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.


walnut said...

Wow, that sounds really interesting. I'd very much like to hear more.

Ethan Waln
Oshu City ALT

Steve Herder said...

You lucky dog! I spoke with him in Osaka, and have started some collaborative research based on his online TESOL seminar, but to spend time at the onsen together must have been great...


Anonymous said...

I'm hoping that you get notified of comments as there seems to be no email address here?
I was for some time a (so called) language teacher in Japan, staying at what was tokyo's worst school officially for 3 years, Waseda daigaku and finally meiji for a few years.
I'm now about to start a study on young peoples informal classroom roles, self-perceptions and out comes such as hikikomori.
Recently I realise that the test items, measures, could easily be translated or incorporated into an English lesson (they woud take 20 mins approx).
But, i don't know anyone who works in JHS at the moment.
The study has ethical clearance here in Australia and under international APA guidelenes only the Principal need to give permission if a single school in a single school district is asked to participate.
Thus, if you would like to help out (I'm affraid I can only give you recognition should it be published and a small amount of money for postage etc),
If you're interested, please contact

yomogi said...

Hey Jimbo, we've never met, and I wish really I had known about Paul Nation coming to Sendai! I knew about the Osaka visit, but couldn't make it.

I own a couple of schools in the Iwate region and will start in a couple of days teaching at Iwate University. I'm sure our paths will cross. I would love to meet with you and just have a great chat about your courses that you are teaching...

Hanamaki, Iwate