Self-Instruction by Audio CassetteJohn Small
small [at] nagasaki-gaigo.ac.jp
Nagasaki Junior College of Foreign Languages (Nagasaki, Japan)
IntroductionMany 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.
- Self-instruction, the term used throughout this paper, describes all learner efforts outside the classroom and without the direct assistance of a classroom instructor.
- Autonomous learners are totally responsible for all language learning decisions.
- Semi-autonomous learners are learners preparing for autonomy.
- Learners may also engage in individualized instruction where a program is set-up outlining the learner's goals and study methods (Dickinson 11). The information in this paper can help an instructor set up such a program.
Good Language LearnersWhat 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:
- Find their own way, taking charge of their learning
- Are creative, developing a "feel" for the language by experimenting with its grammar and words.
- Make their own opportunities for practice in using the language inside and outside the classroom.
- Learn to live with uncertainty by not getting flustered and by continuing to talk and listen without understanding every word.
- Use mnemonics and other memory strategies to recall what has been learned.
- Learn certain tricks that help to keep conversations going.
Guidelines for Self-InstructionThe 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.
- Study every day - Studying one hour every day is more effective than studying every Sunday for seven hours. Also, the greater concentrated amount of time spent studying a language pays off exponentially. Studying 20 hours a week is more than twice as good as studying 10 hours a week. It is especially important to study every day--or almost every day--even if for only 30 minutes of concentrated study (NASILP). New words not spoken or used quickly fall out of memory.
- Develop a high tolerance for repetition. There are several study methods and psychological tricks that can be used to decrease boredom so material can be repeatedly studied (see page 4 "REPEATING"). Repetition is the key to audio-cassette language study (NASILP). Repetition is one big advantage that tapes have over classroom study. In a classroom, the speaker cannot be made to repeat sentences countless times. Similarly, in class, students cannot say the same phrase over and over for practice sake. With repetition, students are striving to internalize structures, much the way one learns to play a musical instrument or drive a car. This repetition can provide the learner with an organic approach to language study (Pimsleur). That is, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are concurrently practiced.
- Predetermine motivation, purpose, and a study schedule and commit to maintaining
it. Self-instruction learners don't have extrinsic motivation (instructor rewards,
class grades, etc.). Thus, motivation must be intrinsic. Students can: ponder their attitudes towards the community of speakers of the target language; determine their
need to learn the language for job or academic purposes; and consider their desire
to become fluent in the target language simply for the feeling of accomplishment
(Dickenson 31). It would be helpful for the self-instruction student to consider these aspects
of motivation, and write her or his purpose(s). The very act of setting goals can
generate learner motivation (Language Hungry 57).
Barriers to self-instruction success include disillusionment when unrealistic study expectations are not kept. For this reason, learners should think carefully beforehand, and schedule self-instruction time on a calendar (see appendix).
- Become active learners. Learners may be overly passive because their educational setting always treated them that way. Learners become active by: having a purpose for learning; finding motivation; being aware of the most effective way to learn; finding a way to practice and use learned material; not relying on an outside source (instructor, school, etc.) for learning (Walters 2).
- Develop sound study habits. There are many general study techniques that
help students become more active. Learners increase their chances for success by
studying in short spurts--studying in 10 minute sessions six times a day is much
better than cramming for one hour straight.
Audio-Cassette Tape Study TechniquesCountless 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.
Repeat what is heard--out loud. Vocalizing the material is essential, for internalizing pronunciation and speaking practice. The pause button should be frequently used.
In Murphey's Language Hungry, this method is referred as "shadowing", and can be used with language tapes, as well as other situations. Repeating phrases brings greater focus to it, keeping stray thoughts away. Learners can practice this anytime the target language is heard by silently repeating phrases. If the material is spoken quickly by a native speaker, just the final few words can be repeated silently or aloud by the language learner. Murphey's students reported positive results from this method, not only in second language acquisition, but also when students heard lectures in their native languages.
An effective way to repeat is using the "Backward Build-up" technique (NASILP). Divide long sentences into workable phrases; begin practice by reapeating the final phrase. Add a phrase until the entire sentence is being repeated.
Learners can pretend they are talking to a real person. The task of repeating the dialog of a textbook can seem senseless. By imagining a real person in a real situation, one can make the words her or his own, giving the dialog meaning. One makes exercises important and meaningful by connecting new information to important things (Language Hungry 24).
As the chapter's material is repeated, sometimes hit the pause button before hearing. This is one way to alter the monotony of repetition. In this case one relies on the degree to which structures were memorized and internalized.
Again, pause the tape before hearing a phrase. Learners read the phrase in their native language. Through memory and translation, learners try to speak the phrase in the target language.
Change some part of the practice. Learners can devise their own transformation drills, repeating what is heard but changing some part of the sentence. Use progressive verbs, past tense, informal language, different nouns, or whatever. This can be practiced in conjunction with (2) PRETENDING (page 5). Imagining a real situation evokes practical usage pertinent to the learner's life. Again, in this way learners effectively seize otherwise hollow statements, lending them meaning. One should do this after some degree of proficiency is gained with the material.
Sometimes break guideline (1) "REPEATING" and just listen. In this case, greater focus can be placed on the listening. This can be best applied at times of low concentration, like when one feels fatigued, or at times when the material is too challenging.
Shift the focus from remembering vocabulary, to particles, to smoothness, to grammar, etc. All the areas of language study are contained within a single sentence. Focusing on certain particulars will both break the monotony of repetition, and also sharpen one's skill in that area.
When using a text and tapes, one should usually practice by just listening, but sometimes it is advantageous to read along in the text while listening. This is especially useful for difficult material, and provides reading practice as well.
Mimic the speaker. With this exercise, one does not concern oneself with meaning, but instead focuses on pronunciation, rhythm and intonation of the target language. Be like the child who, when complimented for his pronunciation, said, "I'm making fun of them" (Language Hungry).
Have fun. Take each lesson seriously, try, but don't fret over progress (or its apparent lack). Understand that progress comes, levels off, climbs again, levels off--and maybe even seems to fall (Walters 2).
Choose fun methods of study. Study songs rather than grammar texts if the latter is boring. Murphey writes that the 20th century's great physicists, Einstein and Bohr, both had, "a lifelong boyish...curiosity and pleasure in play." Ultimately, science was a game (Language Hungry 27). Learners can consciously shift their thinking to approach study as a challenging game rather than a burdensome chore. Learners should read, think about, and practice the target language with interested eyes, with the eyes of a child.
Vocabulary JournalLearners 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.
ConclusionClassroom 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.
- Dickenson, L. 1987. Self-Instruction in Language Learning. Cambridge University Press.
- Murphey, T. 1998. Language Hungry. MacMillan Language House.
- Murphey, T. (1998, July). In and Between People: Facilitating Metacognition and Identity Construction. The Language Teacher, 13-15.
- Pimsleur, Dr.
- Walters, M. (1997). Unpublished . A Guide to Active Learning. The Nara YMCA International Language Center.
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 5, May 1999