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. I'm also interested in human-technology interaction, especially in how it relates to our lives and to how people in the "Internet in your pocket" age interact and learn. I have no intention on conducting any research in this field, but I do keep a close eye on it!.
The last few years I have also begun exploring the world of fantasy and children's literature. I am drawn to translation issues, such as how translators find ways to maintaining the richness, depth, style, and feel of the original work while translating into another language for another culture. However, my own second-language ability is thus far lacking to the degree that I am unable to do much in this area as of yet.
Practical Language Acquisition|
What else could it be called? For the past few years I have been reading just about everything I can find about how people have successfully learned more than one foreign language. Today, many people seem to think the gaining of a second language as something rare and quite difficult, and yet even a hundred years ago, learning several languages was not only common, but expected (well, at least at a certain socio-economic level). Children were tutored in French or German at home and then went on to be taught Latin. Later in life it was not uncommon for these same people to pick up other languages as needed (or as desired) -- such as Hebrew, Greek, Old English, etc.
So the question is, “Why were they so successful and we seem to struggle?” And that is the question I am trying to answer. Thus I read diaries and old books, I look at all the various teaching techniques from yesteryear, and I also explore the current advances in language learning.
On a personal, practical level, I am currently learning French, German, Japanese, Latin, and computer programming (which could be called a type of language) using different language learning techniques between them. I am using Duolingo for French and German, a flashcard program with automatic spaced-repetition (SRS) for Japanese vocabulary, an online video-lecture series with a textbook for Latin, and an online-video course for programming. As time goes by, I hope to be able to share my own thoughts on this little “experiment” upon myself.
Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition
Incidental vocabulary acquisition is simply the learning of new words through receiving a lot of input. For example, children naturally learn a large number of words by reading picture books (and later storybooks) with their parents and on their own.
My own research examines what types of input might be more useful for those wishing to learn or improve their English. In the past I have looked at newspaper articles and TV news. Recently I have looked at the "Harry Potter" series of books, and from now on (2019~) I will be looking at other novels as well as TV programs and movies.
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!
Technology in Education
I have a deep desire for my students to do well, not only in the classroom but in life. However, my sphere of influence over them is mostly confined to the classroom, and so I seek to do the very best I can for them. I have found over the years that the first key to student success is for them to have self-confidence. They need to feel like they can understand and that they know what's going on and what's expected of them. I have also discovered that they do better when they are allowed to work in groups and when the pressure is mostly off and they can relax and be themselves. (All of these things can be pointed out in various research on motivation, affective filters, and the like.) And so, to foster just such an environment, I have taken the textbooks I use and have turned them into a computer presentations. Students still use their own textbooks, but having the same material digitized allows me to show only the relevant activities, pictures, or instructions and also allows me to give extra examples or provide the correct answers (with spelling!) after an activity or quiz. This has been extremely useful for in-class activities where I can leave the instructions on the screen, or useful phrases, to help them complete the activity.
In a few other classes, I have begun to use technology in a different way, however. In my writing classes, we do everything "live" -- I have my laptop open to an empty text file and I type up students' answers as they provide them. This allows us to discuss variations in the students' answers and provides a solid means to teach group editing. For example, I typically have groups of students practice adding adjectives to a base sentence such as "I ate an apple". I will then type in each groups' answer as they say it out loud, and then we look at every groups' answers together. If something needs corrected, we discuss it and do it together, but this method also allows me to show them variations and greater possibilities. So, doing a class "live" like this feels more like "playing together with English".
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