Interview with IELTS Expert, Don Oliver from IDP

In the eleventh segment of the interview, Don gives his thoughts on second language acquisition. He explains the importance of having a studying routine, enhancing learner’s motivation by making the learner realize their improvements, and learner’s awareness that he/she is responsible for one’s learning and not the teacher.

11.Important factors for second language acquisition

Interviewer:  Next, we would like to ask about a suitable approach to English acquisition. So, this isn’t really geared towards IELTS, just more generally speaking. What are some important factors in terms of not only in English acquisition but in a second language acquisition?

Don: Yeah. Well, as I said Ken, you are the expert here. Like my French is not very good [laughs]. But I did study it at high school. And I have studied a little bit of Arabic and Indonesian, but again, you’re a better language learner than I am. I’ve been teaching English to a lot of people and from my experience, I think when you’re learning anything really, but a language especially, you do need to be very focused on having a good routine. I tell my children this, that if you do something, you know. for half an hour every day by the end of the week, you have done several hours and it’s been fairly painless. When I was painting, and when I was an artist, that was a very labor intensive thing that I would do at least four hours every day. And that, and that’s the way you improve. So if you’re not doing that with learning a language, then you’re not really taking it very seriously. And nowadays, learning a language has, I think, become much easier. Because back when I was a student, there was no internet. I couldn’t go to a YouTube video to look at things. I mean, it was very difficult to look at a foreign movie and things like that, but whereas now, you can do it in your bedroom. So I would recommend that your students do the same, you know, Youtube movies with subtitles. If they want, they can go to podcasts on the internet, they can get transcripts of these things and make it a routine. Say, you know, I’m going to spend half an hour doing this every night. And also, I’m going to acquire new vocabulary in a systematic way. Having a notebook with new words that you memorize and that you review. And you probably know this yourself that if you learn a new word and you fail to use it quickly, it will disappear. But if you learn this word and you then make a point of using it within 24 hours, then it will likely stick in your mind. Is that true, do you think?

Interviewer: The very, very important part, I think, is that the student is really interested in it in the first place. If this student is just studying to try and pass a test, then it wouldn’t really stick in their heads. It’s about if the student is really, really interested in that thing is the important factor.

Don: But would you say that the better you get at something, the more interested you become?

Interviewer: That is also true!

Don: And so there might be a point. I mean, I want to go back to when I was painting. Seriously, I can remember very early on, I would sit in front of a blank canvas for maybe an hour with no idea. But if you force yourself to go to the room and sit there and look at it, eventually, things will come. And then, after a little while, you go into that room and immediately you’ll be painting without a moment’s hesitation. And I reckon that that is probably true of anything that you’re learning to do. You know, the more you persevere, the more easily you do it. And then actually, the more exciting it becomes.

Interviewer: I see. So, the most important factor would be the motivation of the student?

Don: Yeah.

Interviewer: I think in terms of what you mentioned about routine, and habit, I think that is also rooted in the student’s motivation, because I guess if you tell them to do something systematically, they wouldn’t really do it.

Don: Well, that’s right. I mean that’s the skill of the teacher isn’t it, really? To sort of encourage that motivation. Yeah, but the other thing is, you shouldn’t just rely on the teacher.

Interviewer: Yes, that’s totally true!

Don: My kids say this as well. Sometimes, when they were at school, they’ve gone to university now, but when they came home from school and said,  “Ah, my teacher is so terrible!” and I say, “Don’t worry about it!” you know? I mean, you’re the student! [laughs] And so that’s an important thing to remember as well, I think.

Interviewer: Thank you for answering!

About Don
1: Why did you become an IELTS Expert?
2: The tasks of an IELTS Expert
3: The tasks done for IDP
4: Teaching experience in Oman and Vietnam
5: The factors that helped IELTS establish its worldwide trust
6: Test design process for IELTS
7: The linguistic studies and observations used for IELTS
8: About IELTS’ scoring system
9: The importance of IELTS’ Speaking Task
10: The drastic changes in the history of IELTS
About second language acquisition
11: Important factors for second language acquisition←you’re here
12: Important factors for beginner-level learners of English
13: Important factors for mid-level learners of English
14: Important factors for advanced-level learners of English