Teacher Talk Time YL
It's time to talk about young language learners in Japan

Welcome to edition 001 of our newsletter, where you will find articles by respected writers and academics in the field of English Language teaching on topics related to the English education in Japan.  日本語

Rote Memorization is Taboo … but is it really that bad?

丸 暗記


Editor Adam Kardos

In recent decades there has been a trend in education towards critical thinking and learning through discovery. Education systems around the world are trying to find ways to create students who are independent thinkers, who can think outside of the box. For many, learning by rote memorization is considered out of date. Education that focuses on rote learning is seen as producing students who are skilled at regurgitating information but not able to manipulate and synthesize such information effectively.

PISA 2018

If rote learning doesn’t help learners with problem solving and complex calculations, why do countries like South Korea, Singapore, China, and Japan, which are associated with a more controlled rote learning approach, always rank the highest in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) for scores in math and science?

While rote memorization and critical thinking first appear to be two separate and opposed ways of learning, in fact, the two are linked in a very unexpected way. The link becomes very clear when we consider them in relation to working memory.

Working memory is temporary in nature much like short term memory, however unlike short-term memory, which simply stores information for short periods of time, working memory allows us to manipulate and process information. A good analogy for working memory is as a sort of mental workspace. Think of it as a desk where you can put information that you are working on. In this way our working memory is an essential part of our ability to reason.

The link between critical thinking and working memory is clear.

Greater working memory allows us to have a better capacity to perform mental functions on information. This allows for better problem-solving skills or superior abilities to perform complex calculations. Practice at problem solving and critical thinking can improve our ability to perform these skills by helping us learn better strategies for thinking through problems, but it is not seen as having the impact of actually increasing working memory capacity.

How does rote memorization affect our working memory?

The answer to this question is slightly more surprising. Going back to the analogy of working memory as workspace, if your workspace is limited then leaving all of the information laid out will limit how much new information can be processed on it. When rote learning has This frees up more space for other information to be handled. In this way, having basic mathematical knowledge memorized and automatized uses up less of. Be performed on a simpler function, for example, multiplication tables, the information then requires less space on the workspace . our working memory when performing calculations which can then be used for more complex problem solving.

But how does this relate to the learning of language?

The cognitive theory of second language acquisition sees the brain as being similar to a computer. Processing language whether it is to understand a piece of writing or to communicate something verbally puts a burden on the brain’s processing ability. As we practice different language items, they Become more and more automatic. As a result, they require less processing power to execute. This frees up more processing power to deal with newer language items.


The brain is similar to a computer (cognitive theory of second language acquisition)

This indicates that rote memorization of vocabulary and grammar structures is an effective way to learn a language, but it is leaving out part of the picture.

Memory is a fluid and dynamic process. Once we have memorized a piece of information so that we can remember it beyond a couple of minutes it is in our long-term memory. This does not however mean it cannot be forgotten. Continued review of the information can certainly help to solidify the information in long term memory, but the information will still have limited connections to other information in our cognitive schemata. As a result, the information is not quickly retrievable and ready for use spontaneously.

Using a language requires a lot of spontaneous retrieval of information. When speaking or listening in a foreign language our brains are constantly retrieving language knowledge. The act of retrieving this knowledge also poses a cognitive burden. Words that may have been memorized and reviewed can take. .. .as long as a few seconds to retrieve and completely take up the brains processing bandwidth.

It is through using language in different contexts that the language knowledge forms more connections in the brain and the neural pathways for retrieving it become more well established. Every operation our brain preforms that involves a particular piece of language knowledge helps this process. For this reason , language knowledge that we have needed to recall multiple times to achieve a purpose, whether it is to understand a street sign or to ask for help, becomes retrievable quickly and without significant effort.

Recalling language for use in cognitively demanding tasks in particular builds robust neural networks. Language work that does not require learners to think beyond a surface level will build narrower connections more similar to the type of connections developed through rote memorization.

Editor Adam Kardos
Adam Kardos is a teacher trainer and course writer who has written several textbooks and graded readers for young learners including Awesome Phonics Adventures, Back to Save The Earth and Here Come the Unicorns. He has also written and produced albums of children’s music. He is the winner of the Language Learner Literature Award for Very Young Learners in 2020.

New Dolch List: paving the way for young learners of English

英語 単語


Guest Contributor Dr. Charles Browne

What’s the New Dolch List?

The New Dolch List (NDL) is probably the most important new vocabulary word list for young second language learners of English published in the past few decades and is part of a much larger project, known as the New General Service List project .

In 2013, we published the New General Service List, or NGSL (Browne, 2013), a corpus-derived word list of the most important words for adult second language learners of English. With over 600,000 words in the English language and most adult native speakers of English knowing at least 30,000 words, the 2800 words of the NGSL offers a surprisingly high 92% coverage for most general English books, newspapers and magazines, and even higher coverage for most TV shows and movies.

In subsequent years we published additional corpus-based lists for Business English, Academic English, TOEIC, Fitness English and Spoken English. Each list gives the highest percentage coverage of any list in that domain (between 92 and 99%) and, like all our wordlists, is made available to you for free download from our website under the least restrictive Creative Commons license. Basically, this means you are free to use or modify the list in any way you see fit as long as you give proper citation to the authors of the list.

We have also put out a large and growing number of free online resources and apps to help learners, teachers, researchers and materials developers to be able to utilize our lists. These too, can all be accessed from the main website mentioned above.

Why is the NDL important for young learners?

Though the NGSL is an extremely useful first step for adult learners of English, the type of English that young learners of English are exposed to is significantly different than that of adults, so in the summer of 2020 we published the New Dolch List, or NDL , which was developed with the goal of creating a reliable and valid corpus-based list of high frequency English words important for young second language learners to be able to successfully interact with EFL learning materials, other EFL learners, as well as popular children’s TV shows and children’s picture books.


The NDL can help young learners successfully interact with various EFL materials.

The NDL is a significant update of the original Dolch list, which was published back in 1936 by Edward William Dolch. That list contained 220’sight words’, words which need to be quickly and easily recognized to achieve reading fluency in English as well as An additional list of 95 important nouns. It has been argued that up to 70% of all words used in schoolbooks, library books, newspapers, and magazines are a part of the Dolch basic sight word vocabulary.
Though quite dated, the Dolch lists are still widely assigned for memorization in American elementary schools and used in ESL and EFL settings and materials around the world.

That said, a wordlist is only as good as the corpus it is based on.

Like West’s 1953 General Service List (GSL), which was replaced by the New General Service List (Browne, 2013), the Dolch 1936 list has often been criticized for being based on outdated resources. The English language changes and evolves over time and an update to the 90-year-old Dolch list was long over due.

What does the New Dolch List cover?

The original Dolch list was based on a corpus and word lists designed only for native speakers of English attending primary school in English speaking countries.

English is now taught and studied as a second language in countries around the globe and the original Dolch list was not designed with these needs in mind.

EFL learners do not get as much input in English as those living in English speaking countries and the sources of input are more limited. EFL textbooks, children’s songs, children’s textbooks and children’s TV shows are usually the primary sources of input for most EFL learners and we have created a corpus of such materials to generate a list of the most important words for EFL learners in the hopes that this would be a valuable asset to EFL teachers, students, textbook authors and educational software developers around the world.

The NDL is based on a carefully selected  2.5-million-word corpus of children’s reading and listening materials as follows:

New Dolci List: To Pave the Way for Children's English Learners

The 315 words of the original Dolch word list (220’sight words’ plus 95 nouns) were said to offer up to 70% coverage (though there don’t seem to be any empirical papers to verify this claim). If we look at the NDL, we can see that at 315 words , coverage has already surpassed this, giving 78% coverage :

New Dolci List: To Pave the Way for Children's English Learners

Unfortunately, SLA research shows that 78% is not nearly enough.

Teachers often tell their students that when they come across an unknown word in a text that they should not stop and look it up in a dictionary but rather guess the meaning from context. Research on vocabulary thresholds show that for this to be achieved, learners need to know a minimum of 90% of the words on the page, but preferably 95% to 98% (Laufer, 1992).

Therefore, in order to help students, schools and teachers get closer to the coverage levels needed to read and guess unknown words from context more easily, the NDL list was extended to 875 words , which offers 90% coverage for most EFL materials for young learners ..

The NDL wordlist can be downloaded here in a variety of formats including with just headwords, lemmatized for teaching purposes, and lemmatized for research purposes. We also have provided definitions in simple English for all words. In the near future we will also be adding the NDL wordlist to free flashcard sites like Quizlet.com , Memrise.com , Word-Learner (our own flashcard app) and our free Online Graded Text Editing Tool (OGTE) which can be found here .

Browne, C. (July, 2013), “The New General Service List: Celebrating 60 years of vocabulary learning”, The Language Teacher, 37: 4, 13-15.
Dolch, EW “A Basic Sight Vocabulary.” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 36, no. 6, 1936, pp.456-460.
Laufer, B. (1992). How much lexis is necessary for reading comprehension? In H. Béjoint & P. ​​Arnaud (Eds.) , Vocabulary and Applied Linguistics (126-132). London: Macmillan.
West, M. 1953. A General Service List of English Words. London: Longman, Green and Co.

Guest Contributor Dr. Charles Browne
Dr. Browne is a Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL and head of the EFL English teacher training program at Meiji Gakuin University in Japan, and is a well-respected and widely-published expert on English education in Asia. He is a specialist in Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition, Secondary English Education in Japan, online learning and CALL.

The new PISA Foreign Language Assessment – A summary

世界の国旗 FLA


Contributor Malcolm Harding

This is the first article in a series discussing the effect of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the new Foreign Language Assessment (FLA, a new ESL test) that is being included in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) starting from 2025.

The PISA is a worldwide study conducted every three years; it currently focuses on 15-year-old students’ abilities in mathematics, science and reading (in the students’ native language). However, in 2025 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will be introducing a new Foreign Language Assessment to the PISA.

Initially, this FLA will be in English and will be composed of three key skill assessments: reading, listening, and speaking. It aims to inform and improve language teaching by providing international comparisons, national diagnostics, as well as policy and practice lessons.

The FLA test is being developed by Cambridge Assessment English and will follow the CEFR. In 2022, countries will decide if they wish to take part in the English tests with ‘Field Trials’. The tests currently under development will cover the CEFR levels A1-C1.


The overall aim of this new FLA is to provide a system through which to compare language learning throughout the world. This is the mission statement provided by Hanan Khalifa, Director of Education Transformation & Impact from Cambridge Assessment English. According to Dr. Khalifa ‘it is important to provide a properly systematic approach to language education in schools which can help to shape education policies at a national and regional level.’


How is it relevant for Japan?

Traditionally, Japan has performed exceptionally well during the PISA results and demonstrate extremely high levels of attainment in Science, Mathematics and Reading. The new FLA is the perfect opportunity for Japan to demonstrate the language skills of its students and to show why Japan is such an important nation internationally. The intercultural understanding, economic and cognitive benefits of language learning are vital to the presentation of all nations on the global scale, these new assessments will allow nations to present themselves as global leaders in the future. Japan has many English Language professionals and is well placed to become recognised as a paragon of education by utilising their knowledge to inform future educational policy.

To aid in the creation and expansion of educational policy, PISA will be distributing questionnaires. For the initial testing period, questionnaires will focus on the use of English in Information Technology classes and on “use of the target language for instruction in other subjects.” This allows for a prime opportunity to demonstrate the ability of English Language professionals in Japan and to work as an example to other nations for how to implement new systems on a national scale.

Contributor Malcolm Harding
Having lived in Japan since 1996, Malcolm has taught in all settings from kindergartens to university. Since 2008, he has been the manager of the West Japan Cambridge Centre, is the principal and owner of Okayama International Preschool and currently teachers at Notre Dame Seishin primary school in Okayama.

Helping young learners on their way with the Cambridge Young Learners exams


Guest Contributor Anne Robinson

Hello! My name is Anne Robinson. I live in Cantabria, on the north coast of Spain. I’m a teacher, a teacher trainer for Cambridge Assessment and an author of five course books for young learners (Fun for Starters, Movers and Flyers, Fun Skills 3 and Fun Skills 5), all published by Cambridge University Press.

My involvement with the Cambridge Young Learners exams

Since 1997, when the Cambridge Young Learners Exams began, I’ve been organizing test sessions in Cantabria, the area in Spain where I live. I’ve seen many positive effects that the Tests have had on learning and teaching. I’d like to tell you here about some of these benefits.

What are the Cambridge Young Learners exams?

But first, a quick introduction to these exams. There are three levels: Pre-A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers and are taken by learners around the world and aim to make learning fun. As you can see from their names, they are aligned to the Common European Framework. The exams are designed for learners between 7 and 12 years old, although sometimes exam candidates are slightly younger or older. The exams themselves are fun too! With their attractive colour pictures, relevant, positive stories and engaging tasks, exam day is a day to look forward to!


What are our students learning? Where can they go next?

Very often, for schools, learners, parents and teachers, it’s hard to see where English classes are going. Children start learning words for topics like animals, family, home. Then, they learn more words and start producing more language. Very often, the same topics (animals, family, home) appear on the syllabus every year. Where are we going? What progress are learners making? Are they just learning the same things over and over again?

The Thematic Vocabulary List for Pre-A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers (pages 38-43 in the Starters, Movers and Flyers Word List) is a very useful resource to help everyone see how, within the same topic, language can (and should) become more challenging. Words become more ‘abstract’ (for example, you can’t show a flashcard of a wish or a dream, can you?) You can also compare the Word List to your syllabus or course book to check if the one you’re using also has a clear progression.

Other useful resources are the Grammar and Structures lists for Pre-A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers tests. You can find these in the Handbook for Teachers on the Cambridge Assessment website, along with breakdowns of each task and tips for teachers to share with students.

What’s in the Pre-A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers exams?

Having a clear grammar syllabus and lists is useful, but the best way to get an idea of ​​what’s in the exams is to look at the Sample Papers . In the Resources for Teachers on the Cambridge Assessment website, there are two sample papers available for each level, including the audio files for the Listening papers.

As you can see from the Sample Papers, all four skills are tested at each level – Listening, Reading and Writing (tested together in one paper) and Speaking. Some tasks, like Listening Part 4, appear at all three levels. Although the task looks the same, small changes (like the language tested for example) make it considerably more challenging at A2 Flyers than it is at Pre-A1 Starters. As it should be.

Watching the online videos of speaking tests can really motivate students because they can see how well they can do in these situations. There are guides for the speaking tests available in the Resources for Teachers too.

What about the results?

Every student in the group who completes the Listening, Reading and Writing and Speaking papers for Pre-A1 Starters, A1 Movers or A2 Flyers will receive a certificate. There is no pass or fail. Depending on how many questions students have answered correctly, they will receive a certificate which shows between one and five shields for each paper. They will also receive a Statement of Results, which reports the results for each paper and explains the different skills demonstrated. There are also recommendations for the next steps to take in order to keep on improving. Here is a link to more information about A1 Movers certificates and Statements of Results.

With over twenty years’ experience in running these exams and seeing students grow with them, I’ve seen how motivating they are for everyone.

  • Students gain confidence in using their English to communicate and in showing how much they can understand.
  • Their parents appreciate having a clear, internationally recognized means of seeing what their children are learning and achieving.
  • Teachers love preparing for the tests because preparation is fun and motivating and there are so many support materials available, both in the Resources for Teachers on the Cambridge Assessment website and on World of Fun.

When it comes to the time for students to take higher level exams, the knowledge and experience that they have accumulated mean that students accept and prepare for new challenges without fear or anxiety.

Guest Contributor Anne Robinson
Anne Robinson is a teacher trainer and course designer. She also designs and gives courses for schools and education authorities and has worked extensively with Cambridge University Press as well as Cambridge Assessment. She is also a co-author of Fun for Starters, Movers, Cambridge English Exam Booster for Advanced, levels 3 and 5 of Fun Skills, all published by Cambridge University Press.

AAS Press is a publishing company dedicated to making educational materials that include awesome stories and songs that are tied together in a theoretically sound way. Our materials increase student interest and engagement. This not only makes them enjoy learning, it also makes them learn more deeply and efficiently.

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