I am not a Constructivist.

 

I have noticed that a lot of teachers have a strong belief in constructivism which I do not share. Please, let me explain.

As I understand it, constructivism holds that it is proven there are hard limits to human understanding and learning, limits within which we have to work. These limits are, it seems, determined by congenital and cultural factors, including individuals’ initial languages.

In addition, it holds that all our basic ideas are schemata, which may only possibly be of objective origin and are usually utterly specific to particular cultures and language communities, and that it is probably impossible to eradicate or replace them in an adult mind; consequently, it seems impossible radically to change any such a mind.

This suggests that we cannot really go very far in understanding people from other cultures, or in learning or translating additional languages.

Personally, I am struck by the views of Jose Ignacio Latorre (professor of physics at the University of Barcelona): science since 1922 has been effectively dismantling the myth that there are pre-existing local realities which are both determined and determining.

I am relatively optimistic about human autonomy, the human ability to learn and adapt, and the human capacity for empathy. Instead of constructivism, I prefer “the growth mind-set”.

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What is learning?

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Learning is not being taught; it is not the simple transfer of knowledge from a teacher to a pupil. It is certainly not doing hard and boring homework set by the teacher.

Learning begins when your brain does what it does best for a living: noticing, observing and remembering what interests you. It goes on when you spot a desirable goal and start to move towards it: quite independently, you set yourself intermediate aims; directing yourself, you select the means of acquisition and choose your study habits; you autonomously devote of your time, and engage with the resources to hand.

However, it works better if you are not alone, if you have a companion, a mind-coach, by your side; someone to help you fulfil the task in hand by reminding you to recall all the useful appropriate stuff that you already know, and encouraging, daring you to put it into practice.

Do you need a robot?

If you want to make something, spread some news, sell something or buy something, get a machine to do it for you. If you want to develop yourself, get another human being to encourage you. A human language-coach can do far more for you than any robot can.

British Folk Wisdom

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Five Proverbs in English.

Empty vessels make the most noise.

Life is not all beer and skittles.

The more haste you have, the less speed you make.

A jack of all trades is a master of none.

You catch a monkey slowly.

Mindful Language Learning

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It may be good for you to want to learn another language, but do you want to learn it for a good reason?

It may be good for us to form a learning plan, but we should not devote so much energy to it that it bogs us down.

If we want to learn, we have to be active, but we should not devote so much time to this that we cannot rest and digest what we are learning.

We won’t learn much effectively if we rush and try to multi-task, and it won’t do us much good if we keep frequently updating on the latest news or indulging in entertainment for adrenaline-junkies.

Let us slow down, think about what we are doing, keep it in perspective, and be happy that we are learning something.

Latest Thoughts on Language Teaching

 

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What is 21st. Century language teaching?

Well, if we teach any language, what we teach had better be comprehensible but authentic, meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. That means it should be natural, personal, interactive, and up-to-date.

(It is true, though, that English for Academic Purposes is always going to be quite artificial, impersonal, grammatical, conservative, and often written rather than spoken!)

What is a 21st. Century language teacher then?

A story-teller, an elder, a scribe, a librarian, a consultant, or a master to an apprentice? Not any more! The best metaphor for today’s teacher is “a coach”. So, let’s try to stop correcting each other every 10 seconds; it usually does no good at all in the long run. Let’s try to avoid using old-style textbooks; they’re often out-of-date within a week of being published. Let’s try to make our assessments valid, reliable and objective, rather than using once-only, overly difficult, negative tests which ultimately demotivate.

Let’s try to keep it real!

 

Please, be independent and autonomous!

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You don’t have to buy books to improve your foreign languages, but you may want to. Before you buy one, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions.

1. Has this book been printed by an unbiased and reputable publisher; someone I can trust (e.g. Oxford University Press)?

2. Are the authors renowned experts?

3. Would the book be easy to carry in my bag?

4. Is this edition no more than 2 years old; is its language up to date?

5. Does the book have a clear aim (according to the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework for Reference for Languages), and is that aim my aim?

6. Does the book contain plenty of clear, attractive illustrations?

7. Does it come with free listening materials?

8. Does it deal with topics that really interest me?

9. Does it use a variety of different types of exercise, or does it look boring?

10. Are its reading passages nicely short, or does it look tiring?

11. Would it give me lots of opportunities to make conversation?

12. Does it offer me appropriate exam tips?

13. Has it got a grammar reference section in the appendix?

14. Does it cost under 26 Euros!?