Tony Gurr

LEARN to “SPEAK” İngilizce…in 15 hours (maybe even 2)!

In ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 28/12/2012 at 11:02 am

Mmmm…this one is gonna get me in trouble, againain’t it?

School (Pink Floyd)

But, not sure with whom…this time!


Recently, I’ve been thunking a lot about “successful language LEARNing” – you might have seen a couple of the recent posts I have been doing… “bouts of bloggery” that I have been trying to squeeze in between my bouts of “ferry-hopping” with my big, little girl (and her mummy) here in big, bad Istanbul!

Yes, I am a “rovving blogger” for a couple of weeks!


When ELL professionals think about these things – “SUCCESSful LEARNers” that is – we tend to turn to the “experts” – experts like Jack Richards:

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 10.34.27

…BTW, this is a “video-based” post (sorry, should have said this before)!

So, bookmark it – if you do not have around 35 minutes to check out all the lovely videos I’m planning to use…and “share” in this post.


I love Jack…I do! He LEARNed me so much when I was a young(er) TEACHer… despite his matching “shirts n’ glasses” (Sorry, Jack…read that first sentence again)!

If you listen (and watch) very carefully…he says a lot of very smart things. Smart things he LEARNed from one of his students. A lot of smart things that (even more) smart TEACHersknow“…but sadly do not always “apply” to their classroom TEACHing.

Watch the video again…go on (it’s not that long)! Ask yourself:

How many of the things that Jack’s student “does”…do you “effectively” (that’s a key word here) build into the classroom LEARNing opportunities YOU develop for YOUR own LEARNers?

…and, I do not mean what you simply “tell” your students is “a good idea”!


Essentially, what is at the heart of Jack’s “advice” is the BIG idea in Lauren B. Resnick’s seminal article From Aptitude to Effort: A New Foundation for Our Schools– or herThird Possibility“:

“…that EFFORT actually creates ABILITY, that people can become smart by working hard at the right kinds of LEARNing tasks – has never been taken seriously in America or indeed in any European society, although it is the guiding assumption of EDUcation institutions in societies with a Confucian tradition.”

(Resnick, L. “From Aptitude to Effort: A New Foundation for Our Schools.” Daedalus, Fall 1995, 124(4), 55-62).


As Lauren pointed out  (almost 20 years ago – WTH will we ever LEARN to listen to folk?) – the “secret” to LEARNing (LEARNing languages even) is really all about the “EFFORT”.


not a TEACHer’s effort…the LEARNer’s (own) EFFORT!


OK, and to be fair, Lauren does tell us that “expert instruction” (along with clear expectations; fair evaluation; payoffs for success; the time needed to meet LEARNing expectations) and “the right kinds of LEARNing tasks” – are all very important!


The thing isme (still) thunks…we TEACHers so rarely ask LEARNers what the “right kind” of LEARNing tasks are!

Carry the Can (really really TG ver)

And, while the voices of experts, like Jack and Lauren may be good for TEACHer LEARNing – we really need to ask why it is that so little seems to “change” in the way we TEACHers (and our institutions) “do” the “business” of LEARNing.


I have said before:

truth 02

…it still is!


Maybe, and this is just a shot in the dark here, we need different ways to promote both TEACHer and LEARNer LEARNing – and maybe “expert” instruction from “experts”…is not the way…for LEARNers!

For example, take a look at this little video:


Wouldn’t you just LOVE to have 20-25 “clones” of Alex in every class?

Maybe not! We already have enough TEACHers on poor salaries, 11-month contracts…and no benefits!


And, if you have a bit of time on your hands, this one, too:


Yeah, I get suspicious of these “promo-type” videos, too!


BUT, there’s a lot of food-for-thought in there…a LOT of food-for-thunking!

I’m guessing…students might “feel” more…about these types of “materials” – the “trick” is for classroom EDUcators to turn them into “REAL LEARNing tasks”!


I’ll be honest (when am I ever NOT?), as an EDUcatorsome of these things still scare the beejeebers out of me!


You mean I have to forget all “my” years of “TEACHing experience”?  

Wot? I have to discard all those “masters” courses I took (and am still paying for)?

You mean I have to re-thunk my “perspective” on TEACHing?

YES (red exlam tilted)

OK – maybe NOT totally!


…but, considering our “success” levels (not just in Turkey…around the globe) – guys, we have to “do” something “different”. And, more importantly, we have to help our LEARNers “detox” and “head into the LIGHT” (no, not “that” light – the light of “REAL LEARNing”)!

We just have to LISTEN more!


Last week, I was introduced to a young Turkish guy – named Alpay. He was a student a few years back – studying American Culture and Literature. He got so frustrated that his “high school” and “prep school” experiences were just not doing it for him…he could not “speak”…and his TEACHers…were just not helping him…at all!

He couldn’t (like Alex) travel around the globe with his parents. He did not have a great deal of spare cash (he also had to do a 2-hr commute to school everyday – and another 2 hrs back)…but he came up with his own “solution”.

He managed to scrape together enough dosh to get himself a second-hand iPodnot an iPadnot an iPhonean iPod! He began downloading…music, TV shows, movies…and “dedicated” his 4-hrs on the bus to watching and listening to his “collection”!

The results “spoke” for themselves…when he chatted with me and my friends.

I was impressed! VERY impressed!


His “efforts“… his “wants” and “needs” were met through an iPod…and a bit ‘o time on an Istanbul bus – not a classroom!

OK – I can hear some of you mumbling (under your breath): “He’s special, Tony – don’t be so naive”!


Every LEARNer is “special”!


This morning…I showed all these videos (and the rough draft of this post) to my big, little girl…she is a student and is getting ready to graduate this year.

I trust her “thunks” in matters of allthingslearning…like most students (as opposed to her TEACHers) …she is the only one that truly “knows” about “her LEARNing”.

I asked her to “rank” the videos in terms of the “impact” they might have on Language LEARNers. You know what she said first?

I want to “meet” this Alpay guy…I want to “talk” to him!


LEARNers do NOT LEARN because they “STUDY” a lot…

OMG (TG ver 4 blog)

…they LEARN because they “WANT” to!


The (classroom) TEACHer’s “job” (then) is…to “co-create” a classroom environment that places this at the very forefront of LEARNers‘ minds…and not by (simply) “telling” them that “study” and “hard work” will always “win out“…

…or coming up with “systems” that “force” them to do what they do NOT “want” to do!

There…I said it!

Students are sick to death (they are, you know…just ask a few of them) of TEACHerspreaching at” them (from the “pulpit” at the front of the classroom) about the virtue of “study”.


Time to LEARN


“Tell me. I may not get it, I’m sure to forget it.
Show me. I may get it, I’ll remember it for a little while.
Have me do it. I’ll understand it, it may stick for awhile.”


I found this “upgraded” version of that old Confucian chestnut this morning (Thx Mohan) – my big, little girl wanted to qualify this a wee bit:

Let me “TALK” to someone that “knows”!


Could we, as TEACHers, “do” something “more” with these thunksa New Year’s resolution or three, perhaps?

  1. Thank you for the great post Tony!

    It is so true that a language cannot be learnt in the classroom only. I remember the times when I was in the prep-class having so much difficulty in listening. My teacher, Anna, gave me some American radio broadcasting records to practise. In my mp3 player I was listening them during the traffic, and while doing some no-brainer activities. At first, as an intermediate level student, I could not understand most of it but as time passed I started to understand much more and even learnt lots of vocab unconsciously!

    Then I got bored because I had almost memorized them all. Thus started to watch American tv series (We have Dexter in common I know 🙂 )and I have never followed a Turkish series for 2 years, which I am happy about 🙂

    As in the example in the first video, I was practising the newest vocab I learnt in a conversation with myself. Sometimes in front of the mirror, sometimes while having a shower 🙂

    I believe some people are gifted with languages but with the help of more extracurricular activities nothing is impossible. And I advise the same to all prep students.

    Once one language is learnt properly, a second one is easier. When I was in the Netherlands as an exchange student, I took a Dutch language course. Just 3 hours a week, which is too litte for a new language! However, at the end of the fourth month I passed pre-intermediate level. The reason was not the 3 hours in the classroom but outside of it!

    • G,

      Yes – I always wanted to based a course (or programme of ELL) on a TV show like Dexter 🙂

      Thank you for sharing this – it shows me that it is often “hard work” that makes the difference in LEARNing. I think I have always known that (just as many of the best LEARNers know this, too) – just happy that more people are coming round to the idea. For me, I think we could so much more if more TEACHers looked for ways to build this idea into what they do in the classroom – the first step, of course, is to LISTEN to students more – because what works for one will never work for all 🙂

      Have a GR8 New Year, Gokhan 🙂


    • Thank you for your advice anf sharing your experience with us. I’d like to write my feeling about learning a foreing language. I was luckily in some Arabic countries and wanted to learn arabic. I faced many difficulties in pronouncing, writing and speaking. In sometimes I thought that Icouldn’t learn it after one year of studying of arabic, I realized that I started to speak Arabic why? because I spent a year of silent period after that time spent I could speak more easily, so Learners need time to passs. be patient

  2. Cagdas ( asked me to post this on his behalf – WP keeps ‘eating’ his comments:

    I started to learn English when I was 14 years old. Actually, the reason why I chose to study at the high school where I was enrolled was just to be able to learn English, which means I was intrinsically motivated to do that. With motivation came along more desire to see the learning process more like a box of lego. As I understood what was being taught, I grew more interested and did more to perfect what I learnt.

    First of all, I took the assignments very seriously. I even did extra work (more than the teachers asked us to do). I never saw homework as a burden.

    Secondly, I was mad about speaking and writing. I always tried to write stuff in English and got my teachers to check them for me. For speaking, I had to depend on myself mostly. I mean, I had to speak “with the walls” – practicing the conversations studied at school and creating new ones. I also spoke with my mother who listened to me patiently and encouraged me more to speak although she didn’t understand much English. All that really help me to get fluent and I made it easier to get jobs in holiday towns where thousands of tourists form the UK spent their summer holiday. When I went to university, I only had to study for vocational practices and some detailed stuff about linguistics.

    Thirdly, I always had my vocabulary lists and I looks through them frequently to ensure I remembered everything. I added new words to the list whenever I read English magazines or newspapers. I was doing that even at high school and it certainly was a bonus for the progress I made in speaking and writing. I remember I read my first real novel (The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco) in English in 3 months because there was simply a lot to learn, but the second one (from the same author took) me 2 months – and the next took only 20 days to read. As I read, I improved more, and at a point I saw that I didn’t need to use a dictionary to understand novels, which showed that my knowledge had increased substantially.

    Moreover, I watched movies in English with subtitles in Turkish and English. When there were no movies subtitled in English, I tried to match what was said by the actors with the way it was translated into Turkish. It was a work of comparison and contrast – and required a lot of dictionary use. One movie (subtitled in Turkish) took me 3-4 hours to watch. But it all worked out really well for me. After going through 5-6 movies in this way, I could understand any movie without subtitles.

    All in all, I really wanted to learn English and did all that I could on my part, which really paid off. Then I transferred those strategies into the process of learning Spanish (and I am fluent in Spanish as well). We all know that “nothing comes easy” – but it is in our own hands to make it either “enjoyable” or “a total pain”. Personal experience reveals that I can do it when I really work for it, so I am planning the same for French – my third foreign language.

  3. […] for 2013, one post titled LEARN to “SPEAK” İngilizce…in 15 hours (maybe even 2)! Tony Gurr has changed my mind, and this post has come into existence. I must say I first wrote it […]

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