Rebecca Oxford. University of Maryland, College Park.
You asked a question about the state of the art, let’s say, in foreign language education in the 80’s compared to now and I was in the middle of the uh survey in the 80’s with the Center for Applied Linguistics and then I was fortunate enough to get to do the write up of the—the 2000 survey, let us say the—the late 1990’s, so I had a little bit of a vantage point. In the—in the 80’s foreign language education was of great interest all around the country, but it was marred, according to the respondents, by lack of articulation, particularly—no, at three junctures. Um, between elementary school and junior high or middle school and then between middle school and high school, actually, four junctures and then again at the college level. Um, and the particularly uh worst thing was uh the evidence that elementary school programs, foreign language in the elementary school or FLES uh seemed to beginning students very excited, interested in foreign languages. And so students went to make one, two, three, or four years of say French in the elementary school. When they got to middle school, they would get put in 1st-year French as though they had never had any French at all. And this happened for multiple languages and a very sad situation for foreign language education. You know, you really hurt your—hurt your profession if there is no um articulation. That has not improved greatly between the 1980’s and the end of uh—end of the 1990’s, the beginning of the new millennium. Uh, there is—there’s a little bit more articulation but it hasn’t—hasn’t improved dramatically. Um, one thing that has improved at least in some sectors, is um greater—a greater amount of resources going toward uh foreign language in the elementary school. This is a—this is a trend that we see but, again, uh resources were a problem in the 80’s, there’s still in the 90’s, although perhaps a little bit less so. What’s happened uh—I have a—I have a historical view going back to the 40’s and 50’s because I was asked by the Modern Language Journal to look at trends in K-12 education um over this century. And there was a huge boom in foreign language in the elementary school uh early on and—and--I guess around the 40’s and 50’s and then it died out and it came back in the 70’s and 80’s, very, very interesting. Um, so we’re—we’re into another mini boom let of—of foreign language in the elementary school. And I hope that I continues because all the evidence seems to show that it’s—it’s easier for students to pick up certain aspects of the foreign language um at an earlier age, especially the fluency and the pronunciation. So if we—if we can keep emphasizing foreign language in the elementary school and if we can link it up in a smoothly articulated way with upper levels uh in the school system, then we’re really doing some wonderful things. We certainly have to work with school boards and with parent groups and with school principals and curriculum coordinators to make this kind of thing happen.
OK. Well, uh certainly in the 1800’s and the early 1900’s uh foreign language uh revolved around the learning of uh Latin and Greek and was very much of an elitist um operation. Uh, it was for people who—uh who were going to good schools, who had opportunities um and then we extended out beyond the classes of tradition, beyond the Latin and the—and the Greek into Spanish and German, French. And this happened um extensively during um the early part of the 1900’s, but it wasn’t getting to everybody. Um, I will say that it got to my father in a—in a little town in uh Florida—High Springs, Florida, a small uh suburb of—of Gaysville um in the 30’s. And he was able to learn two years of Spanish and it uh was always very happy to—to run through his uh, Spanish conjugations for me. So I do know that um the learning of—of a foreign language became much less of an elitist thing during the 1900’s and we’re really trying to make languages come to everybody—foreign languages come to everybody because of the richness um of the cultural and linguistic um understanding that any one can get from learning a foreign language.
The value of knowing a foreign language to me is uh to know the world. To know—a foreign language is to get into the heart of a whole other culture, to know the people, to know the way of thinking. And you don’t get that strictly through learning the grammar of the language. What I’m talking about—knowing the language I’m talking about how to use the language on a daily basis with—with the Native speakers, with the real people. I’m talking about um understanding deeply the culture, the belief systems. I’m not talking about jus knowing when the Fiesta Days are or um, you know, how to—how to bake a pizza. I am talking about understanding um why people stand close to each other in certain cultures and far away in other cultures. Why there is a different sense of time in one place then another. Um, I’m talking about he distinctions in moods of privacy. I’m talking about um understanding the role of religion in a culture. So I’m talking about um, uh an in depth view of what people are like that I think you can only get through learning a foreign language in a cultural context. And you can do that in a classroom. You can do that to a great degree if you simulate the culture right there in the classroom, if you make the foreign language classroom a microcosm of the world, uh or a microcosm of the—of the country where people are speaking the language. If you can bring the world right into the language classroom, uh then you have the very best situation. And to do that you have to use simulations and role-plays and art, music, and, of course, it’s a—it’s an exciting thing for a teacher to be involved with. It’s one of the most exciting things that there is. And I’m talking about foreign languages there, not second languages. We can get into that in a minute.
OK. Well, I’m going to speak from my vantage point, uh not as—not as a linguist—not as a pure linguist, although um I’m sure you’ve interviewed some folks that can fill in the gaps there. Um, what I’d like to talk about is—is how my research enlightens us a little bit on this topic. Um, people learn languages the way that they learn other things in terms of learning style. Learning style being the broad approach to tackling the subject or to solving a problem. For example, some people are more visual in their approach that is in their learning style. Some people are more auditory. Uh, some people are more hands on or kinesthetic and tactile, kinesthetic meaning uh needing to move while you’re learning. Uh, needing to uh get up and take breaks, a lot of breaks. Um, tactile people need to touch objects. They—they learn through the manipulation of objects and words. So people learn languages in—in these different modes. Also another style dimension is reflective versus impulsive. Some people need to take time to analyze and to reflect before they communicate and other people just jump right in and are much more impulsive and uh right there in their communication style. Um, since communication style and learning style—and these are intertwined—some people are more concrete sequential in—and that means they need to take things in bite size increments, very, very um serially, one, two, three, four, in terms of steps. And other people are very intuitive and random in their learning. They don’t want to um be hemmed in by a series of steps. So there are many other learning style dimensions but these are some that directly impact the language-learning field tremendously. And uh what I have to say about this is that uh we need to have for foreign language learning or for second language learning, either one, um a means of creating variety in the classroom, variety and excitement. We need to be able to touch the different learning styles that exist in the classroom. We can’t just focus on the way that we learn best. We have to go for uh finding out who are the characters in our classroom, who are the students there? What are their needs? We need to do a style survey or we need to find out through discussions how they learn best. And we need to create uh, a variety of activities and tasks that will meet their needs. So this is—I’m very passionate about this. We—it’s something that I have found makes all the difference in the world about students—students motivation to learn a language. And it’s particularly relevant in the foreign language setting where uh you’re in a place, you’re in a classroom where you don’t have all the resources uh that you might have out in—out in a foreign—out in a second language situation. The difference between foreign language learning and second language learning is—is very tremendous and I’d like to explain it. And uh we need to talk about that right now. The foreign language situation is one in which a student is learning in an academic classroom typically, in a place where the—the foreign language is not the language of daily communication for the majority of the people. For example, it’s like learning German in Alabama or learning Russia—Russian in Australia. Those languages are not the daily communication mode. So therefore, there uh—there is much less in terms of every day um input in a communicative way for the students and there are not sums all around on the streets, there’s not—the—the language is not everywhere on the radio and the television, and teachers have to work much, much harder in a sense to bring the language to life. And it makes even more difference that teachers are concerned about learning style within the foreign language classroom because quite often that is the only place that the students get um the exposure to the language in a foreign language setting. The classroom is the hub. In a second language setting, the classroom is one of many places where the student can get exposure to the language. In the second language situation survival depends upon being able to use the language uh to go to the store, to uh advance in school, to get a job. Survival depends on it. So the students are highly motivated and I won’t say it doesn’t matter what happens in class, it matters tremendously what happens in class in a second language situation, but in the foreign language situation it’s—it’s uh crucial to pay attention to the different modes of learning that students have because that may be the teacher’s only shot in terms of getting the student interested and exposed to the language.
OK, well your question is the age-old question and it come from—it’s a reflection of the grammar translation method. The question that you asked is, “Isn’t language teaching—isn’t foreign language teaching just simply the teaching of grammar?” Well, in fact, that’s where it started. So it’s not surprising that people still think that’s where it is. Um, the grammar translation method that came from the learning of Latin and Greek was in fact, the learning of conjugations of verbs and the conjuncts of nouns and that’s—that’s what people did. Uh, that’s what students were supposed to do. They were supposed to uh memorize uh and regurgitate this—this information and also translate uh sentences. And at one time the translation was very meaningful. It was the translation of um, ancient Greek and Latin text. So that was meaningful translation at least. Um, it became uh—when—when the grammar translation method was superimposed upon, uh the teaching of Spanish, French, and German—the text became somewhat meaningless. Uh, sometimes these—the—the students were asked to translate random sentences that had nothing to do with each other that were simply illustrations of verb endings or noun prefixes or suffixes. That’s where it really got silly and that is in fact what a lot of people still think language teaching is. However, any uh—and at about the time of World War II, the uh US government was in dire need of people who could speak other languages, people who could translate other languages for the war effort. And because there was such a dire need for people who could do more than just uh, conjugate verbs, there was a big push toward the creating of a new methodology. And that came out to be audio-lingual methodology. This was a kind of method by which students would learn to um memorize in a habitual way uh the sounds of the language. There was uh very great emphasis on being able to pronounce well and being able to use the cadence and rhythm of the language. And this was a big step forward. The—you may not think about it now as being a huge step forward, but um it certainly got people off of just the dependency on a printed page. So people were beginning to uh pick up the sounds of a language and the way that the language was taught through the audio-lingual method, some people were getting to be quite fluent at it. Those were people who had expert teachers who were hired by the US Defense Department. Well, it turned out that the audio-lingual method was extended beyond the means of the US Defense Department and it got sent out into the high schools and the elementary schools of the US where not everybody was trained in how to use this and it became just as rigid as the grammar translation method eventually uh with people who really didn’t know how to—how to use it in the best way. And it had its own limitations uh, you know, the—the mimicry and memorization still had limitations. So that became rigidified again, just like um the grammar translation method. Later on there were some shifts, twists and turns but um by the 1960’s people were getting fed up. They wanted something that was much more communicative, much more flowing where people could create with the language, uh where uh students felt more in command. And this is where the whole communicative approach came in. That’s really the name of it, the communicative approach. It began uh, frankly in—in Britain and swept over into the United States and took over. And there are—it’s called by many different names, uh, but the communicative approach is the one that has the—the greatest cache, the one—the name that’s the best known. And this came into foreign language teaching as a big bolt from the blue. Low and behold, people are going to use language for communication. We want our students to be able to speak this language. What a shock and um, a major step forward. It began with um certain kinds of—of um emphasis on uh using language for making apologies for uh, uh asking questions in school, for going shopping, all the different functions that you can use the language for in a communicative way. And people spent years and years analyzing uh notions and functions of language for communicative purposes. So um the communicative approach has been a great value in loosening up the foreign language classes, in getting them—getting students to speak, getting students to listen. However, there has been something that was lost in the teaching of—of uh, foreign languages by certain teachers. They lost the concept that communication also requires accuracy. Um, there—there became a huge emphasis on fluency in the language at the expense of being able to use words accurately. Um, so grammar kind of went out the window for a lot of teachers with the communicative approach. Everybody was so happy to get the students talking um and considered that to be such a major advance. Uh, but then grammar went away. It was—it was like the pendulum swinging and swinging backwards and forwards. So um for some teachers anyway the communicative approach was the exact opposite of grammar translation, with no grammar teaching involved. My concept is that we need a good balance, we need an excellent balance because when students are uh able to speak fluently but with—when they mangle the language, when they don’t have the verb tenses, when they can’t communicate in a—in a way that is even beginning to be acceptable um in normal—in normal speech, even it they’re fluent, they’re going to be hampered. So to me uh what’s been happening in the last five or six years has been to bring back a sense of balance uh in the fluency versus accuracy debate, a sense of combination. Now you don’t have to have one or the other, you can have both. And then you’re giving students what they really need. So there’s—there’s been what we call a focus on form for the last uh six or seven, eight years and that is uh deceptive—that is a deceptive phraseology, but that’s the phraseology that’s been used. It’s really more of a balance between the—the fluency and the emphasis on—on accuracy.
OK, you asked a question about how uh—how languages are taught differently in the elementary school versus let’s say the high school. Um, and I must say that this is a stressing question to me because um in many ways they ought to be taught somewhat more similarly then they are. Um, there are difference, in fact, in how people learn—uh how little children learn and how uh big kids learn and how adults learn, however, the differences are not as huge as people make them out to be. Let me try to explain this. In the high schools—in the high schools, some teachers are reverting a bit more than they should to um a huge emphasis on grammar. Some of the teachers at the high school level haven’t realized that the—that the combination of grammar and fluency is really what we need all the way along. And um sometimes grammar—sometimes language teaching at the high school can get just plain dull. Now, there are brilliant language teachers also at the high school level who—who bring uh, uh a huge—a breath of fresh air in, they—they—they do make the classroom a microcosm of the culture. Uh, they—let us say—let me give some examples. There are teachers that I know who have students who are writing travel logs, who are serving as travel agents, simulated travel agents planning trips to foreign countries in a very sophisticated way where they are using the language for communication, creativity. Uh, where they are um—we’re going to have to cancel that part, OK. (interruption) Because you see I’ve just said that there—that there has been a trend toward um the better teaching of languages but I—I don’t know how to say this very well, but there really are some spots where it’s just not happening. (interruption) And I don’t know how to say this in a good way. (interruption) I just don’t want that to be—I’m—I’m disturbed by this, I don’t know what to say.
Well, let’s start this over. OK? Um, the question was what are some of the differences and similarities in the teaching of foreign languages in the elementary school versus the high school level and I’d like to throw in the college level as well—college university level um, because quite often the high school um and university levels are taught in similar fashions. In the elementary school, uh language is quite often—well, it’s done in several different ways. Uh, one tremendously popular way is simply called, “Foreign Language Experience” where students are given a once over lightly approach. They have foreign language say two or three times a week for a 40 ti—40 hours uh 40 hours—40 minutes at a time. Forty hours is what I would really like, um the teaching of other subjects through the language. But 40 minutes at a time, uh 20 minutes at a time in the foreign language um experience program, superficial but enough to get students uh singing a few songs in the language, uh finding out about a few uh cultural um events in the—in the foreign country, enough to get students interested. And that’s the very popular mode. In other places, you have a more intense experience where maybe uh you have the language every day of the week in the elementary school. Now there are some special places that have what’s called immersion programs. Immersion in the language, whereby some of the subject areas like math or science, social studies, are taught in that foreign language and sometimes all of the subject areas are taught in the foreign language, except for English. And that is a remarkable thing. There have been studies that have been done following up students who had been in immersion programs uh, all the way, you know, of—of studying them after they got out of high school and there—and the studies have been shown that students have retained the language, that they are still interested in the language, that they are likely to take it later in college and go further with it. So there’s a lot to be said for the immersion approach and some people would question whether if you—if you are learning other subjects through, say French or German or Russian, whether you can really learn those other subjects. Can you really learn mathematics through Spanish? And the answer is, you most certainly can. And then the—anot—another question arises as well, what about your English? If—if you actually don’t have English uh teaching that goes along with the partial immersion or the full immersion, are you going—are you going to get behind in your English, in your native language? And, in fact, the studies show that—that students that have three or four years of uh—of immersion do just wonderfully with—with their own native language, that they’re really not losing; they’re gaining uh, tremendous riches through um a full immersion or a partial immersion situation. So there are—there’s this whole array of teaching intensities let’s say of foreign languages at the elementary school level. Now this array doesn’t usually exist at the high school level. As you know high school is more compartmentalized in terms of subject area and students go from class to class and they pretty much are expected to turn off one subject and turn on another subject. And the whole concept of having a unifying force, which is learning all of the subjects through the medium of a foreign language uh, is pretty rare at the high school level. And so—al though it does happen in certain—certain parts of the United States. It’s very, very rare. And I think that it would be very interesting to see more of the immersion going on at the upper levels of the K-12 system. What happened in the—in the high schools is that teachers close their doors and they do whatever it is they’re going to do and the methodologies are very diverse. Perhaps what we want is everybody to be working with the communicative approach in an advanced way so that students are learning to communicate fluently, but they’re also learning to communicate accurately with the language. That’s what we really want. And we want it in a cultural context. We want it to be not divorce, we want it to be—we want culture to be totally integrated into the whole uh foreign language learning situation because cultural and language are—are interwoven interstrickably. That’s what we want. We want the reality to show and we want students to be tremendously excited by the learning of foreign languages and we want students to know that they can use the language uh for travel, or for a career. That it’s not just an academic subject. We—we want high school teachers uh to show just like in elementary school, that this language is fun, this language is useful for something. So, uh while there are differences in the teaching of foreign languages at the elementary school and the high school, nevertheless, there are some features that should be the same. It should be highly motivating, it should be interesting, it should be culturally and communitively real at any level. Now I am seeing things at the university level that are remarkable in my—my job at the University of Maryland and specifically I want to mention um the Department of Spanish and Portuguese here, which has brought simulation and role play into just about every uh—every uh section in the teaching of undergraduate foreign languages. And this is the kind of thing that we really would love to see. Culture is a total part of the scene. Language is not just um uh pure fluency, without any grammar, without accuracy. Language is also not just verb conjugations. The whole thing is uh—is a very integrated piece. And I think it’s a beautiful thing. I had nothing to do with setting up this program so I’m not tooting my horn; I’m just telling you I’m seeing some very good things here.
Well, the question had to do with—um the kinds of things that we’re asking foreign language learners to learn and how far they can go with learning those in the—in the school system that we currently have. First, is second language learners and the—there are different demands that are put on foreign language learners and second language learners. In the foreign language situation as it is today, foreign language learning in the US, we are basically wanting students to go as far as they can with the learning of basic interpersonal communication skills. We want them to be able to get along um in a grocery store, at a doctor’s office. We want them to be able to um know what to say and do in the classroom. We want them to be able to communicate on a rudimentary level um in various situations and we want them to be fluent and accurate of these things, if at all possible. However, that’s about as far as it gets and uh we’re really lucky if we get that far in—in many foreign language-learning situations. I mean, that’s actually asking a whole lot. Um, in the second language learning situation where the student is surrounded by the language, where sur—where survival in the cultural is dependent on learning that language, such as learning English in the United States for a person who’s just come over from Mexico, or for—for a refugee from Congo—I happen to know some refugees from Congo who have just come to this area. Um, they speak French. They need to suddenly be able to um learn English in order to hold jobs and survive in school. Um, the demands are much greater for those folks. They can’t just get by with the learning of basic interpersonal communication skills. They also have to learn the cognitive skills, the academic skills. They have to know the language uh that will help them get through school. Even the—even the adults who come over--uh learning English as a second language in their—in their adult age range, they have to go back to—they have to go to school to learn English. They have to learn how to get by in the—in the academic setting. Uh, and it’s—and it’s even more important I would say for elementary school students of English as a second language who—who need to find out how do they make it—how do they make their way, they have to have a cultural concepts for it. So they need to learn a whole other set of communication items. They need to learn vocabulary for mathematics; they need to know vocabulary for getting to the library and using the computer systems. Uh, they have to know vocabulary and pragmatics, that is usage for how to ask question in the classroom, which might be very different from the way that they might have had to interact with their teachers in their home culture. So second language students have to know not just the basic interpersonal everyday communication skills, which are truly fundamental, but they also have to know uh—have a vocabulary in the grammar for um getting along in the school system. They also need the vocabulary, the grammar um for how to get along in getting jobs, what to do when they’re seeing an interviewer from a company, how to create their resume. These things are so different from culture to culture, uh, what to do on the job, how to interact with other people in the business setting or in a factory setting, wherever they may be. So we demand a lot more. The whole situation demands a lot more of a second language student.
OK, you’re asking me about my research and uh two of my favorite areas of research have been on—have been language learning styles and language learning strategies. Language learning styles are the broad approaches to language learning and these things uh you’ll automatically understand are the same kinds of styles that you would use in learning anything else. Visual, auditory, tactile, you know, using—uh, using objects to learn, kinesthetic, moving around. Uh, one whole—that’s one whole set of learning styles. That’s called sensory preferences. Then there are learning styles that deal with uh whether you like learning in a very orderly sequential fashion, or whether you like to learn in a very random fashion, random intuitive. Um, and wrong with that, I should say, the concrete sequential students like to have an authority figure to tell them what to do. The intuitive random people want to make their own rules. They don’t want to have an authority figure. And, of course, I happen to be one of those so I like to make up my own rules. There are students who definitely want to have you lead them step-by-step-by-step, and that is their—that is their mature learning style. Where the intuitive, random people, their mature learning style is do it on their own and be very futuristic and wing it. So uh, another learning style to mention that I have found to be extremely important is uh called judging or closure oriented versus perceiving or open. And uh the—the judging person or the closing oriented person likes to have uh decisions made right away and likes to have deadlines. Uh, the open learner really hates deadlines. Once they have learning be fun as opposed to being, you know, a terribly—a serious sit down situation and uh these are all different learning styles and they’re usually all thrown into um a given classroom. Varieties upon varieties of learning styles and actually there are 40 different dimensions that have been identified of learning style and probably more to come. So it’s—it’s a—it’s a complex thing but it boils down to a very simple idea which is the need for variety in the teaching, um systematic variety and—and the kinds of activities that students are asked to do in the classroom. So that’s one whole area of—of uh learning—learning research that I do. And uh let me—before we get off of that, let me say that I’ve done research on style differences, style conflicts between teachers and students. And style conflicts can be extremely bloody and the blood doesn’t have to show. Uh, but what I’m trying to say is that teachers and learners can—can run into tremendous conflicts and they may not know what’s going on. They may think, well, from the teacher’s point of view, “That student is so lazy. That student really is unmotivated, is not trying.” Or, even worse, “That student is really stupid.” That’s what some teachers would think. From the student point of view, its “That teacher doesn’t care about me. That teacher doesn’t understand me. I cannot stand going to this class. Um, I’ll do anything to avoid communicating in class.” So style conflicts can be very subtle um and—but bitter at the same time if—if people don’t know what’s going on. And what I have found is that—is that teachers who teach in their own teaching—in their own style without giving any variety in their teaching modes to help meet the needs of the students in the class, um tend to down grade the students. You know, the teachers are the ones that give the grades. The students don’t give the grades. The—and so the teachers systematically tend to give lower grades to students that they have style conflicts with. If they don’t understand what the style conflict is, if they don’t know that there is conflict of—of a certain nature because they tend to think that the student just isn’t trying, and it’s such—it’s a really scary thing to realize that that goes on just because we might not know what the dynamic is in the classroom. And I—I did studies at—at the University of Alabama um that showed in our intensive English language institute that—that the grading was distinctly different when there were learning styles that were not understood. When learning style conflicts that were not understood by all parties. And that was not an unusual situation or an unusual place. That happens a lot. So that’s one whole area of research. Um, style harmony is the other aspect of it that um—that I tend to like to research and when I find that students and teachers are working together, even if they have different learning styles, if the—if there’s variety in the classroom and students and teachers are working together and the students are getting what they need because of the teacher having set up the classroom uh to—to create variety, then the students are much happier. And this has led me into a strand of research um dealing with motivation, um, high motivation. The students are much more involved and much less anxious. So I have done research on anxiety and motivation as a result of a—of the learning style involvement.
I’ve done research with colleagues from Egypt, from Brazil, from lots of other countries around the world and we have found that when—when there is style conflict the tapestry unravels. The tapestry of language learning tends to fall apart. And I like the tapestry image. I created that image a while ago. Um, the tapestry being uh the unity of teachers and students working together and um as strands in the tapestry and the language is part of—part of the tapestry itself. Um, the institution is part of the tapestry, that is the blease of that—of that school or university. And then the culture is—is an overarching um feature or maybe another strand in the tapestry. The tapestry tends to fall apart when there are uh undiscovered, unexplained, un-thought about style conflicts. But the tapestry gets tighter and more beautiful and students are much more involved and motivated, much less anxious, when there are—when there are style harmony. And teachers have a tremendous amount of control over that once they understand, you know, just the few basic concepts about learning style. Um, so motivation and anxiety tend to be super high when style conflicts exist and are unattended and unattended to. And motivation and anxiety tend to be much lower. Risk-taking, a good kind of risk-taking is higher in language learning situations where uh style conflicts are—are minimized or at least talked about and where style harmony tends to um arise. So that’s what we found and we found through student essays over and over.
Um, I want to say something that—that makes it clear that we’re not asking teachers to individualize in the sense of creating 30 different lesson plans. This is not a situation uh that teachers cannot handle. Um, all that—all that the learning style research says is we need to have systematic uh understood variety in the classroom. That’s all in the world it means. It—it can mean also that teachers can go out of their way to find out what the learning styles are of the students in the classroom, but it does not demand—this kind of understanding does not demand that teachers have to uh set up uh 30 little classrooms within one classroom. Variety is really the ticket and uh systematic and discipline variety is—is what we want. And I have a whole system laid out uh how to create lesson plans that involve variety in a—in a really systematic way, built on the format system of Bernice McCarthy, but adapted by me, um so that there is a—a very exciting hook that brings students in uh in the early part of the class, first five minutes of class using some video or some brainstorming or some concept mapping. Any kind of thing that gets the students interest uh hooked. So I call that first part the hook of a lesson plan. In the second part of a lesson, there can be some very structured didactic teaching where the teacher lays out grammar rules, or vocabulary, or whatever is relevant to the—the general content theme of the day, um, so it’s perfectly fine to include uh, systematic didactic teaching, some of our students who are more analytic and closure oriented and concrete sequential, they have to have it. Then a third part of the lesson is practice where the teacher provides several different opportunities to practice. Uh, some more analytic, some more global, uh it can be very communicative or it can more structured with close exercises. There are different ways to do practice and it’s often useful to give students a choice here in the kind of practice that they might do. Or at least have two different—two different kinds of practice activities within the classroom during that segment of the—of the lesson. And then the fourth part of the lesson is making it your own. It’s really um, uh personalizing the lesson by asking the students either in class or else for homework to uh—to write something or create something uh that involves that theme of the day. I’m talking about systematic teaching. I’m not talking about the—your theme being the teaching of the past perfect. That is not a theme. I’m talking about a theme being uh baseball, or a theme being um politics, or a theme being uh getting along with parents or dating or filling out uh, uh social security forms. I’m talking about content as a theme. So the fourth part of the lesson is um doing something personal with that on the part of the student. That’s what I mean by a systematic and disciplined way of—of approaching variety, getting variety into the language classroom. And that goes for whether it’s a—a foreign language setting or a second language setting, whether you’re teaching math, whether you’re teaching science. The variety is so important.
Language learning strategies are connected with learning styles but they’re not the same thing. And a lot of people tend to think, oh, this is just jargon, you know, it must be the same thing. No really. Language learning strategies are the specific behaviors or thoughts that students use in order to enhance their learning of a foreign language or second language. Learning strategies are not the general approach that’s—those are the learning styles. The learning strategies are the specific things like taking notes, finding conversation partner, uh sitting down with somebody and quizzing each other, analyzing, reasoning, using uh computer resources. Those are all specific learning strategies so (interrupt)
Language learning styles are the broad approaches to language learning, the visual, auditory, hands on, or the reflective and impulsive, or concrete sequential versus intuitive. Those are the broad approaches. The language learning strategies are quite different, they’re connected, but they’re not the same thing. Language learning strategies are the specific behaviors or thoughts that students use to enhance their own language learning. And, of course, learning strategies are in—are found in math, they’re found in (interruption) Um, learning strategies are used in mathematics, they’re used in science, they’re used in learning uh any subject area, engineering, physics, um physical education, whatever it is. Um, learning strategies are the specific behaviors that students use to enhance their learning and they are consciously deployed, they are consciously used. The student consciously is doing something. Uh strategy—the word strategy is uh—means that which a person does to meet a goal or an objective. So it involves automatically a sense of purpose, which is connected with consciousness. Doing something on purpose. So um, it doesn’t mean that every learning strategy a student uses is appropriate. The student may be doing something on purpose that is totally inappropriate for the task at hand. Nevertheless, um the student is trying, you know, to do—to do his or her best by using a strategy. So strategies are to be applauded, but what we want to do is to get students to use strategies that are directly connected with the learning task and that fit with the student’s learning style. So strategies are like note taking or finding a conversation partner, uh going to the library and using bibliographies in a certain way, uh (interruption).
I’ve done a good bit of research and other people around the world have and we keep finding that learning strategies, the—the use of learning strategies, even the simple frequency of use of learning strategies, seems to be connected with language proficiency. In other words, it’s not 100 percent uh connected but it seems to be a significant predictor of the degree of language proficiency. That’s one piece of information that is really important. Who cares about learning strategies if they don’t meet up with uh achievement and proficiency on the part of the students? Uh, it—it would just be an academic exercise to do research on learning strategies, unless they meant something for proficiency. We also find that the kinds of learning strategies that people use are connected with the cultural belief systems around the student. For example, if we have a student who comes to the United States from China, there’s a whole different constellation of learning strategies that person uses compared to a student who comes to us from um Guatemala. Uh, and we can’t say that culture is the total determiner, but there are some really significant cultural differences and particularly Asian students tend to be much more analytically trained and they are uh immersed in a concept of memorizing and, you know, they’re very, very um rewarded for memorizing details in their home countries. And so they bring learning strategies over that are connected with that. They often have to learn new learning strategies in addition, you don’t want them to lose all those old ones, you want them to learn some new ones too that uh will help them be able to um work with students—other students in a cooperative situation and learn to communicate more easily and more fluently. So you can connect—you can link learning strategies with culture. You can link learning strategies with achievement or proficiency. You can also, and research has done this linked, learning strategies with learning styles. It turns out that quite often students’ use learning strategies that are um highly relevant to the learning styles, their broad approaches to learning. For example, a student who is concrete sequential who needs to take things step-by-step, will naturally gravitate or develop—gravitate to or develop learning strategies that---that deal with using small pieces of information and organizing them in very careful ways and moving from one thing to another and then uh looking back and evaluating, you know, the—how success—how successful that step was. Very uh—the learning strategies are directly linked with the learning style where a person who is much more intuitive, who doesn’t learn, who doesn’t prefer that step-by-step learning, would tend to use a different set of—of learning strategies and would tend to feel hemmed in by strategies that the concrete sequential person would find necessary. So we find that there’s—that there’s this huge link up. We also find that really big um uh relationship is between learning strategies and motivation. Students who are more highly motivated tend to report using more learning strategies. That is they are taking more conscious control over their own learning and this has happened at various levels. It’s—it’s all through the education system that conscious use of specific behaviors on the part of students um is the reflection of motivation. Then, of course, if those strategies succeed, the students’ motivation gets higher. So it’s cyclical that motivation and strategy use uh tend to build upon each other and they can—they can really be very, very valuable together. Now the opposite can occur too. Where a student is using learning strategies, everybody uses learning strategies but a student might use learning strategies that are not too successful, not to relevant to the task, um and may not be uh terribly systematic about them, uh, uh may not use as many learning strategies as somebody else, and that student might not be as successful. And so that student might become de-motivated and the cycle can go downwards. In other words, your spiral can go downwards or you spiral can go upwards. So what we want to do and what the research says is valuable, is to ask teachers to help their students with using learning strategies that are appropriate. Help their students understand what the task involves, um what writing an essay involved, what giving a talk involves, what asking questions might involve. Help the students learn the strategies that might be useful for that and that fit with the student’s learning style. Now if a student is—has a learning style say uh that is extremely introverted—there’s a learning style dimension of introverted and extraverted. Also the personality dimension is the same thing. Uh, but that’s a learning style dimension. Oh, a student who is extremely introverted might use strategies that don’t allow that student to have very much communication with other students. That student might want to read by him or her self, might want to do exercises and activities and tasks in the language by him or her self, and might not be getting enough of the communicative practice. And so sometimes we have to help students stretch their strategies. Sometimes we have to help students learn new ones. In an essence, we’re stretching their learning styles at the same time. An introverted student learning some strategies that would involve cooperation with other students like testing each other, or working together on a project. Those learning strategies, if they’re used enough by that student, might help stretch that—that uh student’s learning style in a broad sense. So learning new strategies can actually help expand a student’s general learning style.
There’s been some research that’s been done in—in the United States and in Taiwan and in various countries about um teachers frames of reference about learning strategies and students frames of reference about learning strategies. And particularly in a second language situation in the United States where a student has come here from another country and the whole set of expectations and beliefs about appropriate learning strategies is quite different from what the teacher might have here in the US. Um, you tend to have almost—almost uh a cultural gap that can’t be bridged unless the teacher knows what’s going on and can do something about it. Uh, the teacher optimally needs to know a little bit about the beliefs, about education and about learning, that occur in another culture. And that isn’t something that everybody just knows. Uh, we have to ask the students or we have to do a little reading, we have to ask um experts who know a little bit about the country, where the students come from. Finding out about the cultural, about the expectations, about uh—about how students are suppose to learn in that home culture, can help our US teachers know what to do. They can help our US teachers understand, “Oh, well this student—this student needs to learn a few more strategies that might be communica—communicative. Might help that student get out um particular box, might help the student learn to be more successful in our culture. That doesn’t mean brainwashing the students to learn a whole new way and drop the—drop the old ways. It doesn’t mean losing all the old strategies, it just means expanding the repatra of strategies. Now teachers are called upon to do many things. We’re supposed to know our own content area. We’re also supposed to know something about discipline and classroom management. Now we’re being called upon to know something about our students, their cultures, their personalities, their learning styles. It’s asking a whole lot of teachers. However, it’s even more difficult if we don’t go out of our way to try to understand these things because um teachers who—who don’t um take on these tasks as part of their own role uh tend to feel really frustrated. They—they can’t really get through to some students. Uh, some students are going to be failing in their classes and uh teachers feel very bad every time a student isn’t doing well. And it’s mystifying if you don’t know that some of these things are cultural and some of these things can be bridged by a little more understanding on our part. So to me taking on the role of a strategy instructor and helping weave new strategies for students into—into the classroom instruction, makes life easier. It’s a new demand, but it makes life easier in terms of students being more successful, teacher feeling better about what they’re doing, students feeling better about what they’re doing. Um, it changed the dynamic of the classroom when teachers know that they can help others—they can help the students learn some slightly new ways of learning by the teacher being a strategy facilitator. So it’s not asking the teacher to change uh the role entirely, but just add on a piece that might not have been thought about before and uh—and do it in a conscious way. Now it’s very interesting to note that in reading—in the teaching of reading, strategies are everything. The teacher particularly at the elementary level and uh in middle school, teachers teach how to read. They are actually teaching students learning strategies. And the same thing can apply to every subject area. Um, teachers in math are actually teaching students mathematical learning strategies. Um, but what I would like to say is that learning strategies in general go across all fields. Uh, certain kinds of reasoning are value—particularly valuable in mathematics, well they may be just as valuable in language learning or in other fields. So the whole concept of learning strategies isn’t interdisciplinary one, even though, you know, perhaps some fields need certain strategies more than other fields. It’s still interdisciplinary effort. Um, and teachers can learn about how to uh—how to teach strategies. There are books; there are workshops, uh at all kinds of teacher’s conferences about best ways to teach learning strategies to your students. And I just want to point out a couple of tips right here that the research tends to show us. Um, teaching learning strategies uh is something that should be interwoven into your every day activities. It should be linked up with um the—the assignments that you give students. Teaching of learning strategies is not something that you do, you know, for an hour a week and then make the students learn how to apply them on their own. Um, what happens is you give an assignment, you give a task, you give um an activity in the classroom and you ask students, “How would you do this? What are the different ways you could do this?” Or you set an assignment and you give ideas of different ways that students could do this task. There are various means of—of teaching learning strategies, but the basic concept is to interweave uh strategy instruction into regular classroom teaching and have it be part and parcel of the instruction rather than a separate thing.
In the 1970’s there was a big push on research on “the good language learner.” And there was a concept—uh there was a profile of a good language learner that if you could ever once find such an animal that—that uh—that you really had the best of all possible worlds and that there was—there was one profile. And certain of the research in the 70’s said that the good language learner was an extrovert. Well, that lets out half the population right there. Uh, the good language learner uh used analysis and reasoning, but at the same time the good language learner uh was interested in communication and took all possible opportunities to communicate. OK. So you can see the development of a profile. Well, yes and no. The profile concept turned out to be wrong. Some of these things uh are very appropriate but they may not be appropriate for every single person. Uh, and what we found out through the learning style research that came later is that there is not a single profile. One—one size does not fit all. One set of strategies does not fit everybody or one set of learning styles or personality traits is not always the ideal. People come to uh language learning in multiple routes and can be successful in multiple ways. Um, all roads do not lead to Rome, but a lot of roads lead to Rome. So what we have found is that the—the good language learner is not a certain profile, but the good language learner is motivated. We have a lot to do with that. The good language learner uses strategies in a conscious way that are connected up with the task. Language learners who are less successful um tend to use strategies in a random desperate way. They don’t know what they’re doing. They just grab for any strategy they possible can, they’ll try anything once. And then if it’s not successfully forget it, they’ll um—some will just let that strategy go. Some will perseverate and then will keep on using a strategy that doesn’t fit the task forever and ever, just because they don’t know what else to do. So the good language learner is uh—is an expert strategy user basically and, of course, we have a lot to do with that. We can help—we can help that piece along. That good language learner has um some concept of his or her own learning style, the general approach by which he or she learns the best. Um, the good language learner is interested in the culture and is not seeing the language just as an academic subject. All of these things are—they’re not immutable characteristics within one student. These are things that are malleable that we can—we can help with. So we can’t say as they said in the 1970’s that, you know, you have to be an extrovert or else you aren’t going to be a good language learner. We can say that there are various ways to be a good language learner and that teachers can—can be facilitators in creating these—these features in their students. It’s not that some stu—some students can’t learn a language. Some students obviously have more aptitude then others um for certain aspects of language learning, but everybody can learn. John Carol actually said back in the 60’s that everybody can learn anything if given enough time and enough proper input. So I think that that applies to language learning as well.
I was fortunate enough to uh—to be asked at one time to create uh a taxonomy or system of language learning strategies and at that point uh when I was asked to do this contract, I really didn’t know what strategies were. And so I must say I can empathize with anybody who at this stage is unfamiliar with the terminology. Um, I quickly discovered that learning strategies are uh a major key to language learning and very, very useful to understand. So I created a taxonomy uh that includes various kinds of learning strategies. And it turns out that um I also created a strategy inventory for language learning. The SILL, which is now in about 20 languages. I have not translated all of these. Uh, I haven’t translating any of them, in fact. Uh, people from around the world have asked if they could translate the SILL and it’s being used now uh in various forms for elementary school on up through um university and adult education. So it seems to be a valuable—a valuable thing for teachers and uh I modeled it slightly after um an instrument for general learning strategy use by Claire Winestein. Uh, but it’s been modified uh for language learning in significant ways. So that is one thing I think uh people need to know that there are instruments that are out there for measuring the kinds of learning strategies that students use, in the frequency with which they use them. It turns out that this is extremely helpful for teachers if they have this information they will know what strategies students could benefit by learning, they’ll know—they’ll know where the weak points are for—for a certain students or for a whole class of students. And uh, uh surveys like this help cut to the chase. They help save a lot of time for teachers and uh help give a little bit of guidance for teachers. They’re also helpful for students because the SILL in particular is self-scoring so students get an immediate feedback uh as to what strategies they’re using. And even if they haven’t thought about the word strategy, uh they start to think about it. It raises the consciousness m, what they’re already doing um and uh students tend to want to talk about these things in class later. They want to find out what other students are using, what strategies other people are using. And it becomes a subject of—of uh, great interest for a lot of students so that they feel um that they now have a tool that they can talk about. They now have a—a language, a men—a little mental language uh with which they can talk to their teachers and their fellow students about learning. And this is very liberating thing. So that’s—that’s one piece of research uh that—that I’ve enjoyed um is the—the survey type of research. I’ve also done a lot of work with student essays about how they learn. Um, there’s another thing I migh—might men—mention is um a survey called the style analysis survey that I’ve created that is now used in a lot of languages around the world. That is an instrument that assesses students learning styles, that is the very broad approaches to learning and uh some teachers like to use the style analysis survey and the strategy inventory for language learning in their classes. Um, which is just fine with me. The style analysis survey is not just for language learning, it’s for any kind of class and it’s useful um no matter what you’re teaching. Now I’m—I teach graduate courses and uh before I get into the meat of any course I always give the style analysis survey so that I know the kinds of students that are in the class. And that helps me orient everything we do so that I know that I’m on the right track with the kind of variety that I’m trying to set up in the classroom. Sot those are pieces that I uh I think are direct contributions that I can give to other people.
Okay, well my major interest has been in my research on individual differences in language learners. And when I talk about individual differences I seen great similarities too. I don’t want to indicate that that there are less similarities between students because that would lead us into endless distractions. And never be able to cope with um with the concept that everybody is so different that we can’t uh find a way to teach them, that makes sense? But individual differences that I have been focusing on, um have been learning styles and broad approaches to learning. Learning strategies that specific behaviors that students use uh in order to improve their own learning and ah the two very great instructural implications for those are for learning styles give variety in class room. Gives systematic displin(?)variety and the kinds of tasks that you um have your students doing. Then for learning strategies the greater structural implications are to find out about what strategies students are using through any means. Could be through learning diaries, dialogue journals, could be through a survey like the strategy inventory for language learning, could be just class discussions. Asking students what they’re doing to do a task. To find out what strategies they’re using and the second implication for learning strategies is to help expand the repertoire of learning strategies by doing some strategy instruction that is directly ah interwoven with the teaching of the subject itself. So those are learning strategies about certain aspects of individual differences. Now other individual differences have to do with gender. The fact that males and females don’t always learn in exactly the same way. Of course all girls don’t learn the same as all other girls and all boys don’t learn the same as all other boys either there are lots of differences within a given gender but um we’ve found that there are some some systematic gender differences, which I don’t want to go into right now because that’s a whole other realm, um but we need to pay attention to to that whole area and uh and uh not expect everybody to learn in the same way. Um so again the variety is very important. There are age differences in language learning that are very well documented by uh second language acquisition uh researchers. There are differences in the motivations. The reasons that people are coming to learn uh a specific language, why they select that language if they are in a foreign language setting, um what their interests are even within the second language setting may not be uh the same, so motivation and interest um have have some uh important instructural implications. The main instructural implication is to find out students interests and help orient the teaching to something that the students can become really excited about. And those are predictable things we you know we don’t have to start they know though each time you teach a new class uh every every fall um or every spring we can predict what a lot of students are going to be interested in. We can select motivating materials um we can go for things that would empower students in terms of materials technologies um activities in and out of the classroom so the whole motivation and interests category of individual differences is quite important. Um these are all within our realm of of a dealing these are so these are so much part of our role so these are just a few of the individual differences and some of the implications that we have from them. What I’d like to say is a general summary, is that when we think about the differences is students and the things that we can do to appeal to a variety of students in our classroom. Um whenever we think about these things and whenever we do something about them we are empowering ourselves as teachers. We are not just empowering students we are becoming better teachers ourselves. Um to me that is one of the most exciting things. I feel that teaching is a is a joyous labor of love and ah we’re giving love when whenever we are paying attention to the differences in our students we’re also giving love when we pay attention to the similarities in our students. So I’m telling you a secret about my uh my approach to teaching is a loving act and the more we understand our students the more loving we are.
Well I have a very checkered history as a language learner and I don’t know if I want to divulge this to the world but since you asked, um I I did not study foreign languages um uh modern foreign languages in high school I went for the Latin I was going’ to go for you know the most academic ah thing around I was going to be ah I was going to be a purist I wasn’t going to get tainted with um French or Spanish or German you know that were so communicative I was just going to go for the hard core academic stuff. So don’t ask me were I got that concept, I have no idea. Um, so I uh I steered clear um during high school and then I had a boy friend uh and we use to pass notes in church. Well he he knew the serilic (?) alphabet so we were passing notes using using Russian alphabet and of course we weren’t using Russian words but we were, it was like a secret code and uh we were just having a great old time so it turns out later I did research on the learning of Japanese and ah uh some high school students who were learning Japanese also were learning it so that they could have a secret code that their parents wouldn’t understand so I guess I wasn’t the only one in the world that uh that was learning it for that reason. Uh this this was just during church and of course I didn’t I wasn’t using the language I was just use using an alphabet for a little fun. During college I decided well I’ll I’ll actually study Russian I’ll continue this once I know this alphabet I might as well do something with it, so I choose Russian as my um my language um for the language requirement at the university and uh I was I was stunned and dumbfounded because they were teaching Russian at my university in exactly the same way that I had be learning Latin a in high school it was is was learning rules, it was memorizing, it was translating and I wasn’t speaking and I was I was flabbergasted you know even then I thought well there’s got to be something more to language learning than this. But the first couple of years was strictly this grammar translation stuff then uh we had a conversation class and the teacher use to take us out and uh um take us to a local diner and uh you know a get us try to get us relaxed and we would talk Russian in diner and that at least was something we were beginning to communicate in the language. Now my Russian career has be very unusual um one of the teachers that I had at the university had us memorize pages out of the dictionary. We would take all the C’s you know we would go um you know for the Russian equivalent of C and we would we would learn all of those words and their and their English translations and we would have to spin them spit them back on the test and then we would forget that and we would go on to the D’s because you just can’t just keep all this amount of detailed trivia really in your mind so ah we went from one letter of the alphabet to the next in the in the Russian alphabet and ah I became very very adept at learning strategies that had to do with where on the page was this word and memorizing things by location um and then forgetting them all later so um I had the good the bad and the ugly with the learning of Russian and at that time I didn’t realize that I could um somehow pick myself up and go over to Russia and actually use the language I didn’t realize um that I could do that I didn’t have money and I didn’t know that there were that there were ways so it was only much later that I realized that I had the facility within myself to find ways to travel and um anyway so I studied Russian in college, I studied French uh the teaching of French in college was no better uh we were we were uh memorizing and memorizing and memorizing and then we would uh translate Molier and such as that but we weren’t really talking. Then in German it was a little bit different uh I had a teacher who was extremely creative and he had actually written his own textbook and we were we were having fun in class we were doing role plays we were talking um and I began to see that there were different ways of teaching languages that could actually um make sense uh to me. Um after I graduated from from college um my sister and I hitchhiked through Europe. I finally had figured out that I could go I could travel and uh we took a we took our small bits of money we went over to Europe and hitch hiked around and um I met a German uh over there and uh fell in love so I quickly learned that uh writing love letters in German was a great way to learn German and practice my language. Um so I started discovering that that for me anyway uh I needed the freedom of communicative language teaching. Then uh not long after I went to a doctoral program in Russian and uh discovered that the teaching was uh they weren’t even teaching Russian anymore the concept was that you would have already learned it so all the classes in that Russian program were taught in English and uh we were learning history and we were we were learning about Russian literature but it was all taught in English so basically that was a wash. Um I ended up teaching Russian and German in high school and uh found all sorts of creative ways to do it um on my own uh strictly untutored in in any um instructional methodology and I was just creating and I found it to be wonderful, a lot of students came to the classes uh who would never have take, you know they wouldn’t have touched a language if they hadn’t heard about these classes and so I found that I could I could be a teacher and I could spark students interest. It was only much later that I got into the uh ESL field, English as a second language and bilingual education um uh that’s another whole story about about uh my teaching and that realm. Basically as a language learner I found that I was not a success uh in many ways but that I was still very interested. I was still motivated by the cultural um depths and brets(?) of language learning, what it could be, the mysteries of other cultures and the mysteries of language um really turned me on so um I don’t feel like I was a great success I do feel like I learned how not to learn and uh I learned a little bit about how I did learn better and uh so my goal, I’m still a learner of languages, my goal is to travel and I’ll continue to travel and to um go over seas um to certain places and just immerse myself in languages taking some formal courses because I like some structure, I need some structure, but a also having um communication all around me in the language, I know that that’s how I learn best. So in a nut shell, the good the bad and the ugly of my language learning history.
Tremendous value in sharing your language learning history. Uh there are many students out there that are just like me who found that they were demotivated and became very anxious with certain kinds of instructional methodology and they think that they are the only ones, they think that, like I felt, that um they can’t be a success at language learning and I felt that so strongly at various periods of my life um and it’s an isolating thing not to know that other people are in it with you and that other people have had similar experiences or, by the same token, that other people can be successful and that there are ways to be successful. Sharing your language learning history uh really breaks down a lot of barriers in a class room um helps you understand how other people learn and how you learn and it’s a real um it’s a window into the soul. It’s more than language it’s a window into the soul.
Well, it’s not a matter of not being smart I think you’re perfectly smart enough but um, the whole realm of technology I think is is going to be very very important for language teaching and learning particularly as we enter into this new millennium. Um I have done some re-recent research uh about how technology is going to be changing the teaching and learning of everything really and about electronic books and uh the use of computers, the use of multi-media. So this is a whole other realm of great interest of mine um I think that there are different learning strategies that going to start popping up because of of the use of of technology. That students are going to be thinking in a different way, learning in a different way. Not everybody is going to learn in the same way not everybody will react to technology in the same way but um technology is going to have a huge effect. Um I’ll be glad to talk about that some other time. That’s a whole exciting realm. Technology can be very liberating or can be stultifying it depends on how it is used. There are students hiding behind a computer screen all day, every day uh they may not get the kind of communicative interaction they’re going to need to learn a language. However if they are ah on a computer where they are linked up around the world with other students uh doing simulations using the language they could be learning a tremendous amount and they could be becoming extremely fluent uh and accurate in a language using technology. There’s, it’s all in how the technology is perceived and how it is implemented and used as to whether students are going to succeed with it and whether it’s going to be mind expanding or mind reducing.