Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ten Thousand Hours

...the length of time, according to research reported by this guy, it takes to achieve mastery over any given field. Read this; It's important. I also believe it has signficant implications for learners of language and language teachers. Basically, this article is an extract from a book, looking at how really successful people are successful because of a combination of talent, luck, timing and application. What is of interest, however, is the figure in the title. If you think about L1 acquisition, that roughly equates to two and a half years of waking existence, the kind of age where children start to have a clear emerging language, rather than babble and lumps of vocabulary. Of course, they don't have mastery, yet the brain has acquired the bare bones of the language by then, the simple version of the operating system it will use over its lifetime, if you like.
In terms of language learning, would ten thousand hours of practice equate to mastery? Research suggests it would. After all, the requirements for Proficiency level state that someone who has studied for far less than this figure will achieve this level. And when a student has the opportunity to be entirely immersed in an English-speaking environment, we should point out how swiftly that can, in theory, become masterful. Let's take an example of someone with mastery of the English language: Joseph Conrad, someone who knew nothing of the language before the age of 19. Now, he came from a family that were hard-working and determined, and he had hour after hour to learn English while aboard boats, criss-crossing the oceans. In the end, he began writing, and look at his work! But I bet you that the aforementioned figure , all that time in practice and learning and practice again, had to be crossed before he even set pen to paper.
And as for being a teacher, what of that? After reading this article, I reflected on how many hours I've put in, both in the classroom and in preps, practice etc. I must have done, on average, about 20 hours per week of direct class contact over the last 15 years. So, 20 x 44 (don't forget holiday times, when I do my paperwork) x 15 = 13,200 hours of class time, plus planning & admin. Have I achieved mastery of my subject? Well, no, because I can always find something to learn, and there is always something to learn. But also, yes, because I know that I can walk into a classroom or even a circle drawn on the floor, with or without materials, and still deliver a good lesson.

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