For those who did not have the chance to read Part One here are the main points:
- When adults learn a foreign language and speak it fluently, they form a new language speech center in the brain that is separated from the native language center.
- We don’t think in our native language; we think in a code language of symbols, images and associations.
- The majority of adults (approx. 95%) loses their linguistic talent after the age of 18 and thinks the loss is irreversible.
- A small proportion of adults (less than 5%) somehow preserve the child’s ability to learn a new language without reverting to cross-translation to the mother tongue.
- When adults learn a new word in a foreign language, they subconsciously associate it with a similar word in their native language and not with the image or situation. This subconscious activity is called cross-translation.
- A method that does not explicitly address the problem of cross-translation cannot succeed.
- The advice “learn like a child” is wishful thinking: adults need to employ particular tools or techniques to switch their brains to learn like a child.
Judging from the comments the concept of “subconscious cross-translation” (SCT) has raised a few questions. Here is a very nice explanation given by Ria Smit, a seasoned English teacher from Australia, who works now as EFL teacher in China:
“Of course I have always, since I learned Chinese, been aware that the students are speaking Chinese with English words. I do not have that problem with the majority of the students that I teach now. They come when they are 6 and they learn all the English in English and they won’t have that problem until they get to a Chinese who will insist on translating every word in every text and so make the kids think in Chinese while they learn English. Well, we all know it doesn’t work.”
SCT is association of images or situations first with the words in mother tongue and then with words in the target language. Because it is subconscious activity adults have no control or ability to stop or change it. This bilingual information cannot be memorized or used in speech since when we speak we automatically use one language. That is why, in my opinion, SCT is the main barrier in acquiring a foreign language for 95% of adults.
Another explanation of SCT: 95% of adults when learning a foreign language try to add it to the mother tongue. Very few people can do it: think in mother tongue and speak in English since it requires extraordinary concentration. Usually such people speak very slowly and still have great difficulties in understanding spoken language.
The modern history knows three cases when SCT was eliminated:
- The Callan Method is used exclusively in language schools and requires a Callan Method-trained teacher who can speak to his students in English at the rate of 200 to 240 words a minute. This is faster than normal conversational speech, which is only about 120-150. The teacher’s accelerated speed approach prevents boredom – that was Callan’s objective. He was not aware of SCT and did not realize that his method worked because his students did not have time for subconsciously using their mother tongue. The Callan teacher is allowing students to hear more words repeated more times. This makes it easier for students to understand English outside the classroom, and, of course, makes them learn faster. The Callan school is unique in providing a written warranty that their students will learn English four times faster.
- Entrepreneurial English teacher extraordinaire Li Yang introduced “Crazy English” in Beijing on a large scale in 1994. Since then, his method has become very popular, especially before the Olympics in China. It has approximately 20 million practitioners. The essence of this method is well-portrayed in this video. Rehearsing English instead of learning is more efficient for adults since when they shout English phrases in a crowd the SCT is turned off.
- The patented Language Bridge Technology (LBT) offers an efficient alternative to Callan method and to “Crazy English”.
LBT contains two major components: new methodology (no grammar, no memorization and no translation) and self-study software that incorporates the possibility to export lessons to any device or add new lessons according to the learner’s objectives. It is a perfect tool for implementation of blended learning: a combination of self-study software, which could be customized according to the EFL learners’ needs, and public online or offline classes. Language Bridge learners automatically turn off cross-translation and they start forming an English language speech-center in the brain using simultaneous repetition instead of consecutive repetition which is traditionally used in all conventional methods. This 3-action activity – reading, listening and speaking simultaneously with the speaker – imposes a significant load on the brain and automatically eliminates cross-translation, i.e. association of new English words with the words in the mother tongue.
Now, let us elaborate on the issue of conventional methods of learning. One interesting story is described here: Before and after case studies
Jane had shown great results according to the excerpts of her conversation recorded before and after. The great linguist Stephen Krashen interviewed Jane and asked her: “How long have you been learning English (from what age to now)? You’re 27, right?”
Jane: I’ve been learning English since I was eleven, the fourth year in primary school, until now…total sixteen years.
Jane explained how she improved her English (after 16 years of learning!): “I downloaded every recording when Jason had posted them online. And I put them in iPod, listened them when I was free.”
What surprised me most that Stephen Krashen did not elaborate on the main fact in this story: why after 16 years of learning English Jane was still on the beginner’s level?
Traditionally Chinese learners think that English speech is formed by taking separate words and sticking them together. Presently, there are 14 million registered college students on campuses throughout China. Every single one of these students will have to pass the CET exam (College English Test) in order to earn their degree.
All free time students spend on memorizing English grammar rules (they do it in Chinese!) and the 4,500 English vocabulary words needed to pass the test. Native English speakers use about 3000 words in normal conversations! So why couldn’t Chinese students speak in English when they knew 4,500 words?
Most students who pass the CET test don’t speak English. 4500 English words are memorized as translation from Mandarin and they are not able to be used as the foundation for the automatic speech process. In fact any spoken language is built from word chunks and phrases. Our goal is to achieve real fluency when the words come out of your mouth fast and you understand instantly without subconscious translation to the mother tongue.
I agree with Leslie A. Hart: “… the traditional approach of “teaching” children and adults to speak another language is simply brain antagonistic.” To help language-incapable (95% of the adult population) in acquiring fluency in English we need to promote a new learning paradigm:
- Stop studying separate words in English. Don’t use flashcards.
- Learn words in phrases in interesting contexts using your emotions and feeling and preferred senses. Phrases are GROUPS of words that naturally go together. Research by Dr. James Asher proves that learning with phrases is 4-5 times faster than studying individual words.
- 4-5 Times Faster. Also, students who learn phrases have much better grammar.
- These three dinosaurs of the conventional methods: “Listen and repeat after me!”, “Memorize this dialogue”, and “Let me explain the grammar rule for the day” should be acknowledged as extinct. Learning grammar of the target language in the mother tongue has no value since the bilingual information cannot be applied in creating natural fluent speech in the target language.
- The inner ear grammar works perfectly well in the mother tongue and will be acquired in EFL if you learn it as a skill on a subconscious level.
With the Language Bridge method, the students speak throughout the whole lesson, at least four times as much as they would be with any other form of language teaching.
I have selected examples from China for two reasons:
- China is the country where English Mania originated and where it should be satisfied in the first place.
- About half of all EFL learners in the world are located in China.
Reminder: for those who are surprised by the number 95% of language incapable I offer this statistic given by Dr. James Asher:
96% of students who voluntarily enroll in foreign language classes give up after three years. Only 4% continue to achieve at least minimal levels of fluency. More damaging: Not only do our students give up but they are now convinced that they cannot learn another language. After all, they tried but the results were negative.
In Part 3 of this series of articles I will discuss the following topics:
- Will the software and podcasts and device applications for learning English substitute teachers?
- Blended learning in the digital age – objectives and the problems solved.
- Online language learning portals – will they survive the challenges of the digitization process?