[Cyber Listening Lab | Randall's Research Articles]

Using a Foreign Language Beyond the Classroom

This article appeared in similar form in The Language Teacher (volume19, number 5, pp. 52, 53, 55), published by the Japan Association for Language Teaching. Copyright @ Randall S. Davis and Hamilton Armstrong.


For many students, language practice comes to a halt once class is over. One reason is that students are unaware of how to use their English, German, Japanese, or Russian, outside the confines of the classroom. As a result, students who are interested in brushing up their skills often believe that going overseas is the only way to reach the promised land of language mastery. Yet, as language "shepherds," instructors can promote learning by teaching students how to practice their foreign language skills within without ever having to leave their native land.

The following are twenty-five suggestions we give Japanese students at the beginning of the school year along with a simple language activity checklist to record their own progress, but many of these ideas can be used in any country, irregardless of the language being learned. Basically, students are asked to keep notes on which activities they are involved in during the year, and hand in this information at regular intervals. While students are not required to do any of these language tasks, we award extra points based on the amount practice they actually do outside of class, and these points are added to their final grade.

Listening and Speaking

1. Rent a movie, and turn ordinary viewing into an active language-learning exercise by (a) stopping the tape and comparing what you hear to what the subtitles say, (b) keeping a diary of any new expressions or words you learn, (c) recording any interesting or unusual translations you hear, and (d) taking notes of any gestures or other body language you see.

2. Record portions of English radio broadcasts, or watch TV programs in English (CBS News, Sesame Street, etc.). Listen intently to the content of the programs, and make it a goal to learn several new words every time.

3. Listen to foreign music groups. Read the words of their songs. Repeat. Sing along. Write five sentences using some of the new words you hear.

4. Enjoy singing in English with your friends.

5. Carry on a talking journal with someone (a teacher, a close friend, or a foreign pen friend) on cassette or videotape.

6. Become a member of a friendship group or club that promotes mutual understanding and language learning between foreign countries by organizing meetings, tours, and homestay programs.

7. Administer a short survey of your own design on life in Japan at a popular tourist spot near you.Express your appreciation by giving participants a telephone card. Tape record the interview, transcribe the responses, and share the results with your classmates and teachers.

8. Check out web sites on the Internet that have been designed for, or by, students. Dave's ESL Cafe (http://www.pacific.net/~sperling/eslcafe.html), ESLOOP (http://manth.unr.edu/linguistics/esloop/esloop.html), and Virtual English Language Center (http://www.comenius.com) are good examples.

9. Play games printed in English and/or require some knowledge of English (Monopoly, Scrabble, Life, Pictionary, etc.). Before starting, come up with a repertoire of basic commands for playing, and encourage the other members to only speak the target language.

10. Produce a five-minute English video with your friends on some aspect of your culture or other interesting topics. Try to pattern the content of the video on units in your textbook which can later be used by the teacher in class. Then have a grand premiere with popcorn. Also send a copy of the video to your pen friend.

11. Go on bus tours that are usually designed for foreign tourists. For listening practice, write down a list of ten things you anticipate the guide will say about the tour before departing like Welcome to the tour today or Please meet back at the bus at 4:00. Then check off the ones you actually hear.

12. Talk to yourself or repeat aloud dialogues you have learned in class, and then tape record your voice. Listen to what you have recorded.

13. Throw a party, and invite your teachers and their friends. Plan activities or "icebreakers" which encourage lively interaction among your guests. For instance, play Bingo, but use seasonal words (e.g., barbecue, fireworks, flag, etc.) instead of numbers. Also have the players call out their own words for pronunciation practice.

14. Order food in English at a restaurant which caters to foreign guests.

15. Volunteer to teach your language in exchange for English lessons. Write advertisements on small cards and place them on bulletin boards at schools, universities, local ward or municipal offices, and supermarkets frequented by foreigners.

16. Register with your local tourist information office to have foreigners spend a few hours (or days) in your home.


17. Write to other students in foreign countries by contacting the International Youth Service, an pen-friend program which has served as a link between students from around the world since 1952 (IYS, PB 125, FIN-20101 Turku, Finland).

18. Keep an English diary to record your feelings and experiences, and write in it two or three times a week. Input it on a word processor or computer to improve your typing skills. Have a close friend or teacher correct your entries or make comments in response to what you have written.

19. Share your opinions in the editorial section of an English newspaper. For example, write to "Letters To The Editor," The Daily Yomiuri, 1-7-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-55, or fax your ideas to the paper at 03-3279-6324. You will receive a complimentary telephone card if your letter is printed.

20. Learn at least one new word a day. Write these words in a small notebook and carry it with you. Ask a friend to review this new vocabulary with you on a regular basis.

21. Experience some Christmas cheer by writing a letter to Santa Claus. Contact him and his reindeer at Joulupukki (Santa), FIN-99999 Koruatunturi, Finland.

22. Translate traditional Japanese children's stories into English and share these tales with others.

23. Enhance your word power by working on crossword puzzles or word searches. Make your own games based on different themes and print them in a class newsletter.


24. Read your favorite best sellers, cookbooks, children's classics, cartoon collections, and reference books.

25. Subscribe to a weekly edition of one of Japan's English language newspapers published especially for English students like The Japan Times Weekly. Call 03-3453-4350 or fax 03-3452-1298 for more information on current subscription rates, or find one on the Internet.


Obviously, the more language activities students are engaged in beyond the classroom, the more confident they will become in communicating in English. And, the more possibilities students see, the more they will feel that English is truly a living language that can be acquired and used without having to go abroad to study it. In reality, teaching is all about empowering students with the ability to take more control of their own learning, and giving students a list of language-building tasks will make the whole process a day-to-day experience.

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