech should consist of familiar items) to help them learn them.
Strand 4 – Fluency Development: Learners should read, write, listen, speak language that they already know (they should understand 99% of all items). The purpose of this strand is for learners to learn to use the language that they already know. Many Japanese, for example, know a lot of language but do now know how to use it.

For me, these 4 strands offer a good framework to use to plan English language courses. These days my mind is so jumbled that getting back to the basics and looking at the big picture of course planning was just what I needed.

Paul, of course, talked about the 4 strands in much more detail and offered many concrete examples for activities in each strand. If you are interested in learning more, please go to his website.

In the seminar, Paul also talked about learning words from cards, ways of giving quick attention to words, good and bad language learning tasks, teaching vocabulary, and word frequencies. I am writing this post on the bullet train on my way back home. I have another few deadlines coming up next week. When or if things settle down, I would like to write about using vocabulary notebooks versus using word cards and what Paul revealed about the vocabulary size necessary to read a novel in English.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

How to Give a Speech in a Foreign Language

I was asked to write an essay for freshmen students about how to give presentations in English. The essay will appear in the university class guide book for freshmen. I tried to write it in as simple English as possible so that students might actually be able to understand it. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone will really read it so decided to copy and paste it into my blog. Would anyone out there give any different advice that what I have given?

How to Give a Speech in a Foreign Language

Giving a speech in a second language is not easy. When we speak in our native languages we can sometimes improvise while we are speaking and add information or reduce information. When we speak in a second language it is much more difficult to improvise because a lot of our attention is devoted to the language itself. Since it is more difficult to improvise, it is important to prepare thoroughly before giving a speech in a second language.

How should you prepare? First, write out what you will say in your speech or take notes of what you will say. When I first started giving speeches in Japanese, my second language, I would write out everything I planned to say. After the experience of a few speeches though, I started giving speeches from notes. I recommend that you do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. If you do not have much time to prepare, I think that giving speeches from notes is the most efficient method.

When writing out the speech, remember that the speech should be in your own words. The worst speeches in English I have seen were when students wrote their speech in Japanese and then used a translating program to put it into English. When they gave their speech, they simply read the computer translation. In these cases, the audience and even the speakers themselves did not understand the speech! When you put your speech in your own words, your personality is revealed because you have ownership of what is being said. Regardless of whether or not you are advanced in the second language, your personality and interest in the subject will maintain the listener’s interest in your speech.

Also, when preparing your speech consider who your audience will be. Will your audience be familiar with the topic of your speech? If your audience is not familiar with part of the topic, for example the fall of Ayutthaya in a topic such as “The Effect of the Historical Fall of Ayutthaya on Present Day Thailand-Myanmar Relations” you will have to explain about the fall of Ayutthaya.

The second part of preparation is practicing the speech. Even though I am fairly experienced at speaking publicly in a second language, I would never speak without practicing and always find the time to practice. Do not feel embarrassed about speaking out loud when no one is in the room or when other people not related to your speech are in the room. I have practiced for speeches in such places as my car outside the speech venue, a bullet train, a plane, a hotel room, a hotel lobby, a park bench, my office, and, of course, my house. In all these cases, the speeches I gave were successful because I took the time to practice.

When you practice speaking remember that maintaining eye contact with the audience during a speech is essential. If the speaker is staring at his manuscript or notes the whole time he is speaking, it will be harder for the audience to concentrate on the speech. Thus, when preparing for your speech, stare at a wall pretending that it is your audience, and try to say as much as your speech as possible to the wall while occasionally taking quick glimpses at your notes or manuscript.

Another thing to keep in mind when practicing is time. Time limits for a speech can be from 5 to 30 minutes. Even 5 minutes can seem very long, but when you practice you will realize that you do not have enough time to finish your speech! Usually when I practice, I find that I have to remove a third of the content from my speech to finish in the allotted time. Finishing on time is extremely important. For example, when a speaker finishes his speech in 20 minutes when it was supposed to be 15 minutes, it is rude to the next speaker who is waiting and the listeners find it annoying too because it extends the time of the event they are attending.

Although finishing on time is important, your speech should not be hurried. Let’s say that you have to speak as fast as you can to give what should be an 18 minute speech in 15 minutes. If you do this, I can guarantee you that your audience will not understand what you said. If you have 15 minutes to speak, make sure that you can finish your speech within those 15 minutes speaking at a moderate pace that is not too fast or too slow for your audience.

Lastly, when you are preparing for a speech it is a good idea to have someone look at your manuscript/notes or listen to the speech. The person could be your teacher, a classmate or a friend. The feedback that you receive from this person will help you give a better speech.

In conclusion, to give an effective speech, prepare thoroughly and, regardless of your ability in the language, give the speech in your own words. Enjoy yourself while you speak and your audience will enjoy listening to you!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Demonstration Test

Dear English A Students,
Next week is our final test. Here is what you will need to do for next week:
Part I: I would like each pair from 2/7 to select three of the startling facts (see the list we made here.)we took from the United Nations Human Development Report that you think represent the biggest problems the world faces. You and your partner will then talk about the following with another pair:
a) Why do you think these problems are so big?
b) What can we do to solve these problems?
To successfully do this task, you should
1) be able to speak without reading from a piece of paper.
2) be able to pronounce the words correctly.
3) speak with passion.
4) give the listeners time to ask questions
5) be ready to explain the meaning of unknown words.
When you are listening to other people speak, I will expect you to ask questions.
Part II: There will be a written test containing reading, writing, and voacublary from the following chapters of the textbook: Synchronicity, Alternative Medicine, Nightmares, Bizarre Foods, and Startling Facts. The best way to study for this is to study the word entries in your vocabulary notebooks. To do well on the test it will be particularly important to know the derivations of the words we have learned, know how the words are used, and be able to use some of the words. You can view a test I gave in the past here. The written text next week will be a similar style.
Attention: Tomorrow's test will be in room G19 of the 学生センター and not in room 203 of the Faculty of Education.