Publish Date: December 16, 2006
I'm sitting at the table in my apartment, looking out the window. I turn back
to the papers stacked in front of me. "Interesting", I say, "very interesting".
I glance over the test scores again-- the pre-test numbers, the post-test
numbers, and the amount each student improved.
"Good, good", I say as I notice that all of the students improved over the
course of the semester. All the post-test scores are higher than the pre-test
scores. Most students improved by a couple of points... but my eyes are
drawn to two sets of numbers.. two names: Kyoung and Jin. These two
students improved dramatically more than all of the others. Their post-test
scores show a big jump.
"What did they do differently?", I ask myself.
At the final class, I ask them. Since all of the students had the same in-
class experience, I focus on what they did outside of class. Most students
followed traditional study methods. They studied textbooks. They used
vocabulary books. They went to traditional English (ESL) classes.
But Kyoung and Jin followed a different approach. In fact, they actually fol-
lowed the method I continually harangued the class about. They focused
on repeated listening and reading for fun. Both students said they took my
advice seriously and therefore listened to English podcasts and audio arti-
cles 1-2 hours every day. Kyoung joined The Linguist and faithfully uses
their system. Both students also read for fun-- mostly "easy" materials such
as "National Geographic For Kids", adolescent novels, etc.
In TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) jargon,
these two exceptional students followed an "input-based approach". The
bulk of their study time was spent reading and listening to understandable
and interesting English materials.
Most students and schools follow an "analysis-based approach". The bulk
of their time is spent analyzing the language, breaking it apart, memorizing
grammar "rules", and doing drills.
Plenty of research shows that input-based methods are faster and more
effective than analysis-based methods. I knew this- which is why I always
nag and cajole my students to focus on comprehensible input. But it was
still thrilling to see this knowledge illustrated quantitatively, in such dra-
matic fashion, by my own students.
The truly interesting part is that the pre and post-test I gave them (The
Michigan Test) measures listening, vocabulary, and grammar. I'm not sur-
prised that Kyoung and Jin improved their listening skill. But that section
was only 20% of the test. The remaining 80% tested both vocabulary and
grammar. In other words, their vocabulary improved dramatically faster than
the students who specifically studied vocabulary books and lists. Their
grammar improved dramatically faster than the students who specifically
studied grammar textbooks.
This is not an isolated incident. Many research studies replicate these
findings (see www.sdkrashen.com for the most thorough summary of
these). In study after study, input-based approaches beat analysis-based
approaches- as measured by general English tests, such as the TOEFL,
TOEIC, or Michigan Test. These tests measure vocabulary, grammar, listen-
ing, and in some cases, speaking and writing.
Though I'm aware of this research, I've never seen this phenomenon so
starkly illustrated in person in a quantitative way-- mostly because I've
never had the opportunity to pre and post-test my students.
These results are a small but powerful validation of my own teaching
approach- and the methods I continually exhort my students to follow.
I will now carry this plea to you: Do not analyze English. Do not use analy-
sis-based methods. Do not rely on textbooks. Do not focus on grammar
Use an input-based method. Listen to understandable English. Listen
repeatedly. Listen one hour every day and listen every day. And read.
Read a lot. But don't read textbooks. Read easy materials that are fun and
interesting to you.
Many students, for some reason, don’t follow my advice. But those that do,
such as Kyoung and Jin, improve much more quickly than those who don’t
Follow this method, and you too will improve faster, just like Kyoung and Jin.
Publish Date: December 16, 2006