Tony Gurr

How long does it take to LEARN English, hocam? – The “10,000 Hour” Upgrade…

In ELT and ELL, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 21/02/2014 at 9:55 pm

There is a lot of talk around canım Türkiyem these days about how many hours are needed for students to LEARN or “speak” English. In fact, we have even invented new acronyms to help us do this – classroom contact hours are now frequently referred to as GLHs (or “guided learning hours”).

What a queer turn of phrase – when what so many schools really mean is “bums on seats” and ears “pointed at” the teacher!

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TELLıng theTRUTH (Ver 03)

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These discussions have been “aided” by wider (mis)understanding of the CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment)– now, you know the reason for the abbreviation!), and its six levels of proficiency from A1 to C2.

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Now, not everyone is a fan of the CEFR – mostly because it has been skillfully co-opted by ELT marketeers eager to sell their wares (by pasting on a EU logo onto whatever they are flogging)!

However (and in truth), the CEFR is refreshing change from the “fuzzy labels” of the past – “intermediate” or “upper-intermediate” or even “pre-faculty” (in academic contexts).

More of the same (my dogs)

I never did really know what these terms meant anyways!

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Besides, the CEFR was originally designed to improve levels of “transparency” – always a “fan” of that (as is Julian)!

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Fasülye (Blog new ver)

YES…there is a “prize” for any non-Turkish speaker that can work out that one!

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In a way, it is impossible to accurately calculate the hours needed to LEARN a language – as it depends on factors such as the learner’s language background, the intensity of study and levels of individual engagement, the learner’s age and motivation (even “gender” – yes, girls do generally kick ass in the right environment), and the amount of study and exposure outside the classroom – in addition to the quality of TEACHing (we sometimes forget this one) …and how many iTunes downloads a student clocks up each week!

Many ELL professionals, for example, think it’s a total waste of time to even try and run a “time and motion study” on language LEARNing.

Afterall, it’s the “quality” rather than the “quantity” of hours that matter…isn’t it?

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So, what do we “know”:

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GLHs (Hocam post)

Yep, that bloody acronym…again!

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I really, really, really have my doubts about the recommended GLHs for C2 – most higher-level learners do not get to this level based on classroom GLHs alone (“talent” is a key factor, as is extended contact with native speaker-like environments – ….or taking a “spouse”…)!

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C2 Level (Hocam Post)

Also, the right kind of “interest” or “engagement” is soooooooo importantmy wife has been an EL learner for 27 years (her first “second” language was French) and I do not think she would mind if I said she would probably struggle in a more “academic”  ELL environment – she would, however, wipe the floor with most native speakers on matters of a spiritual nature, reconnective healing, and…counselling workaholic EDUcators!

But, that’s for another post…

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For many hazırlık centres or “prep schools” at university level in Turkey the distinction between B2 and B1 is of more interest. This is because, in terms of the CEFR, most Turkish universities have selected a hazırlık “exit requirement somewhere between B2 and B1.

We see this more clearly when we look at IELTS equivalencies for these CEFR levels – somewhere between IELTS band 4.5 and 6.5 for those of you more familiar with IELTS.

Yes, you heard me…there are some “bodies” here in canım Türkiyem that believe that a student with a Band 5.0 in IELTS…can go onto a full-time, English-medium…undergraduate programme!

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Handle the truth

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BUT, maybe we should just avoid talking about IELTS…for now!

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You know me sooooo well!

I never did listen to my lawyers that much…

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Most “hazırlık centres” in Turkey are still to define their programmes and progression systems in terms of CEFR (the labels, we use…at least!) – TOEFL scores or IELTS bands are the more common form of currency when discussing what it takes to “graduate” from hazırlık into “freshman year”.

Top ranking universities in the UK currently all require an IELTS band of 7.0 and other “respectable” UK universities ask for an IELTS band of 6.5 (with no less than 6.0 in each module) for international students applying to their undergraduate programmes. These universities will also accept a band 5.5 for entry onto their “foundation programmes” – …the equivalent to hazırlık.

If you want to live in Australia (forEVER – …speak to my wife before you do that!), you have to make sure you have an IELTS band of 7.0 – remember this!

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However, let me introduce you to my little friend:

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Gladwell

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Yeah, I know some (very smart) buggers have been having a dig at Malcolm Amcaof late!

But, you know what, I like this 10K thunk of “his” (…and Anders Enişte).

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I was going to do an analysis of the 10,000 hour “rule” for ELL – but someone beat me to it…someone I love to bits!

Sarah Eaton, a wonderful ELL Consultant from Canada – and…

…fellow “Jedi blogger

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I have mentioned Sarah a fair few times on allthingslearning – and she has often extended more than a helping hand to little ‘ole moi with my bouts of bloggery!

Sarah did a great paper on the time required to become “an ELL expert” – and published a version on her own blog (Literacy, Languages and Leadership).

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In her paper, she suggested a number of “scenarios” (you know how I loves me “mini-cases”):

Scenarios (no years)

Now, I know we ELL professionals are not that well-known for our “math skills” (I hate that my English is being “corrupted” by those guys “across the pond”)!

BUT, get your calculator out…NOW!

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Bet you didn’t!

The calculator thingy…that is.

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Scenarios (years)

Bet you (real “cash” money…this time!)…you are thunking something like this

Expletive (one)

…right now!

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I got thunking to meselfwhat if we did this for our hazırlık schools…here in canım Türkiyem!

I did, you know!

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Here goes!

This is what you WILL thunktrust meI’m a TEACHer:

Expletive (four)

Don’t believe me?

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Hazırlık (01)8

Told you so!

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The solution?

Well, I guess we need to look at our tried and tested quality / improvement strategyyou know the one, çoçuklar:

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ELT Strategy

Yeah…right! Worked in the past…YES?

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Let’s crunch the numbers…with a calculator!

Double the number of contact hours (sorry, GHLs!)…and…let’s throw in a “summer school” – why not!

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Hazırlık (02)

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You know what I am thunking, YES?

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Expletive (sixteen)

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YOU, too?

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Ask the studentsgo on, I dare you!

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Expletive (too many to count)

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So….what is the answer…Tony Paşa?

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Scroll up!

Yes, UP!

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What do my dogs say!

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  1. Thanks for the shootout. I really enjoy your blog, too. So great to be connected to like-minded folks through the blog-o-sphere!

  2. Yes Tony! Now factor in the effect of the teacher:learner ratio in classrooms! He’s even worse doesn’t it.

    Which almost certainly explains this,

    “In short, educational outcomes measured by way of dropout, failure, and low achievement on standardised tests all suggest that for some reason ESL learners do not benefit from ESL programming.” (Roessingh 2004)

    And why a piece of research called Evaluation of the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program, carried out by the Canadian government, clearly shows the improvement in speaking after 1000 hours in the ESL classroom is statistically the same against a control group that wasn’t in school at all. So there was no improvement whatsoever. To download and read the research visit: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/evaluation/linc/2010/index.

    What does this all mean for ELT?

    • Jason,

      TY for dropping in – and for the extra info you shared with us.

      I used to be really “proud” of the way we ELT’ers were so far ahead on the “TEACHing Curve” – 25-30 years ago…esp, in terms of the focus we placed on LEARNing. But, things have changed – what we know about LEARNing has changed, what we know about CURRICULUM / ASSESSMENT has changed…LEARNers have changed.

      Hell, the WORLD has changed…

      We have fallen behind…and have been affected by the wider concerns of the EXAMocracy mentality (the things you say about standardised tests and our obsession with numbers…numbers that all too often come with little or no meaningful “feedback” for our LEARNers). I think we have become too inward-looking, thinking that ELT is a “methodology” and that the “tools of our trade” (silly role-plays, unreal conversations and textbook-driven “materials”) are good enough (!)…this, in turn, has led us to TEACH “courses” and forget that our business is to TEACH “kids, teens and adults” (human beings).

      ELT (whatever she has become) is not enough – it really isn’t about US.

      That’s the starting point (the “waking up” and “smelling the coffee” point) – and (then) inviting those kids, teens and adults to help us co-create solutions to the problems we are facing is the “methodology” we need to use…the “tools”? – the “kids” know better than us 😉

      T..

      • Tony,

        I think it is refreshing that someone with your experience and connections is writing this kind of stuff. When epochs end there is often a collective myopic state of denial.

        Power, money, and control has been over concentrated for too long for it to be healthy or in the interests of the learners.

    • I guess differences among individual learners play a lot bigger role than we think. There are so many variables that it is hard to estimate under which conditions learners can learn best. Even the old-fashioned methodologies might prove the best for some learners. And even the most enjoying ways in the most relaxing environment might not help some reluctant learners. Therefore, all the learning and teaching theories we know about can be based on some limited research groups and/or observation. At that point, teachers’ action researches and their own observations of the individuals in their classes play a bigger role at how well they can teach. Of course, keeping an eye on every single student of yours and catering teaching according to their needs is not an easy job at all.

  3. I suspect that the 10,000 hour rule become popular because it’s a nice round number that sounds difficult but still somehow doable. But let’s not forget that it was originally derived by looking at “outliers”, who are by definition rare. All it’s really saying is that people in the top 0.1% of their field have done a hell of a lot of practice. It assumes a causal relationship where it may simply be the case that people in highly competitive fields are going to practice as much as they can whether or not they actually need to. Even if it’s valid for the outliers, it says nothing about attaining competence in ordinary skills like learning a language.

    To counter this with another magic number, how about the 80/20 rule a.k.a. Pareto’s Principle? It’s also kind of bullshit, but it has a few useful applications, so let’s assume it’s true in this case. 20% of your study will get you 80% of your language competence. 20% of the vocabulary you learn will account for 80% of the vocabulary you encounter. And so on. Now if that’s true, there should be a law of diminishing returns with regard to language courses. You’ll probably learn more of use in the first six months than you do in the following six years.

    • TY Robin,

      Good to hear from you – I owe you a call (not forgotten) 😉 Agreed…actually, I did say there are lots of smart buggers with lots to say about Malcolm’s work…you are smart and a bugger…but I know you never b/s 😉

      Yes, the “outliers” are a breed unto themselves – but I think the point about all of us needing to be “engaged” and putting in a great deal of “practice hours” (if we want to LEARN a language) holds true. And, we all know that LEARNing cannot be DELIVERED… – teaching is the other side of the coin but when institutions “train” LEARNers to believe that it is teaching or training that will get them results, many of us lose sight that we have it within ourselves to become our own kind of outlier.

      I like what you says about Pareto – yes, this should hold true – so why doesn’t it? Like you (I am guessing) I believe “vocabulary” is a lot more important than many textbook writers would have us believe 😉 In many of the sessions I have been doing with our teachers (around canım Türkiyem) this stands out – most of them are some of the best language learners (and users) we have in this wonderful, democratic and free land of ours 😉 How did they get that way – by being “language outliers”…outliers that listened to music for hours and hours and hours, wrote down lyrics again and again and again (and maybe read a bit more than most – in English). Heck, some of them even swallowed grammar books and dictionaries…the difference was they did it themselves and built on the natural talents that they all have. Some of them will even tell us they met a “special” teacher…this is when the real magic happens 😉

      Be good, my friend…

      T

      • For language outliers, check out Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, who was fluent in 38 languages without ever leaving his native Italy: http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/mezzofanti/index.html His principle method was to grab a speaker of the language and ask them to teach him the Lord’s Prayer, from which he would reverse engineer the language.

      • Soooooooooooo true – the man was a God.

        Whoops!

        I meant to say….a language learning “machine” 😉

        T..

      • I guess differences among individual learners play a lot bigger role than we think. There are so many variables that it is hard to estimate under which conditions learners can learn best. Even the old-fashioned methodologies might prove the best for some learners. And even the most enjoying ways in the most relaxing environment might not help some reluctant learners. Therefore, all the learning and teaching theories we know about can be based on some limited research groups and/or observation. At that point, teachers’ action researches and their own observations of the individuals in their classes play a bigger role at how well they can teach. Of course, keeping an eye on every single student of yours and catering teaching according to their needs is not an easy job at all.

  4. This is a nice piece, but the “cynic” within me asks: what does it prove about the Hazırlık Schools?

    Laurence Raw, Baskent University. Department of English, Ankara, Turkey.
    Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey
    http://baskent.academia.edu/LaurenceRaw
    http://www.radiodramareviews.com
    @laurenceraw (Twitter)

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