If you can´t understand it, you can´t acquire it…

As for learning a foreign language there is always very important to understand an authentic spoken form of such language. Tutors as well as students frequently search for such possibilities. But not all people have a chance to meet a native speaker, to communicate with him long hours and train this way with active practice in speaking. We found a project which might help in such a situation.
We have asked Jeff McQuillan, Ph.D. working in Los Angeles, California at the Institute called Center for Educational Development(CED) to answer several questions concerning goal of this project.

Jeff, the website www.eslpod.com has been established in cooperation with your colleague Dr. Lucy Tse. What was the very first intention to realize the web?

We began the website back in July of 2005 without knowing what the response would be.  We began just by doing some simple audio recordings on common coversational topics.  Both Lucy and I have worked in language education for more than 15 years, and we knew that there were very few free materials available to learners that were truly appropriate for intermediate students.  The research over the past 30 years in language acquisition has shown that the way to acquire languages is to listen and read things you can understand.  Comprehension is key here.  If you can’t understand it, you can’t acquire it.  It’s as simple as that.  So we began producing materials with English that was authentic (what native speakers might say) but at a speed that made it comprehensible.  After about 10 or so episodes, we began getting people all over the world emailing us telling us how much they loved our approach, which was very encouraging for us.  We had no idea we would still be producing episodes two years later!  After about six months, we improved our website and began offering an optional Learning Guide service, and we continue to expand the things we have available, including specialty courses on business and daily English and a detective novel.  But I can’t say we had a master plan before we began.  Like a lot of things, you just have to experiment to see what will work.

Listening of authentic materials is certainly  a suitable learning supply to train understanding and communication skills in English. Are your podcasts of the same structure? What do they usually contain?

We have two different kinds of podcast episodes.  The first is our normal ESL Podcast.  These are published each Monday and Friday.  These normal podcasts have three parts: first, there is a dialog or story read at a slow speed (about 70% of native rate); second, there is an explanation of all of the key vocabulary, entirely in English but again at a somewhat slow speed; and third, we read the dialog or story again, this time at a native rate of speech.  These Monday/Friday episodes are related to topics such as business, travel, personal relationships, shopping, dining, entertainment, health, and similar areas.

Each Wednesday, we publish our English Café.  This is a more informal, less structured discussion of cultural topics related mostly to the United States.  We try to explain the way things work in the US and give people a background in popular culture and life in the US.  We also take some time each week to answer questions that our listeners email to us, which include things such as vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Do I get it right the task of your recordings is at the same time to introduce customs and realia of American culture, ie. they transmit not just a language itself but they help to create an opinion about the way of life of foreign society and culture?

Yes, I think that both our regular ESL Podcasts and our English Cafés try to help people understand not just the language but also the culture and customs of US English speakers.  It is very important to understand how and why language is used, and knowing more about the culture helps you acquire the language more quickly.  So you really get these two things at the same time.

Nowadays in the Czech Republic the opinion concerning methods and ways of English teaching has changed – we put the accent on communicative skills. In connection with this approach, English starts to be taught in third grade primary  school. Children who are 8 or 9 start to learn foreign language, mostly English,  obligatorily. Your materials are more likely focused on adults. Are you preparing something for children as well? 

That’s a very good question.  It is more difficult to produce quality materials for children, especially when it is just audio.  Children respond better when there is a visual – animation, cartoons, pictures, and so forth.  This is more difficult to do than simply audio, so for that reason we have not done anything specifically for children.  I guess we haven’t found a good approach yet for that level.  In my experience, children don’t necessarily want to listen to a detailed explanation of what a story means, the way we do our regular adult podcasts.  They just want to understand the story!  With pictures or gestures, this is possible, but it is more challenging when all you have is the audio.   We are always open to good ideas, so if anyone has any suggestions, we are ready to listen!

Each web offering learning materials or its additions allows teachers to search a support to such materials on-line. Is it possible to find such a support on your websites as well?

We do have some materials to help teachers, although I must say that the overwhelming majority of our listeners are individual learners not connected with a teacher or a school.  We do offer teachers (and all listeners) a Learning Guide to each episode.  This is an eight to ten page PDF document that they can download directly from our website.  The Learning Guide includes all of the vocabulary from the dialog or Café, along with explanations, sample sentences using the new words in a different context, additional explanations of words not found in the audio podcast, cultural notes, a comprehension quiz, and the complete transcript of the entire episode.  So you get a lot of material (ten pages) for each and every new episode we produce.  We think it is a great resource for teachers and students, and is offered at a very reasonable price.  These are optional, but I think they do help accelerate your acquisition of the language.

Thank you very much for your answers.