February 08, 2006

Frisbees --by Bruce Lin

In my teens, I bought a set of English-learning books that came with 7 audio cassette tapes to save my English. I read the books and listened to those tapes over and over but could not understand much. After that, there was no apparent improvement in my English, but the experience triggered my interest to learn the language. To this date, I still have those tapes though they are no longer useful.

Now students mainly use CDs to learn English. Amy*, a high school student, told me her school demands that every student subscribe to an English magazine that comes with a CD. However, no student – not even one, she said – uses the materials. Instead, some students use the magazine as a lunchbox tray, and most use the CDs to toss at each other as if they were Frisbees. Owning learning materials certainly is not equivalent to learning from it.

Lord, how we have changed. In terms of price, user-friendliness, durability, and sound quality, the CD is far superior to the cassette. The problem with CDs is that they are easy to produce – they are a dime a dozen now – and thus, less valuable. Besides, they often come out so fast and in such high numbers that students like Amy are eventually overwhelmed by too much information: they don't know how to use the information and don't know where to start under the cramming education climate. Naturally, CDs become Frisbees.

I flipped through the 20-something English articles in the magazine. Most of them were quite good. I picked one article on fashion designing (Amy's interest) and told her that every month she only needs to read one article and listen to the sound file from the CD. Of course, she may read more if she likes. Now she is the only one in her class to really use the magazine-CD.

Less could be more. Haven't we learned?

*Amy is not his real name.

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