Hello, my name is Jeffrey. I am currently an Associate Professor of English at Shizuoka University here in Japan where I teach a wide-range of English courses to first and second year students. I hold an M.Ed. in "TESOL, Technology in Education, and Curriculum Design" from Temple University and a Bachelor's degree in "English Writing" from the University of Pittsburgh. I have spent much of the last several years focusing on vocabulary acquisition research as well as serving as an editor for English-Japanese dictionaries and High School English textbooks. I have also had the pleasure of line-editing three published fantasy novels for a friend.
I have a wide variety of interests, many academic and some not, and I have spent much of my time as a university teacher experimenting with classroom pragmatics and the effective use of technology in the classroom. My main goal has been to learn how to boost both learner interest and learner motivation. These last several years I have been exploring such topics as "Methods of Language Acquisition", "Children's Literature", and what is sometimes called "Tolkien Studies" which includes topics such as his life, his academic work, his published books, Old English, Old Norse, Victorian & Edwardian History, and Fairy-Stories. (And yes, that has kept me quite busy!)
Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition|
Incidental vocabulary acquisition, simply put, is when someone learns new words by receiving lots of input. Children, for example, naturally learn a large number of new words by interacting with their parents and learn even more through picture books and storybooks later in life.
My own research involves looking at what types of words and their relative level of difficulty can be found in various books, TV shows, and movies. The immediate goal of this research is to be able to recommend said books, shows, and movies to English learners that are not only enjoyable, but more closely match their current abilities and language-learning needs.
In the past I have looked at newspaper articles and TV news, a few years ago I looked at the "Harry Potter" series of books, and I will soon been looking at the entire "Downton Abbey" TV series.
Language Acquisition is actually quite an interesting subject, and my main interest in this area initially began when I realized that the major, modern push to "learn a new language" (complete with all kinds of apps and webpages) just isn't all that successful. But at the same time, those who came before us, say about 100 years or so before, were quite often poly-lingual! People like JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis (granted they were academics) learned many languages fluently during the course of their lives, and they thought nothing of adding on yet another one through their own effort and study. This has led me to believe that something is fundamentally flawed with our current view of language acquisition and that we should take a closer look at the older methods that were obviously very successful in the first place!
My own initial findings, stemming from 2-3 years of reading old and new books on language learning, is that the best thing we can do to learn a language is to quickly get to the point where we can read as much as possible in the new language. People like Tolkien and Lewis sometimes started with a "grammar book" in combination with a novel (in the target language) and a dictionary and had at it. Other times, they simply found a book they were interested in, found a dictionary, and had at it. Brute force, you might say, but it works. But it should be noted that even CS Lewis advised a friend of his who wanted to learn French, to keep it simply at the start and maybe only tackle a novel (with dictionary) for an hour a week until it became more comfortable. (And that friend did eventually learn to read French!)
Children's Literature (c. 1880s-1950s)
Over the years, I have discovered that I have a very deep interest in literature, especially fantasy and children's literature. I have also found that those works that MOST interest me are those written between the late Victorian Era and the end of World War II, which is roughly around the 1880s through the 1950s. The authors that interest me most are Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, all possessing a similar these and "feel" to their work. Though, admittedly, my greatest interest lies in Professor Tolkien and his work.
I am still reading deeply and thinking patiently about these authors and their work, though I begin to suspect that the major thread that weaves them all together is what Kenneth Grahame said when asked why he wrote exclusively about children and animals:
"The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavors of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder ... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armor on a moonlit road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?"
I believe, or at least I'm beginning to believe, that it is this "sense of wonder" at life, nature, and the world that is the appealing, nay, the ENCHANTING aroma that draws one to Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, as well as Middle Earth and Narnia.
We need more wonder in the world!
And so there you have it, me and my academic interests in a very tiny nutshell. If you made it this far down the page you are either extremely patient, extremely persistent, or one of my blood-relations! Whichever you may be, thank you for visiting, and be sure to drop be a line to say hello.
Jeffrey D. Shaffer|
University Education Center
836 Otani, Suruga-ku