The Internet TESL Journal

Self-Instruction by Audio Cassette

John Small
small [at]
Nagasaki Junior College of Foreign Languages (Nagasaki, Japan)


Many students profess a desire to learn a language outside a classroom setting. Some seek this as a supplement to classroom study; others--often older students with time or money constraints--study entirely on their own. At some point, most language learners at least try to do self-instruction. Success, however, seems quite limited. These non-classroom students generally lack an effective study method, and they lack feedback for their efforts. The learning of a language in isolation from any sort of supportive environment is unnatural; only those extraordinarily motivated can overcome these barriers by developing good study methods by themselves. The language teacher--or language mentor in the sense described herein--can provide assistance and material to help these students succeed.

Different terms have been used to describe learner efforts to learn outside the classroom.

Good Language Learners

What methods and attitudes make study most effective? In Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, Brown outlined characteristics of good language learners. Six that directly apply self-instruction, are listed below. Good language learners:

Guidelines for Self-Instruction

The method and rationale that follows are meant to assist the language instructor's efforts to guide students towards more effective self-instruction, as well as reader's individual efforts to do self-instruction. The following are general self-instructrion principles that can be directly applied to the use of language tapes.

Audio-Cassette Tape Study Techniques

Countless tapes are available for any language. In addition to proper motivation and concentrated effort, students can apply the following techniques and tips to make the study of any target language tape more effective. Of course, these methods of self-instruction can be selectively applied at the learner's discretion.

Vocabulary Journal

Learners can be encouraged to keep a list of new vocabulary. Small pocket notebooks of the vocabulary with native language-target language translations--or, if the learner is advanced enough, target language vocabulary with target language explanations--are handy to carry and practice any time, like on the train, or while waiting at stoplights. Diligent review, even for just five minutes a day, can bring very positive results.


Classroom instructors can communicate the above ten audio-tape study techniques to students who desire to do self-instruction in various ways. The instructor can simply hand the learner the list; in most cases the language should be simplified first.

The classroom instructor can apply the techniques using a tape in the classroom, while pointing out the techniques so motivated learners are more likely to do on their own. Students, both for self-instruction and for classroom work, can be encouraged to do "action logs" where students write about and evaluate...activities after each (lesson)" (Murphey 13). Similarly, students can write "language learning histories" where they reflect on their experiences learning the target language.

Most of the above principles can be used beyond self-instruction with language tapes. Ideally, students take these ideas and develop them further to fit their needs and abilities. With guidance, students can take greater control of their language learning and move towards autonomy as language learners.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 5, May 1999