Zoltan

ZOLTAN

My name is Zoltan and uh I learned English mainly in Hungary as a foreign language as part of uh as a school as English as a school subject and normal instruction. But I started quite early at the age of 9 and it was pretty intensive throughout the years um we had something like 5 classes a week and then after secondary school I I um applied for a for a a university and my one of my majors was English and uh and so I became a professional I guess. And then later it helped my wife is English so so which means that now it’s 60-70 percent English we use at home. And we mainly talk to our children in English.

Motivation is typically considered the one of the crucial factors in language learning success. There are some people who would say that uh teaching effectiveness depends 95% on whether we can make our students interested and um research studies have actually um confirmed this. Uh motivation is besides language aptitude, motivation is thought to be uh the most important learner variable. So uh we can say that um that you can get it if you really want to principle is true. If someone is motivated with very few exceptions, the person can master a language at least at at the wworking knowledge level. So I would say that that uh motivation and the ability to motive learners should defiantly be considered at the one of the key components of teaching skills, learning skills, and …

Motivation research is is tricky in that motivation uh motivation researchers normally want to answer the basic question of why humans behave as they do. So as if you can image this is a terribly complex area and uh there are many ways of changing human behaviors. So in fact some people would say that there’s no such thing as motivation but it’s only an an umbrella term which we use to to cover uh uh uh area of factors which very often have very little to do with each other. Now if we want to motivate learners um there are many things that we can do. Again it would it would uh encompass that all sorts of teacher behaviors, learners strategies, um so we can think about by motivating language learners we can think about creating a pleasant classroom atmosphere uh we can think about the teacher’s behavior and the repoire with the with the learners um teacher student communication, teacher immediacy, but we can also think about uh things like building a group uh cohesive group. Because a group if the groups is goal oriented if there are learn at learning specific norms within the group then it can pull along the learners. Even if they are not individually motivated. So this is another area of uh of motivation uh how to uh create an acceptive climate within the classroom. But then there are sort of more specific things that we can do. Like making the classes interesting. Selecting tasks which are relevant to the learners which meet their needs. um some how maintaining a level of interest by introducing exotic elements, sort of arousing their learners curiosity. So that would be a kind of more external uh approach. What else? Uh another very important area of motivation and motivating learners is uh concerns learner autonomy. Because it has been found that uh autonomous, self determined learning somehow goes hand in hand with motivation, motivated learning. But it seems to in many people researcher, teachers, alike that uh motivation is inherently tied to being able to make our own choices. So we are motivated to do something where we are in control. So that when it comes to applying these applications of course it’s not as simple as that because obviously that teacher has an important role as the group leader. But there are all sorts of subtle ways in which by which the teachers can share responsibility with with the learners. Put them in uh sort of positions of authority. Involved in mean in decision making process concerning the um scheduling their own learning activities. So that’s also important and then from another area which is huge in itself, somehow trying to keep up the learners self esteem and self confidence. Because I don’t think it needs a lot of justification that learners who believe that why they are engaged in the learning activity uh are also doing themselves justice. Uh are presenting a favorable picture of of themselves to the others and to themselves to they will be more motivated to to pursue the activity. So there are all sorts of techniques how to build up the learners confidence. The most obvious one is to to create uh uh experiences of success because success breeds success. And so as you can see motivation and motivating , motivational strategies um in include many different ways of of preparing learners for effective uh study.

Errors are something which students consider to be more um salient and more important than normal native speakers in real communication. Of course first we have realize that when we talk about errors in the second language context it’s mainly grammatical errors. And I think this is a big mistake because let’s be quite honest I don’t think grammatical errors matter that much. They certainly in most cases do not affect our communication and our understanding of meaning and uh quite honestly once you have a uh uh a good talk with someone it doesn’t matter at all whether you get a tense wrong or or right. On the other hand there are certain errors which matter. And sadly these are normally overlooked by those teachers and uh and uh learners but what I what uh what I think these errors are are concerned mainly politeness. So what happens what we find with even very advanced language learners who learned the language in a classroom context is that they can say the most complicated uh if conditional perfectly, and then they don’t say please after a request. And uh these politeness mistakes are really tricky because um they they those are the ones that can really lead to a communication break down. Because what people what what uh uh an an ordinary interlocker would think is that it’s not that this person has just gotten made the grammar mistakes, but rather that this is somehow it reflects bad manners or you know some kind of moral flaw. And with find this for example with learners of languages where for example requests are really direct. And when they transfer these requesting strategies to English they can sound awful, really aggressive pushy, and very few people would realize that we are talking about language transfer and it they these are just as similar mistakes as grammar mistakes. Now what we last year we actually conducted a survey in which we compared foreign language learners and second language learners so we looked at Hungarian learners of English who had only very limited context with the um the native speaker. And then we as a comparison group we looked at second language learners at Indiana University who were staying actually in uh the states for extended periods. And what we designed a special video uh clip for uh them in which there were 20 short scenarios and 8 of those had grammatical mistakes in it, 8 of those had politeness serious politeness mistakes in it, and then and 4 were were perfect they were just there for control. And then we play this video to something like 7 700 language learners and asked them first to decide about each scene whether those contained a mistake or not and if there was a mistake how serious they though it was. And the the results were really shocking because there’s foreign language learners and second language learners behaved almost uh completely differently. Foreign language learners thought that grammatical mistakes were very serious and they either didn’t notice the politeness mistakes and we were talking about very serious politeness mistakes and not very serious grammar mistake, or if they noticed the politeness mistakes they sort of played down their importance. In contrast the second language learners who were studying English in the United States they thought that politeness mistakes were the serious ones and they either didn’t notice grammatical mistakes or they they just played down their importance. And the figures were almost the inverse of each other. And so we started to speculate about this. What what causes this. Obviously there are several things which we which would uh cause an incredible uh contrast. And one thing is that in foreign language con con contexts like in language classes the success criteria are normally dictated by language tests. And even though we keep talking about communicative language teaching, let’s face it most test look at accuracy. In fact there isn’t a single standardized test at the moment which would measure politeness and grammatical skills. So when it comes to actually assessing learners um um language performance you know accuracy and grammar uptains salience. Where as in second language contact……….

(CONTINUED)
So what we found was that in foreign language learning context grammar was rated really sort of highly and uh and um in second language context the learners who were who were studying English in the in the United States success didn’t really matter only on language tests, even though these learners were actually studying in uh at a University intensive language course. But after the classes they went out in real life and then they soon they learned that uh you know that success also depends on their success of communication with real people. This or their teachers’ attitudes with and obviously the second language teachers and we have uh data to confirm this also considered pragmatic likeness issues very important so the the different success the success criteria or their teachers attitudes resulted in a complete change in the learners awareness of what was in important and what wasn’t. And this is a this is something which most la uh most professionals who have been in touch with both foreign language and uh second language learning context knew about but our study as far as I know is the first one which produced the hard data that this is so so please let’s let’s start thinking about what why is this.

Whether or not to correcting communicative language teaching has been um a controversial issue. And uh somehow every theoritician wanted a compromise, cause no one would no one was ready to say that we should not correct, let’s focus on the meaning side, aspect of uh of uh communication. Uh on the other hand everybody knew that if you correct everything uh that will first of all um uh stop the communication the flow of the uh the speech, also it will create inhibitions in the learners. It works against self esteem self confidence. And it shifts the emphasis from the main area to the the the form formal aspect of language. I believe that this issue is even sort of more controversial in a in a content based classroom or in a classroom where you’ve got both native speaking children and uh and some children for whom the second language is is a second language. Uh my personal feeling is that in such cases when when the topic of the class is a a content issue we probably should have completely avoid um correcting mistakes. And this could perhaps be supplemented, the the this content based teaching could be supplemented by by uh more focused second language instruction. Or there are these standard techniques which teachers can always use if they have the energy or the time to take notes and and that jot down the most typical mistakes. Um and then discuss those later with the students. You can also do a lot of useful correction um when when it comes to writing assignments. And then you can have uh there are all sorts of techniques that are meant to to correct compositions. You can just indicate that there are some problems and ask for a rewrite or you can even take the trouble and as a teacher correct every single mistake. Uh but I would certainly be reluctant to uh to stop a normal class and almost highlight the language deficiency of those learners who are are already who must be finding it difficult any way to keep up with the native speaking peers.

About three years ago I was um conducting a class for for MA students at the the department of English of my university which was called Learning Strategies. And um we were reading about uh literature about the theory that we went through the main articles, but somehow the the whole issue became so was still a bit sort of uh distant from the learners. So we decided at one point to to let to illustrate this point. So let’s see whether we can come up with something. And these were all um senior students um studying besides English another subject matter, so we said alright let’s suppose we are we are studying History and you’ve got to memorize let’s say a lot of data for an exam. And in history you have to do that, what kind of strategies have you yourself used in the past? And it was quite incredible that the 15 or 16 students who were there came up with such a rich list of strategies with which they have used in their own experience uh and ranging from preparing elaborate tables and visual uh uh visuals or ah little cute cards, but then all sorts of uh recycling techniques. Um it was really really uh nice to see this that there was this creativity. But what was even more important was that while the students were listening to each other um they sudden you know you kept hearing these things, oh yes that’s a good one I’ll try that next time. And this illustrated the point which was one of the crucial issues in learning strategy training is that um what what you as a teacher should do is um help the learners collect a lot of strategies from which they can then choose. Because what we’re finding is that one one strategy which works for one learner will not learn at all for another learner. There’s this famous antedote about the art the the German archeologist Schleman who actually discovered the ruins of Troy and he what he used one strategy and learned about 15 languages as far as the antedote goes. And what he did was he wrote a composition in German and then asked a native speaker of another language to translate the composition into the second language and then he memorized this composition. And then he went on doing that. This for him this strategy worked and after awhile he was so con he became so competent at using this strategy that he could learn a new language in about 3 months. Now of course this strategy is quite complex in a way because it was his own text which was translated into the second language so he was he owned the text and then he learned what the something which was important for him. And obviously he was the sort of learner who could benefit from memorization. Now this is something that worked perfectly for him but I still wouldn’t recommend it to other students because many people find memorization very difficult. So what I normally encourage my students to do is to find nice sort of good techniques of learning the language for themselves and then do that consistently. So if someone actually can finds it useful to take notes why they are talking to native speakers to to put write down some nice expressions or words, fair enough. And there are some people who can go along way just by having a little notebook and sometimes saying Excuse me can you repeat that and it’s good. Again this is something which wouldn’t work with other people. Um so I believe that the key to learning strategy use is finding the strategy which works best for you and you can only do that of course if you have if you are exposed to a number of strategies from which you can choose. Because learners as a rule are really creative about strategies so that it’s typically enough if you just turn to your class and ask them to to list the number of strategies which they have found useful and as a rule they would come up with a far more comprehensive list than what you would find in recent articles.

Oral testing is an area which which has very different evaluation from the learners and from the researchers perspective. Cause what we find is that learners(phone rings)So oral test scores are interpreted by researchers and learners in a very different manner. Um when a learner is actually given uh his or her test scores, they would take it for granted that this is an objective description of what they know. And even language teachers often almost fall into this trap because somehow there is this authentic ring of uh of feel of of the test score issued by a test you know a testing board that there’s there’s normally several stamps and it’s on a beautiful paper. Where as if you ask any researcher who has done any any research into language oral language testing what you wo would normally hear is a number of sources of of uh barriers or sources of of problems with this test scores because oral testing situations vary a lot. Uh research would normally say researchers would normally say that it depend it matters a lot who does the testing, what the topic of the testing is, um if it’s a if it’s testing done in pairs for example or it’s some type of communicative situation who the interlocutor is. What kind of role the language tester is assigned. So there are all sorts of factors which can completely modify um the test scores. What we found was in a study when we looked at the oral proficiency score of the Hungarians state exam of English um was that the the the examiners attitude mattered a lot and not just the friendliness, even though some examiners were less friendly and less welcoming than others which actually mattered a lot for for some learners. But also the kind of uh facilitating speech the examiners engaged in. some examiners uh use speech which could be compared to an interrogation and it was question-answer, there was very little leeway left for for the learners. There is some other uh examiners produced supportive uh discourse. They were helping out, they gave clues to the learner, when the learners got uh stuck they actually helped them they offered some word. So this kind of um supportive behavior also mattered a lot. Then we shouldn’t forget that tests anxiety is a very important factor in psychology and we in somehow in the second language field we keep forgetting about this that seemingly some people will always underachieve in testing situations because they have this kind of this this established trait of almost like a trait like feeling of anxiety when it comes to test situations. Now if at if the purpose of the test is to be able to uh make inferences about the learners overall competence then it’s clearly not a valued or a reliable test where some one will underachieve just because the person has got anxiety which is non related to language proficiency. So and the lists you know we could still after this list so what happens is that I’ve just been to actually uh uh a lecture in which they were talking about the various ways which raters can modify the test result. So what what we can conclude is that from a research perspective there are many many factors external factors which will significantly modify the the results of of uh of someone’s oral test performance, and uh and obviously there’s no good answer that you know what no solution to this we still have to actually conduct tests, but we should always exercise some caution and we should never assume this authoritative position that here is a test, this is objective, that’s that’s what (phone rings)so we should never assume that the language test score is the objective final word.

There’s a saying that teaching is nothing but providing input and this might be easily misinterpreted because it might suggest that teaching is nothing but conveying knowledge and the learners an empty vessels and we are filling up this vessel with with our ultimate wisdom and this is not the is not the case at all. Even though in language classes it’s quite obvious that there should be some external input because we have to present the the language code to the learners. But this input then has to be internalized. And this is where interection comes in. what quite a bit of research in the past has found was that one way of internalizing input is by actively using it uh processing it through interaction between the learners and uh they found that the more learners negotiate uh their messages the more discussion there is uh concerning the input or related to the input uh the more effective this internalization process is. Uh there is a body of research in the literature um normally associated with the negotiation of input where they claim that learning to a large extent is the function of how much learners actively and consciously negotiate um input. For example by asking clarification questions, by uh sorting out misunderstandings uh in an active manner, by using communication strategies. So by being almost proactive in their language use we must also realize though that this is not the whole story because there are many other ways of internalizing input. And uh for example some learners would uh would uh be quite happy memorizing tons of the language and with many learners this is a very effective way of uh processing the uh input. Or a famous British methodologist Mario Remboloque uh once wrote an article about how he learned Italian within a couple of months and he called his technique mirroring. And he was sitting in from of the television in Italy with an Italian program on and he was trying to imitate exactly what the people in one person in the scene in the screen did, but verbally and non verbally. Which was very important that somehow language and body movement were linked. And there was no interaction in the streets sense and still the he managed to internalize the input to an extent that he basically spoke Italian uh within a couple of months. So there are many ways of internalizing input but current communicative teaching methodologies would claim that of those many ways probably interaction is the crucial one.
Hansbrow: McGoarty, Destino, Gensee, Torone, Zoltan Page PAGE 1