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February 16, 2008


Film Based Teaching Machine. Student pushes one of four buttons to give answers and his score appears on paper slip at upper right. Teaching machines, expected to boom in the next decade, usually operate on the principal of repetition until the pupil understands. They aim to speed up the learning process and relieve teacher of much paper work in the classroom.

from 1975: And the Changes To Come by Arnold B. Barach

I feel like I’m stuck in Back to the Future but this post scans some ten cent book called (you guessed it) 1975: And the Changes To Come by Arnold B. Barach which was written somewhere in the early sixties. The idea, if I understand correctly, was to predict some of the major scientific and social progress to come hurtling toward everyone in the next fifteen years. That’s to say before 1975.

Apart from the intended chuckle-o-rama which hit the spot a couple of times from Derrick’s well-intentioned blog post I stopped dead at the above image. Now, listen to me carefully because you know who you are. If you are learning a foreign language using something which even remotely resembles this method (and I don’t think you will need to stretch your imaginations too far) contact Coote Libeau for the love of God. It’s not too late to save yourselves.

All jokes aside thousands of people are still signing up to miracle language centres using extremely similar ‘learning devices’ in France to transform them into bilingual demons with absolutely no effort! It’s fantastic! Am I allowed to use any more exclamation marks in one post? I don’t care! There’s another one.

And all jokes even farther aside the reasons behind whacking students in front of a computer and prodding them with a stick from time to time so they don’t go into deep comas are not so removed from the ones given by Arnold B. Barach in the ‘relieving the teacher of much of the paper work in the classroom’ (translation – relieve the organisation from paying the teacher for anything which may constitute some real preparation to give a real course).

Nothing will substitute hands on hard work, close interaction, and relentless practice if you are serious about communicating efficiently in a different language. You need to listen and talk with a real person who is trained in targeting weaknesses, reinforcing strengths and using to their fullest all the other educational tools which real professionals pick up on the way to make their students succeed. There are no miracle injections, flashing goggles (don’t laugh this exists too), magic potions, nor any real painless shortcuts. Try to have some fun with your learning and don’t be afraid to try. We’ve never lost a client because they launched into a sentence they didn’t know how to finish (yet).

Thanks to Eagle Eyes Simone and her Friday stumbling for the heads up.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2008 4:04 pm

    I wrote some of the early lessons for the old Plato system. We could make games with stick figures.

    What I think people should recognize it that there is a big difference between how you learned something and how you were taught. Typical teaching is a passive activity for students, listening and seeing something. Even the discussions and activities arent’ that intense. Can you skip a few classes and still get an A..easy.

    You’re right real learning comes from practice, experience and feedback in addition to some formal teaching.

    How many trianing sessions have you been in where they do one role play and expect that you’ve mastered a skill.

    If you want to see an approach that fits what you’re talking about go to

  2. Tim permalink*
    February 18, 2008 7:30 am

    Thanks for your comment. I suppose doing anything once and expecting instant results is the point of the post. If it is role playing or sitting in front of a computer the results are not going to be spectacular. One, however is more active than the other (not counting the passive nature of any form of learning). I will take at look at your site.

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