Dr. Kreshen‘s English learning method
On Jan. 16, Dr. Stephen Kreshen, a professor at the University of South California, delivered a lecture on Optimal English Education at COEX in Seoul. I did not attend his lecture but he appeared on HearttoHeart, a talk show on Arirang TV and spoke about his ideas for English education. So I listened with great interest.
His English learning method and the other things he talked about are summarized below.
According to Kreshen’s research, we acquire a language when we understand it. We don't acquire a language when corrected, when we learn grammar rules, when we speak, when we write, by learning phonics rules, memorizing vocabulary. When someone talks about something very, very interesting and you listen to what they say and see the meaning, you are acquiring a language. Especially, if you read very, very interesting books in another language, they are represented subconsciously in your brain.
The host mentioned, ``I've read a lot of books. But my English ability has stayed the same for the past 10 years.” He answered, “When you are acquiring a language, you don't know you are acquiring the language. All you know is you are reading a book. But you are acquiring the language subconsciously."
Kreshen’s best language is German. He has read 50 or 60 German novels. He never associated with Germans to practice German, has no Germans in his neighborhood and it is rare for him to go to Germany. But when it's time to use German, it is so easy, because he read more than 50 novels in the language.
Korean parents are anxious for early English education. However, Kreshen’s view on early English education runs counter to that of Korean parents. Older is faster than younger. Starting early is not effective. Tell stories to children. Telling stories to the children and reading aloud is the most profound thing you can do. Albert Einstein was asked by a mother. ``What can I do to make my child a scientist like you?" ``Tell the child stories and fairy tales." ``I really want to make sure that my child becomes a great scientist." ``More stories and more fairy tales." Reading stories aloud in the first language promises more literacy in English, more knowledge of the world, more intellectual development.
People think Mandarin is going to catch up but Kreshen doesn't think so. He said, ``I think it's good that people want to study Mandarin. I think it's a great idea. But English is so far ahead.”
He was also asked about how to increase vocabulary? Daily speaking English uses about 2000 words, so 95 percent of it is learning 2000 words. If you want to increase your vocabulary, there is only one path. Reading, reading, reading.
When asked if there are any mistakes commonly found in Korean English speakers, he said if it's an advanced speaker, it's not a mistake. It's Korean English and it's legitimate because mistakes advanced people make never interfere with the meaning.
As for English tests, Kreshen is not against them but too many are not very good. Korea has far too many tests and they are driving the curriculum. Nobody profits from them except test publishers.
He talked about several things but the key point is that reading for pleasure brings about easy and fun language learning, which encourages English learners to continue studying. The results are the enhancement of listening, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar.
I expect the fruition of his studies to lead to positive changes in Korea's English education. Furthermore, reading anywhere and anytime is not only vital to English improvement but important enough to change an individual's destiny.
The writer is an English teacher at an elementary school outside of Seoul. His email address is email@example.com.