PAUL WADDEN, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer, International Christian University
Paul Wadden, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in the English Language Program of International Christian University, Tokyo. His articles have appeared in TESOL Quarterly, ELT Journal, RELC Journal, Modern English Teacher, College Composition, and many other publications; he is also the editor of the volume A Handbook for Teaching English at Japanese Colleges and Universities (Oxford University Press). His current professional interests are vocabulary building, test preparation, and English for liberal arts.
Q: As this website is intended primarily for teachers (and learners), I’d like to start by asking you about what you do professionally. Can you tell our readers how you started in the field?
I teach in a leading “English for Liberal Arts” program at one of Japan’s top universities. What is interesting about my position and the program is that my responsibilities are two-fold: to help students to improve their English language skills across the board (reading, writing, speaking, listening, vocabulary, etc.) and at the same time to cultivate their critical and creative thinking skills in the liberal arts tradition. It is the combining of language instruction with the liberal arts approach to knowledge that makes our program unusual and effective and that gives me such pleasure in my work.
The students in our program have a great deal of natural curiosity, an interest in academic study, and a desire to actively engage contemporary issues through internships, volunteer programs, and study abroad, so it is a very rich context to teach in.
I got my start in language teaching soon after graduating from a liberal arts college in Minnesota and then directing the language center for another such school. Later, I received an MFA in Writing and taught composition at a state university, before coming to Japan for the first time in 1984 (I went back to school in the 90’s for a Ph.D. in English). From 1984 until the present I have been deeply involved in language education, composition pedagogy and theory, and language testing.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Q: What led you to focus on TOEFL?
A: Soon after I began to teach here at International Christian University in Tokyo, it became apparent to me that many students wanted—or needed—some TOEFL prep. First, the program I teach in uses TOEFL (in combination with selective interviews) to place arriving 1st-year students into three tracks, but we do not specifically teach any TOEFL courses and students do not need to achieve any particular score to exit the program or to continue or complete their undergraduate study at the university. Nevertheless, to participate in many study-abroad programs, or to do graduate work abroad, they need to demonstrate their English-language skills through a satisfactory TOEFL score. To fill this gap in our curriculum, I and a few other teachers began offering optional lectures and study sessions to help our students sharpen their overall language skills in particular areas (academic reading, academic listening, academic vocabulary, etc.). The students at our school are both very broad-minded (interested in study for its own sake) but also rather practical: if they need to achieve a particular test score to further their personal goals, they knuckle down and do what it takes to get it.
At that time, about 15 years ago, there were only a few TOEFL training centers in Tokyo that were highly effective at significantly raising the scores of students who wanted to get into prestigious universities in North America. They were also very expensive “for profit” institutes and out of reach of most students. Typically, Japanese corporations would pay the fees for their top employees to enroll so that they could eventually enter elite MBA or law programs in the United States. My colleague Robert Hilke and I decided to launch a series of books that would allow our own students—and students throughout Japan—to have access to high-quality materials and instruction without having to pay the exorbitant fees of the private TOEFL institutes.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Q: What would you say are the major changes that have happened recently concerning TOEFL? Which of these changes are relevant to both language teachers and learners?
A: The main changes in the TOEFL occurred back in 2005 when the TOEFL iBT was launched with its new speaking and writing sections. What was before largely a “passive” test (I know that’s a dangerous and rather inaccurate word since there is nothing passive about good reading and listening skills) suddenly required expressive output in the form of 5 speaking tasks and 2 writing tasks. These changes were, by and large, good as they made the TOEFL more valid as a measure of whether a student who was not a native-speaker of English possessed the minimum language skills to succeed in a university with an English-language curriculum. Unfortunately, these changes made the test very expensive to administer and to grade, since ETS (Educational Testing Service, the company which makes the TOEFL) had to pay graders to individually assess all of the audio files for the speaking tasks and to evaluate the quality of the two writing tasks. As a result, the new iBT TOEFL became a better test but also prohibitively expensive. Ironically, this has led to a resurgence of the use of the old paper-based test in Japan. In fact, many more students in Japan now take the ITP TOEFL (the “Institutional Test Program TOEFL”), which is basically the old paper test, because high schools and colleges can use it for a fraction of the cost of the iBT (though students who wish to study abroad cannot generally use the results of the institutional paper-based TOEFL in the overseas applications).
The changes in the test—that is, the iBT—mean that teachers who want to prepare their students for the TOEFL must help them improve their language skills across the board in a variety of skill areas, including argumentative writing and extemporaneous speaking, rather than taking a drill-and-kill approach that focuses on “test-taking techniques.” In fact, to score well on the iBT students—and their teachers—need to focus on language skills, academic skills (reading sophisticated texts and listening to challenging academic lectures) as well as test-taking skills (adopting strategies to answer questions effectively and accurately, and in some sections and for some students, being very conscious of time allocation).
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Q: There seems to be a lot of research being done concerning standardized tests, such as TOEFL, IELTS, and the like, nowadays. Do you think it is being translated into what language teachers do in the classroom?
A: I think with this question you put your finger on a major disconnect today in second-language learning and testing. Other than “test-prep” courses, there is very little integration of language learning and language testing in the typical EFL/ESL classroom. Of course, this is a general statement and some universities and language schools take a more integrated approach. But generally, standardized tests stand apart somewhat from the curriculum, and it’s often students’ responsibility to study independently if they want to take a well-known standardized test and achieve a certain score.
A: Of course, this depends a great deal on context. At a minimum, teachers should familiarize themselves with textbooks and study materials so that they can recommend reliable and substantive books and software programs that will match students’ levels and needs. Much of the material on the market is surprisingly mediocre, and students who need texts to help them improve their language skills and test scores are not in a position to recognize which texts are good and which are not (if such students were, they wouldn’t need the texts in the first place). This problem is exacerbated by the fact that unless students’ language ability is extremely high they will likely benefit more from a text that is bilingual: a book or program that can explain strategies and provide explanations in their first language. The massive English-only test-prep books published by major international publishers tend to be higher quality than locally published books, but they are also bulky, opaque, and difficult for all but the most advanced students to use. Unfortunately, the texts published by the test-maker itself, ETS, deliberately exclude important time-management and test-taking strategies because they must keep up the pretense that the test is purely a test of language ability rather than also a test of students’ test-taking and time-management skills.
On a broader scale, if teachers wish to use materials that will help the students perform well on the tests, they should use lucid academic reading and listening texts that revolve around the major academic disciplines (general interest readings on popular biology, economics, history, etc.) and integrate some speaking activities into the course (using, for example, spontaneous prompts related to the passages) and writing assignments similar to those featured on the iBT, such as summaries of lectures and readings and brief argumentative essays. All of these will benefit the students’ language skills, academic understanding, and, ultimately, their TOEFL scores.
A: I think there are universals and particulars in language teaching. Regardless of culture, if you can harness students’ natural curiosity in the curriculum and the classroom, you’ll be more successful. For instance, topics related to global issues, gender, and ethics are timeless and not so culture bound. It also helps, if it all possible, to build in incentives. For example, after a semi-intensive first year of English, our students must take additional English courses at our university to graduate, and many are also required to write a senior thesis in English. They also need to have a decent GPA in their English courses, and satisfactory TOEFL scores, to participate in our study abroad programs. Therefore, the faculty and administrators at the school have been very astute about creating requirements and opportunities for students that heighten their motivation to become fluent. The need for such requirements and opportunities is also a universal for creating a context optimal for language learning.
Each culture and context will have its own “particulars.” A particular associated with Japanese culture, and some other cultures in Asia such as Korean and perhaps even Thai culture, relates to dominant learning styles. Japanese students, for instance, are superb at learning large numbers of vocabulary fairly quickly, not exactly by “rote memory” but by rapid learning. Rather than bogging them down in slowly learning words in a communicative paradigm, teachers should turn them loose to learn in a way that suits them. One of the biggest mistakes made by foreign language teachers in Asia is subjecting students to the western pedagogy (especially blind faith in the communicative paradigm) that was ideologically driven into them in graduate school. Basically my point is that for things like learning styles and also incentives (such as in Japan, receiving a proficiency certification of some kind, or a gaining a high score on a recognized exam), one needs to pay attention to the particular culture and context one is teaching in.
A: In the field of English language learning, other than the advent of the online TOEFL, I see far less impact from educational technology on test-making and test-taking than one would expect. In fact, IELTS, TOEIC, and the ITP are exams that draw on almost no technology whatsoever, except for computer grading and item analysis. Within individual programs, such as Mahidol University’s Pre-College Program, one sees creative teachers and capable administrators using technology to make their own programs, such as the vocabulary quiz-generating program that Ed Rush has designed that harvests words from the Academic Word List that are embedded in students’ course readings and then quizzes them on the words. It’s an ingenious program.
A: Most of the applications I would recommend are not specifically language-learning apps but can be used strategically by language learners and language teachers, particularly in academic environments. GoogleDocs provides a sound platform for both individual and collaborative writing (and also submitting work to a teacher, and then revising it afterwards, and tracking the revisions); GoogleScholar is a handy tool for finding academic sources, particularly if your university library doesn’t have strong academic databases; Zotero is useful for upper-level students for keeping track of sources and then formatting them in a way appropriate to the type of course they are taking; and Evernote provides a helpful template for collecting data and taking notes. For institutions with money, Blackboard offers a superb teacher-student interface (as well as premium services that help both students and teachers identify and understand excessive borrowing from sources or outright plagiarism), and if your school doesn’t have so much money or is stingy with it, Moodle functions pretty well. In Japan, an online Japanese-English bilingual dictionary (in fact the largest such dictionary in the world) called “Eijiro” is a superb tool for Japanese learners of English. It has many functions that language learners can immediately adopt and adapt for their language study.
A: For use of English language apps, Japan lags behind other countries, especially South Korea.
A: I’m currently getting ready to propose and edit a book tentatively called English for Liberal Arts: Towards a New Paradigm of Language Learning. This project will be done in collaboration with some extraordinarily talented people I’m lucky to teach with.
I’m also working on a large vocabulary project—the Global Academic Vocabulary corpus (GAV)—which is a collection of words that contains the most important academic vocabulary in English: it presents the most commonly used words across all academic disciplines—from literature to biology and economics to education—by combining the words from the three most important research studies of academic vocabulary in English: the University Word List (Nation and Guoyi), the Academic Word List (Coxhead), and EAP Core Vocabulary (Masuko et. al.). The GAV features around 1,350 key vocabulary and 2,700 total words, and if students learn these words, they will know about 95 percent of the words in the typical university-level academic text (the remaining words, the last 5 percent, tend to be highly technical vocabulary or terms related to a particular field, or both). Research has shown that familiarity with 95 percent or more of the words in a text is necessary for adequate comprehension, so the GAV should be an exceptional resource for students and teachers around the globe.
At the moment, I’m writing English definitions and sample phrases and sentences for the headwords in the GAV. I have divided the corpus into 13 levels with 26 lessons, based upon frequency of appearance in academic texts, and am writing quizzes for each level. Starting September 1st, International Christian University where I teach has given me a year-long sabbatical from teaching, so I’m pretty optimistic I’ll make good progress.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul Wadden
Quite recently, Mahidol University International College (MUIC), one of the top international colleges in Asia, has had a change in its leadership as Prof. Maleeya Kruatrachue was officially appointed as its Dean effective April 2011. Having held the position of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs until her April 2011 appointment and having served a number of posts in the College, Dr. Maleeya is no stranger to the MUIC community.
Q: On behalf of the members, subscribers and visitors of this website, congratulations on your appointment and thank you for agreeing to have an interview with us.
Prof. Maleeya: Thank you very much. I take immense pleasure and pride to work as the Dean of MUIC. I will do the utmost for the college and my contribution to enhance the college’s progress.
Q: This website has been created as an attempt to help provide both educators and learners resources that are in sync with what is now called as digital literacies. As MUIC’s Dean, how do you see the college coping with fast-paced changes in education brought about by technology?
Prof. Maleeya: The college realizes that this kind of issue is a never ending process in education brought about by technology, so we prepare our students to face fast-paced changes in new technology which require much more knowledge, skills and the ability to comprehend, such as e-learning, m-learning, and MUIC iPhone applications. In addition, we encourage our students to have not only a wealth of knowledge, but also to display creativity, critical thinking, and IT savvy.
Q: At this point, what programs or activities does MUIC have reflecting the college’s effort to produce competitive global graduates in the 21st century?
Prof. Maleeya: Given the challenge of our new world order, a well-rounded education can no longer be confined to the classroom setting. MUIC students are given a variety of opportunities to participate in national, regional and international conferences and competitions. They have represented Thailand at international student conferences in North America, Europe and Asia. There is also a wide variety of students’ activities in sports, arts, environment and community outreach.
Over the years, MUIC has evolved into a pre-eminent international institute in the region by maintaining a strong liberal arts focus and promoting a learning culture that prepares the students to meet the challenges of living and working in a diverse and globalized world. MUIC received the Best Practice Award for its student exchange program from the Commission on Higher Education. This award is a testament to our long-standing practices in student exchange, including the number of formal agreements with prestigious universities around the world, the number of nationalities represented, and the mechanisms to evaluate outbound and inbound student satisfaction. Internationalization has been a consistent strategic component that supports staff exchange overseas as internships, multi-cultural exhibitions and collaboration with various embassies, including European Union representatives. In preparation for the ASEAN Community in the year 2015, MUIC has organized exhibitions on ASEAN awareness and participated in the ASEAN University Network (AUN), in which MUIC faculty members and students take part in annual conferences and speakers’ contests. In addition, Kyushu University and MUIC jointly hosted ASEAN in Today’s World, a two-week international program focused on ASEAN studies and Asian languages & cultures. MUIC has also participated in the Malaysia-Indonesia-Thailand (M-I-T) Pilot Program which is supported by the Commission on Higher Education, resulting in an increasing number of outbound and inbound students among ASEAN countries. The above-mentioned showed how much MUIC has accomplished over the past years. The college also empowers our students by providing hands-on experiences through its on-campus internship and training programs. Internships for fulltime students are readily available off-campus as well, both in Thailand and abroad.
Q: How do you envision MUIC to be, both in Asia and in the greater international community?
Prof. Maleeya: We envision the college that supports and encourages students, staff and lecturers to achieve their best here at MUIC with all the activities, learning culture provided and leadership-learning opportunities that enhance the students’ experience as stated above. We envision ourselves trustworthy among top ranking universities and put on the world map of international education.
Q: As an accomplished educator yourself, what advice can you give others to help them achieve a good balance between being a competent classroom teacher and technology-oriented professional who is able to meet the varying demands influenced by factors outside the classroom settings?
Prof. Maleeya: Being a teacher for more than 30 years, [I believe that] in order to achieve good balance, teachers should develop their knowledge and attitudes that might assist them to confront today’s challenge of the technology and explore how to develop skills beyond the classroom.
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Dean, MUIC