not teaching, just pointing the path

My dojo for English coaching

My dojo for English coaching

Since I’ve already mentioned that I’m teaching English to Japanese students, some of you may be wondering about my suitability for this job; I think a lot of native (English) speakers must be thinking:

Well, the students are not getting the best pronunciation they could (or should).

This guy is making lots of mistakes, and some of these mistakes consist of word combinations which are not really possible in standard English.

Moreover, I am breaking a lot of the pragmatic rules of English, because I take very long turns. You might be thinking (if you’re a native speaker):

This guy just goes on and on and on, belabouring the point, stretching everything to the point of breaking.

Our patience (as listeners) is at an end.

Isn’t it? I’ve just passed a minute and a half right now.

Even if you’re not a teacher of English, as a native speaker you probably feel that there’s something wrong about me being a teacher. And I agree with you on that.

However, let me add quickly that I’m not really a teacher: I am coaching people.

What’s the difference? Well, if you know Japanese, the difference between teaching and coaching is the difference between oshieru (教える) and shido-suru (指導する).

The latter consists of two kanji (Chinese characters 漢字), which are

  1. shi (also read as sasu = Pointing [with the index finger] 指す) &
  2. do (also read as michibiku = to guide 導く); incidentally, one part of the character 導 is michi (=Way, Path ), which is also read as do from judo (Soft-Way 柔道).

So I am pointing at the path, I’m guiding: I am coaching people how to learn English.

Think about my classroom as a place where English is learned as in a dojo (=Way-Place 道場).

Why do I take this approach? First of all, as you might have noticed, I am not a native speaker of English, so I have many faults which make me quite unsuitable to teach proper English.

On the other hand, I have the great advantage over native speakers of English of being a learner of English. A fairly accomplished (if rather inappropriately verbose) learner of English. At least that’s what the test scores would tell you.

That being said, I’m not perfect, so I don’t want to teach.

I want to coach people about English because I have walked the path and I can give you some hints, some tips on how you can walk the same path.

Of course, I don’t know all the tricks. I don’t know all the little crooks and cracks on this path, and I cannot point to all the gaps in my knowledge, since I have not mastered all the nice turns of speech.

That being said, I think I can point out enough (the big turns).

One big turning point (for people who walk the path of learning English) can be found in the students’ assumptions about how much they should be pushed:

  1. how much of the burden of walking the path (i.e., studying, using, interacting in English) they take on themselves &
  2. how much they leave up to the teacher.

Now, I hope you’re being as annoying a student as any (by asking questions and trying to get as much feedback as possible), but there’s a big issue here:

Your time with the teacher will probably be quite limited.

This means that you’ll need to spend a long time learning by yourself, applying yourself to this subject of learning English.

How much time should you spend learning the path by yourself? I would say 10 times more than the time spent with the teacher.

Why do I say this? Imagine that we’re talking about somebody who’s trying to learn how to cook. Of course, it depends on the level you’re aiming at:

  1. Are you trying just to cook some edible food? Then a couple of hours a month of teaching / coaching from a real chef might enable you to reach your target in 2-3 months.
  2. Are you trying to cook a meal in a restaurant, for other people who will judge you on this? This will definitely take more time and effort.

And if you want to learn English,

  1. Are you trying to learn English for a two-day trip to Hawaii? Then a couple of lesson-hours will probably suffice.
  2. Are you trying to learn English to become able to take on a job in another country? Then you need more hours, of course.

How many more hours? Well, it depends.

Do you leave it all up to the teacher? If yes, then how much money do you have?

If you don’t leave it all up to the teacher, how much time do you have? Free time, spare time to learn English.

If you have enough spare time, how much content in English can you find that is of interest to you?

Are you just trying to study the rules (the analytic learner type, spending a lot of time studying the grammar and syntax)?

Perhaps you’re buying many textbooks on how to use the subjunctive and so on. (1-2% of all learners)

Are you just trying to understand something written/said in English?

Something which you find interesting (you already know what it’s about, you know the topic), and you’re not very interested in how the rules work, you’re just trying to get to the meaning. (98-99% of all learners)

If you belong to the latter group (non-analytical type), then the problem for you is that you might not know where you could find content that would be of interest to you. This is where I can help by pointing out some free resources on the Internet where you can find something that may be of interest to you personally (customised input).

A successful interaction with a text in English would be an interaction where you feel happy with how much meaning you got from it.

If you don’t care about every article and preposition used in a conversation between two people, because you’re happy with catching the meaning of what’s being said, then you probably put more value on MEANING than you do on FORM (the analytical learner type).

Of course, the analytical method of learning can be seen as the easier way. If you can apply yourself to studying the grammar of the language you’re trying to master, you will probably advance more quickly, up to a point.

This is what you should do in those English lessons with real, native English speaking teachers, who know their pronunciation and know their grammar well (the rules).

However, when you’re outside these classes, which means most of the time when you’re trying to learn English, you should interact with texts in English in which

your main interest should lie not with the FORM (but please do notice the FORM), but rather with the MEANING, because gradually this incredible machine we have in our heads (called the brain) will process enough patterns to allow you at least a subconscious grasp of how the rules of this language work.

Listen to enough people talking in English and at some point you’ll figure out that when they ask a question, they have this rising intonation:

“What’s UP? How is it GOING? Where is my PEN?”

You’ll figure out that there is an inversion of subject and something called an auxiliary verb and so on and so forth.

Get as much input as possible to allow the brain to process as much information as possible, giving it a chance to spot as many patterns as possible.

In case you don’t know, this is the approach that we are using in quality control in manufacturing:

We cannot define every feature of how the product should come out from the machine.

So how do we throw out the products which are not up to the set standards? In a modern factory we install cameras which take photos of many, many products, which identify patterns of possible mistakes, which identify patterns of acceptable products (think about acceptable word combinations, what we call a well-formed sentence), and

after enough patterns are stored in the device memory, this machine is quite comfortable selecting the proper output and rejecting that which is deemed unsuitable (not well-formed).

The idea is that when you talk, from some point onward, you should feel that it is much more natural to say

  • “I’m used to speaking another language” than to say
  • I’m used to speak another language

Maybe you also learn the rule in a lesson and somebody explains to you that in the first case “to” is a preposition which is followed by a verb with the ING ending, or a noun or a pronoun, whereas in the latter case “to” is a particle used together with a verb to create the infinitive.

Whatever. My point is that you would have heard (or read) many more instances of “somebody is used to VERB-ING” and almost no instances of “somebody is used to VERB”.

After the pattern has been set, after the range of acceptable combinations has been identified, it becomes quite natural to reject the alternative combination as wrong, even when we don’t know which (specific grammatical) rule has been violated by this alternative combination.

So INPUT: comprehensible, interesting meaning. Add interactive.

My approach to coaching can be roughly defined as building on the Comprehensive Input Hypothesis of Stephen Krashen and fine-tuning it by showing learners how they can access learning resources.

I have built on the Comprehensive Input approach and I have developed something I call the Customised Interaction (input+output) Approach (CIA) in which the content you interact with is customised to match your tastes in order to ensure

  1. that you have an interaction (not limited to input) with the material
  2. that you interact with it by reacting with interest (or lack thereof)
  3. that you become more willing to give more of your time to processing English,

which hopefully results in enhanced proficiency.

So yeah, I’m just coaching:

I’m the guy on the bench, telling people how to run when, if I had to run the same distance, I would probably trip 3 times and fall flat on my face.

Maybe I entertain the notion that I have run enough tracks to qualify me as a coach.

Maybe I’m just lazy.

Enough said.

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