This blog post shouldn't really be on the TaskMagic blog, but I've got nowhere else to put it.
It's basically about the language acquisition vs language learning debate.
I really want to believe in CI and second language acquisition, but I am not entirely convinced that students can effectively acquire a second language unless they are in a total immersion environment. And in most school scenarios that just isn't possible. Many language teachers use a focus on grammar/structure/function/whatever as a way of speeding up the process. Most teachers that I know tend to use bits of various methods and approaches. They like to use as much TL as possible, but they are not dogmatic in their approach.
But I see from what I have read in various places (most notably on forums devoted to TPRS) that an eclectic approach is considered by supporters of CI to be flawed, as any focus on form / grammar etc is about learning rather than acquisition, and indeed this is counter-productive as it leads to over reliance on the 'monitor'.
Here's my own experience. What's happening here?:
(a) "My experience with Spanish":
I learnt / acquired Spanish (which one?) by going to live in Spain in the 1990s - I didn't speak a word of it beforehand (I tell a lie: I knew the word for yes was "sí", but I couldn't have told you how to say no...). I was working as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), working with other English teachers, so no great incentive to learn Spanish quickly. I'd been told that a 'direct' method was the best way to teach. (Of course I was! - we were a group of English speakers who were going off to teach English in various countries - teaching 100% in the TL is VERY convenient for the TEFL industry). However, I gradually began to understand more and more (thanks to already having degree level French), and after about a year my understanding of Spanish began to snowball. BUT I couldn't put sentences together to express myself. I didn't know any of the verb endings, grammar rules etc. So I got a grammar book and started to learn the tenses (and all the other grammar bits and bobs) and hey presto! - I could finally start to speak Spanish. I couldn't have done it without the grammar.
(b) "My experience with Valencian":
After 10 years back in the UK, I now live in Spain again (and have been here for 9 years). I live in an area where Valencian is spoken by a large part of the local community - basically the same as Catalan - and while I can understand 90% of what is said in Valencian, I can hardly put 2 words together. I simply don't know the grammar. My understanding of Valencian is helped by my knowledge of French and Spanish, and as I said, I can follow a conversation in Valencian between locals, but I don't know any grammar or vocabulary. I wouldn't know where to start if I had to speak the language. (Everybody also speaks Castellano here too, by the way - not everybody speaks Valencian.) But I think that if I actually made a conscious effort to learn some grammar, I would actually be able to speak Valencian pretty well.
(c) "My experience with French":
I studied French to degree level, but it wasn't until the 3rd year of my four year degree (ie. after about 9 years of formal teaching) that I started to be able to speak and communicate really effectively in French. Why then? Because this was the year I went and lived in France. Why did it take so long? Because my previous education had been far too grammar focused (this was in the 80s). The crucial point here is that for all the time I was learning French using fairly traditional methods, I wasn't doing much real communication, but I was building up lots of grammar and vocab (monitor stuff). So when I actually went and spent time in France, it took very little time for me to be able to communicate at a very high level, able to speak, write, read, listen to and understand French with a very high degree of confidence and competence, because I was already equipped with a lot of language / information.
(d) "My children's experience with Spanish":
When my children were 9 years old, we moved as a family from the UK to Spain. Up until that point, they knew zero Spanish. They were thrown in at the deep end in a local school. They are now 19, bilingual and attending university in Spain. Some points to consider though: (i) I helped them at the very beginning with a few basic phrases, useful functional language, so they could say what they wanted etc. This probably helped them a tiny amount, just to get started, but I guess it pales into insignificance in the longer term. (ii) They both feel that the only way to learn a language effectively is NOT to translate, but to think in the foreign language and to be totally immersed. They have experience of learning German as a foreign language within a Spanish school, using a fairly typical 'modern' textbook / approach, and both felt that they learnt very little. (iii) Spanish school children get a LOT of formal Spanish grammar - and I mean a LOT, akin to the kind of grammar school sentence parsing etc that would have taken place in UK grammar schools in the 1950s, and a major focus on verb endings, tenses etc. This is not just the 'foreign' kids (like mine), but all children, and from an early age, right up to age 18. It's way over the top in my opinion, BUT are CI proponents saying that it hindered - rather than helped - my children's ability in Spanish?
(e) "My teaching experience":
The reason I really want to believe in CI is that my experiences as a language teacher (I no longer teach languages, but I have a real interest in language learning), trying out a variety of approaches (eclectic would sum it up), have shown me that most students find languages really hard, and only the very able seem capable of achieving a reasonable level of competence. Now, all of the scenarios described above involve a LOT of exposure to the language - and I tend to feel that it is just not possible to provide anything like this level of exposure in regular language classes. But I've never actually tried an approach such as TPRS. My concern, as I've tried to outline above, is that I've always found the inclusion of grammar to be of benefit - not a focus on grammar as the end result, but as a facilitator, whereas proponents of CI seem to say that this is in fact counter-productive.
What do you think? Please feel free to comment.
Update (09 August 2017)
Some additional random thoughts about CI / TPRS / acquisition vs learning etc., looking back on this blog post, and reflecting on the conversations in the comments (below), as well as other stuff I have gleaned since the post was written.
- Grammar is not bad per se. It depends how it is used. It can be really useful. I love it. (I am a grammar nerd. In all likelihood, so are you.)
- Most TPRS teachers have their eye on grammar (in the sense of focus on form) when they think about which structures to include.
- Concepts such as the Super 7 or the Sweet 16 (essentially high frequency structures / expressions which are to be used in multiple tenses) mean that TPRS teachers do have their eye on structure. They just don't make it obvious.
- "Pop-up grammar" is used in TPRS as a quick way to point out things such as agreements, endings, tenses, etc, and to check with questions like "what does it mean when the verb ends in 's'?" These can happen often and take just a few seconds.
- TPRS uses PQA. This involves pushed output to the extent that Ss are sometimes required to say something. But not a lot. Most of class time is not about outputting anything at all. And to be honest, the only thing that they are *required* to say, really, is "aaaahhhhh".
- Timed writes are intended to assess how much Ss have taken in. I wouldn't call them pushed output as they are often without any constraints in terms of content.
- Output and input are not as distinct as some make out. There are lots that we do in classrooms that blurs the lines.
- A mix of input and output activities (as well as activities that are both input and output focused) is not a bad thing.
- The "monitor"... why is it seen as a negative thing? We all use it, don't we? In writing. In carefully constructed speech... So teaching grammar and feeding the monitor is not a bad thing. As long as it isn't overdone.
- Learnt language can (IMO) become acquired. OK, if you don't like the term acquired, how about "embedded", "entrenched", "internalized" -- call it what you like. But it can become ___ed to such an extent that it is used unconsciously. Acquired or as near as damn it.
- Grammar nerds (like language teachers) will naturally turn to grammar, rules etc to help them make sense of new language. All students, since they have a L1, are bound to make connections in some way with their L1, and will ask questions, notice differences and seek to plug gaps. But only the grammar nerds (like us, and like our talented linguists) will do this to any significant extent.
- Grammar nerds will want to know grammar. They get grammar. They get the logic of it. The vast majority of students don't get it (or they get it to varyingly different degrees). So focusing too much on grammar will only really help the grammar nerds.
(Copied from the comment section below into the main body of the blog post, on 08 Aug 2017, so that I can put them into conversations. Otherwise it's very difficult to follow what people are saying to eachother...)
I just did a workshop using TPRS and I've been researching it for awhile as I just started back in the classroom. I've always been a fairly eclectic teacher but here is what I understand about TPRS and CI. It is to use CI as much as possible in the classroom. Obviously, we don;'t have an immersion environment and an immersion environment for anyone other than babies is not time efficient. There is too much a student doesn't know. So we the teachers must limit the input. In doing we don't eliminate grammar. It just is not the focus. Today my class was finishing a story that I structured to use the preterite and some imperfect. In doing so, I reviewed the formation, kids did some drills at home but class time was spent using the language--unless there was a question about conjugation. I find the students responding well to this approach. And while there is some translation to begin by the end of many repetitions it is no longer needed.
Thank you for your comment Christina.
I can really see the appeal of TPRS. In your experience is it producing better results than your previous eclectic approach?
I've heard about grammar pop-ups etc in TPRS, and the way you are comining it with some grammar work makes perfect sense to me.
What gets me is the argument from the CI hardliners that any explict grammar is pointless - it can even be counter-productive as it encourages over-use of the monitor; all that matters is input, etc.
Great article! Thank you very much. I agree with all that you wrote.
Grammar can act negatively by hyperactivating the 'monitor', but it can also be extremely helpful, especially for students who have had or will have much exposure to real language use (whether through immersion or 'controlled immersion'/CI). All the polyglots, for example, seem to say that grammar has an essential, but subordination place in their language acquisition/learning (it's both).
Grammar can and does help, but only if it's used as a student-desired supplement to, and not as a replacement for, lots of real language exposure.
Thanks again. (And, by the way I lived in Madrid for a little over a year back in 1981-82 - loved it!)
Thanks for your reply Brad
"Grammar can and does help, but only if it's used as a student-desired supplement to, and not as a replacement for, lots of real language exposure. " - perhaps this is the crux of the issue...
got here from flteach. You're dead on with your observations. I try to personalize my instruction to suit the individuals. my kids that love grammar and structure (including my Aspys, and Autism kiddos) love it and find comfort and success there. My students with struggles in reading love CI and everyone else seems to like the variety I offer. My goal is for them to be glad they came to Spanish each and every day. I do find that writing a daily I can statement has forced all of us to focus and pay attention. They do fine on different measures (success with AP, and FLES for university placement). I would throw in the most important thing- motivation. I wish I could take all of them to a Spanish speaking country- sink or swim works beautifully!
Thanks for the comment Jeanne.
Sounds like you know that you've got the balance right :)
While your experiences are what a lot of us have gone through, the way you tie them to CI, tprs, etc. seems to miss a lot of what those approaches are based on.
“Many language teachers use a focus on grammar/structure/function/whatever as a way of speeding up the process” and the result is the student I’ve encountered over the last 55 years or so.
At this point a lot of people on flteach will say I’m being dogmatic or biased or doctrinaire or whatever. What I’m giving you is what caused me to dump the grammar approach I started with 25 years ago and begin communicative teaching and finally moving to CI (not tprs). Now that’s my experience and I would hope you would give me the right to my experiences just as I give you the right to yours. I have informally interviewed hundreds of people over the last half century, ascertaining as best I could the sort of instruction they received, and then probing for their level of proficiency in the language they studied.
“BUT I couldn't put sentences together to express myself. I didn't know any of the verb endings, grammar rules etc. So I got a grammar book and started to learn the tenses (and all the other grammar bits and bobs) and hey presto! - I could finally start to speak Spanish. I couldn't have done it without the grammar.” That’s your experience. Let me give you another way of interpreting that, not negating your experience but explaining it from a different perspective: you were acquiring Spanish but frustrated at not yet being at a Intermediate Mid level, for example. You got a grammar book and being a grammar nerd like most of us, you began a prodigious use of your monitor. As you went along, continuing to communicate in Sp, you continued building up your interlanguage. What you saw as the result of studying grammar was simply a way of encouraging yourself to continue communicating, but the real ticket was in the building up of your internal model of Sp.
Two points on that last item: this is a sticking point for people like Troy Fuller, who quite rightly said we CI types like to attribute everything to input and nothing to conscious, explicit knowledge of grammar and any success one has in learning a language we attribute to that and dismiss the grammar study. Exactly. Secondly, I believe a huge controversy in the field is whether or not that conscious knowledge of grammar you got from the book somehow became unconscious, i.e. acquired. Krashen would say Never; I’m not so sure.
“The crucial point here is that for all the time I was learning French using fairly traditional methods, I wasn't doing much real communication, but I was building up lots of grammar and vocab (monitor stuff). So when I actually went and spent time in France, it took very little time for me to be able to communicate at a very high level, able to speak, write, read, listen to and understand French with a very high degree of confidence and competence, because I was already equipped with a lot of language / information.” Which goes to the point I just made above.
“...most students find languages really hard, and only the very able seem capable of achieving a reasonable level of competence” This one does stick in my craw. If there’s one thing that separates explicit grammar instruction methods from CI methods it’s the notion that “learning'” another language is an intellectual process akin to learning math. Everyone learns a language if it is the means of communication and all the silly stories put out about old grandmothers living in the U.S. for 80 years without learning English are just ignorant – she didn’t learn English b/c everyone around her spoke Italian to her, or whatever. Another canard is that CI methods claim that 1st language learning is the same as 2nd language learning (acquisition, rather). I’ve read tons of SLA and pedagogical stuff and the only people who claim that are advertisers trying to sell some stupid program – the same people who tell you you can learn Polish in 5 weeks. Language learning – or acquisition, as Krashen would have it – is a natural process; explicit grammar instruction has, by all my experience, been a total, not just partial, failure. Please find me a 17 year old with 4 years of high school French who can do anything with it, or 4 year college Russian majors who can tell their age in Russian........ and Martin, I’m going on not just my own experience but the presentations of university professors sick and tired of their students going to the country and not being able to function unless someone asks them to conjugate a verb.
To sum up: I think there’s something very basic about CI methods that is not in your apprehension of your experiences: the input works but not quickly enough for most people. The catch is that nothing else does work. Now that is a categorical statement and I have no problem with your skepticism, but it is simply the result of my 25 years of teaching Spanish, Latin, and Russian, plus over 50 years of studying languages and linguistics and, more recently (past 25 years), the pedagogy of language teaching. I am so glad that, like me, you are still an active mind inquiring into ways of teaching and learning. Us old folks have lots to offer.
Thanks for your reply Pat.
My last point was kind of acknowledging that the methods that I / many many teachers use / have used only really work well for the most able students. That's what is appealing about CI / TPRS - the claims that is works for all students because it is about acquisition, not learning. (This is what I'd like to see some evidence of.)
With regard to my experiences in Spain: It's true that, since I was one of the success stories of traditional language teaching methods (as I guess nearly all non-native teachers are), I was 'in the habit' of learning in a particular way, so it made sense for me to turn to grammar to speed things up. But I'm not saying it helped a bit. I'm saying that through studying a bit of grammar my ability to communicate in Spanish was transformed.
I tend to agree that grammar and vocab learned over a long period can become acquired, or as good as... (let's call it entrenched or embedded). According to Krashen's ideas, I have never 'acquired' any French, but I can speak it pretty fluently. (I'm actually a bit rusty now after so long in Spain, but whenever I go to France for more than a couple of days, it doesn't take long to get back into the swing.)
What about my Valencian experiences? Very good ability to understand, but can hardly string 2 words together. Sure, I could make some sounds, some guesses, probably based on clipping the endings off Spanish words, but they'd be wrong. But I think I could become pretty proficient in a couple of weeks if I got out some grammar books...
Maybe I'm confusing the issue though...
None of my experiences have been i+1, have they? Maybe with the i+1 model and the careful structuring of input, teachers can help students to focus on grammar implicitly rather than explicitly (but the student DOES need to acquire the grammar if they are to communicate effectively).
I also wonder whether the following is the case:
CI works for everybody, as you say, and for some it is too slow a process.
Those for whom it is too slow a process are maybe the ones who seem to be wired to learn languages in more traditional ways (like all of us language teachers) - they look for patterns and want to know more. I know that's the way I approach it. "Oh look," I say, "that must mean it's a X structure", or "the X tense appears to have the same endings as the Y tense... I must find out more / check that out".
I also wonder whether the debate is more polarised in the US than in the UK. To listen to US teachers, you would think that there were 2 ways of teaching: Grammar translation or CI. In fact, many of the TPRS videos that I've looked at (I know, sad, isn't it?) look very much like the kind of TL based teaching you'd see in many UK MFL classrooms. The difference in the UK is: (a) no story; (b) no translation of a story to check understanding; (c) a focus on skills, with productive and receptive skills given equal importance.
It's the idea that all that matters is input that I find hardest to get my head around... But as I said, I really do want to believe.
None of my experiences have been i+1, have they? Maybe with the i+1 model and the careful structuring of input, teachers can help students to focus on grammar implicitly rather than explicitly (but the student DOES need to acquire the grammar if they are to communicate effectively).”
“Focus on grammar implicitly” seems to me to be an oxymoron; focusing implies awareness, consciousness. The essence of acquisition is that we are unaware we are learning/acquiring grammar, we just know that’s the way it’s said.
Let’s take a quick example from English: How would you explain the negation of the subjunctive in a sentence like “I prefer that you be here”? I prefer you aren’t here? That’s acceptable but not subjunctive; the subjunctive in the negative would be I prefer that you not be here. If, as an English speaker, you control the subjunctive – I know I never studied it, I just knew it, you automatically throw the phrase into the negative in that way, just as an Urdu speaker knows that only transitive verbs use the particle ne after the subject in the simple past without having the slightest clue what a transitive verb is. An example from Spanish: an object that precedes a verb has a resumptive pronoun: veo la paloma en el techo vs la paloma la veo en el techo; a Spanish speaker doesn’t “know” about that, he just says it.
I was listening to the kids in my son’s school (where he’s a teacher) and everyone, even the Black kids and White kids, speaks Spanish. As I listened to them, they used all the complex grammar of Spanish (given a degree of Spanglish and lack of reading in Spanish and parents who often do not speak la lengua culta), yet they have had no education in Spanish. I think a lot of us are so accustomed to thinking of language learning as an intellectual process, it’s hard to let go of it.
You say the grammar study transformed your Spanish; we’d have to do a whole lot of research to understand what you are saying b/c the world is full of people who did very well in their grammar-driven classes without being transformed into speakers of L2. What DID happen to you there in Spain? We need so much more study and research and all I can say is that if you think that helped, then we should do it with all our students. Better yet, let’s have control groups and all that. I’d love to know that explicit grammar study helps..... in any way. I love grammar and am right now reviewing my grammar books for a number of languages just b/c it’s fun.
If we can discover that some people are wired differently for language learning, that would be helpful. I just don’t know that any research is definitive and until it is, I am skeptical.
Thank you for your comment, Pat.
Re. implicit grammar: What I mean is that , when teaching in an i+1 environment (which I never experienced) the teacher can use grammar elements as the focus for their stories etc, rather than explicitly saying "we are studying A, and in order to say B you have to do X, Y and Z". If you have a story where the main focus is "tiene" but also includes dialogue with "tengo" and "tienes" (or where the teacher uses student actors to act out these parts of the verb) the teacher is focusing on the 1st 3 parts of the verb tener in the present tense (and therefore ER verb endings) without having to state that this is the case. What I'm saying is that it helps for the teacher to be aware of the grammar, even if the students aren't.
Re. my experiences of learning Spanish: I'm not arguing for grammar based teaching at all. I said that after about a year my understanding of Spanish started to snowball, but that I couldn't say very much (a bit like my situation now with Valencian - I understand most of what I see and hear, but can barely put 2 words together). ON TOP OF that level of exposure to real Spanish, studying a bit of Grammar really did transform my ability to speak and write Spanish. I accept that my Spanish experiences do not represent an i+1 environment or CI. My experiences with French were the other way round. Grammar / vocab first, then immersion. Again, not an i+1 environment. But the immersion for a year allowed the learned grammar and vocab to come to the fore, so that it came out without me having to think about it.
Re. wired for grammar. You are (were) a teacher of languages. I presume (maybe I'm wrong?) that you learnt your FL using "traditional" methods (whatever that means). Just like me. And the vast majority of FL teachers who are not native speakers of the language they teach. We are the ones who liked languages at school, liked grammar, flourished under that system. We had all of the attributes that made us "good" at languages, so good that we became language teachers. We ARE the success stories of "traditional" language teaching methods. That's all I mean by "wired" differently.
Imagine you are learning a new language and you notice a pattern - maybe a verb ending, gender agreement, similarity with a previously learnt language, whatever. Are you telling me that you would not be inquisitive enough to look into that pattern in greater detail? Or would you wait for the teacher, in his/her infinite wisdom, to fill in the missing elements at their leisure?
For every multilingual individual who claims that CI just didn't work for him/her, there's another one (I'm at 12 languages at present) who can say that -- having learned with non-CI methods for the first 8 or 9 -- CI is the only way to go, for learning or teaching. The results are entirely different. My first CI-acquired language, Hawaiian, is still available to me seven years after my 20 hours of CI, and I have easily had conversations with someone who has four semesters of that language in college. My point isn't the amount I can speak but rather the ease with which what I experienced has STUCK and is still USABLE, with no intervening experience. It's the long-term results that trump the (grammar/translation, communicative, eclectic) experiences of the vast majority of people you can ask "What do you remember from high school [insert name of language here]?" while waiting in line at any American store.
"The difference in the UK is: (a) no story; (b) no translation of a story to check understanding; (c) a focus on skills, with productive and receptive skills given equal importance." Well, apart from "no story" (and that is not a hallmark of TPRS -- it requires only meaningful communication that engages and is 100% comprehensible in the target language, not a story), these are crucial differences in philosophy and belief about how language is acquired vs learned, not small differences. And TPRS is not the only way to teach with CI; it's just the most codified/accessible to teachers new to the idea of CI.
To the commenter: please don't claim that Aspies and autistic children "don't get language through CI". First of all, all of us do, easily, with our first language. If someone doesn't have a good command of a first language for neurological reasons, there's little reason to take that individual as representative of the broad mass of students. I've taught Aspies/HFA students as well using TPRS/CI and they were great. Unless language grammar is the consuming special interest for an autistic person, it's structure, routine and a manageable sensory environment that we crave in most cases, not analytical rules. And yes, the "we" is not a typo.
Thanks for your comment Terry.
>>"these are crucial differences in philosophy and belief about how language is acquired vs learned, not small differences."
OK, but what I'm saying is that it looks very similar - the same sorts of things happening.
I tend to think that lots of TPRS teachers mix TPRS with elements of other approaches. I think a lot of TPRS teachers find using just TPRS quite stressful (I read an interesting blogpost to that effect recently).
I also imagine that after "learning" 8 or 9 languages using non-CI methods, you have become particularly good at "acquiring" new languages :0)
Saying that things "look similar" doesn't really hold much water if they are not only not similar, but generally diametrically opposed in philosophy, aim and result.
What I'm saying is that EVEN as a person who is very "good at" getting languages through rules-and-output instruction, I am BETTER at getting them through CI. Everyone who has a native language got it through CI, so clearly everyone does acquire that way. Providing enough input to get students to an intermediate or higher level during the high school years depends on having high quality input -- far more comprehensible than what a 3-year-old receives. That is why the comprehensibility standard for TPRS is 100% -- anything less just wastes time in terms of acquisition. "i+1" doesn't refer to what is understood or made understood at any given moment in the classroom; it refers to what has been acquired. TPRS provides exceptionally rich, dense input that is all "digestible".
Saying that some TPRS teachers don't use all TPRS or find TPRS "uncomfortable" and so that proves TPRS "doesn't work" is like saying you're on a diet and not losing as much as you'd like, but oh yeah, you do eat lots of chocolate cupcakes on Mondays and Wednesdays. You may want to revisit the description of you as being 'on a diet', and you can't blame the diet for your failure to lose weight as quickly as you would without that dessert. TPRS isn't necessarily intuitive to do, and it can be solitary as a teacher, especially if you teach a less-common language for which there are still not many materials off-the-shelf (such as good level-appropriate readers -- crucial to sufficient input). In that case it's a fight to organize curriculum, arrange it appropriately and effectively for use in TPRS, and keep enough reading material coming. However, there is lots of support available out there, and anyone who wants to become proficient in using the method certainly can do so.
Thank you for your comments Terry.
'Saying that some TPRS teachers don't use all TPRS or find TPRS "uncomfortable" and so that proves TPRS "doesn't work" ...'
I didn't say that the fact that people mix TPRS with other things is proof that it doesn't work. Just that there is probably a wide variety of classroom experience among students taught by teachers who profess to use TPRS. Some will mix other things in, some will have grammar pop-ups, some will combine it with explicit grammar, etc., some will use TPRS intermittently. This wide subset of language teachers who consider themselves to be TPRS teachers - all offering different experiences - will all say that it works for them, I bet.
Spanish: Your experience is no surprise. Verb endings are late-acquired. I'll bet you could produce a lot of Spanish but were hesitant to use it because you hadn't acquired rules you considered to be important. Actually they are not important for comprehension, and not important to communicate meaning – they mark you as a member of a social group. A little grammar study is indeed helpful for producing these items before they are acquired, as long as they do not interfere with communication. You became an "optimal" Monitor user (Krashen, 1981, Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, available on my website).
Valencian: Just like your Spanish experience.
French: When you got to France, you finally got comprehensible input.
Spanish –a: Natural Approach and other CI methods teach these phrases as well. Very helpful in managing conversations.
Spanish –b: I suspect that thinking in the language is the result of language acquisition. After you have acquired a certain amount, you start thinking in the language. Also - Not "immersion" but comprehensible input. The German class I suspect did not provide much interesting/comprehensible input.
Spanish –c: Overuse of grammar can hinder. A little grammar can help, here and there. It satisfies curiousity, and occasionally helps with editing. For older acquirers only, not for children.
Teaching experience: "it is just not possible to provide anything like this level of exposure in regular language classes." Correct! The goal of the language class is to bring students to the point where they can improve on their own, i.e. develop intermediates. We can certainly do this, bring students to the point where they can interact with speakers on at least some topics, understand some (not all) authentic aural and written input.
ALSO: is CI too slow? No, actually is it faster. Method comparison studies show this, as do "efficiency" studies - see benikomason.net
Thank you for your comments Stephen.
I think when referring to CI as slow, I wasn't saying that it is a slower approach overall, just that some students can feel that it is too slow, in the sense that they can see the gaps in their own knowledge / language and want to fill them. Some students get impatient and want to be in charge of their own progress, rather than waiting patiently for a particular structure to crop up in the input provided for them by their teacher. I think that is certainly more likely to be true of adult learners, and especially those who already have one language under their belt. I, for one, would be full of questions such as, "If that's how you say X, how do you say Y?"
I'd be interested to hear your take on whether vocabulary and grammar that have been taught / learned / practised over a period of time can become "acquired", or as good as - maybe "embedded" is a better term. I know for certain that I didn't acquire my grammatical knowledge of French, but I don't have to think about it.
Re. my children's experiences in Spain: they were in a total immersion situation - they didn't really have much choice. So to some extent, their opinion doesn't count for much. It's not as if they could have opted not to learn Spanish if they felt the methods used didn't suit them. As an aside, Spain's teaching of Spanish (L1) to its children is pretty poor. Grammar rules and sentence parsing are still the norm, with very little emphasis on reading for pleasure or creative writing. All pretty dull and stifling, to be honest. But it did force my kids to learn their verb endings :)
You are asking whether conscious learning can ever become "acquired." A central question. The evidence says no. I've discussed this quite a bit in my books and articles in the 1980's. EG Principles and Practice (available on my website, www.sdkrashen.com), chapter four.
Thank you for your comment. That's a really interesting read - I wish I'd read it a long time ago!
One thing I would say, though, is that the section of the chapter called "Learning does not become acquisition" (section A) does not really demonstrate that learning *cannot* become acquisition. Instead, it demonstrates that acquisition DOES NOT REQUIRE previous learning - which I completely agree with.
Section A provides:
(a) examples of people who acquire without learning;
(b) examples of learning that does not become acquisition;
(c) examples of people learning about rules that they have already acquired.
It ends with the statement: "We see many cases of acquisition without learning, learning (even very good learning that is well practiced) that does not become acquisition, and acquired knowledge of rules preceding learning. "
None of this really says that learnt language CANNOT become "internalized".
The example of the high-performing ESL speaker who occasionally drops his 3rd person singular 's' but writes flawlessly... isn't this like a typo? Native speakers do things like mix up their / there / they're or your / you're when writing. Does that mean we haven't acquired the correct language? Or is it nothing to do with acquisition at all - just a performance blip?
Wow, what do I have to do to get Stephen Krashen to comment on my blog?! That man rocked my teaching world. ;-)
You hit it better in one of your comments than in your post:
"None of my experiences have been i+1, have they? Maybe with the i+1 model and the careful structuring of input, teachers can help students to focus on grammar implicitly rather than explicitly (but the student DOES need to acquire the grammar if they are to communicate effectively).
I also wonder whether the following is the case:
CI works for everybody, as you say, and for some it is too slow a process.
Those for whom it is too slow a process are maybe the ones who seem to be wired to learn languages in more traditional ways (like all of us language teachers) - they look for patterns and want to know more."
The point of TPRS and CI is not to avoid students focusing on grammar. The point is to focus on the second half of your sentence there - "to communicate EFFECTIVELY." If a student's grammar mistakes confuse communication, that's a problem. If their vocabulary or pronunciation or speed confuse communication, that's equally a problem. So the point of TPRS and CI is that when students focus on comprehending and producing language that communicates, then we're all winning. The best teachers of TPRS and CI use research on how attention affects acquisition to get all students to begin to attend to patterns. Why? Because, unlike the immersion situation you suggest and that we all know works, we don't have the time. We simply don't have enough time to float around CI and hope that one day everyone picks it up. But by incorporating patterns according to research on attention, students will improve the speed at which the CI creates communicative competence. The only difference is the speed at which students' attention to these patterns will "turn on." This is why use collaboration and scaffolding. And yes, this is why CI classrooms turn out varying degrees of success, but the difference is, every student can achieve some level of success, as opposed to a focus on grammar and translation, which produces success only in those fields and only in students with that type of aptitude. So you are exactly right in encouraging an eclectic approach, which almost everyone does, but the mixture must include a measure of patterning in healthy doses of i+1 CI to work.
If you don't mind, I'd like to quote/cite this post in an upcoming blog post entitled "Is this the best we can do?" about whether the best we can expect in language class is to foster success in language-oriented students and motivate the rest to seek out an immersion experience.
Thank you for your comment Sara-Elizabeth
By the way, I'm not suggesting / advocating immersion. Just commenting on my own varied experiences, and trying to work out what was going on... (In the Spanish and Valencian examples: how come i could understand so much, most of the language around me being quite easily comprehensible, and yet I had not acquired any ability to communicate beyond speaking "como los indios"?; in the French example, all of the internalised grammar and vocab came to the fore after a few months in France; was that acquisition or learning...?)
I hope you don't feel that anything I've said in my initial post or my replies suggests that I am advocating (a) making explicit grammar teaching the main focus of teaching; or (b) only focusing on those with an aptitude for "traditional" methods. Feel free to quote/cite this post, but to suggest either of those things would be to misrepresent my views.
As I've said several time, I really like the idea of TPRS.
But I'm not convinced that "all that matters is input", that output-focused activities are pointless and even counter-productive. I'd argue that a healthy balance is what is required. CI hard-liners would say not so.
The more I read, the more I think that there is a place for grammar in CI / TPRS. And that's all I wanted to have confirmed in writing this post in the first place. (Grammar pop-ups; teachers structuring lessons around grammar points, even if these are not made explicit to students, etc).
This (from Brad Riegg above)...:
"Grammar can and does help, but only if it's used as a student-desired supplement to, and not as a replacement for, lots of real language exposure."
...is the crux of the matter, I guess.
Grammar is not bad, per se.
Those students who see patterns, gaps, get curious and seek to understand what's going on structurally shouldn't be told they're barking up the wrong tree, should they?
I agree, there is a place for grammar in CI/TPRS. Pure TPRS operates under the (likely true) assumption that second language acquisition happens the same way as first language acquisition but often (erroneously) assumes that the time we have in language classes can accomplish this or that students can inhibit the metacognitive skills they've acquired since they did it the first time around.
Personally I think the research Cathy Doughty and Michael Long have done on attention and noticing is the most promising compromise - grammatical explanations can only reach those with the right kind of aptitude, but increasing the patterning of structures can help negate our lack of time in the classroom. That is, if instead of throwing the CI out there haphazardly or even within stories, we pattern it heavily, highlight the patterns and encourage students to use the patterns, without relying on explanations to get it done "faster" but shallower and for fewer students, then any student can develop real proficiency - via CI and storytelling with specific patterns designed to develop communicative skills. I have no idea if that makes any sense but at least it's clear in my brain. ;)
R L Oliver:
Alice Omaggio-Hadley broadly divides language teaching theories/methods into two groups: Rationalist and Empiricist. (In a few words: Communicative Language Teaching [CLT] and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling [TPRS] are "Rationalist" approaches. Grammar/Translation is an "Empiricist" approach.)
As a retired FL teacher and part-time college methods instructor and university supervisor, I am seeing some "polarization" among the "rationalists," that is to say between the CLT camp and the TPRS camp.
In discussion groups I have seen some "sniping" of one group towards the other... almost to the point of being a blind, arrogant "true believer" of their school of practice. The biggest disagreement between the two camps appears to be at what point "student output of language" should occur: immediately in a communicative context [CLT], or later after more language input [TPRS].
In discussions, some proponents toss around the term "traditional approaches" or "traditionalists." Sometimes they are explicit in their description of what a "traditionalist" is, and sometimes I have to "read between lines" to see who or what they are referring to. Usually, but not always, they describe "traditionalists" as proponents of the grammar/translation method.
I'm looking forward--really dying--to hear more discussion about CLT and TPRS.
I think that most of the younger generation of world language teachers have moved away from the old dichotomy of Grammar/Translation versus ALM. In fact, I had a graduate student in his twenties ask me: What's ALM?
So, again, I'm REALLY looking forward to more discussion about CLT and or versus TPRS.
Robert L. "Bobby" Oliver