Teaching strategies for guessing at new words in language learning.

The following comment is from an exchange amongst language teachers.

“While guessing might not be exactly what’s called for, I’d hope that practitioners would encourage some informed guesses some of the time (working from context, etc etc) – so that learners don’t lose the flow and pleasure of reading, but also have strategies to deal with unknown words/concepts – and don’t freeze and fall into the trap of not moving without a dictionary at every turn.”

I must say I don’t do this. I tend to ignore the unknown word if I am reading away from my computer. I just hope the rest of the context carries the meaning, or most of it, and when I do guess, the guess can be quite wrong. I don’t really think it makes sense to teach a strategy for this.

If I am on the computer and reading in LingQ, I will look up or check the meaning of all words that I do not fully understand, even if I kind of know what they mean. I want confirmation of my understanding of the word.

So, to me the best strategy is, if not on a computer, just ignore the unknown words, and if there are too many of them, stop. If on the computer, which is recommended for difficult texts, look up every word.

Learning French and other languages in school.

According to this article in the Vancouver Sun, French is to lose its position of privilege in our local schools. I think this step is long overdue. Most kids are not at all motivated to learn French, and as a consequence don’t. If kids are able to choose the language to study, at least some will do better. And once they have learned one language, they will have an easier time learning French if they should become motivated to do so later.

I particularly like this line in the article;

“Schools should also promote online learning when they can???t offer requested language classes, the ministry says.”

The Language Learners’ Declaration of Independence.

The Language Learners’ Declaration of Independence (draft). I welcome additional clauses.

We have the inalienable right to pursue happiness, well-being, and prosperity through the pleasurable study of the languages of mankind.

We have the inalienable right to study the language(s) of our choice, in whatever way we want.

We have the inalienable right to study content of our choice, seeking the sublime enjoyment of communicating meaningfully in another language and culture,?? at our own pace, gradually increasing our understanding and confidence.

We have the inalienable right to form our own understanding of what we are reading and listening to, at any point in our progress in the language, without the need to answer comprehension questions or translate.

We have the inalienable right to refuse to do exercises, drills, answer questions on grammar, memorize grammar rules and tables, study lists of words not of our choosing, or any other activity imposed by others.

We have the inalienable right to speak in the language we are learning, only when we want, and how we want, and to refuse to respond to pressure to perform for evaluation by others.

We have the inalienable right to refuse to participate in role playing, task based activities, or other unnatural activities imposed by others.

We have the inalienable right to enjoy our language learning, because we are individuals with different interests and goals, and because it is only by enjoying the language that we will eventually reach our goals.

English as a universal language, a new teaching paradigm?

In this article in the Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese expert on English teaching, Kumiko Torikai, explains that a new paradigm is needed in English teaching. Since English is the universal language, it needs to be taught, not as the natives speak it, but according to some unidentified “core”, to reflect the fact that non-native speakers outnumber native speakers. So there is no need to use articles, and if Japanese people get the “l” and “r” wrong, that is just fine.

The article also discusses the degate between grammar based English teaching in Japan, and conversation English based teaching.

I do not understand this discussion. In learning any language, we need a model. The learner can choose whether to learn from a native speaker, and which style of native speaker, or a non-native speaker. The choice should be with the learner. I doubt that many would deliberately choose to model themselves on a non-native speaker.?? Whether we achieve this goal is another question. Of course, we need to be tolerant of ourselves and others when we make mistakes. But whether its English, the universal language or any other language, I really don’t see the difference.

As to whether English teaching in Japan is too grammar oriented or too conversation oriented, let’s get serious. Japan, the country with the greatest TOEIC habit in the world, achieves excellence in neither. One has only to go to a book store and see the rows and rows of books dedicated to test-taking to understand the reason for this lack of success.

But then there are oodles of books on learning other languages too, and there areas of the book stores are very busy. You would think that the Japanese were among the world’s leading polyglots. More on this in the next post.

Japan LingQ meet ups.

I am looking forward to our Japan LingQ meet ups. My only problem is that I got food poisoning on Wednesday morning, and have not eaten a proper meal for two days. With rest and a diet of Pocari Sweat, I think my system is ready, but I may have to take it easy in terms of what I eat. This will not dampen my pleasure at meeting our local LingQers.

The first meet up is tonight, January 22, in Osaka. We are meeting in the lobby of the ANA Crowne Plaza hotel at 6.00 pm and then proceeding to dinner at the Hata-bou restaurant for some okonomiyaki..

In Nagoya we are meeting on the following day, Sunday January 23, in the lobby of the Marriot Associa Hotel in the Cafe Decennale on the first floor, and then going to sample some local food nearby.

And in Tokyo on the 26th we will gather at Ebisu station, West Exit, at 7.15 pm, and then going to Matsue sushi restaurant.. Reservations at the restaurant are for 7.30.

If anyone else can make it, I would look forward to meeting you.

Akita city

We landed despite the snow. The drive in from the airport would suggest that Akita city is not an architectural wonder. Lots of Lawson convenience stores, and Pachinko parlours and gas stations and restaurants with garish neon lights or so it seems.

Had supper at Chitose airport before getting on the plane. Delicious uni, ikura and ebi. with a small draft beer. Had a night cap of local sake at the hotel bar, before retiring and the fellow behind the bar, a 23 year old, told me that young Japanese are quite OK with the world, do not compare the present more difficult economic situation with the golden eighties like the previous generation. He struck me, as with many?? young Japanese, as a pleasant, level headed, open minded ye energetic young man. I am not pessimistic about Japan. But it is only day two, and I have an early morning tomorrow again, and I have to write up today’s meetings. Hotel Metropolitan in Akita, worth the visit. Beautiful and practical room. 8,000 yen or something a night, cannot remember. Now let’s see if I can find my meeting notes.

Day 1 in Japan

Last night I arrived in Narita. Tonight I am sitting in Chitose (Sapporo) airport waiting to fly to Akita. I may have to return here says JAL, because of snow in Akita. (The ever careful and under-promising Japanese). It sure makes it easier to deliver when you don’t promise more than you can do. I wish others would learn that. Under-promise and apologize versus over-promise and never apologize. I wonder which system works better?

Here is a quick day one impression.

I was a little apprehensive looking at the shachoo special “kamikaze schedule” but the first day went like clock work. My flight out of?? Vancouver was 2 hours late departing, so sending me to Haneda, rather than hoping to connect through to Sapporo, was definitely a wise move. Flight left on time out of Haneda this morning, just a small local flight (a full 747) to Chitose. After arrival in Chitose airport I was watching the clock with one eye and the baggage caroussel with the other eye. My bag came out just in time to run to a coin locker, panic at not having the right change, find a kind restaurant lady just setting up who changed my 5,000 yen note for 5 crispy clean 1,000 notes, change the bill for coins, put my bag away and scramble to the train with 2 minutes to spare. A good thing too because Zenibako station still looks like something from a prewar Japanese movie, no escalators there, and the snow was blowing pretty good (as they say in Manning). I think that I only have two or three early morning blitz schedules like this, where everything has to work like synchronized swimming, but I have confidence, because Japan is an efficient country, and that is the biggest first day impression. And I am pumped to be back here. Love sitting in a train or plane and reading Japanese business magazines and getting into the mood. This place rocks!


Japan the sick man of Asia? I don’t believe it.

I have heard so much doom and gloom about Japan, but arriving in Narita, and being ever so efficiently whisked away by efficient people to Haneda, driving by the spectacular construction along Tokyo bay and now checked in to the Excel Hotel at the modern Haneda airport. If I think of the Tokyo I knew in the 70’s, it has changed beyond anyone’s imagination. I look forward to really getting a feel for what is happening here over the next 2 weeks. And now I am going to go to bed!

Educated immigrants do poorly in Canada – but do better if they invest in language improvement. Wow!

Highly educated immigrants are more successful in the US than in Canada, according to a recent study. Immigrants to Canada earn 50% less than native-born Canadians with similar education or training. The author of the study had this to say:

“The answer remains a bit elusive, but there are a few possible explanations that need more research. One is that there???s been a much more rapid increase in the supply of university-educated new immigrants in Canada than the U.S., so supply may be an issue. The second is language ability,??? Ms. Bonikowska said.


Wow! Language skills. No kidding.

In my experience, most immigrants’ efforts at language improvement consist of attending ESL class and then going home to watch videos in their native language. The government spends $3,000 per immigrants on “settlement services” , and language training is supposedly the key component of these services. The results, obviously, are very poor.

To improve in language skills, doesn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars in “immigrant settlement”. It is just a matter of the three keys.


In my experience, immigrants from our major immigrant source countries in Asia are most motivated to learn English before they arrive. Once here, they settle into living in their own communities and mostly in their own language. You have to want to do it, and to believe you can do it, and you have to rely on yourself, not on a teacher.

Time with the language:

There is evidence in many places including the Tadoku (Japanese) or tadoku (English) program in Japan, that extensive reading and listening is the fastest way to improve language skills. Easy and inexpensive to do, but most immigrants aren’t willing to put the effort into it, or don’t realize how effective it is. It is easier to go to language classes, even if not much is achieved there.


There are many techniques for becoming more attentive to a language, or noticing. LingQ is a great place for that, but a quick visit to a book store or a little searching on the web will uncover many others. But it all starts with Attitude.

Do "you" learn foreign languages, or does your "brain" learn foreign languages?

Here is an interesting thread on our Forum at LingQ on this subject.?? There are a number of interesting comments on the thread.

I had this to say amongst other things.

“You tell your brain you want to learn another language and that you think you can do it. Then you feed the brain a lot of interesting and enjoyable content. Occasionally you help the brain by reviewing some words or rules or tables, but mostly the brain learns on its own, if you treat it nicely. “

What do you think out there?