The harder, the better? I doubt it.

I was reading a passage written by Jeff Immelt when I bumped into this sentence:No job is beneath me.

I presume that the original intention was to let us realize that we should always be humbled by what we don’t know, and this is really important for us the foreign language learners, too.

Many people I know, both learners and teachers, do not seem to like mechanical drills. One example is substitution drills. Learners don’t want to just mechanically make a new sentence by replacing a part of the sentence with something else, nor do teachers. For learners, that is probably because they want to use the target language for a more exciting purpose. For teachers, that is probably because they what to show off more teaching techniques.

I did it, however, as if that were tailor-made for me, when I was a novice learner. Most of the period when I was a novice learner was spent on mechanical drills. I changed from a statement to a question without any other particular purpose. I sometimes wrote it down. I spoke out at some other times. In retrospect, I thought no job was beneath me, because I was at the very bottom.

I will not explicate the outcome that I can enjoy now and that of “creative” learners. Too obvious. Creative learners sound like a good thing. However, “creative” is so strong a term that creative learners can do whatever they want just to have fun. And this fun is a transient pleasure that is to be gone in an instant.

Learners seem to be humbled in public. They say, “Oh, I can’t do that in English.” “Oh, I can’t remember that much.” However, I doubt their superficial humility. They seem to demand for a larger piece of pizza that they cannot even bite and they are proud of it. That does not work. You always need to repeat something that is a bit easier for your level. That can improve your speed, accuracy, and fluency. No job is beneath me.

Surreal experience in the real world

When I check my twitter account, a spate of information, as well as solicitation, will come into view. This is understandable, considering Tokyo gubernatorial election is just around the corner. Exchanges of political views, slanders, principles, beliefs are being made in the twitter world. Technically I do not reside in Tokyo, so I am not in the position to poke my nose into this debate. 

Instead, what I did today was to work on my on-going project. I collected all those technical terms regarding Invertebrates and gave each one of them an easy, simple definition so that learners could get a grip on them in English. They include …

protozoa

eukaryote

annelids

echinoderm

sea urchin

mollusks

arthropods

You could get the required score of the TOEFL without even realizing these terms, but it won’t hurt just to learn some more of those terms in English. As I was compiling them with Japanese translation, I felt like wow, this is surreal. My neighbors in the blogosphere (just one click away) are debating on who should be the next governor of Tokyo, while I am learning something like oh echinoderm includes sea urchin…This is what I call a surreal experience. I like TOEFL.

Start now

I found my voice and throat a bit different the day before yesterday, and yesterday, I was sure that I had caught the flu or something. Went to see my doctor, who diagnosed me with the flu. Interestingly, he smiled and said that I would not have to worry because there was this miracle drug “Relenza”. This drug is especially effective when administered within 48 hours after the flu develops.

I took it and slept all day.

Now I’m fine, except that my back hurts (because of too much sleep on the bed).

The sooner, the better. This cliche applies to your health.

This also applies to you, if you think of preparing for the TOEFL. Unless you have taken the TOEFL, you tend to think, “Oh, it’s just one of those tests. I can do it well if I concentrate on it for a couple of days.”

I know a bunch of people who ended up changing their plans because they did not get the required score. The TOEFL is difficult (so is the flu).

So my humble advice is that if you may have to take the TOEFL, start now. You can get through without the TOEFL, but if the TOEFL is necessary, it is sometimes too late by the time you realize the difficulty of the test.

Tolerance!

Recently I have been working with this anonymous professional whose English ability is far below my students. This person (I will not even let you know whether that person is a man or a woman), it seems to me, is an epitome of what a novice learner is. 

I can only tell you what a novice learner is like in Japan. According to my past observation, what they have in common is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.

They cannot stand it when they are given such an explanation like, “You could say so. No problem with that. I would personally say ….., but either way, there is little difference and I think you can make yourself understood perfectly.”

They cannot tolerate it.

They want one single black-and-white explanation on everything.

This kind of attitude toward learning a foreign language is very harmful and it does not get you anywhere, because every time you try to open your mouth, you are bound to make a choice out of several or more alternatives. You say whatever you believe is better or you just stop to understand all the alternatives. 

Many Japanese learners of English, I presume, are classified as the latter type. Too bad.

College admissions

The entrance exams to Japanese universities were administered for two days until yesterday. A range of subjects were required for high school seniors to take (well, at least when I was in high school). Recently, however, it has taken on a bit different perspectives what with globalization, and what with the emphasis on practical knowledge.

One epitome would be the introduction of the listening comprehension section to the English test. In this very test, I always find something interesting.

This listening test is administered by providing the test-takers with a small gadget with which to listen to talks and conversations in English. The thing is that there are some technical glitches that make it impossible for the students to keep answering the test. They would be asked to come back on a certain designated date to take a make-up test.

Japanese mass media proudly and cynically report on these “mistakes” made by the national test administrator, although the number is just negligible (Think what country we are talking about: Japan). Don’t you think this is very Japanese?

At the same time, mass media are making a fuss about the possibility to adopt the TOEFL as a substitute for the current entrance exam, and they sometimes become a fervent supporter of it (I think this is because they just like anything new, as is often the case with Japanese people).

However, if the press keeps this negative attitude toward test administration and always requires the test to be perfect, they will get a rude awakening if the TOEFL is really to be introduced. At the TOEFL test centers, it is a common phenomenon to see people get out of the room without even getting to first base. I mean, they cannot even start the test because of technical glitches (broken PCs, interrupted connection, etc…).

I would imagine that for the first couple of months, they will get mad at the trouble and start investigative reporting on each test center, but shortly after the initial flush of passion is subsided, they will find those glitches not worth reporting any more.

That is the time when this country will have adopted a “global standard”.

It may be a good idea, then, to use the TOEFL for university admissions. They can test students to see whether they have global standards on both English itself, and tolerance of uncertainty!

Counting or Dreaming?

I have nearly completed one of the two projects I have been working on for the last six months. To me it was the first project in which to work together with the other teacher (who lives in the U.S., while I live in Japan), so I wasn’t sure if it would turn out all right at the very beginning.

However, at this moment, I am already sending her the message to the effect that I want to work with her again. It has been a really nice (and professional) exchanges of opinions and assignments for the last six months, If this particular work is commercially successful (now I have no choice but to rely on the publisher), I will ask her again to work with me to work on a sequel. How does it sound?

Ha ha…you know what this mind is called? I will answer it by giving a well-known saying: Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

I hate to count my chickens when they are still in the form of eggs, but I love to imagine some of the nicest ways of working.

Evolution

I have been working on the material for two different projects for the last couple of days while not feeling well, so today I kind of feel refreshed to finally be back to the classroom.

Yea, that’s my work, the real thing.

Now I am trapped in a dilemma. Teaching a small number of students in a classroom is a rewarding experience, for sure, but at the same time, I always hope to let more people learn a kind of English that you need to know to get a passing score of the TOEFL test. Then, one classroom at a time is not enough.

So, I write. So I video myself. So I send email newsletters.

In this era of history, teaching may include all these activities.

All professions are evolving, I’m sure, and so is a teaching profession.