What you learn in theory doesn’t always help in practice. You can study dozens of books on how to fly an airplane, but once you’re sitting in the cockpit getting ready to take to the air, you’ll probably find that the books didn’t completely prepare you to be a pilot. The process of learning a new language is a lot like that – words on a page just don’t match how people really use them in conversation. What’s more, even audiovisual learning tools often don’t give a good idea of how a language sounds in real life. When Michael Marzio saw the difference between “learned” language and “real life” language, he started focusing on bridging the gap between learning English and using English by incorporating videos into his lessons that feature people speaking English naturally, at the speed of normal conversation. Now his Real English videos are helping people around the world get the skills they need to speak English easily and fluently.
UV: To start off, would you tell us a little bit about the Marzio School?
MM: I was a tourist in France in 1973 and a friend who was helping to organize courses for a language school in Paris asked me if I wanted to stay for a year to teach English to business people, technicians and such. I said yes. 2 years later I was still teaching when I created a language school for a large French company in Lyon. Finally, I moved to Provence and started my own school for corporate clients, far from my previous boss to avoid conflicts of interest. There were 30 full-time teachers in 2007, before the financial crisis. Now we’re a small group of 9.
UV: Your approach differs from that taken by many other language videos, in that you don’t use actors reading scripts. Why did you decide to make videos of interviews with people in the middle of their daily lives?
MM: Our students would come back from their business or technical meetings in the UK and the US, and we always heard the same refrain. They would say, “I can understand all my teachers here, but it was very hard to understand our clients (partners, suppliers) in London (or New York, etc.). They speak so fast.” We also found out that they had very few problems when communicating about work and technical matters related to the job. The difficulties came when it was time to “talk about the weather” around the lunch or dinner table.
To make a long story short, we began filming people in the streets of the UK and the US, initially for our own students at my school only. We asked questions to elicit the same structures and functions that were used in the textbooks we were using from the Big Publishers, in order to use Real English as supplementary material.
Filming and editing was, and still is, hard work. One must film many people to get usable footage. Even today, less than 10% of our raw film gets included in the final edits for a wide variety of reasons too complex to get into here. The important point is that we figured out how to do it.
UV: Videos like these are helpful to get the sense of how spoken English sounds, but how can students use them to practice speaking English themselves?
MM: A video does not stand alone as a teaching tool. Either a teacher exploits the video intelligently according to his lesson plan in such a way that the students want to listen over and over again, or it is exploited in interactive exercises which lead to the same result. As you probably know, insisting on listening comprehension is the most important key in learning any language. Normal speech, which seems fast to all of our learners, becomes comprehensible, while we avoid speaking artificially slow “classroom English”.
UV: How do these videos help people learn English vocabulary?
MM: Vocabulary is illustrated by pictures in the videos, and by more pictures with audio files, whether in the classroom or on our interactive sites (Real English® and Real English® Mobile). A simplified dictionary type definition is always included for the vocabulary, but it is certainly secondary in importance.
UV: Can someone learn to speak English just by watching all of the videos, or are they designed to be used as part of a more formal English language class?
MM: As you have gathered from my replies to your other questions, the videos are always accompanied by elaborate interactive lessons which give meaning to practically every word spoken in Real English®. It’s quite a coincidence that you ask me these questions at this point in time, since I just finished explaining the answers to these questions in more detail on my blog this morning. Last month, I wrote about the new Real English® mobile site. Thanks a lot for this opportunity to speak to you briefly about my favorite project.