Yes, you would thunk that, wouldn’t you?
Especially if you had read my more “uplifting” post – LEARN to “SPEAK” English…in 15 hours (maybe even 2)! – a week or so ago!
It’s funny, isn’t it, how we all respond to different types of “news” in such radically different ways:
…we don’t like so much!
When I wrote that original post, I was still under the influence of all that “Christmas Cheer” we hear so much about – around this time of year!
BUT, in a darker corner of my grey matter…another “number” was hiding there …lurking …stirring – a much BIGGER number!
Besides, you have to admit…a title suggesting you can “LEARN a language in 15 hours” is gonna get you a lot more “hits” on your blog!
Damn you…Anders…Anders Ericsson!
Damn him…even moreso!
Shiriously…I was not so “GLAD” or “WELL” when I first read about “that number”…really bummed me out (and all my summer LEARNing plans) a couple of years back!
Malcolm (and “his dog” – yes, the secret is “out”) drew on Anders’ work with the “10,000-hour rule” in his book “Outliers” – he claims he wrote the book because he could not find a decent way to explain the careers of really successful people – people like Bill Gates or the Beatles.
But, we all know his dog wanted a lakeside property in Medina!
The “rule” states that if you want to be really “GREAT” at something, you gotta invest around 10,000 hours to attain that “GREATness“!
…with the Lads from Liverpool, it was “playing time” in Hamburg!
…with ME, it was going to be “classical piano”, “igloo-building” and “knitting”…all till that fateful Summer!
Those of you that know the blog…from back in the day…know that one of my very first posts was entitled:
Whoopsidaisies! …that’s the Turkish version.
Now, in that post…and remember it was one of my first…so do not give me a hard time about the poor quality of images (had only clocked up 25-30 hours by then)…I was trying to see if the “guided learning hours” (GLHs) suggested by ELT publishers and their textbook writers could, in fact, lead to GREATness in ELL for our LEARNers here in Turkey.
Those numbers (or “classroom hours”) were a bit like this (in terms of the main “CEFR Levels“):
A1 – 80-100 GLHs
A2 – 180-200 GLHs
B1 – 350-400 GLHs
B2 – 550-600 GLHs
C1 – 750-800 GLHs
C2 – 1000-1200 GLHs
According to these “textbook experts” – all a LEARNer (wishing to become an “expert” in the English Language) has to do is “sit” in a classroom for a “maximum” of 1,200 GLHs (and by “guided” we mean…by a TEACHer…armed with nothing but a “textbook” – a CD player and a projector, perhaps)!
Yes, you would say that, wouldn’t you?
I have said more…a LOT more!
And, to be fair, some textbook writers do say more…a few of them “add” (in very small print…in the TEACHer’s Book) that EL LEARNers do need to do a fair bit of “self-study” (whatever that is) – from the “workbook” no doubt!
Could it be that Malcolm (and Anders) are “wrong“? Or…is it the case that those “pesky textbook writers”…and their “evil-doer approach” to marketing and flogging their “wares” have been leading us, well and truly, up the garden path?
Let’s do “the Math”!
Come on, Tony – you know all we ELL / ELT folk are a bit “thick” when it comes to the “old ‘rithmetic“!
Not to worry…
ENTER stage left…
Sarah Eaton, a wonderful ELL Consultant from Canada – and a fellow “Jedi blogger“.
In her paper, she suggested a number of “scenarios” (you know how I loves me “mini-cases”):
Scenario #1: One 3-hour adult education course per week x 8 weeks = 24 hours
Scenario #2: One year of language learning in school = 4 hours per week x 12 weeks x 2 semesters = 96 hours
Scenario #3: 1 year of consistent, dedicated self-study (or homework) at 1 hour per day = 365 hours
Scenario #4: One year of total immersion in the new language (Assuming that in a 24-hour day, we allow 8 hours for sleeping per day) = 16 hours per day x 365 days = 5840 hours
Sarah then applied the “10,000-hour rule” to each of her scenarios to see exactly how long it would take the LEARNers in these scenarios to achieve “expert ability” in a foreign language…like English:
Scenario #1 – Adult education classes – 416 courses of 24 hours per course. If you did 2 courses per year, you’d need 208 years to become fluent.
Scenario #2 – Foreign language studies at school – 96 hours of classes per year = 104 years to achieve fluency.
Scenario #3 – Dedicated self-study – An hour a day, every single day of the year = 365 hours per year = 27 years
Scenario #4 – Total immersion – Approximately 2 years
Go to the image (at the very top of the post)
– YOU know what to “say“!
Sarah does a grand job of fleshing out the ideas behind her numbers (and the complexities such numbers might “hide”) – have a look at the full paper HERE.
One of the things I like (at the end of her paper) is also how she “re-frames” the questions LEARNers should ask.
Instead of ASKing:
“How long will it take me to become ﬂuent in English, hocam?”
…she suggests that LEARNers need to ASK:
“How do I get my 10,000 hours of study and practice to become ﬂuent in English?”
…is, basically (for both of us), that the “classroom” and all the GLHs on the planet are NOT going to help our LEARNers become “experts” in English or English Language LEARNing (perhaps…the more important of the two).
Both Sarah and I also make the point that it is (kinda) impossible to accurately calculate the hours needed to LEARN a language – as ELL depends on factors such as the LEARNer’s language background, levels of individual engagement, the LEARNer’s age and motivation (even “gender” – yes, girls still do generally kick ass in the right environment), and the amount of study and exposure outside the classroom!
…I also focussed on the quality of “TEACHing” (something many “commentators” often forget to mention) – another “inconvenient truth” here in Turkey (as in many other countries)!
We all know, don’t we, that:
Especially, in matters of allthingsELL!
We also know (don’t we) that “hazırlık” or “prep school” is about (a lot) more than “just” language LEARNing – university-level EL LEARNers also need to be helped to “de-tox” and focus on personal development, self-study (& reflection), self-assessment and “personal accountability” (in addition to classroom-based GLHs) to realise “effective language LEARNing“.
Not exactly what you might call a “piece o’ cake”…
This is especially the case if most of the recommended GLHs we are told about are given over to “grammar rules and transformation exercises” or are grounded on teachers “spoon-feeding” students discrete skills worksheets – rather than expert instruction in skills development from their TEACHers, meaningful reflection and self-assessment on the part of LEARNers and timely and focussed feedback.
The real problem is that 25-30 hours a week of being “trapped in a hazırlık classroom” for so many months is just “too much” (many TEACHers would agree with this).
Sorry – to have to “pop” this little bubble – BUT…this is not an “effective way” to conduct the “business” of language LEARNing.
Hey, and we haven’t even got to the issue of “section or class size” – come on, can we really create an effective language LEARNing environment for groups of 25+?
We (just) know ALL this – on a “experiential” and a “moral” level….in our heart-of-hearts!
But, we ain’t gonna tackle these issues with more of the same-old-same-old – “bumping up” the number of contact hours in a given week, creating a 3rd “summer break semester” (or 5th “summer school module”).
I suppose we could consider – “dropping standards” to allow more students to get a “free pass” into freshman without fully evidencing the levels of language proficiency we know are required on English-medium academic programmes…
We could…but no-one would ever do “that”…would they?
It is “collaborative effort” on the part of both TEACHers and LEARNers that will make the “real difference”…
I hope it doesn’t take us 10,000 hours to work that little “secret” out!