How do I know I'm Getting Better at ________ (fill in the language)?

Jody sent this for us a few days ago:
Warren Ediger, creator of the website, Successful English, wrote an interesting article this week about “How do I know if my language ability is improving?”. I am very interested in this topic and wrote to him to ask if I might use his ideas to help explain to parents, administrators and students a bit more about this fascinating process, language acquisition, and how it works. Warren is a Krashenite (obvio). He works with intermediate and advanced ELLs, but his remarks are very pertinent to our work. He wrote back:
Thank you so much for your note. While my site is aimed at ELLs, I have to admit that I always hope some teachers are lurking out there.
You certainly may use anything you find on the site; that’s why its there. My goal is to use my understanding of the theory and years of classroom and tutoring experience to build bridges to those who need to know, so you would become a welcome extension of what I’m doing.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m also open to suggestions for topics to explore in future articles.
Thanks, again, for writing.
Warren Ediger
Below I have synthesized main points of the article he wrote. His remarks are in quotes. Mine are not. His introductory remarks are a great review for us all about the essentials of our task.:
“Before we try to answer the big question, let’s take a minute to review some things about acquiring language. Language acquisition is a natural process. It’s something our brains do very well when the conditions are right. When we read or listen to something we understand, and we are relaxed and feel good about ourselves, we acquire language.
Our brain does the work automatically, and we don’t usually notice it when it happens.
Part of the difficulty in knowing if our new language is getting better or not comes from the fact that language we acquire is stored in our brains subconsciously,[1] below the level that we can consciously examine it. That’s different than the way we learn and remember “2 x 2 = 4.” And that difference makes it more difficult to tell if our English – or any new language – is getting better. And it’s difficult to design a test that can effectively measure total language improvement.
Testing the language that we learn formally – vocabulary, grammar rules, etc. that we have memorized – doesn’t tell us very much about how good our language is. It doesn’t tell us anything about our ability to use it.”
Ediger goes on to cite the example of a retired English teacher who could identify a gazillion grammar points and name them, but who, in fact, could not hold a conversation or write a paragraph in English. This person would score very highly on a grammar or vocabulary test, but would not actually be able to function in the language. He also intimidated a lot of people in the class with this kind of knowledge.
Mr. Ediger then talks about some informal methods he believes students can use for themselves to get a better idea of where they are in the process. I put them in list form because that’s how my brain works:
1.  Listen to your teacher when they give you feedback about your progress. He notes that students often don’t believe him at first because language acquisition is such a subconscious process and they don’t notice the improvement in themselves as quickly as someone from the outside.
2.  Listen to your friends. They can give you feedback, too. (This one really piqued my interest. I would love to explore this in a more formal way next year. Positive peer feedback could be very powerful if engineered in a safe way.)
3.  You notice that you are able to read and listen to more difficult material. Take a look at something you were reading last year and compare it with what you’re reading right now. You’ll probably be surprised!
4. You hesitate less when you speak.
5. You are thinking less in English.
6. You are reading faster, pausing less, understanding more. (obviously depends on the difficulty of the text)
7 . You are reading and listening to more difficult material than before.
One of Ediger’s students makes this point: the importance of “respecting the process” of reading and listening at an appropriate level – easy enough to understand without stopping. When he did this, he made faster progress. As a result, it was easy to recognize how his ability to read and listen to more difficult material changed as his English improved. (Ooooh. Let’s talk about this one sometime–reading at a level easy enough to understand without stopping!)
8. You are a reflective student.
You take time to reflect on, or think about, your progress in the target language.
You think about how your ability to use the target language:  to speak, understand, read, and write is changing and improving
9.  You feel good about yourself which will motivate you to work at continuing to improve your language ability.
I may have to figure out how to make a poster of these things. I believe they may be as important as THE RULES.
Check out Warren Ediger’s site:
I like this guy.
Anyone interested in ESL should also check out Dr. Jeff McQuillan’s and Dr. Lucy Tse’s ESL Podcasts for intermediate/adv learners. (They worked with Dr. K for years) Brilliant stuff.



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