Chinese Resources

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Self-study with online materials

It's no surprise that digital technology has revolutionized our access to information. In the area of language acquisition this means that we have more ways to study than ever. Researchers in the field of educational technology (Beatty 2004, Blin 2004, et al.) find technology as a great way for students to find information that fits their own individual learning styles and abilities. Unlike even the best student centered classroom activities, digital technology (for education) creates "student-initiated, self-managed interactive learning by students at their own pace" (Kubler 2011).

Digital technology is the ever "patient" provider of content. No matter how many times we replay a Youtube video, or hit next on a flashcard program, we will always be the first to call it quits at the end of the day. Now, more than ever, we can access information that is relevant to our needs, and (hopefully) increase our language output. While this instant access to information may be a wonderful thing, it is important that we find out ways to effectively use the digital technology (in this case online materials) as a study tool.

So how do we go about self-study with online materials? To begin to answer this question I've adapted some information from Cornelius Kubler's article titled "Promises and Perils of Educational Technology in Foreign Language Curriculum and Materials Development" with a typical ChinesePod lesson (covering dialogue, vocabulary, expansion, and exercise).

Step 1: Get in the zone.
Regardless of what kind of online material or digital technology you are using, it is important to dedicate focus and concentration on the task at hand. As recently mentioned on Lingomi's blog multitasking isn't the way to go about studying (especially listening skills). While the Internet is rampant with Podcasts and mobile learning apps, there is a lot of research out there to suggest that multitasking while trying to study is a serious impairment on our ability to learn. Therefore, even before you are ready to study the latest lesson, get yourself mentally prepared. Turn off Facebook, step away from Twitter, and find a quite place to focus on whatever it is you are trying to learn.

Step 2: Listen to (or read) the new material (more than once).
Listen to the dialogue for a ChinesePod lesson two or three times. Don't be concerned if there are things you don't understand. The goal of this step is to familiarize ourselves to the general context and new linguistic material. Don't look-up new words, or pause the dialogue if you are getting lost. Instead find out what information you can gather from the dialogue.
(For a typical ChinesePod lesson this step should take about 5 minutes).

Step 3: Drill the lesson.
Now it is time to read the dialogue (closely). Check the words that you didn't understand during step two, but be sure to check them in context. Read the sentences over and over, repeating them out loud until until you can repeat them back in a fast manner. The more you practice saying sentences or vocabulary words, the more natural they will come out when you are actually trying to use them in a real situation. Listening (or saying) a word or sentence once simply isn't enough.
(This could take about 20 minutes... even more if you are focusing on how to write the Characters, but you need to take the time if you actually want to learn, and be able to use the materials)

Step 4: Study the notes (or listen to the entire lesson).
Now that the vocabulary and sentence patterns are familiar, it is time to actually listen to the entire ChinesePod lesson. If you have done step two and three, you should find that the words in Chinese are no longer foreign to you, and you will be able to benefit from the English explanation of a particular word or grammar pattern and its usage. Think of this as the lecture portion of a class. You don't get much out of a lecture if you haven't done the homework beforehand.
(For a typical ChinesePod lesson this section will take 15 minutes)

Step 5: Expand on the material.
Now that you have heard the new material multiple times it is time to check out any expansion material that has been provided. In the case of ChinesePod this means looking at the key grammar patterns or vocabulary words from the lesson. Read through each of the expansion sentences (out loud), thinking about the meaning. Try and make your own sentences (which you can post in the discussion section) to see if you real understand the material. Ideally, you should memorize any vocabulary or grammar pattern that you find necessary. As Kubler states: memorization "is a very important step," which "firmly establishes in your brain the sounds and structures of the language for you to drawn on later in your own speech."
(Expansion materials and working on new sentences could take around 15 minutes)

Step 6: Test you mastery.
In the case of ChinesePod this means doing the exercises. Now that you have the vocabulary memorized, you've listened to the dialogue, and you understand the grammar patterns, this should be a breeze, after you have crushed the test, mark the lesson as studied... and really mean it!
(A set of exercise drills should take 5 minutes)

What I am suggesting in this post, is taking the time to turn online materials into your own sort of virtual classroom. If you follow all six steps, you'll have spent an hour fully learning the materials that you set out to study. This might not be something that you can do everyday, and you certainly can't do it on the bus or while you're working, but if you are conscious and active in your learning approach you will ultimately get more out of it. 

Confucius, in The Analects, is quoted as saying "工欲善其事,必先利其器 (Gōng yù shàn qí shì, bì xiān lì qí qì 'If a craftsman wants to do a good job, he must fist sharpen his tools.' It is important to have the right tools and to "sharpen" them, but we also need to know that these tools only help us do a job, we are still the ones who need to go out and do it.

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