Lecture #1: How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Learning Habits and Methods

Lecture #1: How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Learning Habits and Methods

第一讲座:如何改善外语学生的学习习惯和方法

 

Carl Gene Fordham

傅君恺

 

Beijing International Studies University

北京第二外国语学院

 

Monday 18 September 2017

2017年9月18日星期一

 

I’ve uploaded the lecture I gave at Beijing International Studies University on How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Habits and Methods where I talked about common problems that students from China face when learning English and suggested some methods to overcome these. These are all based on my years of experience teaching students from China, as well as my own journey learning Chinese.

我已经上传了周一晚上在北京第二外国语学院的讲座视频,主要关于如何改善学生学习外文的习惯和方法,在讲座中我讲了一些中国学生在学习英语时遇到的问题,并且针对这些问题提出了一些建议。这些主要基于我在中国多年的教学经验,还有我自己在学习中文时的一些经历。

 

You can watch it either on YouTube or Bilibili.

你可以在YouTube或者哔哩哔哩上观看讲座的视频。

 

YouTube: How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Learning Habits and Methods

Bilibili (哔哩哔哩): 【傅君恺】如何改善外语学生的学习习惯和方法

 

Here’s a run-down on what I covered during the talk. Note that I focused specifically on learners of English in China, but a lot of the content could also apply to any foreign language learner in any country, especially the methods part. During the talk I gave the students a list of chengyu (classical Chinese idioms) which they had to then match with the title of each part of the lecture. In this blog entry, I’ll provide them for you here.

接下来我总结的讲座内容,虽然是针对学英文的中国学生为主,但其实在许多方面,特别是学习方法上,同样适用于学习其他语言的同学。在这次讲座中我给学生列了一个中文成语表,他们需要把成语与讲座中每一部分的主题相对应。在这里我就给大家分享一下。

 

Part 1: Common Problems

第一部分:通病

 

  1. “Put the cart before the horse”

In English, to “put the cart before the horse” means to “reverse the proper order or procedure of something”. In Chinese we say 本末倒置, i.e. to take the incidental for the fundamental. What I’m actually referring to here is exam-oriented education which is a big problem in China. Its consequence is it makes Chinese students associate language learning with exams. Not only does this demotivate students from learning English, but it also means that when students graduate they struggle even more as there is no exam driving them to learn. Ultimately, what should be an enjoyable experience turns into a mundane or even stressful one.

“put the cart before the horse”可以表达“本末倒置”的意思,即把事物的主次颠倒了。在这里其实我指的是一个在中国很严重的问题,那就是应试教育。它导致中国学生一直把语言的学习和考试挂钩。这不仅使学生在学英语上没有积极性,而且学生往往毕业的时候因为没有考试而难以产生学习的动力。最终,那些本该愉快的经历变得单调,甚至令人紧张。

 

So much of English learning in China is limited to rote learning. Students are always looking for short-cuts and are eager for quick success. It is like learning Chinese calligraphy from cursive script without any kind of basic training. You may feel a sense of comfort that you are making progress even if you are not.

在中国,许多英语学习都限于死记硬背。学生们总是想要寻找捷径,急功近利。这就像没有任何基本功,就要开始练习书法中的草书一样。即使你没有真正进步,你也会因为他们看起来颇有成效而得到心理安慰。

 

In the Chinese education system there is also a huge emphasis on reading, with very little support provided for spoken English, so many English majors can barely hold a simple conversation in English – all they can do is speak so-called “mute English”. To make matters worse, many schools are not able to employ native-speaking teachers.

中国的教育系统重视阅读,很少开设口语课,所以许多英语专业的学生很少能用英语进行简单的对话,他们只能说出所谓的“哑巴英语”。更糟糕的是,许多学校都没有能力聘请外教.

 

  1. “Swallow a date in one gulp”

I have often seen students being able to absorb vast amounts of information without actually digesting any of it; this is expressed perfectly in the Chinese saying, “to swallow a date in one gulp”. Some students might have large vocabularies, but many of the words they know they wouldn’t be able to make proper sentences with.

我经常看到学生会接受大量信息却从不去消化;中文成语“囫囵吞枣”可以完美地表达这个意思。有的学生可能会有大量的词汇积累,但是他们也许并不能用自己知道的单词来造正确的句子。

 

Have you ever noticed that in Chinese we say 学习知识, literally, “to learn knowledge”? What a curious collocation! Knowledge is such a complex thing, how exactly does one “learn” it? Surely knowledge is only something that can only be gained over time through human experience. But this is a common misconception among students; they believe that memorisation is the key to mastering any foreign language, but fluent speakers would beg to differ.

不知道你有没有意识到,中文里有一个固定搭配叫“学习知识”,一个多么奇怪的搭配!知识是一种错综复杂的东西,我们怎么去“学”它呢?知识肯定是一种只能凭借人生体验,并随时间流逝而逐渐被获得的东西。可惜很多学生有这么一个误解,他们认为可以通过背诵来掌握任何一门外语,不过流利的外语使用者肯定不敢苟同。

 

As a result of this social phenomenon, Chinese students become very passive learners, which is exacerbated by the prevalence of the cramming method in teaching. In my opinion, this needs to change: students must become independent learners if they want to see any real progress in their learning.

由于这一社会现象,中国学生变成被动的学习者,而且这会被现在普遍存在的填鸭式教育进一步恶化。依我看,这种现象需要改变,如果学生想在学习中得到实质性的进步,他们就必须变成自主学习者。

 

  1. “In two minds”

Students often have very confused notions towards learning foreign languages; they are, as I describe, “in two minds” (三心二意). Because of the internet, many people are constantly distracted by their computers and mobile phones, and Chinese students are no exception to this. In fact, it may even be worse for them, as they often complain to me that they feel their lives are very 浮躁, which translates roughly as “restless and irritable”.

学生往往对学习外语拿不定主意,我会把这件事描述为in two minds(三心二意)。随着因特网的问世,很多人的注意力不断被电脑和手机分散了,而中国学生也不例外,甚至他们的情况也许更糟糕,他们经常向我抱怨说他们觉得自己的生活很浮躁。

 

We have many resources for learning now, many more than previous generations, but there are consequences to that. Students often spread their concentration over a wide range of resources, so in the end not are not able to master any one thing. For example, if you ask a group Chinese students whether they are learning British or American English, you can guarantee most of them would reply, “both”.

如今我们掌握着许许多多的学习资源,这些资源的数量远远超过前辈学生所能使用到的,但这种优势也产生了恶果:学生们的注意力在广泛的学习资源面前被分散了,最终一无所获。举例来说:如果你问一组中国学生他们学习的是美式英语还是英式英语,可以保证绝大多数人会回答说:“两样都学。”

 

Surely this is a basic question that students should decide on early in their learning, but this rarely happens. In the end, they speak neither British nor American English very well. This may be fine to get your message across, but native speakers are often quick to judge foreigners who have thick accents.

这个选择明明应该是学生们在早期学习中就需要做的,但很少有人真的这样做。到最后,无论是英式英语还是美式英语,他们都说不好。这样的口语水平也许能应付你的日常交际,不过当地人很容易对“外国腔”产生歧视。

 

  1. “Can’t see the forest for the trees”

Chinese students often underestimate the difficulty of learning a foreign language – they “can’t see the forest for the trees”, or as we would say in Chinese, they “are like blind people touching an elephant” (盲人摸象). I would put learning a foreign language in the same category as losing about 20 kilograms of weight; it is a big project that requires time, energy and perseverance.

中国学生经常低估了学习外语的难度,“一叶遮目,不见泰山 ”以及中国的典故“盲人摸象”,描述的就是他们。我认为学习外语就如同减重二十公斤一样,是一项要求时间、精力和恒心的浩大工程。

 

Students need to see the bigger picture. They focus too much on vocabulary instead of working on basic stuff like pronunciation and common words used in spoken English. When talking to native speakers, many Chinese students simply translate what they want to say from Chinese to English, instead imitating idiomatic English from people they know. This problem cannot be solved by a textbook. Try finding a language partner – that is, a good native-speaker friend who you can socialise with to help you work on this.

学生们需要有更远的视野,他们往往过分关注于词汇而不是关注类似发音,以及口语中的常用词这些基础的东西。当我们与讲母语的人交流的时候,很多中国学生不是从他们身上学习和模仿地道的外语而是简单的将自己想说的话翻译成英文。这些问题是无法在课本中解决的,应该找一个语伴——即可以做你好朋友的外国人,并在交流中提升自己的水平。

 

  1. “Turn pale at the mention of a tiger”

Here I am translating literally the Chinese idiom谈虎色变. What I am referring to is a common problem whereby Chinese students are so scared of losing face that they dare not even open their mouth to talk to foreigners. My advice to Chinese students: don’t worry, English is a paper tiger. But seriously, students have to overcome their fear of speaking to foreigners. Social activities like public speaking and theatre can be excellent ways to do this.

这是“谈虎色变”的字面翻译。我所指的是中国学生的一个通病:他们太害怕丢人以致于都不敢张嘴与外国人交流。我给中国学生的建议是:不要怕,英语是个纸老虎。但是说真的,学生必须要克服与外国人交流的恐惧。参加公共演讲和表演之类的社交活动就是很好的办法。

 

This problem affects everyone who learns a foreign language, but may be particulary bad for Chinese students because of the strong “us and them” (Chinese vs foreigners) mentality in China, not to mention social construct of face in China. Try to talk to as many foreigners as possible. If, for example, you struck up a conversation with one foreigner a day, after 30 days you probably wouldn’t feel nervous when speaking English ever again.

所有外语学习者都会遇到这个问题,但是对中国学生来说影响尤其大,因为他们有强烈的想和外国人比较的思想观念,更不用说中国人的“面子”问题。学生们要尽可能多地和外国人交流。比如说,如果你每天都和一个外国人进行一次对话,那么30天后,再要说英语时你可能就不会那么紧张。

 

  1. “Try to get blood from a stone”

Often the methods that students use are not logically related to the outcome they wish to realise, which we would describe in English as “like trying to get blood from a stone”, or in Chinese as “like climbing a tree to catch a fish” (缘木求鱼). For example, sometimes students who are preparing for a speaking test think that memorising a list of words will be enough to speak well in the test, instead of actually finding someone with which to practice their speaking skills.

学生们通常使用的学习方法其实和他们期望得到的成果没有太紧密的逻辑联系,我们可以用一个中国的成语“缘木求鱼”来描述这种状况。比如说,有些时候,准备口语考试的同学会自认为把单词记熟就足够应对了,而不是去找一个语伴一起练口语。

 

It seems that Chinese students have a small range of methods available to learn languages. They should aim to learn as many different methods as possible – or, even better, come up with some of their own as independent learners, and try to use the right tool for the right job. All of this is related to methods, which I will discuss in Part 2.

似乎中国学生的学习语言方法较为单一。他们应该尽可能多的去汲取一些不同的学习方法,作为一名独立学者,能创造出属于自己的学习方法则会更好。“工欲善其事,必先利其器”。我会在接下来的第二部分和大家分享所有有关学习方法的内容。

 

Part 2: Suggested Methods

第二部分:推荐方法

 

  1. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime”

This is a common saying in English that probably derives from the Chinese授人以鱼不如授人以渔 and is in fact very relevant to language learning. Teaching students a bunch of words is not as useful as teaching them a practical approach to learning that they can use their rest of their lives. Students who have developed their own effective system of learning can make big improvements in their foreign language on their own, even without a teacher.

这句众所周知的英文谚语可能源自中文“授人以鱼不如授人以渔”,其实它与学习外语有密切关系。教学生认识大量的单词不如教他们一个实际有效的学习方法,后者不但更加有用,而且可以受益终生。学生一旦找到对自己行之有效的学习方法,他们自己就可以提高自己的外语水平,而无需向老师请教。

 

  1. “Learn from the barbarians”

In Chinese we say师夷长技以制夷, that is, “learn from foreigners to compete with them”. Interaction with native speakers really should be the number-one priority for any learner of a foreign language. This seems like common sense, but in fact very few students from China put this into action. Reading 20 books on learning English would not be as useful as making one good foreign friend. If you spend a month looking for a foreign friend in the city you live in without reading a single textbook or preparing for a single test, it would still be totally worth it, as a good friend is for life, and the benefits go way beyond learning new words or grammar structures.

这句话在中文中我们叫做“师夷长技以制夷”,意思是:“向外国人学习并相互超越。”对于学习语言的人来说,和本地人一起交流沟通真的是第一要务。这是我们共同的想法,但事实上只有少部分的中国学生将这句话付诸于行动。结交到一个好的外国朋友远比读20本英文书有用。如果你原意花一个月的时间去结交你所在城市的一个外国朋友,而不是花在阅读课本或准备考试上,你仍然会受益匪浅。因为好朋友会伴你终生,其带来的好处远非学习新单词和语法结构可比。

 

  1. “The palest ink is better than the best memory”

In Chinese we say 好记性不如烂笔头, which can be translated as, “the palest ink is better than the best memory”. However, this is another common-sense piece of advice that is rarely heeded by students from China. Everytime you meet a foreigner is an opportunity to learn – don’t waste it. Whatever you come across, always take notes.

中国有句俗话:好记性不如烂笔头,用英语也可以翻译成:the palest ink is better than the best memory,“再淡的墨水也比最好的记性强”,可是中国学生很少留意这一点。你每次见到一个外国人,都是你一次学习的机会,千万别浪费了。无论你学到什么,都要记得做笔记。

 

When I was a high school student I used to chat to random Chinese people on MSN and QQ and everything they said I would copy and paste into a spreadsheet. Then, as I met new people, I would parrot these exact phrases back to them. It was difficult at the beginning as there were many new words, but over time they became second nature to me. I think this is a good example of the power of good note-taking when learning a foreign language.

我上高中的时候经常在MSN和QQ上跟一些中国人聊天,他们说的所有话我都会复制粘贴到一个电子表格中。以后我一遇到新朋友,就像鹦鹉一样完完全全重复这些话。刚开始的时候很困难,因为有很多新单词,但是勤加练习之后,这些话语就内化成为了我自己的东西。我认为这个例子可以证明学外语时记好笔记的重要性。

 

But writing stuff down is not enough – you should do something with the notes you collect to consolidate what you’ve learnt. You could, for example, divide the content into different categories such as part of speech, situation, example sentences, etc. Anytime someone corrects your pronunciation, write down the correction. If you show a willingness to accept criticism, native speakers will help you as much as they can.

但是仅仅是记下这些材料是不够的——你应该对你收集来的笔记做些什么来巩固你所学的内容。打个比方来说,你可以把这些材料分成不同类别的,像词性,情境,例句等等。任何时候有人纠正了你的发音,记下正确的。如果你愿意接受批评,当地人会尽自己所能来帮助你。

 

  1. “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”

“除非你学以致用,否则知识是没有价值的。”

 

This is a quote from Anton Chekov that can be applied to language learning, and indeed in Chinese we have a similar saying学以致用, literally, “study for the purpose of application”. Whatever you learn, you must put into use as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’re likely to forget it. Next time you learn a new expression, try dropping it into conversation.

契诃夫曾经说过一句话能够运用到语言学习中,在中国也确实有相似的说法,叫做学以致用。无论你学什么,你必须尽可能地运用它。否则,你很有可能会忘记。下次你学了一个新的表达方式,试着把它放到对话中。

 

I also would recommend that you focus more on common expressions, rather than highly formal or literary ones, especially if you haven’t got a solid foundation in the language yet. An absurd situation often arises when learners know words that native speakers don’t. Just recently a student of mine used the word “capacious” (i.e. “spacious”), and I remember a few years back another student said to me, “I’ll meet you in the refectory (i.e. “canteen”). If you’re not sure if what you are learning is common and practical, ask a native speaker – relying on a textbook or dictionary can be risky.

我也建议你们多注意普通常见的表达,而不是那些非常正式的或文学的表达,尤其是在你们还没有打好英语基础的时候。学英语的人知道,但母语人士都不知道的词,这种情况是很荒谬的。最近,我的一个学生用了一个词capacious(应该用spacious),我也记得几年前,另外一个学生对我说I’ll meet you in the refectory(“我会在食堂等你”的意思,应该用canteen),如果你不确定你学的表达是否常见且实用,可以问问一些母语人士——依赖于课本或是词典并不可靠。

 

How else can you put what you learn into practice? Apart from conversation with native speakers (which I put as number-one), reading aloud is also a great way to work on your pronunciation and intonation. You could also try writing compositions or keeping an online blog (personal website) in your foreign language. It may be time-consuming, but it really forces you to work on skills that you may have otherwise ignored.

还能如何把学到的知识实践运用呢?除了和当地语言使用者交谈(我把它排在第一名),朗读也是一种可以促进你发音和语调的好方法。你还可以试着写文章或者坚持用你所学的外语更新博客(即私人网站)。也许这会很耗时间,但它真的可以督促你在你拥有的技能上下功夫,否则这些技能将被忽视。

 

  1. “Learn by osmosis”

A good learner learns through their surroundings, just like in Chinese we say耳濡目染, literally, “one is influenced by what one sees and hears”. Perhaps you know about the story of Mencius’s mother who moved her son around three times to ensure he had the right environment for learning. All students from China know this pearl of wisdom, but do they actually live by it?

优秀的学习者是借助他们周围的环境来学习的,就像中文中我们说的“耳濡目染”,逐字翻译出来就是“经常听到见到,不知不觉中受到影响”。也许你们听说过“孟母三迁”的故事,所有的中国学生都知道其蕴藏的大智慧,但现实生活中又有几个人能做到这样呢?

 

You can gain an immersive environment for learning by going abroad, but of course not everyone has this opportunity. And students who live overseas often get lazy, thinking all they have to do is “be” there and they will make improvements without any real effort.

你们可以通过出国来寻求更高层次的语言学习氛围,但当然并不是每个人都有这种机会。许多留学海外的学生经常犯懒,认为自己唯一需要做的只是“待在那儿”而已,而无需付出更多的努力就能有所提高。

 

One can become fluent in a foreign language without living in a country that speaks it. Just as I became fluent in Chinese while in Australia, I have met many Chinese who speak excellent English that have never been abroad. This proves that a good learning environment can be created through your own efforts. For example, there are native speakers of English and Chinese in almost every major city in the world, and of course there are also many resources available on the Internet to learn and make new friends

一个人要想能说出流利的外语不必非得出国。就我个人来说,我在澳大利亚时就能讲出流利的中文。我也见过许多虽未出过国但依然英文说的很棒的中国人。这说明好的学习环境是可以通过自己的努力被创造的。举个例子来说,世界上几乎所有大城市都有以英语和汉语为母语的人。当然,网上也有很多可利用的资源来学习外语和结交新的朋友。

 

  1. “Have a little zest”

Like anything else, if you don’t have passion, you’re more likely to give up halfway; or, in Chinese, 好之不如乐之 (“being good at something is not as good as taking pleasure in it”), or simply兴趣是最好的老师 (“interest is the best teacher”). You may be like me – a self-confessed “language nerd” – in which case this may not be a big problem. But don’t worry if you don’t have a natural drive to learn a foreign language – you can cultivate it.

像做其他事情一样,如果你不带着一份热情去学习,那么你很有可能半途而废。或者正如古语所云“好之者不如乐之者”,或简而言之,“兴趣是最好的老师”。你可能像我一样,一个自认是语言痴汉的人,自己对外语已经有了很浓厚的兴趣,但如果你无法找到一个发自内心的动力去学习外语,别担心,你可以慢慢培养。

 

Try examining your daily routine and think about what parts of the day you could convert into your foreign language. If you do a sport, for example, could you do it with people who speak the language you are learning? If you write a blog, could you do it in your foreign language? If you enjoy going out to bars on the weekend, could you go places where foreigners frequent? Basically you just take whatever you enjoy doing and introduce as much of the foreign language to it as you can. Bit by bit, you will see an improvement in language level.

好好斟酌你的日常安排,从中思考每天有哪些时候可以抽空学习语言。举个例子,如果你做一项运动,能否与说这门语言的外国人一起做?如果你写一篇博客,你能否用你的外语撰写?如果你周末去酒吧享受,能否选择一家外国人常去的地方玩?大意是当你每做一件你十分感兴趣的事,你应该尽可能尝试将外语的使用代入其中。慢慢的,你就会发现自己语言水平的逐步提高。

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