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Webheads chat logs are posted on the Internet to assist language learners with comprehension of our conversations and to strengthen our sense of community through shared familiarity with one another. All are welcome to join us, but your participation in our activities implies that you approve of our posting on the Internet interactions in which you take part. Please address any comments or concerns to Vance Stevens.

Writing for Webheads: Our Methodology

Denilson | Deden | Michael | Deden again | Vance | Deden to Michael | Michael to Deden | Maggi | Felix | Maggi again | Felix again | Vance again | Choi | Vance responds to Sophie

This "thread" (of conversation) started when Denilson replied to Michael's request for students to tell us, the teachers, what they thought about the course. Denilson's critique is especially helpful because it leads us to question the methods we are following and to dialog with the students about them.

From Denilson, February 16, 2000



Anyway I have learned a lot, I have made friends, and it's free.

I think our class is good, but each student needs to have interest and search for knowledge and practice what he learns...

It's a great opportunity to learn English without expending money.

Good luck in the conference guys!!!


From Deden, February 16, 2000

I think you are right Denilson. We don't have a method, a syllabus to follow, or exercises - and sometimes I don't know what I have to do in the mailing list.

On the positive side, I feel the same as Denilson wrote.

I hope Vance and all of our teachers can make some method to help us to learn English better.

I have to say thank you very much to all our teachers (Vance, Michael, and Maggi) who consider people like me who don't understand English and who are willing teach the English language without pay.

Meanwhile, Deden had just written us, ...

Dear Vance Stevens and All

Vance thank you for correcting my English. I have read it. I found so many mistakes in my letter.

Vance, could you give some clue, how to learn English. Sometimes I like to read newspapers. But it makes me feel crazy, because there is so much vocabulary which I don't know the meaning of.

So...every day, I always watch Chinese movies in Taiwan. It's fun. I like Chinese movies and many have been translated into English. So I can enjoy the movies. Almost every day, when I watch the Chinese movies, I find new vocabulary. I just memorize one or two words. Not all of them, because I would feel stress. But I can understand at least 50%. That way I learn English. Do you think in that way, my English will progress?

ok bye-bye

Micheael replies February 17, 2000

Take it slowly Deden. Give yourself a target of 10 new words a day when you're reading the newspaper. And write them down. Listen for those words if you watch the news on TV, or hear people talking on the street, in shops, on the buses, etc. You'll find the words you write down will come back to you when you hear them spoken, or written somewhere else in another article.

And just take a small article that you can read in a half hour or so. And don't try and get the meaning of every word. It takes many years till that is possible. An important part of learning a language is being able to guess the meanings of many words. And the more you read and the more you listen the better your guesses will become.

When I lived in Holland (and was trying to learn Dutch) I was amazed at how many words that I learnt that I never looked up in the dictionary. After a while I just knew what they meant because I heard them so often and I worked out the meaning myself.

In a way it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you are 'taking in' the language regularly - preferably every day. The best way of course is to have an English speaking girlfriend or boyfriend, but a neighbour or good friend is also good. Or have a job where you have to use English every day.

Learning a language is hard work, and it can take a long time. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. It *will* come!

And as I often tell my classes,

Deden responds, February 17,2000

Dear Michael Coghlan and All

Thank you for your help. I think you are right. I always put pressure on myself. Right now, I don't want to pressure myself again. I will follow your suggestions. I think it is a great idea.

Michael Coghlan, yesteday I read an article entitled The Night I wrote My Pulitzer Prize Winner. I like the story. It told that not to waste time. If you want to do something, just do it, because we don't know if we will still be alive tomorrow.

Vance replies, February 18, 2000 ...

I see that Michael has written with some suggestions, and I think he is entirely correct. To learn a language, you have to read, write, speak, listen, and USE that language. Only two things he left out - you have to THINK in the language and DREAM in it. Actually, I think the last is just an indicator. When you start to dream in a language, then you are learning it.

There is another secret that I can tell you. There is no such thing as a language teacher. No one can teach a language. "Teachers" can only make opportunities for students to do all those other things like reading and writing and listening. That's what Michael and I and Maggi do - we just give you reasons to read and write.

You are on your way to learning English well.

In this way your writing will improve. Writing also improves the more you read in a foreign language, because certain ways that people express themselves become more natural to you the more familiar you become with reading and writing that language.

So it's all a matter of the amount of time you have to put into it.

Good luck, and try hard.

All the best,


Deden, February 19, 2000 ...

I'm very interested in what Michael wrote about. He was able to get to know many words without looking them up in a dictionary, just only hear them? It was true?

Taiwan is where I'm now living, . Michael, here I can't always speak English.. I just write, read and sing the English songs I hear, and that is the way I learn English (orally). Can it work? What do you think?

Sometimes I dream if I was born in the USA or in a country in which English was the national language, I would be very happy. I could travel to any countries that I wanted to go to. So I have a plan - if I can make that much money, I want to study English in Australia. Maybe I would just study the English language there.

One of y hobbies is reading books. I like reading and playing on the computer.

My dream is to be a businessman and then get married at 30. But my uncle and my auntie said don't target it, because sometimes dreams can be changed.

It is true. My uncle said that he wanted to marry at 30. But he married at 25. My auntie dreamed she wanted to study in Switzerland but she didn't because her fathers died.

oke bye-bye

Michael, February 20, 2000 ...

Yes, Deden it's really true. I did of course also use the dictionary *A LOT* but I did learn many words from just listening and reading.

It can work if you have opportunity regularly to USE your English. And that mean use it actively. Speaking and writing in particular because when you speak and write you PRODUCE English. When you are listening and reading English you are RECEIVING it, not making it. And to produce English (speak or listen) you need an audience. Do you have an audience when you are singing English songs?! It's better if you do because then they can tell you if they understand the words or not!

And obviously the Webheads can help you with your writing because we can be you audience. And the teachers can help you if you make mistakes.

So write, read, and sing. But just make sure that you have an audience sometimes so you can get feedback on how good you are at producing or making English.

Many international students come here to study - especially from Asia. You would be very welcome here. Just tell the customs people that you are a Webhead and I'm sure they'll give you a visa!

I think this is good advice from your uncle and auntie. It's important to have dreams, but you should also be able to change your dreams (plans) if things beyond your control.

Do you know the famous quote from John Lennon (from the Beatles)? He sang " life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." He sang this line in the song "Beautifiul Boy" on the last record he made before he was killed. I'm sure he had plans and dreams, but life had another plan (a much sadder one) for John Lennon.

BUT...... good luck with your dreams! I hope you reach them. Some of them do come true. And some people believe you have the power to make your own dreams come true. What do you think?

See ya next time.

Michael Coghlan

Felix, February 21, 2000 ...

I agree with you Denilson.. And I remember that once someone at argued with me when I told him that. I think you remember that, right Mad?? I do like the classes here, but as you said, it's missing something. I think learning a language involves many things, and we are getting to almost everything. But it's still missing something.. Who knows if it's grammar topics, or exercises, or anything like that?


Maggi, February 21, 2000 ...

Too many people think grammar is how you learn a language, but think about how you learned to speak your native language ... did your parents teach you grammar?

You could speak the language before you went to school. How did you learn it?

Maggi (Mad - MAD = Maggi's initials)

Felix, February 21, 2000 ...

Of course I didn't learn grammar first Mad, but you are to remember that we are not involved in English all day long, so you don't practice it a lot. That's why it's necessary to know grammar rules although you have to practice speaking much more than grammar.. What I meant is that I think there's something missing.. Maybe it's grammar... Maybe it's not.. But of course I do like Webheads and I've learned a lot with you all (culture, behavior, new words). But I think there's something missing. DUNNO what....


Vance, February 22, 2000 ...

It is well known that children learn English in a way different from adults. Children are able to absorb other languages without being taught grammar. Adults have a different way of learning. Sometimes they feel they need grammar. But I think what Maggi is saying, is if you can learn more the way you did as a child, without worrying about whether you make mistakes or not, then this might help you make progress in that language. Language is a skill. You can only learn so much of a skill through studying ABOUT it. Mainly you have to DO it, practice it over and over. That is how you acquire any skill. To learn the skill, the practice is more important than the rules (of grammar, for example).

This is what we do (Maggi, Michael and I). We give you opportunities to use and practice your English skills. Language is communication, so we also give you real reasons to communicate. All of us in this community, the teachers and the learners, give you an audience. We are interested in what you have to say and we encourage you to say it. Eventually you come to like the others in the community, and it's interesting to get to know them. You want to communicate with them and you want them to communicate with you. So you have real reasons to write and speak to them.

It's also interesting that a community such as this has been together for over a year and is growing both larger and closer. We are about the right size. There aren't so many of us that we don't know each other personally. It's an interesting experiment, and Maggi, Michael and I would like to see how far we can go with it. We'd like to know what we are doing right that keeps it together and what makes is a community.

But Felix makes an important point as well. If there is something missing, what is that? Is there something we can do to make the experience better for you? There are a lot of sites on the Internet that might be able to teach you what you want to know, if that's the approach that's comfortable for you? Would you like for us to identify some of them for you? Would you then go out and look at those sites and report back?

But what is that "something missing"?? Any ideas from any of you?


Maggi, February 22, 2000 ...

Felix maybe what you are missing is actual physical contact to use what you have learned here and body language. You come from a culture where this sort of interaction is important.

Cyberspace maybe just leaves you floating and the others are not so real because you only know them through the context of text. Perhaps once the web becomes interactive (which is possible now), this will change.


Choi, February 22, 2000 ...


Hi Deden and others,

I totally agree with what Vance said about how to improve English writing. It is a bit easier to learn vocabulary and grammar but very difficult to self-study Writing. For this I am so happy to have Vance, Maggie, and Michael to correct my writing. It really helps me enhance my writing a lot.

Deden, This is my way of learning English. I have been subscribing to a local English newspaper for 6 years. I try to read at least one article a day. However I even leave the newspaper unfolded sometimes. I also try to look up words in the dictionary for meaning as much as possible. But I do not make it a rule. It may decrease my interesting in the newspaper. I try to enjoy the newspaper. You will learn many useful words and expression I bet.

Second, I read only English novels. I try to find some best-selling novels, mainly love stories or gang stories.

Third, enjoy English movies and drama. We have AFKN(America forces Korean Network) which constantly airs conversational expressions in.English for us to hear, and other satellite overseas broadcasts. Except for the Korean news and my favorite 30-minute comedy-drama, I usually watch these overseas programs. If you something similar to this, you can enhance your language learning too.

If you think they are too difficult to listen to, then try tapes with transcripts that you easily get at the bookstore. When I started to learn English first, I studied tapes with transcripts. It helped me a lot.

Deden, ENJOY English everyday. That is the key point.

Deden responds, March 1, 2000 ...

Dear Choi Hae-Young

Thank you for your suggestion. I will try your method of learning English. Right now, I always listen to radio (English language) and sometimes I read English magazines.

Thank you


Sophie asked about our methods in August 2000; Vance responds ...

I can see the need to call people in the class .. the class? the group .. something other than students and teachers. We have some teachers of English who are not native speakers of English, Felix, Nova, and Marina for example, and Dave the American teacher and occasional participant, not actually a student. Can you think of a better nomenclature system to more accurately reflect our roles? Maybe I'll call us tutors and friends.

> What do you do when people send messages to the list with so many mistakes
>(serious ones bothering comprehension). Do you correct them / explain to
>them privately? and all the others who get these messages and read them -
>how do they know what's wrong or not? I mean they are not going to go the
>website and read the message they had in their mailboxes already, are they???

One of us, Maggi or Michael or I, corrects the writing and we post the corrected work at the website. This is our one and only overt teaching strategy for the class. It's billed as a writing class (Writing for Webheads). The one thing we do is to maintain web pages for the students where all the writing is correct. It is then up to the students to compare what they wrote with what they see on the web. Every time we correct work and put it up we announce this to the students and remind them to compare original email and what they see at the site. We don't bother with markups or correcting email or any strategy at all where the teacher does a lot of work and there's a risk of students ignoring it. We don't focus on grammar at all unless a student specifically asks about it, and then we comply. Sometimes in our chats we echo in correct English and the students often pick up on this (must be examples in our chatlogs; and there are cases where students have come back and used the forms learned later). We have some feedback to suggest that some students are applying the comparison technique:

Have you seen where your smiles are quoted on the main webheads page at Look 4 testimonials up, and see where Denilson has written:

"About other emails that you sent to me I print all of them and I study, compare, and underlined your corrections. Every day I feel more comfortable to write to you. It is very, very, very nice our friendship. Thanks for all," - Denilson, Florianópolis, 1st March, 1999 … and "Well this is class is cool... But you need to have interest to learn... " one year later, March 25, 2000."

Denilson is an interesting case of a guy whose English is fossilized but who found an internship with the Broadmore Hotel in Colorado while a webhead. One example of his fossilization is use of 'guis' for 'guys'. We've never pointed this out to him, but we often echo to him using 'guys' and we always get back 'guis.' So to answer another of your questions, we just take the communications and respond to it. We never make any issue over grammar unless asked, or unless the writing goes on the web, in which case we tell the student to look and compare (and the rest is up to the student).

I just came across another example, Deden on (this page).

"Vance thank you for correcting my English. I have read it. I found so many mistakes in my letter."

By this, I think he means he compared what was on the web page with what he had written in email. Deden is another example of a guy who has vindicated our technique of not making a big deal over errors. His initial postings were close to incomprehensible but we took them at face value, figured out what he meant to say, and simply responded. After a while we had a dialog going and his language improved through practice. Somewhere in this archive is a record of his thanking us for taking the trouble to respond to a guy like him and encourage him to use his English where he had received no such encouragement in his immediate milieu. He even said that he would like one day to do the same for others, be a teacher and help others in the way he had been helped. He is one of two or our students who have expressed a desire to teach to others in the same vein as they have experienced as webheads.

>Have you got any evidence of any student language improvement?

We've made one small study of what we're doing. See Of particular interest there, I think, is the discussion with our students of our teaching methodology (now on this page). You can also see our conference presentations listed at Of course, I haven't bothered to examine the data, but all our chats are logged at, and surely there is evidence there of language improvement. Ying Lan would make an interesting case study.

After my presentation on Webheads at the TESOL Conference in Vancouver, I was asked how we handled evaluation. The questioner meant it as evaluation of the students obviously, but to answer the question, I said that the students were still with us after two years, so apparently they had evaluated us fairly highly. I think that webheads is an experiment that throws into question fixed notions of student and teacher, as we discussed earlier in this email, of class and experience, of learning vs. teaching, of evaluation and how to assess progress in a language, of what should go on in a successful language class, such as whether it should be work or fun, interesting or nose-to-the-grindstone, even where the 'class' begins or ends, if it ever does, which we don't know yet.

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