How to learn any language in 6 months

While searching for self-directed language learning tips and resources, I came across Chris Lonsdale’s TED talk, in which he describes 5 principles and 7 actions of becoming fluent in a foreign language in under 6 months.

First he talks about two language learning myths:

  1. Talent – one doesn’t need talent to learn another language
  2. Immersion per se doesn’t work.  A drowning man cannot learn to swim.

The 5 Principles of Rapid Language Acquisition are:

  1. Focus on language content that is relevant to you.
  2. Use your language as a tool to communicate from Day 1.
  3. When you first understand the message, you will acquire the language unconsciously.
  4. Language is not about accumulating a lot of knowledge but is rather a type of physiological training.
  5. Psycho-physiological state matters – be happy, relaxed, and most importantly, be tolerant of ambiguity; don’t try to understand every word.

The 7 Actions are:

  1. Listen a lot –> brain soaking; it doesn’t matter if you understand or not. Listen to rhythms and patterns.
  2. Focus on getting the meaning first, before the words. Body language and facial expressions can help.
  3. Start mixing and get creative. Use what you’ve learned right away in daily life.
  4. Focus on the most commonly-used words; use the language you know to learn more. Start with your Toolbox – What is this? How do you say that?
  5. Get a language parent – someone who will work hard to understand what you mean, use positive reinforcement to provide feedback in words that you know.
  6. Copy the face – observe native speakers, their face and mouth; pay attention to how their face moves while they’re speaking
  7. “Direct connect”– find ways to connect words directly with images in your mind.

At the end he says, “These are things under your control as the learner. Do them all and you’re gonna be fluent in a second language in 6 months.” I like that he encourages learners to take the matter into their own hands and actively work on a new language, rather than wait for it to be delivered by a teacher. 80% of learning happens outside the classroom and this talk speaks to that.

That said, I am unsure of two things: language parents and no corrections.

When it comes to ‘language parents,’ I would rather see a different term used, e.g. language partners, peers or coaches; someone who will be on equal terms in that learning relationship, for the word ‘parent’ creates hierarchical distance, which may be discouraging for adult learners.

Speaking of correction, mistakes help us learn, but to learn from them we need to know about them. Since not every learner notices/is aware of their mistakes, I would ask them if and how they want to be corrected. My preference would lean towards delayed correction for free communicative practice and immediate correction for situations when we sit down to work on a specific language task. Avoiding correction may lead to fossilization of errors.

using ‘personas’ in the design of the English Online’s summer course

In my previous post I shared the Summer Course highlights video. Today I would like to discuss how the English Online’s MOOC-style ESL summer course came about and how a learning design strategy was placed in the learners’ hands.

Between January and March 2013 the Open Learning Design Studio offered a MOOC, abbreviated as OLDSMOOC. Following 9 weekly themes we put into practice the proposed learning design process by identifying a design challenge, exploring its context and driving forces, generating possible solutions and implementing the best ones, and last but not least evaluating the whole design method and its outcomes.


It was OLDSMOOC that inspired English Online’s development of an open course for EAL learners this summer of 2013. We wanted to curate OERs, organize them into themes and share them via our wiki. The course, offered from July 1 to August 31, was divided into 9 weeks, each of which saw a different theme and a set of self-study resources with one synchronous Weekly Language Rendezvous, modeled after the Oldsmooc converge hangouts, to review what was learned. I think it was MOOC-style course, or perhaps a LOOC (L=Local) following a term recently used by the  University of British Columbia:

–       Massive (in our context): 82 learners registered; the intake was ongoing

–       Open: free of charge, any English Online learner could register or follow the open content in our Wiki and Twitter

–       Online, this goes without saying although one of the weekly activities was to attend an in-real-world community event, take photos and share stories with other participants; asynchronous and synchronous activities incorporated.

–       Course: time-framed with weekly themes; ‘course’ determined by learner’s goals -> self-paced, learner picked and chose activities to work on based on their learning objectives; e-Facilitators were available to provide support and feedback


One of the methods employed in the OLDSMOOC design process was an analysis of personas, fictitious participants in a program. The purpose of such step was to predict who might participate in a course and what they might expect from it in terms of scheduling, activities, etc. Although it is impossible to foresee all learners’ needs and wants, the persona method is an excellent planning tool in envisioning the possible users. Those users become actors playing specific roles in our design challenge, and as such they need faces, names and a whole scenario build around them to provide as vivid picture as possible of their goals.

Inspired by the method, the very first activity in our Summer Course was a Persona Activity. Having used it for planning purposes during the course development stage, we also placed it in the learners’ hands and asked them to delve into their learning environment to create a personalized learning plan for the summer. By doing so, the learner became a learning designer. In the initial part of the activity, the learner pondered some questions about where they were, how much time they could devote to learning on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, how they learned and their learning goals.

  1.  Where will you be this summer, at home or working?
  2.  Are you planning to go away for some of the time?
  3. Will you have access to the Internet?
  4. If you are home this summer, how much time each week can you devote to learning?
  5. What do you want to learn; anything and everything, or something specific?

In the next stage of the activity, a couple of invented characters and their learning plans, based on their imaginary availability and goals, were presented.

  • Angie enthusiastic to dive into the course and available to do everything
  • Vijay wanting to focus on a specific goal of improving his understanding of various accents

Both characters were brought to life with the Voki animated-avatar tool.


In step 3 of the activity, the participants were invited to critically analyze the characters’ situations and compare them with their own. Following the analysis the participants made their own learning plan using a prepared template to guide their thoughts. The template and the whole activity can be found here

The Summer Course ended August 31. Wanting to know more about how this thinking and planning exercise had impacted their learning, I requested some feedback from those learners who had completed the Persona Activity . Here’s what I received:

“Regarding the Learning Plan – at the beginning of the course I couldn’t figure out where to start, but the preparing of the Learning Plan helped me to gather my thoughts. I didn’t change it and I still follow it: I read the weekly local newspapers Morden Times and Voice; I listen to the radio during the way to and from the job; also I repeat the studied themes, do the different tests from the links you post in the lessons and many other things. And most important for me – my speaking skill began more clear, and I began to understand more words and long sentences, especially when I listen the TV-news (you know it sounds too fast). It’s great! It makes me feel more confidently during the conversation with unfamiliar people. I think it began to able because of the fluency activity of this Summer course, too.”

It was a fun, reflective activity and I am glad how it turned out for some of my learners. I believe the Persona Activity sends a very important message to the learner, that of the learning responsibility and ownership, which lies with them, not with the teacher.

A note about English Online Inc.

eo logo English Online is a self-directed learning opportunity for EAL learners, newcomers to Manitoba. Funded by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada, English Online’s mission is to foster autonomous language learning online needed for successful settlement and integration into the Canadian society. English Online provides support to adult learners in identifying their learning goals and guiding them towards achieving the goals. For more information about the context of English Online, check here.

Advantages and Challenges of Flipped Learning

On October 26 Margarita and I are scheduled to make a presentation on flipped learning for ELT at the 41st annual TESL Ontario conference in Toronto. Leading up to that day, I am planning to blog about my explorations of this topic.

Some initial thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of flipped learning:


  • open access resources, if shared online, free
  • sustainable
      •  materials ready for multiuse by Ts and Ls
      • materials always available for new Ls (continuous intake)
  • differentiation – Ls can go through the lessons at their own pace, catch up, review, repeat
  • facilitation – flipping allows Ts to better support individual Ls in person in class, personalized learning, building better 1-on-1 rapport
  • learner-centred – Ls take actively participate in learning and take responsibility for it
  •  thinking and discovery before class; practice, review and consolidation (interactive activities) in class
  • engaging – it creates a collaborative learning environment in the classroom since time is spent engaging deeply with the concepts being learned, rather than sitting listening to the teacher (took a French class once and that’s all we ever did)
  • Ls get instant feedback on practice activities either from peers or from the T
  • while prepping for the class time, Ls can build a list of questions – active learning


  • technology dependent, hence not accessible for all, there may be learners who have no access to a computer/internet
      • Q: Is there a computer lab at school with open hours for independent study?
  • some Ls may not have extra time to stay at a computer lab
      • Q: Has a needs assessment been done? Could this be negotiated in any way?
  • lack of digital skills
      • Q: as before, needs assessment; simple activities incorporated into lessons to build up certain skills for future ‘flipped’ tasks and projects
  • Ls miss classes or don’t do the pre-class work
      • this one is tough because life happens…Plan B?
  • lack of L motivation, with adult learners this is rarely the case although some do not believe in independent work
      • could flipping be scaffolded to bring out the value of autonomous learning?
  • time-consuming for Ts – is flipping only about making videos? or is it a wider concept encompassing autonomous learning via one’s personal learning environment/network?  T => not a sage on stage but a guide on the side? What about existing OERs?

What are your thoughts, questions? Are you aware of any research papers on the concept of flipped learning?

OER for your Ear – Adapting Audio Material for Language Learning

Excellent blog post written by Glen Cochrane re: OER and authentic language learning materials for listening practice.

A Point of Contact

Here’s a post for this month’s ELTresearch blog carnival on Listening – for info click here.

Article:Using internet-sourced podcasts in independent listening courses: Legal and pedagogical implications

I chose this article, involving listening, because it brings up the issue of Open Educational Resources (OERs) that I find interesting and important. However, the article doesn’t quite get into the OER topic as much as I thought it would. I’ll provide a short summary of the article (in note form) and then some comments and suggestions of my own.

Podcasts and audio files have become popular in Language Learning (LL) because

  • Decreased cost (of internet, mobility, etc)
  • Increased access to content
  • Podcasts are good source of authentic language

Discussion arose out of designing a “Listening for Scientists” course for University level LLs

  • Students were weak in listening
  • Students has little time
  • No commercial material for specific content needs
  • Authentic materials…

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June 15 – Global PD day for ESL Practitioners?

Saturday, June 15 is looking like a perfect day for an all-at-home professional development indulgence.

In the small hours of the night (Winnipeg time – CST), Business English SIG of IATEFL launches its 1st free online conference. Then at 8 a.m. CST ARCALL of Argentina runs a very interesting webinar on developing fluent lookers. Last but not least, English Online Inc. from Canada wraps up the day with its online session on how cultural factors impact listening comprehension skills.

Event 1 

Host: IATEFL – Business English Special Interest Group

Topic: 1st Online Conference 

When: 2:00 a.m. – 10 a.m. CST (GMT-5)

More info: 

Event 2

Host: ARCALL – Argentine Computer Assisted Language Learning

Topic: Visual Literacy, an effective recipe to bring real English into the classroom

Speaker: Malena Botto

When: June 15, 8 a.m. CST

More info:

Note: registration required at the above link

Event 3

Host: English Online Inc.

Topic: Cultural Factors That Impact Listening Skills

Speaker: Julie Bell

When: 10 a.m. CST

More info:

All of the three events are free.

I wonder if it would it be possible to organize a non-stop online global conference, an around-the-sun get-together, a global PD day for ESL Practitioners…My inspiration here is the Follow-the-Sun Conference organized by the University of Leicester, where three universities on three continents converge to discuss research into online learning futures.

Anyway, hope to see you next weekend on June 15 for a very early virtual twiffee (twitter+coffee) :)

The context of English Online Inc.


  • adults (19+)
  • stay-at-home  moms, shift workers, limited or no access to f2f classes
  • located in the city of Winnipeg, in the regions of Manitoba and pre-arrival immigrants headed to the province (different timezones)
  • permanent residents, provincial nominees, Canadian citizens, refugee claimants living in Manitoba
  • varied digital skills from very basic to high users
  • varied language skills from basic to intermediate
  • varied educational and cultural backgrounds
  • approximately 1600 learners registered, 300-400 active every month (unique logins to LMS)
  • pick and choose the content and activities they want to engage in


  • non-profit organization
  • funded 100% by the province of Manitoba
  • not funded to develop content
  • e-learning content developed by 3rd party
  • 2.5 FTE  e-facilitators
  • continuous intake
  • synchronous learning options: drop-in virtual classes offered weekly
  • asynchronous learning options: self-study courses based on interactive modules, weekly tips, discussion board, Twitter, Wiki with self-directed learning strategies
  • blended learning options: 4-week courses (1 synchronous class per week plus a # of self-study activities)
  • e-facilitators respond to queries, guide to resources, deliver synchronous classes, weekly tips, moderate discussion board and feedback on journal reflections
  • custom-built LMS with limited social functionalities; L not able to contact another learner through the LMS