TOL 018: Conversation with David Zen – Weaning off a Perfectionist Mentality

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Warning: This episode contains what some might consider to be profanity. If you are sensitive to such language, please listen to my other podcast episodes.

In this episode, we discuss our particular learning strategies as language learners, and how our views of language learning affect the classroom. This episode is more of a conversation between two friends rather than an interview, but a conversation that I hope influences your teaching in a positive way.

We know each other well and sometimes talk to each other in different languages. Some Japanese slips in there. I’ll provide translations in the show notes.

About the Guest: David Zen is a foreign language consultant, speaker and actor from Los Angeles, California. Having grown up in both Taipei, Taiwan and the United States, he is native bilingual in English and Mandarin Chinese. He is also professionally fluent in Japanese, Spanish, German and French.

He currently resides in Taipei, Taiwan, and is extremely sought after as a consultant/guru in Taipei’s burgeoning polyglot scene, where he holds workshops and talks on effective foreign language acquisition.


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Time Stamped Show Notes

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[2:55] “Practice makes perfect” vs. “No one’s perfect.” Two opposing philosophies?
[3:56] Language is a never-ending exploration.
[4:17] David never set goals. “I was always naturally curious about the language.”
[5:24] Choosing things to learn that spark joy (taken from Marie Kondo).
[5:50] For listening, picking speakers you want to listen to and imitate for language learning.
[8:38] Forming your speech mannerisms.
[9:25] David imitates Lola, a famous Japanese entertainer.
[12:56] Working on accents.
[13:46] Natural talent is a small part of language skills.
[15:22] The importance of mentality.
[16:25] Rod believes most accent “problems” come from higher-level features of language (stress, intonation, etc.), not individual sounds, etc. 
[19:15] The problem with being goal-oriented – it’s stressful.
[20:30] Learner interest and teacher interest – two important ingredients for successful lessons.
[21:08] Learners can smell your disinterest when you teach.
[22:00] How Rod conceives of his courses and lessons – learner training and conversation-based teaching.
[24:20] Language depends on roles.
[25:45] Teaching learners how to write down gaps.
[26:45] The stigma of mistakes – people hate making mistakes as they are viewed in a negative light.
[27:25] Japanese sayings on failures:  聞くは一時の恥、聞かぬは一生の恥,  Asking once results in a moment of embarrassment, while never asking results in a lifetime of embarrassment. 失敗は成功の元 Failure is the source of success, Failure is the mother of all successes. 
[29:44] Teachers don’t want to make mistakes in the classroom, but Rod says, “I’m not there to know it all.”
[30:55] “Mistakes” become a focus on assignments in Rod’s class.
[31:27] David prefers the terms “Adjustments” vs. “Mistakes.”

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  1. Keiji Matsuda on March 10, 2017 at 2:30 AM

    Very interesting, informative, inspiring conversation. I really enjoyed it!
    Japanese learners, including me, to be honest, often have an aspect of grammar and vocabulary geek. They are serious and enthusiastic about learning those things, and that’s great. But being playful and full engagement in language use itself are a basis of making effective use of those kinds of knowledge, I believe. Thorough this talks, I had a good opportunity to reconsider my own teaching and learning and have got motivated. Thank you!

    • Rod Hinn on March 11, 2017 at 1:48 AM

      Thank you Keiji,

      Interest plays an important, and if you are into vocabulary and grammar, that’s also good. Just knowing where it fits into using the language is important. I’m glad our information has motivated you!

      Also, your episode has been inspiring to many Japanese teachers of English who do not feel so confident in their own language skills. Thank you for this.

  2. Nancy Sopp on March 9, 2017 at 11:24 PM

    One of you made a comment to the effect that students correctly perceive when a teacher does not believe in an assignment s/he gives. That really resonated with me: It is so true! I immediately threw out the textbook assignment I was going to give in my German class and made up a better one (my own)! Thanks a million!

    • Rod Hinn on March 11, 2017 at 1:46 AM

      Thank you Nancy for your comment! I’m glad you found a way to stay true yourself. Yes, sometimes it’s a textbook assignment, sometimes it’s other material, and sometimes it’s even activities that you had initially thought you liked, but turns out that you didn’t, for whatever reason.

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