Here are a few things about me
- Graduated in Economics but soon re-qualified to be an English language teacher
- Taught English to adult migrants and overseas students at Melbourne University, AMEP and Institutes. My interest always has been on how learners can take charge of their own learning and thus become better learners.
- Trained English Language Teachers, with the aim that teachers can learn to rely on their own awareness and skills rather than on books and exercises sheets!
- Learned other languages to various levels to better understand and test my ideas on becoming great learners of languages.
- Taught Indonesian to further extend my understanding of learning and teaching languages.
- Wrote a number of books ( Language Learning Unlocked; English Pronunciation Unlocked; Dramatically Improve your Memory for Learning Languages, etc) all of them exploring the themes of learner empowerment and the development to native like levels
My basic philosophy is all about developing skills. I am interested in what you know BUT that is only a step towards developing skills. Knowing something is no guarantee you will use it! One outcome of my focus is that I have discovered that the way you come to learn something WILL influence whether you will go and actually use it.
What is English Confidence Unlocked All About?
I have discovered that how you learn makes ALL the difference. Learning in ways that don't work and require a lot of effort will soon put you off. What's even worse than that is that you may well end up believing that you have no talent! Talent is all about doing things in ways that learning happens AND has you want to keep going.
As I mentioned before the way you learn needs to be intrinsically attractive and engaging so you are drawn to learning, rather than pushed away from it because it is a struggle with no appeal. As long as you see REAL skill improvement, you will feel attracted to the practices.
Skills are front and centre in everything that you will read about here. However, it is also important to realise that your belief, attitudes and character can have a large influence on your willingness to take on new practices. So we spend some time on that. Ignore this area at your peril.
Your awareness and your listening is critical to improvement. What you are not aware of and do not hear, you will not be able to learn, Simple as that. So, you will find a lot of attention devoted to these areas on this site.
Formative Language Learning Experiences in School
I believe the foundation for what I think about learning languages was laid in my middle school years. In year 7, I started learning French and found that I enjoyed it and made may way to being one of the best students in the class that year and the following. However, in year 9 I had to change schools and ended up in a class run by a very different kind of teacher. By the end of the year I was failing and was in fact one of the worst students in the class.
I learned from that, your success depends upon what you do and how you feel about what you are doing.
Jumping from Being an Economist to Being an English Language Teacher
I ended up teaching English after a 3 day training workshop, even though the last time I had studied English in any from was in year 12, 10 years before the day I entered my first English language class! In those days qualifications in this area were rare, so it was not unusual. My qualifications were that I had a teaching qualification ( in Business related areas!) and English was my second Language. (Though my skills in English were completely native-like).
I learned from that, mindset is what determines what you do, not just what you have studied.
As new comer to the area, I was very open to learning about teaching approaches that went beyond the traditional teach and test model. I came across an approach that both challenged and inspired me at the same time. This approach, called The Silent Way, put the learner first. The job of the teacher was to watch and learn, amidst the the sparse but very carefully controlled input that was provided. Through my watching how my students were learning (and not learning), I completely revised my practices. The emphasis was always what they could for themselves.
I learned how to better direct what I did in the class so that each person in the class could start learning English from where they were. Not ask them to learn from where I thought they should be at. A huge transformation.
Our Emotional States Do Matter
Within a few years I was invited to teach on the first English course ever provided for overseas trained Medical doctors. I joined 3 highly skilled professionals in the area and we went about dealing with the various problems these doctors ( some highly credentialled and experienced) had in English.
There was a Vietnamese doctor who had a very strong accent in English. Each of us considered ourselves as having good skills in teaching pronunciation. However, we all had to admit being beaten by the issues this student had. On the very last day there was a big party to celebrate the successful conclusion of this pilot course. After a few hours, the four of us had each noted that this doctor had a remarkable transformation in his pronunciation. It was so natural like that we were all quite stunned. The only thing different on this occasion was the alcohol he had drunk!
His tensions had seemingly all been dissolved, allowing him to speak in ways that did not sound Vietnamese. Now, I am not advocating drinking alcohol :-), however I am saying that there is a need to address any emotional type factors that may be causing issues. This was made abundantly clear at that time and has been reaffirmed many times since.
Teaching English by the Book
Throughout my teaching career, the idea that students need to be taught from books, exercises in books or packaged audio programs was constantly put before me. From the institutions I worked for, from the conferences I attended and in the many staff rooms I frequented, I saw that nearly everyone was using them! OMG! I could never understand how a generalised course designed for some typical student could ever be a good solution. It is certainly easier for the teacher!
A few times I tried, however I always came back to the idea and practice that customised activities for the students before me was the best possible way to achieve great outcomes. As a result I have a lot of experience in designing activities suited to the needs of the people before me, whether it be in pronunciation, structure, vocabulary ....the challenge of doing that always appealed to me and I am certain the outcomes for the students were also much enhanced.
Experiences from the Battlefields
Over the years I have seen MANY people grapple with learning English and other languages. There are a few things that were made abundantly clear to me. One was that you need a lot of practice, the more varied and the more personal the better, if you wish to reach the heights. Use or practice WILL improve your fluency. However, there is no guarantee about that getting you to the heights in your pronunciation and grammatical control. There are a few people who I have seen can do it. However, the vast majority get stuck at a level below their expectations.
They hit a wall. That wall can appear at different levels. It depends on various factors where that wall will be. Getting over/around/ through that wall depends on recognising what is holding you back (or slowing you down) and being prepared to make adjustment to what you are doing.
There are many learning, personal and human factors at work that can hold you back. Like, learning in ways that will just not work at the higher levels; maintaining your focus in the midst of a busy life; mastering the various physical changes required to minimise accent; becoming sensitive enough to become aware of all that you need to; achieving the fine muscle control and so on.
What to do?
It is possible to keep improving. It is possible to achieve close to native like levels in the speaking area. The question is whether you have the time, the resources or the character to do what it takes by yourself. You may well have. Many people are just too busy or don't want to put in the time for the research and trial and error process that it would take, or just want to minimise the grief. So they go and get a coach who is an expert in helping people get to native like levels in English. That is what I currently do. If you are interested to make contact with me the best way is to attend an online class that I run and see if you like the way i work. You can register here: