Archive for Tag: David Barker

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Getting the most bang for your buck

By David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

“Bang for the buck” is an English idiom that means the return you get for spending a fixed amount of money, time, or effort on something. It is similar in meaning to “value for money.” Bang for the buck was originally used by politicians to talk about getting the maximum amount of firepower from military spending. Some people do not like this idiom because of its history, but I think it can work as a useful metaphor for language teachers and learners.

In my experience, a lot of people focus on the question of whether a particular teaching method or study technique is “useful” or “beneficial.” However, this question is setting the bar very low (another idiom that means not aiming for a high enough target or goal). Strictly speaking, any form of teaching or study can be described as being “useful” if its effects are more than zero.

For example, if an English speaker wanted to learn French, they might choose to do so by spending three hours a day comparing the French and English translations of the Bible. Would this kind of study be beneficial to them? Undoubtedly. In fact, throughout history, more people have probably learned languages from the Bible than from any other text.

Even if we accept that there is some benefit to this kind of study, however, most language teachers and learners would feel instinctively that it would be possible to achieve better results by spending those three hours doing other things as well as (or instead of) reading the Bible. The question we should ask of any study or teaching method, then, is not “Is it useful?” but rather “How much bang am I getting for my buck?” To put it more simply, we need to ask, “If I am going to spend $X and Y hours on this, what can I do that will give me the best possible results for that level of input?”

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How to give a good presentation

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

In a previous post, I shared a video on “How not to give a presentation.” That was a humorous attempt to highlight some of the mistakes that people most commonly make when they give presentations at conferences. Shortly after that, I did a lecture on “How to give a good presentation” at a Japanese university, and I posted it on You Tube so that students who couldn’t attend that day would be able to watch it later. I didn’t really think about it after that, but I noticed recently that it has had almost 200,000 views, so I decided to do a shorter, edited version, since so many people seem to be interested in the topic.

Here is the new video. If you prefer to read about it, the main points are summarised below.

When you give a presentation, it is important to remember that your audience

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Who’s the expert?

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

At every ELT conference, there are plenary speakers. At major conferences, these are often “big” names who are well known in the field. The reason for their fame is normally either that they have published a lot of books or done a lot of research on language learning, language teaching, or both. They are acknowledged “experts” in the field, which is, of course, why they get invited to be plenary speakers in the first place.

Over the years, I have noticed a couple of things about plenary speakers. The first, I’m afraid to say, is that a great many of them turn out to be a major disappointment. In some cases, they are poorly prepared; in others, they have nothing new or of interest to say. In a surprising number of cases, they are simply very bad at public speaking!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Discussion about Communicative Language Teaching

David-Barker

By David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

In a comment on one of my previous posts, “Why I am not a fan of the Communicative Approach,” a reader very kindly posted a link to a video of a discussion between Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury about what we have gained and lost because of Communicative Language Teaching:

Two points in the discussion made a big impression on me; the first because I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement, and the second because I found myself shouting “No!” at my computer monitor.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Question of Terminology

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I am writing this entry in response to a question that was posted by Scott on one of my older entries, “Why I am not a fan of the Communicative Approach.” Here is what Scott wrote:

Hi David,

I’m doing an MA Tesol and one of my assignments is on CLT. I’ve scoured several textbooks and about a thousand websites, but no one seems to really define what CLT actually is! Although, there are plenty of texts that say what it ISN’T. Any thoughts on how to define it?!

Here is my answer:

Hi Scott,

I’m afraid you have come up against one of the biggest problems in ELT, which is the lack of a body of universally accepted definitions and terms. Here is my own interpretation of how and why we have ended up with this state of affairs.

As any successful learner knows, languages are learned rather than taught. Learning a foreign language as an adult requires an enormous investment of time and effort, and teaching methods and materials are only a tiny part of the puzzle. However, as these are the only things that we can directly control, their importance gets blown out of all proportion.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hunters & Gatherers

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I’m guessing that most of you are familiar with the idea of a “hunter-gatherer” society. According to Wikipedia, this is a society in which “most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals.” One feature of this kind of society is the division of labour between the sexes, with men tending to be hunters, and women more likely to be gatherers. However, the Wikipedia article stresses that hunter-gatherer societies tend to be egalitarian, with women having just as much power as men. This is because equal importance is given to the role of hunting and the role of gathering.

In many ways, I think the hunter-gatherer metaphor is one that can also be applied to language learners. Some learners are hunters, some are gatherers, and some (the most successful ones) give equal importance to both. In the field of language learning, “gathering” might be taken to mean collecting new words, phrases, and structures as you discover them. However, just as an effective gatherer of food is not someone who simply waits around to be given things, effective gatherers of language need to be constantly on the lookout for new “nourishment” for their language ability. Gatherers of food actively search for it, looking under rocks, inside holes, and even in the trees above their heads. In the same way, efficient gatherers of language have to be constantly aware of their surroundings and open to the possibilities that present themselves. A Japanese woman I know who works for a publishing company once told me that she thought the secret of successful language learners is that they constantly have their “antennae” raised. In other words, they are always sensitive to new language, and they unfailingly notice it when it appears.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I often ask students whether they have any problem understanding “small” English words like “a,” “the,” “it,” “at,” and “in.” They invariably reply that they do. Luckily, I have some great advice for them:

“There’s no point in worrying about them. You’re never going to understand them properly anyway, so you might as well just give up.”

I want to stress that I am not being facetious when I say this – I genuinely mean it. As I have mentioned before, I really struggled with Japanese when I started to learn it, and it was the small words that caused me the biggest problems. Actually, if someone asked me to choose the most difficult part of Japanese, I would have to say not a word, but two single letters. Japanese has something called “particles,” and the difference between two of themwa and ga—(these are single letters in the Japanese alphabet) is completely mystifying to speakers of languages like English that don’t use the same system. Of course, this is not something that is unique to Japanese. I have observed the same phenomenon with speakers of Asian languages trying to learn English articles.

Whilst it is true to say that wa and ga are mystifying for non-Japanese, it is also true to say that they are pretty mystifying for Japanese speakers too! Of course, Japanese people can use these particles correctly, but very few could explain the rules that govern their usage.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sowing the Seeds of Grammar

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

People often ask me how long it took me to learn Japanese, and I normally tell them that it took me about six months. When they look surprised, I add, “But it took me about two years to learn how to learn it.” This is not a joke; this is exactly how I feel about the stages I went through when I began learning the language. Of course, I didn’t really learn it in six months, but I did go from not being able to say anything to being able to survive daily life in Japan within that time frame.

The two years prior to that six-month period were not completely unproductive, but they did involve a great deal of frustration and time-wasting because I failed to grasp a number of key concepts about the learning process. The particular misunderstanding I want to focus on today is the idea I had that learning a language should be “linear.” In other words, I believed that I would study a particular item, understand it, master it, and then move onto the next thing. As anyone who has learned a foreign language will know, that is simply not how it works.

One experience that still sticks in my mind is the time when I was taught the expression shika nai, which means “only.” The problem was that I had already learned another word (dake) that also apparently meant “only,” and I couldn’t understand the difference. To be more exact, I couldn’t really understand why there had to be a difference. “English seems to manage okay with just one way of saying ‘only,'” I thought, “so why does Japanese need two?” In the end, I decided to give up trying to work it out and just use the simpler dake.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Not to Give a Presentation

By David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

Have you ever sat through a really terrible presentation? I’m guessing that you have, and probably more than once! If you Google the phrase “Death by Powerpoint,” you will find that there is a whole mass of articles and videos about this on the Internet. Last week, I did a presentation at the JALT national conference in Hamamatsu, Japan that was aimed at raising awareness of the need to prepare properly for conference presentations. The title of the presentation was “How Not to Give a Presentation,” and I tried to cram as many common presentation mistakes as I could think of into 12 minutes. I have uploaded the video onto my own blog, and I wrote a very long article to go with it listing the things that bug me most.

The presentation was very well received, with the audience taking it in the spirit in which it was intended and joining in the fun. Many of them came up to me later that evening and said, “I watched your presentation at 12, and then I watched it again at 1, at 2, and then at 3!” It seems that we still have a long way to go in raising the standards of presentations at teaching conferences. Anyway, if you are interested, please take a look a the video. (Please note that it makes much more sense if you read the article first.) http://www.btbpress.com/category/btb-blog-for-teachers/

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Praise of Explaining

By David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

When I did my initial teaching course way back in 1992, our trainers made it clear that standing at the front of the class and explaining things to students was simply not the done thing. Good teachers, we were told, don’t explain things; good teachers have special techniques for “eliciting” or “facilitating discovery” of the points they want to get across.

I suspect that this was a reaction to the excessively teacher-centered methods that had gone before, and to be fair, my trainers did have a point. After all, who wants to sit in a classroom and be “talked at” day after day? As with so many things in our profession, however, this new awareness did not result in a logical “Perhaps we should do less one-way explaining” or “Perhaps we should combine explaining with other methods of instruction,” but rather the more reactionary “Right! Nobody is to explain anything anymore!”

This way of thinking was particularly noticeable in the area of vocabulary instruction. In the 1990s, no self-respecting teacher would offer students a simple translation of a new word. Well, not in an observed lesson, anyway! I remember being told that there was no need to translate words because a skilled teacher should be able to convey the meaning of any vocabulary item through other methods, such as the use of gestures or mime. I still hear this claim a lot even now: I can explain any word without using the students’ language!

Again, an argument can be made in favor of this approach, but I think it misses an extremely important point that is often overlooked in language teaching: the question we should be asking ourselves is not “Is it possible for me to do XYZ?” but rather “Is XYZ the most productive way of using the very limited time available?” It is all very well contorting yourself to demonstrate the meaning of a word like “accelerate” through exaggerated mime, but is that really the best use of the teacher’s and the students’ time?

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