Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deep Learning

My Effortless English Lessons contain three levels. Level 1 lesson sets are at a low intermediate level. The audio and text articles are shorter, and I speak more slowly in the Mini-Story lessons.

Even though these are "intermediate" level lessons, all learners should use them-- even advanced learners. Why? Because advanced learners usually have a lot of basic problems. They may know a lot of vocabulary, for example, but may not know many common phrases that native speakers use.

Advanced learners also have another BIG problem- they often "know" very difficult grammar, but when they speak, they make very simple grammar mistakes. This is because they learned with old methods- they learned to analyze English grammar but they never learned to "feel" correct grammar. They didn't learn it deeply.

So, even advanced learners need to practice the level 1 lessons-- all of them.

Next are the level 2 lesson sets. These still contain fairly short text and audio articles, but I speak faster. The Mini-Story lessons are much faster... and there are some Point of View lessons too. The level 2 lessons increase your "processing speed". You also learn a lot of idioms and phrases.

What is processing speed? Its how fast you understand (and speak) English. For example, you might "know" a lot of vocabulary, but when you hear native speakers you still can't understand. Why not? Probably because your processing speed is slow. Your brain can't understand whole phrases and sentences and it cant understand them quickly. Level 2 lesson sets help you improve.

Finally, there are the level 3 lesson sets. This is the biggest group of lessons. These lesson sets include much more difficult text and audio articles. The Mini-Stories are much more difficult too... I speak quite quickly-- at a quick (but normal) native rate of speech.

When you finish all of the level 3 lesson sets, your processing speed is fast. Also, you know a lot of vocabulary, including common idioms, phrases, and slang.

For all students, it is important to do ALL of the lesson sets. Whatever your level, start with the level 1 lesson sets, and do all of them (one set per week). Then go to the level 2 sets, and then to the level 3 sets. Do not skip any sets or any levels.

You listen to one set every day-- for one week (or more). In this way, you learn everything deeply. You learn to understand quickly. You learn to speak fast-- and effortlessly. You are a fluent English speaker!

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Exciting Things

At the moment, I am on vacation in Honduras. Im on Roatan Island, SCUBA diving for the next week. So far, the diving has been fantastic. I have gotten my Advanced certification, and also certification in Enriched Air Diving (Nitrox).

When I return to San Francisco, we'll be working on several new exciting things. At the moment, our two new teachers, Kristin and Chris, are working on new lesson "albums". Kristin and I are finishing the movie lessons.

As you know, my Effortless English Club lessons include two sample movie lessons. In these lessons, you have the text from a real Hollywood movie. For each scene, there is also a Vocabulary lesson-- I explain difficult phrases, especially idioms and slang. Then there is a Listen & Answer Mini-Story lesson (or more than one). This is the most powerful lesson. In the Mini-Story, we ask a lot of questions while telling a story. You answer the questions. As you hear the questions and answer them, you effortlessly learn vocabulary and grammar.... and you learn them deeply.

Some lesson sets also include a Point of View Lesson-- in which we tell the same story using different grammar (past, future, etc).

Chris and I are working on a Core Fluency Lesson album. These lessons focus on the most common English words, phrases, and grammar. When you finish these lessons, you will master the most common English-- allowing you to speak easily to native speakers. The Core Fluency lessons will be great for learners who want to strengthen their fluency, or for learners who are lower level.

The Movie Lessons will be a great addition to my Effortless English Club Lessons-- you will continue to improve while learning more idioms and common American slang!

So, continue to check this blog for more news about the new lessons.

Meanwhile, the best way to get started is with my Effortless English Lessons. Enjoy English!

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Greek Family Lessons

"Greek Family" is one of my intermediate level lesson sets. The set has several parts:

1. A real letter from a woman who is married to a Greek man. The woman writes about her problems with his family. Because she is not Greek, they do not accept her. Even worse, they don't accept her children either. The couple lives in America. In many ways, the letter sounds like it was written about the family in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"

2. An audio version of the letter. All lesson sets include both a text article and an audio version. Audio is very important because you improve your speaking by listening. Listening to native speakers is the best way to improve your speech: your pronunciation, your spoken grammar, your spoken vocabulary, and your understanding.

3. A Vocabulary Lesson: In the vocabulary lesson, I explain difficult vocabulary. I especially focus on difficult phrases and idioms. Individual words are easy to find in a dictionary, but phrases and idioms are often difficult to understand-- unless a native speaker explains them.

4. A Listen & Answer Mini-Story: The Listen & Answer Story is the most important lesson. In this lesson, I tell a story with questions. I ask many, many questions. Most are quite easy. You answer every question with a loud voice. If necessary, you pause your computer or iPod and then answer.

The question technique I use is very powerful, for two reasons. First, the questions create a lot of repetition of important structures (grammar) and vocabulary. Its not enough to hear something one time-- you will forget it. But in these lessons, you hear the important phrases MANY times. You learn them deeply-- so you understand them instantly and automatically.

Secondly, the question technique is powerful because you must participate. You must respond. You must answer. This is like a real conversation. In real conversations, someone asks you a question, and you answer. Most textbooks and tapes don't ask enough questions.. and the student just sits there (or even worse... the teacher says, "repeat after me"-- terrible). In my Listen and Answer lessons, you learn to think in English. You hear a lot of questions and you answer all of them. After using all of my lessons, you will be ready for real conversations!

4. Point of View Stories. The Point of View stories tell the exact same Mini-Story... but each one uses different grammar. By listening to all of them, you practice the Past tenses, the Perfect tenses, and the Future. But don't worry-- you never study boring grammar rules. You don't even need to know the names of the verb tenses. You learn to understand and use them naturally-- without thinking-- just like a native speaker.

By using all parts of the lesson set, you learn English deeply. You learn to use English automatically. You learn effortlessly.


Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Passion is Important

This week I have a new teacher at the Casa Xelaju Spanish school. She is much better.

Last week, my old teacher never smiled. She had no passion for teaching. But my new teacher smiles often. She enjoys talking. She enjoys communicating. When I talk, she looks at me. She listens. It seems like she likes her job.

At Effortless English, we talk a lot about methods. Teaching methods are very important. We use the best learning methods. We use the most successful methods. We always choose methods based on independent research, so you learn easily and quickly.

However, method is not the only important thing. Passion and enthusiasm are equally important. The teacher must LOVE teaching. The teacher must have passion. The teacher must be interested in teaching.

If the teacher does not have passion, the student will feel it. The student will quickly become bored and tired. The student will lose motivation. This happened to me last week. After only one week with a bored teacher, I was ready to quit the school. On the other hand, after only one day with a good teacher, I feel motivated and happy about learning Spanish.

Our attitudes are very important-- both as teachers and students. We must be passionate, positive, and enthusiastic. As students, we must find teachers who LOVE teaching. We must find materials that are interesting to us. We must take care of our emotions and motivations.

That's why I try to be enthusiastic and excited in my lessons. Sometimes I even shout! Feel my energy! Become more excited about English! Enjoy the stories and ideas and don't focus on grammar!

This is probably the most important "method" of Effortless English: Passion!

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Basic Flaws of Language Education

My terrible experience at the Casa Xelaju school does have one benefit-- its an opportunity to analyze the failures of traditional language education.

As you know, language programs have a failure rate of over 95%-- which is terrible. Why do they fail so much? What is wrong with language education all over the world?

Of course, I know many of the reasons because I know the research on this topic.

But its interesting to experience this failure again as a student. Its interesting to analyze what the schools do and how they think. In fact, I believe the fundamental problems are mental. The reason language schools fail is that they hold certain incorrect beliefs. These beliefs effect their teaching methods, their attitudes, and their behaviour.

So, what are the basic wrong beliefs that most language schools and teachers hold?

1. "Teachers can (and should) force students to speak"

This is also called the "output" belief. Most teachers think that output (speaking and writing) is most important in language education. Therefore, they try to force their students to speak and write frequently. They do this even with beginning students-- forcing them to speak the language before they are ready.

The problem is, this belief is totally wrong. We don't learn language by speaking or writing. We learn from "input"-- listening and reading. Research shows that understandable input (listening and reading) is the fastest, most efficient, and indeed.. the only way to learn a language.

Does this mean speaking and writing are not important? Of course not. It means that in a classroom, listening and reading must be the primary activities. It means that forcing students to speak is a waste of time.

This belief is really a sign of teachers' impatience. They don't have patience, so they try to push the student to speak, speak, speak before they are ready.

Its also a sign of teachers' laziness. When the students speak, the teacher can do nothing (just nod their head and pretend to listen). But if the students are going to listen, the teacher has to talk and must try hard to help the students understand.

Effortless English is a Listen First method. Our lessons use listening primarily (with some reading). We do this because the research is clear-- listening is the key to learning a language and listening is the key to speaking well.

2. "Teachers can force students to be perfect"

This is another sign of teachers' impatience. They believe that the students must be perfect. Teachers believe that errors are bad, and must therefore be corrected constantly.

They force their students to think ABOUT the language-- about "the rules". And what happens? Their students become nervous and slow. They can't communicate because they are so worried about perfection. They constantly translate and analyze grammar "rules". Their speaking is terrible-- absolutely terrible.

This belief is wrong. Perfection is a lie, and it is not possible. Language learning is a process-- a long process. During most of that process, errors are NECESSARY and NORMAL. Children do not speak their native language perfectly. Even highly educated adults make occasional mistakes.

To learn quickly... to speak well, students absolutely must make mistakes. The research is clear about this-- students who focus on communication, not perfection, learn faster, speak better, and eventually MAKE FEWER ERRORS than students who focus on grammar "rules".

For this reason, we never focus on perfection with Effortless English lessons. We encourage students to communicate. We never analyze grammar rules and we never teach grammar rules. You learn grammar naturally, like a child.

You also enjoy the language. You relax. You smile. You laugh. You think. You learn English by focusing on ideas, stories, and communication.

3. "Error correction helps students speak better"

This is a very common lie. Most teachers think that error correction helps students speak better. Unfortunately, many students also think this helps-- they actually ask the teacher (or a friend) to correct their errors while they speak.

This seems logical,.. but its totally wrong. There is a lot of research about this. In the research, they have two groups. One group receives a lot of error correction. The other group receives none (the teacher never corrects their spoken errors).

After some time (3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years), they test each group. There is NO difference. Both groups still make the exact same number of errors when speaking.

So, obviously error correction is a waste of time. But its worse than that-- because when the teacher corrects your speech, you become nervous. You start thinking ABOUT English. Your speech becomes slower.

So, both groups make the same number of mistakes still-- but the error-correction group speaks slower, understands slower, and enjoys the language less! A terrible result.

This belief comes from the idea of "no pain, no gain". Many teachers think that students must suffer to succeed. They think the pain of correcting errors will make the students better and stronger. They are totally wrong. In language learning its "pain= no gain".

With Effortless English lessons, you are never corrected. Also, we encourage students NEVER to have their speech corrected. Instead, focus on LISTENING TO correct English from native speakers. Your errors will improve when you listen a lot to correct English.

Even better, your speech will improve automatically! You don't need to think about it. You don't need to be nervous. You relax, you listen a lot to the lessons, and your grammar & pronunciation improve automatically-- and effortlessly. That's why we call it "Effortless English".

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Typical Language School

I arrive at Casa Xelaju (the Spanish school) at 8am. I come into class and sit down. I'm very enthusiastic about learning Spanish. Last night, I did all of my homework, plus I studied extra.

The teacher says, "hola". She doesn't smile. She already looks bored. She wastes about 10 minutes going through papers while I wait. I'm the only student in the class, so I have no one to talk to. Finally, she asks for my homework. She reads the essay I wrote and corrects it. This is useful, I'm happy to get feedback on my writing.

Next, she asks me to talk a little about what I did yesterday. I start talking, but she gets a call on her cell phone. She takes the call and starts chatting! She hangs up and then says, "I need to get some coffee, I'll be right back". Ten minutes later she comes back. I suspect she was actually talking on the phone.

She asks me to start talking again. She looks totally bored... no smile, no interest in what I'm trying to say.

Next, she gives me a picture and tells me to describe it. I do my best while she sits in the corner looking bored. Occasionally she corrects my mistakes.

After this, she tells me to read a paragraph. Then I have to do a worksheet and fill in the missing words. Then I do another worksheet, writing answers to short questions. While I write, she stands and looks out the window. She leaves the room several times.

Finally, we have a 30 minute break. I started today with lots of enthusiasm, but now Im bored and annoyed. I'm happy to have a break.

When I come back from the break, she gives me a Word Search and a Crossword Puzzle. A Word Search and a Crossword Puzzle! I can't believe it. I have been teaching for over ten years, and I know that this is a total waste of time. Its a useless way for the teacher to do nothing while the student wastes time looking for words in a block of letters.

Now I know for sure-- my teacher doesn't care at all. She is bored with her job. She has no motivation, no energy, no enthusiasm, and no method.

At the end of the day I must admit that this school is mostly a waste of time. The one good point is that I get to talk in Spanish for the last 45 minutes... which helps boost my confidence and motivation and enthusiasm again.

As I walk home, I'm reminded of Steve Kaufman's words-- you cannot depend on schools to teach you. Learning is your responsibility.

And so it is. I won't let this school destroy my motivation. I know, in fact, that this school is a very normal and typical language school. I have seen these same behaviours at many English schools I've worked at. Of course, I know that every teacher gets tired sometimes. But even on a bad day, I tried to at least have energy and enthusiasm.

After this experience, I finally understand the majority of comments I get from my students. Many people write me and thank me for the lessons. They like my teaching method. The improve their English speaking.

But the most common comment I get is something like, "Thanks so much for your energy and enthusiasm. I love listening to your voice. You make me excited to study English. You make English fun." They like the lessons, but what they really LOVE is the energy and enthusiasm.

After today, I totally understand. Today, I didn't care about teaching methods-- I just wanted her to show some interest in me. I wanted her to enjoy teaching me, and enjoy helping me learn Spanish. Instead, she almost destroyed my excitement for the language.

But this is not the end. I will focus on the few good points of the class (an opportunity to talk in Spanish)... and I will spend my free time listening to interesting Spanish, reading interesting Spanish, and writing Spanish.

I will enjoy the language, and learn it myself!

And finally, I will remember this experience-- to motivate myself to continue improving as a teacher... and to always LOVE teaching English.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Disappointing First Day

I was very excited to start Spanish classes today. Why?

Because the school in Xela said they used TPR-Storytelling to teach Spanish. As you know, my Listen & Answer Lessons use the TPR-Storytelling technique. This technique is the most powerful, the most effective, and the most efficient language teaching method I know. It is awesome!

Like many English learners, in the past I suffered through terrible Spanish lessons. In school, we rarely listened. We never read anything natural or interesting. In my High School Spanish class, we only studied grammar rules and memorized vocabulary. And so, I never learned to speak Spanish.

Last year, I started studying Spanish by myself. Unfortunately, I haven't studied much. In fact, I haven't studied at all during the last 6 months.

When I did study, I just listened to interesting articles and read interesting mini-novellas. It helped. I learned more from doing this than from one full year of Spanish classes.

But what I've always dreamed of is to learn Spanish with my own Effortless English methods... especially Listen & Answer Lessons.

So... I came to class today full of excitement! Finally, I was going to learn with a great method!

But I was disappointed. While the school claims to use "TPR-Storytelling", in fact they do not understand the method. They also don't use it very much. So what did we do in class today-- we reviewed conjugations of past tense verbs! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Back to High School.

So I guess I'm not going to get much help with Spanish-- I'll just have to continue learning on my own. If I ever do become fluent, maybe I will create my own
Effortless Spanish" lessons-- to help others avoid the frustration I have experienced.

Meanwhile, I am even more committed to helping English students learn with the best methods possible at Effortless English!

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday Xela

Sunday in Xela was a relaxing day. The Parque Central was filled with people. Every Sunday there is a market there, with people selling clothes and other handicrafts. Also, the main catholic church is in the Parque, and its quite large.

In the video I shot, you can see people streaming out of the church. Some (mostly women) are wearing traditional Guatemalan (indigenous) clothing. After church, many people strolled around the market. Ice cream was a very popular treat.. it seemed that everywhere we looked, there were people eating ice cream. Vendors pushed small ice cream carts around the square.

Surprisingly, I didn't get any ice cream. Its a surprise because, as my friends know, I really like ice cream. Maybe I'll avoid gaining weight on this trip!

In general, Sunday was a nice relaxed day. This seems to be the overall vibe of Xela-- relaxed and easygoing. Its a good place to focus on learning Spanish.

I'm also thinking a lot about future lessons and practicing my teaching technique. Being a language student always helps me as a language teacher!

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Microsoft Censorship Lessons

"Microsoft Censorship" is the title of one of my lesson sets. Its about internet companies who are helping China censor the internet.

Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google all censor results in China. If you do a search for "democracy" or "Tibet" or "Falun Gong" in China, you will not get honest and accurate results about these topics. Most websites related to these topics are blocked.

In other words, these companies are assisting a totalitarian government that squashes democracy, murders protesters, tortures political prisoners, and strongly censors free speech. As such, these companies are, in my mind, active human rights abusers.

This issue, and the issue of human rights in general, is very important to me. The Effortless English Club actively supports human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We strongly support freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. We believe these are universal human rights.

We also believe that businesses should actively support human rights instead of helping governments murder, imprison, and intimidate people. These internet companies are just a small example.... all over the world, companies are profiting by partnering with brutal governments.

This is happening here in the USA as well-- where AT&T is helping the US government spy on their customers' phone conversations and emails. Many people seem willing to do anything to make money.

That, to my mind, is a crime. In our own small way, I hope Effortless English can be a counter-example-- a company that supports human rights, ecology, and sustainable economics.

The "Microsoft Censorship" lesson set is my first small attempt to help-- by increasing awareness of what's happening and by talking about universal human rights.

Of course, this is also a great lesson set-- with a powerful Listen & Answer Mini-Story Lesson, great vocabulary, and, of course, a REAL English text & audio article.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Day of the Dead

We went by the school and got to our host family. The host family is very nice-- a mom and her college student daughter. They were both super patient with my Spanish (even though they speak English, they stuck with Spanish). In fact, Ana (the mom) said she loves to study English. I told her about my Effortless English lessons!

Ana provides three meals a day, which is great. Lunch was black beans, tortillas, salsa, boiled potatoes, and cucumber & onion salad. Quite nice.

After lunch the school had a short tour of the local cemetery. There were 5 of us. The student coordinator (whose name is Kristin) showed us all around. Yesterday was the Day of the Dead, so almost all the tombs and graves had flowers. There were a lot of families there, taking care of the graves, having picnics.. kids flying kites. The families take care of their ancestors' graves on this day.

The front section of the cemetary was full of large tombs.. like they have in New Orleans. Its where the richer families are buried. They have to pay rent for the tombs... if they don't pay, the body is exhumed and cremated and the tomb is rented to someone else!

Many of the tombs had been robbed of their marble, because it can be sold. Almost all the angels on the tombs were missing heads-- they'd been chopped off and sold. However, a couple of tombs had an "angel of death" (a scary looking angel) on top and these were untouched because people feared being cursed if they damaged them.

PS: I am experimenting with video-- trying to get the sound and video quality decent without creating huge files that are slow to download. Any suggestions?

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Long Trip to Xela

We decided to go to Xela, Guatemala to investigate a Spanish school. I'm very interested in this school because they claim to use a method similar to my Listen & Answer Lessons. So, I want to try this school for two weeks and see how they teach Spanish.

We flew out of San Francisco after midnight, at 1:30am. It was a miserable flight. I couldn't sleep, even though I was very tired. My legs hurt and I was crammed into a little seat for over 5 hours. I was reminded, again, how much I hate overnight flights and buses. I've made too many of these miserable trips in my life and really dread them now.

After a grueling night, we arrived in Guatemala City. At first I wanted to immediately get a hotel. But I got a second wind and so we took a taxi to the bus station. I paid too much for the taxi. I always do this when I'm really tired after a long trip-- I get ripped off by taxis and hotels.

The bus ride was over 4 hours and my legs hurt even more. My lower legs swelled and still I couldn't sleep. The bus wound around curves, up and down mountains-- I was constantly jerked left and right in my seat.. my head bouncing with the curves.

We finally made it to Xela, Guatemala (official name of the town is Quetzaltenango). My legs were killing me and my neck hurt too. At the bus stop we got another taxi into the center of town.. and I paid too much again. I was too tired to argue.

The center of town was almost totally empty-- no cars, no people. It was weird. Xela (Quetzaltenango) is supposed to be the second largest city in Guatemala, but it felt like a ghost town.

Using a guidebook map, we walked around and finally found a guesthouse. Luckily it was a very nice place-- a small building with a courtyard. The room was nice and they had a good restaurant too.

Totally exhausted and sore, I finally went to bed. I slept over 12 hours.

The next day in Xela I woke up feeling much better after sleeping over 12 hours. Had breakfast at the guesthouse.... then went outside to look at the town. If was much more active. There were people and cars! It turns out that we arrived on the Day of the Dead-- a national holiday-- which is why the town was empty. Xela is still a quiet town, but not a ghost town after all! We went around the Parque Central, and shot some video.

In general, I think this will be a nice place to relax and focus on studying both Spanish and teaching methods.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.