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September 22, 2010

You Are What You ...Read?

Several years ago I had a beginning Asian ESL student whose vocabulary and pronunciation were excellent. I had assumed that she was far along in her language studies.

I was stunned when I found that she was just beginning her English studies. She was further along - and far more confident than students with years more study behind them. How did she do it?

Her secret was beautiful in its simplicity...

...and accessibility: she used audiobooks.

She had found recorded versions of books as well as the printed versions.

She would read and listen intently - and since she was on her own - and not in a class - she would do her best to copy the pronunciation of the reader - even those tricky sounds like the "th" sound I wrote about in my previous blog.

I never would have thought of this approach, and I'm sure it wouldn't work for everyone, yet for this one student, it seemed to work.

Meeting her made me re-think how we learn language - or perhaps everything. She had developed her own one person immersion program. As far as it went, it worked pretty well. But I found her problem areas very quickly.

As I mentioned above, my first impression (and perhaps everyone else) was that she was further along in her understanding of English than others. I thought she was remarkably swift in her learning.

A short conversation proved otherwise.

Once a speaker of English moved toward a topic she didn't know, she was mystified.

In other words, in her familiar topics or vocabulary she was sharp, but outside of that, she was lost.

She had come from an isolated area in the northwest corner of China. Perhaps there were no language schools on her area. She had stumbled upon, or created, her own system.

I've lost track of her now, but she reminds me that we bring our own needs, histories and strategies to everything we learn.

Perhaps there is no formula that works for everyone. And perhaps, just perhaps, there is no approach that is 100% effective.

What are some questions you have about learning or teaching English - or any language?

Let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities. Morf is currently a radio host (tacoma.fm) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/.

Posted by mmorf at September 22, 2010 10:24 PM

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