Stephen D. Krashen

No prep? No prob! ūüėĄūüėĄ

There are teachers who carefully plan every detail of a lesson, from circling questions to the story plot. Some people even write Movietalk scripts!

I’m more like this:

Image result for disorganised teacher

Since beer, climbing, reading, my other classes (Social Justice and English), friends, ladies, bicycles, Go, writing, family and other fun things take up so much time (and I’m lazy and disorganised), I generally don’t plan much in Spanish beyond thinking uhh we should probably work on quiere impresionar and is there a Youtube video where a dog goes shopping? (yes there is).

Luckily for people like me we have things like Slavic and Hargaden’s OWIs, untargeted stories etc. And thanks to a combination of my laziness and the epic powers of caffeine, we have some zero prep activities. These are easy on the teacher, they let us deliver loads of comprehensible input, and they¬†personalise the class: we link kids to vocab.

Most importantly, these activities build community through tasks. Community– sharing a purpose, and feeling good about oneself and others in the group– is crucial for everyone. Language-class tasks, as Bill VanPatten notes, have two properties:

1. They use but do not focus on the language.

2. They have a meaningful, non-linguistic and communicative purpose (to entertain, to sort, to rank, to persuade, etc).

For Class Team, Funky Venn, Comic Panel and Partner Diagram, we do the following:

  1. We solicit details from students.
  2. We draw–¬†quickly— on the board, overhead or doc camera.
  3. We write key vocab.
  4. ¬†We ask and answer questions, circling style, but don’t beat things to death.
  5. We don’t introduce too much new vocab. 5-10 items for a 30-min session is lots.

The Class Team (or whatever)

For this, all we do is make some ridiculous drawings of various kids and group them into a team. Here, we made two soccer teams: No Lo S√© and La Mezcla. The players had superpowers. Saveena’s was that she could text at the same time as she played. El Chongo has only one leg but luckily has wings.

Q&A here would be things like¬†who has five legs? That’s right, Jasraj has five legs. Whose superpower is being invisible?¬† No, not Chongo: Hamza Dos is invisible!¬†We would also personalise this by asking students these questions:¬†Ravneet, do you have five legs, or three, or two? Sukhman, are you invisible? etc.

The Funky Venn

One day we were talking about dogs (I talk about dogs constantly), and I asked the class what do dogs like to do? and they said dogs eat, sleep and play, and then¬†El Chongo said sounds like me! ūüėú

So I made a Venn diagram comparing El Chongo with dogs. Here it is:

Both sleep, run, play and eat.¬† But El Chongo uses the bathroom while dogs use the ground, and dogs don’t comb their hair, while El Chongo (Mexican Spanish for “Man bun”) does, etc.

My student Manjot (who goes by Muffin Princess in Spanish class) said¬†I’m like cats,¬†so we drew a Venn for her.

The Partner Diagram

My beginner student Khushi, taking a cue from her Spanish teacher, said¬†yo tengo seis novios (“I have six boyfriends”). So of course we had to draw and discuss them.¬† For this, we first drew Khushi, taking some liberties (she is hideous, has three eyes, and two noses). Then we added five boyfriends and one girlfriend. Then we invented weird characteristics for each (Hairie has no mouth; Alberto has short legs, etc).

The Q&A here involves tiene, body parts, and the relationships between them.  So Adam is scared of Khushi (even though they are dating) and Atam is scared of Alberto.

The Personal Story (with picture)

This was inspired by Beniko Mason’s Story Listening method, which is “pure C.I.”– no “activities” after input. Basically, you tell a short story about yourself (or somebody famous), and you use 1-3 drawings to illustrate

Here, we have vocab on the left and my Grade 8 math teacher, Mr McKay, on the left.¬† I started by describing 13 year-old me, and school, and math class.¬† Then I drew Mr McKay. Then I told how he both looooooved coffee and cigars and was blissfully unaware of the existence of dental hygiene.¬† As a result, we didn’t ask him questions– he could kill bacteria from ten feet away with that dragon’s breath– so as a result I got a C minus.

Here, we just tell a one-scene story and we do Q&A about both the story and the pictures.

(By the way the art was inspired by Stephen Krashen’s famous C.I. demo.)

Comic Panel

Here, we draw a one-panel comic and include basic dialogue. Khushi said¬†I’m getting 90% or more in Spanish and we argued a bit and I drew this. Note that my art is so staggeringly bad that¬†I had to label Khushi and me.

Again we will do Q&A here.  We can also recycle by erasing dialogue and adding other words.

When I finished with these, I took these photos.  They will be added to the class soap opera (pasted into an MS-Word document) and printed.

Una Encuesta (a survey)

This is an old idea from textbooks. We take any subject– here, how kids feel about classes– and survey them. So I said raise your hand if you find Spanish interesting and then raise your hand if you find Spanish boring ūüėú.

I then talked about what were overall favorite/least favorite subjects etc. I was also able to ask a lot of comparison questions such as which class is more boring, Math or Spanish? and what is the most/least boring/interesting class?

This emerged organically out of me asking Justin ¬Ņc√≥mo son las matem√°ticas: interesantes o aburridos? during opening routine. You could make this waaaaay more interesting: who’s the most/least _____ celebrity? You could survey class members and (treading with emotional care) find out what 4-6 kids like, whether they like ____ etc.

The basic system is, value judgements go across the top (eg good idea or bad idea, fun or boring, useful or pointless). Things being evaluated go down the side (eg swimming with shoes on, doing hwk in the bathtub, etc).

Picturetalk Plus Survey is another fun thing. Today Abdullah drew this:

So we Picturetalked talked this dragon. Then, we did a survey: if you had your own dragon, what would you do with it? Here is what the 1s came up with.

ANYWAY…I hope you can use and enjoy these zero-prep activities.¬† Got any more ideas? Email me or leave a comment.

Against Rules: Rothman vs the Grammarians

It is a lovely Sunday, work is over, but sadly my climbing partner Tiff has decided to chase boys instead of vert, and so here I am reading SLA papers, in this case Jason Rothman’s “Aspect Selection in Adult L2 Spanish and the Competing Systems Hypothesis: When pedagogical and linguistic rules conflict” (2008).

Rothman in this paper hypothesises that conscious learning of grammar “rules”– in this case, the distinction between the¬†preterite and imperfect tenses in Spanish, for L2 learners of Spanish– will interfere with native-like acquisition of those “rules.”

There is a standard explanation of the preterite and imperfect that we Spanish teachers give: the preterite is a snapshot of the past, and the imperfect a movie.  Finished past action vs habitual or ongoing past action, etc. Now this is not wrong, but it is far from complete. Which of the following (from Rothman, 2008), for example, is correct?

(11) Siempre que  fuimos a la universidad, estudiamos en la bliblioteca.
(12) Siempre que íbamos a la universidad, estudiábamos en la biblioteca.

Both are, obviously, but the meanings do not follow the ongoing-vs-completed template of instruction. Both mean more-or-less “when we went to the Uni, we ended up studying in the library.” Both are generalisations, but 11 connotes an accidental (unforseen) generalisation, whereas 12 is a foreseen generalisation.

Rothman took three groups of people who knew Spanish: native speakers, those who had studied, and those who had acquired Spanish “naturalistically,” i.e. on their own, largely through TV, radio and interactions with native speakers. All did the same two tasks.

They sorted the students to account for Spanish knowledge etc etc, so they got three groups who were functionally similar (ie all could read Spanish about equally well).

Task One was, read “Goldilocks” in Spanish, and choose the correct of two forms of the verb (preterite or imperfect). Task Two: read a paragraph with blanks, and generate the right form of the verb (again, the choice was between preterite and imperfect).

Now, this was a “Monitor” task. The students dealt with writing, and had time to employ the conscious mind, rules, declarative memory etc. Rothman hypothesised that, because conscious learning and rules couldn’t capture the subtleties of the p-vs-i distinctions, students who had acquired via these rules would underperform others.

The results?

1. Native speakers all overwhelmingly made the same and correct choices.

2. The “taught” students of Spanish made a wider variety of errors, and many more of them, than did the native speakers.

3. The “naturalistic acquirers” of Spanish made significantly fewer errors than did the “taught” students, and their error patterns were more native-like than those of the “taught” students.

Rothman’s hypothesis was therefore confirmed: acquisition of the aspectual (tense) system of Spanish was significantly slowed by conscious learning and speeded up by exposure to input. As he puts it, “pedagogical rules of oversimplification can result in L2 performance variation, perhaps indefinitely.

Rothman points out that if teachers wanted to meaningfully and beneficially “explain” the p-vs-i distinction, they have to do it in significantly more complex ways than they– we– now do. There is, in other words, way more going on than the “photo vs movie” metaphor.

And the old problem of mental bandwidth here arises: because, as Bill VanPatten notes, we have limited “room” in our heads for explicit information, the more explanations we get, the less “sticky” they will be in our memory. In addition to this, some of these explanations about why we would use one verb tenses or the other– are¬†not particularly student-friendly. Do¬†you want to explain about adverbial quantifiers, semantic distinctions, and accidental vs foreseen generalisations? Could kids understand these?¬†Would they care?¬†¬†

There are obviously also about 1,000,000¬†more “rules” in Spanish– or any other language– and so we would rapidly hit a wall if we had to teach using rules.¬† No time, little student interest, and no way to keep all those rules in your head (or access them in real time tasks, such as speaking or listening).

Luckily, there is a way out.¬†One major implication for teachers, which Rothman notes, is that “the only compulsory variable is sufficient access to quality input.” This is¬†exactly¬†what Stephen Krashen predicted forty years ago: providing input beats anything else, and there is¬†very limited benefit to learning grammar “rules.” Krashen’s dry comment that¬†the relative clause is less than compelling also merits note: nobody other than classroom teachers really cares about grammar.

People who have to teach to stupid, grammar-focused tests take heart:  loads of C.I. is way more fun than studying the stupid textbook, and it works much better!

The moral of the story: input gets the job done just fine. Stories ahoy– carry on!

 

 

 

Do We Need To Do “Post-Reading Activities”?

Everybody agrees that input is the central component of language acquisition.  Even a skill-builder such as DeKeyser, and grammarian colleagues, admit that without hearing and reading the language, much less acquisition happens.

One big question, however, remains endlessly discussed:¬†what should language teachers get students to “do” with input?¬†Broadly, the options as I understand them are thus:

  1. Language-class students just…get input.
  2. They get input, and then “do activities” with the input.

#2 is the approach most used by most C.I. teachers. In classical TPRS, students do re-tells. In Slavic and Hargaden’s “untargeted” input, there are “one word at a time” story activities, “read and discuss,” etc post-story. VanPatten’s “task oriented” teaching gets students to “do” things with input (sort, rank, find out, order, etc).

With reading C.I. novels, when kids have read the novel/story, there are questions, word-searches, personal responses, sentence-re-ordering, etc. Indeed, so devoted are even C.I. teachers to “activities” that almost every novel published in the C.I. tradition has a teacher’s guide to go with it, and Teachers Pay Teachers is¬†full of novel guides, post-reading activities and so forth. The same, by the way, is true of Movietalk: there are regularly questions posted on FB or Yahoo, from C.I. teachers, asking¬†does anybody have Movietalk activities to go with ____?¬†

Anyway, obviously what we are¬†always most concerned with in a language class is acquisition. We decide to do/not do _____ based on¬†how well it develops students’ grasp of the target language, and this brings up today’s question:

Do “activities” with reading (or listening to stories) boost acquisition?

The answer, it turns out, is probably not. A paper by Beniko Mason and Stephen Krashen, one of many that reach similar conclusions, took a simple and elegant look at this question. In another paper, the Backseat Linguist compares the effects of reading (CI only) with direct instruction (activities plus reading plus teacher talking).

First, Mason & Krashen.¬† Beniko Mason, who teaches English to Japanese college kids, compared two functionally identical classes’ responses to (1) listening to her tell (and illustrate) a story, and (2) listening to the same story and then doing a variety of activities (including reading) about the story. Both groups were pre-tested for grasp of vocabulary, treated, and post-tested (immediate post-treatment, and delayed post-test).

What did Mason find?

Two things emerge from this paper, one obvious and one striking.¬† First, the obvious:¬†the students who did the post-reading activities gained more vocabulary. This is what we would predict: the more times we hear/read something, the more it will get into our heads and stick around. In both immediate and delayed post-tests, the “activity” group retained more new vocabulary.

Sounds like we should be doing post-listening/reading activities, right?  Wrong.

The¬†second finding of Mason’s is remarkable: the¬†input-only group acquired¬†much more vocabulary per unit of time than did the input-plus-activities group.¬†As Mason and Krashen write,

[o]n the delayed post-test, the story-only efficiency was .25 (3.8 words gained/15 minutes), and efficiency for the story-plus-study group was .16 (gain of 11.4 words/70 minutes).

In other words, the most¬†efficient use of time for delivering C.I. is…delivering C.I. alone, and not doing anything else. (This is a conclusion which has also been oft-reached by reading researchers.¬† Broadly speaking, just reading for pleasure beats reading-plus-activities in just about every measurable way. Much of the research is summarised by Krashen here).¬†¬† There is also another good study on Korean EFL learners here.

Next, the Backseat Linguist aka Jeff McQuillan. TBS in his post looks at a number of studies of the effects of reading on vocab acquisition.  Note that most studies define acquisition as the ability to recognise the meaning of a word. What TBS shows us is how many words per hour students learn via different methods of instruction.

Free Voluntary Reading: students acquire about 9.5 words per hour.
Direct instruction: students pick up about 3.5 words/hour.

FVR is just that: reading without any follow-up “activities” or “accountability.” “Direct instruction” includes bits of reading, speaking practice, note-taking, answering questions about readings, etc.

Bottom line: aural and written comprehensible input¬†alone do the acquisitional work.¬†¬†Why is this?¬† Why don’t “supplementary activities” boost acquisition?

The answer¬†probably has to do with how the brain evolved to pick language up: in the moment, on the fly, informally, and over time. Our hominid ancestors didn’t worksheet their kids, or have writing, and probably did no instruction in speech. We know that kids don’t get targeted input: other than “rough tuning” their speech to their kids’ levels (ie clarifying where necessary, and not using words such as “epistemology” around their three-year olds), parents just, well, talk to (and around) their kids, and their kids pick up loads. Parents don’t¬†repeat words deliberately, do comprehension checks, regularly ask kids conversation-topic specific questions, etc.

So…what are the implications for a language classroom?

  1. We should spend our time on¬†input, and not on anything else. We know talking and writing “practice” do very little for acquisition.¬† It is now also clear that activities such as retelling to a partner, answering questions, etc, are overall a less-then-optimal use of time
  2. Thought experiment:

    OPTION A: over two months, Johnny can spend, say, eight hours reading four novels, and then two hours doing “activities.” If, as Mason found, he gains .16 words per minute, he will acquire 96 words over 10 hours of reading plus activities.

    OPTION B: Johnny¬†can spend ten hours reading five novels, with no “activities.” Mason’s data suggest that he will pick up a bunch more language: .25 words per minute x 10 hours = 150 words.

    If we teach Johnny for five years, and we commit each year to a free voluntary reading program¬†sans “activities,” Johnny– from reading alone– will have picked up 275 words more than if he had spent his class time reading and doing “activities.”¬† If we pace a five-year proficiency-oriented language program at 300 words per year (which will enable students to acquire the 1500 most-used words, giving them 85% of the most-used vocabulary in any language), this reading alone will¬†add almost a year’s worth of gains to his language ability.If we are doing storyasking (classical TPRS), or OWI creation (and then story), or Movietalk, or Picturetalk,¬†we should not be doing any post-input activities. These C.I. strategies¬†deliver C.I. and as such¬†are useful in and of themselves.

  3. We should spend our resources¬†on materials that deliver input, and not in resources that create busywork for students or teachers. As we have seen with C.I. curricula, “pure C.I.” is not only the best, but the¬†cheapest option.

    For example, with reading, say we want to use novels.¬† We can get a novel from Blaine Ray or Carol Gaab for $5 in quantities of 30 or more.¬† So, a class set = $150.¬† The teacher’s guides are typically $35-40. Five sets of novels (no teacher’s guides) = $750.¬† Four sets of novels plus teacher’s guides = $600 + $140-160 = $740-$760. If we buy the five sets of novels instead of four sets plus teacher’s guides, and ditch the “activities,” our students have more choice in reading for close the same cost. If they like the books (ie find them compelling and comprehensible), simply reading them will be the best use of¬†both class time and money.

    Or, we could do even better: we could negotiate a bulk price (Carol and Blaine are very reasonable) and get 15 copies each of TEN novels.  Here we would have much more choice, which is always good for readers, especially reluctant ones.

    If we combine smart novel investment with building an FVR library out of kids’ comics, we are¬†well on our way to maximising our C.I. game.

  4. We might also find that teacher wellness and language ability will increase with an input-only program. It has been said that a legendary C.I. innovator developed their method partly to boost acquisition, and partly to boost their golf score. Underlying this is a solid truth. The happier and better-rested a teacher is, the easier it will be for them to teach well. Much the same is true for students: as much work as possible should be done in class, so students can relax, work, pursue their own interests, do sports etc outside of class.

    Instead of “prepping activitites” for tomorrow, marking Q&As or whatever, checking homework, and supervising students during post-input “activity time,”, a teacher can simply deliver C.I. and let the kids read.¬† And, as Bryce Hedstrom and Beniko Mason note,¬†free reading also builds teacher competence in the target language. While the kids read their novels (or last year’s class stories), we read ours, and everyone gets better!

CAVEATS

If you have real trouble getting kids to listen/you have kids that cannot listen/read, or you are in an awful school where¬†if it’s not for marks, I’m not doing it is the norm, you might have to do post-C.I. “activities.” And there is nothing wrong with that. We do the best we can with what– and who– we have, and where we are. You also might need “activities” to maintain your in-class sanity.

I was recently discussing the most recent version of Blaine Ray’s¬†Look, I Can Talk! books with Mike Coxon and Craig Sheehy, and Victoria, BC school district language co-ordinator Denise Wehner. All of us like Blaine’s book, but all of us questioned some of the post-story and post-reading activities that are in it (eg crosswords, word searches).¬† And then Craig said¬†but sometimes a teacher just needs kids to be quiet and focused on something other than the teacher’s voice.¬† And we all looked at each other and nodded.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Deliver as much aural and/or written comprehensible input as you can. When you have delivered some, deliver more. If you do T.P.R.S., ask another story.¬† If you do Mason’s Story Listening, give students a written version of what you have just told, then tell another story. If you are doing “untargeted input” a la Slavic and Hargaden, make another OWI and put it into another story. If your thing is reading, get kids to do more reading with as few “accountability” activities as possible.

Input – Output = Acquisition (2)

Do we need to “practice talking” to learn to talk? ¬†Nope. ¬†Here’s a few more stories about acquiring language without producing it. ¬†Those kids in your class who don’t talk much, or who don’t like talking…they’ll be fine. Here is another post about acquiring without talking.

First, from Judith DuBois on C.I.Fight Club:

I talked to a man raised in a family where his parents and older brother spoke Italian to each other and French to him, thinking they were helping him, since school was in French. When he tried to speak Italian they made fun of him for his “French” accent, so very early he stopped speaking Italian, but could understand it when people around him spoke it. He went to Italy a couple times as a child, and relied on his mother to tell people what he wanted. He thought that he could not speak Italian because he hadn’t spoken it as a child. But when he went to Italy as an adult with his French wife and there was no one who spoke French to be his interpreter, he discovered that he could actually speak Italian fluently. He says he has a slight accent and makes a few mistakes with genders, but has no trouble communicating.

Second, from Stephen Krashen, who in an excellent paper lists a fascinating bunch of case histories of people who acquired language largely via input:

Armando

A reporter from the Los Angeles Times asked me to meet Armando, a 29-year-old
immigrant from Mexico who had lived in the United States for 12 years. Armando, who
attended school in Mexico up to grade nine, worked in an Israeli restaurant in Los
Angeles nearly the entire time he has lived in the United States. While Armando speaks
English quite well, he says he speaks Hebrew better.

According to the article in the Times (Silverstein, 1999), Armando picked up Hebrew
“by observing and listening to co-workers and friends,” through interaction and
conversation, occasionally asking for the meanings of unknown words. According to the
“patriarch” of the family-owned restaurant, Armando “speaks Hebrew like an Israeli” (p.
1).

Armando’s experience

I interviewed Armando, in English, at the restaurant where he worked. Armando told me
that it was two or three years until he was comfortable in conversation even though he
heard Hebrew all day on the job. He said that he never forced or pushed himself with
Hebrew, that his approach was relaxed. He also informed me that he had a very friendly
relationship with the other restaurant staff, with the owners, and enjoyed chatting with
Hebrew-speaking customers. Armando’s good relationship with speakers of Hebrew was
confirmed by Times reporter, who noted that Armando formed “close friendships” with
the family that owns the restaurant, his Israeli-born co-workers, and many customers.
When Armando was seriously injured in a car accident in Arizona, several members of
the family visited him in the hospital, there were calls “nearly every day,” and prayers
were said for him at nearby synagogues.

Armando told me that he had never learned to read Hebrew, never studied Hebrew
grammar, had no idea of what the rules of Hebrew grammar were, and certainly did not
think about grammar when speaking. He said that he received about five corrections a
day, but none of these were aimed at grammar; it was all vocabulary.

An informal evaluation

I conducted an informal evaluation of Armando’s Hebrew competence. I tape-recorded a
brief conversation, somewhat contrived, but the best that could be done under the
circumstances. (It would be have much better to obtain some completely unmonitored
speech, recorded when Armando was not aware it was being recorded; [but] this, of course, would hardly be ethical.) At my request, Armando chatted with a native speaker, an Israeli friend of his, about what he did the day before (it was the Sabbath). The
conversation lasted about five minutes.

I played the recording was played the next day for four adult native speakers of
Hebrew: two employees of the Israeli consulate and two employees of the Israeli tourist
office in Los Angeles. I did not indicate who the speaker was but only asked them to
listen and evaluate Armando’s Hebrew. The judges listened to about two minutes of
Armando talking about his activities on Saturday. The listening was done in a corridor in
an office building (because of tight security in the consulate), and the recording was not
of high quality. The judges were not told anything about Armando until after they made
their judgment.

Here are the results: One judge felt that the speaker was a native speaker of Hebrew,
had no accent, and made no grammatical errors. Armando’s language, however, was
judged to be “unsophisticated.” The second judge felt that Armando was a long time
resident of Israel and could have been born there. He thought that Armando might speak
Hebrew as a second language and speaks another language at home. Armando’s Hebrew
was “not quite standard” but was acceptable. This judge guessed that Armando was
Moroccan, which is quite interesting, because the owners of the restaurant are from
Morocco. The third judge decided that Armando was not a native speaker of Hebrew, but
felt that he was very good: “He can clearly say anything he wants to say,” but shows
“some hesitancy.” This judge guessed that Armando had lived in Israel “perhaps one or
two years” and has had lots of interaction with Israelis. The fourth judge thought that
Armando was Ethiopian. She felt that he was not a native speaker of Hebrew but is
clearly very good, clearly fluent. He is, she felt, obviously “comfortable” in Hebrew and
speaks like someone who has lived in Israel for a few years. He uses slang but uses it
appropriately.

The range is thus from “very good but nonnative” to native.

The case is quite consistent with the Comprehension Hypothesis and shows that
“acquisition” alone can lead to impressive levels of competence in a second language.
An additional interesting aspect of this case, in my opinion, is the support it provides
for the notion of club membership, the idea that we “talk like the people we perceive
ourselves to be.” (Smith, 1988, p. 4; see also Beebe, 1985). Armando, it can be
hypothesized, made the extraordinary progress he did because he had comprehensible
input; but his progress was greatly aided because he joined the club of speakers who used¬†the language. (Note that the “club” in this case was a circle of friends, not a national or¬†ethnic group; Armando has not converted to Judaism.) ¬†

Of course, Hebrew was not comprehensible for him right away. His great
accomplishment was due to patience, being willing to acquire slowly and gradually with
a long silent period (or period of reduced output). With a “natural approach” or TPRS
language class Armando would have had comprehensible input right away and would
moved through the beginning stages more quickly, and real conversational Hebrew would have been comprehensible earlier. I predict that a traditional class focusing on grammar would not have had this effect.

Armando’s case also shows us that one can do quite well in second language
acquisition without living in the country in which the language is spoken and without
formal instruction. The crucial variables appear to be comprehensible input and having a good relationship with speakers of the language.

From my experience:

This summer, my parents got new neighbours, an Irish couple. ¬† I was one morning sitting at my parents’ on the porch, practising mandolin, and the very blonde Irish wife waved at me from the fence, and in the thickest of Kerry accents, said that’s a lovely chune yer playin’ there, would that be The House of Hamill?

I told her it was, and she told me, she was a flute player who regularly attended Irish sessions. ¬†We spoke for about twenty minutes. ¬†When I finally got around to asking her name, she said Agnieska (I think that is how it is spelled),¬†and I said,¬†well that doesn’t sound very Irish. ¬†She said, it’s not, I’m Polish.

Agnieska had moved at age 17 from Poland. ¬†She had studied German and Russian in school, but had no knowledge of English. ¬†She moved to Ireland in 2001, to stay with a cousin who understood some English but didn’t speak any. ¬†She lived in Dublin in a building with mostly Polish people, so she heard no English at home and in her social life.

Agnieska got a job in a pub doing dishes and cleanup in evenings. ¬†Agnieska’s cousin ¬†worked for the pub owner. ¬†The pub owner liked her work ethic so got her a cleaning job in a friend’s store. ¬†She would work evenings, first cleaning up around the end of the store’s day for a couple of hours, then walk over to the pub and work there.

The pub had Irish music sessions a few nights a week, so Agnieska heard a lot of Irish music.  She had played a bit of piano in elementary school, but had never played Irish music.  One day when cleaning up she found a cheap tin whistle under the table.  When no musician claimed it, the pub owner gave it to her, and she took it home and started experimenting with it. Over the next two years, Agnieska worked at the pub, cleaned the store, and fiddled with her tin whistle.

Agnieska told me that initially she had been shown a few basic things to do in the store and pub, and had been given a few basic instructions, like “first, sweep, then vacuum” and so on. Many of her interactions were minor variations on routine: in the pub, customers would say¬†where’s the bog? or where’s the bathroom?,¬†or¬†what have you got to eat? or¬†what’s there to eat?¬† In her first years working, she mostly listened to co-workers and customers. ¬†She asked her cousin what the English meant (and was told in Polish).

Agnieska said that after about two years, she felt good enough with spoken English that she went to adult school to get English-language high-school equivalency. This is when she began reading in English (a lot of what she called “trash,” as well as newspapers). ¬†She ended up in University, where she met her Irish husband. ¬†They moved to Kerry, where they had two kids, and then on to Canada.

She also told me that she had managed to figure out some basic scales on the whistle within a few weeks of picking it up– it’s an easy instrument– but had not done much with it other than playing radio hits and random things. ¬†However, one evening when the pub was slow, she was bringing the musicians some pints, and got to talking to a whistler. ¬†When she mentioned that she too owned a whistle, he offered her one of his, and said¬†give us a chune. ¬†She said¬†I didn’t give it a single thought, I just played and– to her surprise– banged out a jig. ¬†She bought a used flute later, liking the sound more, and started sitting in on sessions.

Agnieska basically learned the English language and Irish music by listening.  With English, there was high repetition and comprehensibility, and (relatively) little variation in what she heard (and to which she had to respond).  With music, she heard the tunes over and overРtunes are typically played from three to six times in a rowРon a variety of instruments, in two octaves.  Repetition in slightly varied contexts in both cases, and in both cases mostly input.

Anyway…you can pick up a ton without “practice.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequency List Lessons

There was a recent discussion in which a teacher said, my department head insisted on teaching only the present tense in Level 1, the preterite in Level 2, etc.  This Head’s reasoning was, people must “master” one set of “vocabulary” at a time. Bad idea.

Anyway, let us look at which verbforms in Spanish are actually most frequently used.  Here, from Wiktionary.com’s Spanish Frequency List, are the most-used verbs in Spanish, then some ideas about what this means for teachers.

The verbform is as given, and the number refers to how close to most-used the verbform is.  The lower the number, the more often used the verb is. Reference point: in Spanish, the most-used word is que (“what” or “that”) whose number is therefore 1.  The second most-used word is de (“of” or “from”) whose number is 2, and the articles la and el (“the”) are the 6th and 7th most-frequently-used words.  OK, verbs:

8.             es
22           est√°
42           vamos
44           hay
47           estoy
48           tengo
53           ha
55           s√©
56           est√°s
58           puedo
60           quiero
62           soy
63           tiene
68           fue
69           ser
70           hacer
71           son
73           era
74           eres
76           tienes
77           creo
79           he
81           voy
82           puede
83           sabes
91           quieres
100        estaba
102         est√°n
103         va
109         siento
110         tenemos
111         puedes
115         ver
124         decir
128         ir
132         has
136         estar
137        estamos
141        quiere
146        trabajo
148        mira
149        vas
150        sea
154        hecho
156        dijo
157        pasa
162        hablar
169        espera
171        han
173        sabe
177        fuera
181        podemos
182        dije
184        necesito
185        estado
186        podr√≠a
187        acuerdo
189        tener
190        dice
192        crees
194        gusta
197        ser√°
198        haciendo
202        hab√≠a

 

First, the facts.

A.  The top 202 most-used Spanish words include

  • verbs in seven verb tenses (present, preterite, imperfect, present perfect, present progressive, formal future, informal future e.g. va a hablar)
  • verbs in two subjunctive moods (present and past)
  • reflexive verbs

B. Verbs we think are oft-used such as gustar are less-used than for example fue

C. The traditional textbook order of teaching verb tenses (typically, present ‚áí preterite ‚áí imperfect ‚áí present perfect ‚áí subjunctive) is totally at odds with how frequently verb forms are actually used.

The implications (in no particular order):

  1. Traditional textbook verb sequencing will not help students in real-world use. Most students will not take five years of Spanish– two is more typical– and so traditional sequencing will overplay less-used “categories” (e.g. stem-changing verbs) and underplay what actually gets used (everything, basically).  They will therefore understand less than they should/could.

    We know this:  according to Davies and others, the 1500 most-used words make up 85% of all spoken language (in any language).  A reasonable target for a five-year high-school language program would therefore be, 300 words per year, more or less.  What if students only take two?  Well then, they will get the most benefit from using the 600 most-used words.

  2. Textbook sequencing does not properly “model” grammar “rules.”  It is pretty obvious that everything normally used is “mixed together.”  A four year old will say something like yesterday Daddy took me to a playdate.  I hurt myself playing with Jason. But it was fun.  I like playing with Jason.  He’s nice.  Here, there are three verb tenses and a reflexive verb.In Spanish, English speakers have a whack of verb subtleties to soak up.  For example, the term “I was” could be estaba, estuve, me sent√≠ or fui. If we teach one tense as a time, as the textbook does, we play up the morphology (form) at the expense of contextual “rule” awareness.  E.g. a Colombian will say cuando estaba cansado ayer en la tarde, me tom√© un tinto (“when I was tired yesterday afternoon, I grabbed a coffee”).  The Colombian has acquired the “rule” that the preterite tense “interrupts” the “background” that the imperfect tense establishes.In a traditional textbook, however (eg the ¬°Juntos! books I used to use), students will spend quite a while on the preterite, and then on the imperfect.  Even if they acquire the specific forms (which they generally don’t, because nobody is on anybody else’s schedule in terms of acquisition), when a new form shows up, two things happen:

    a. they will start using the new form (verb endings) everywhere and apparently forget the older form’s endings.  Kids who knew to say ayer yo fui a la escuela now say ayer yo iba a la escuela intending to mean the same thing.

    b. when (if) they pick up the new form, they will have huge problems “knowing” which form to use where.  Why?  Because there are so many “rules” to remember that the only effective way to pick them up is from contextual input modeling.  Basically, we need to hear an ocean of meaningful Spanish sentences which use both these verb tenses together.  This is true in any language of any grammatical structure.

    An English speaker can do a thought experiment here:  what is the “rule” for using the very high-frequency English words some and any?  Why can’t I ask do you have some advice? or answer no I don’t have some advice for you?  Why can I say do you have some of those washers for my drum? but not do you have some ideas? 

Anyway.  There you go: some data and ideas about word frequency.  Comments as always welcome.

 

Should I do Word-For-Word Translation?

A recent Facebook group post asked about whether or not teachers should do word-for-word translation.

Word-for-word is not necessarily the same as direct translation, though it can be. ¬†For example, in German we say¬†mein Nahme ist Chris (“my name is Chris”). ¬†In this case, the two languages use the same word order.

Here are some more examples of what word-for-word translation looks like:

In Spanish, a grammatically good sentence is estudiar no me gusta, which¬†literally means “to study not me pleases” but an English speaker would translate this as “I don’t like studying” or “I don’t like to study.”

In other languages, things get weirder: some languages don’t (always) use pronouns. ¬†When I acquired a bit of Mandarin years ago working for Taiwan-born Visco in the camera store, some of the sentences in Mandarin were something like “go store yesterday” which translates into English as “Yesterday I went to the store.”¬†In other languages, like French, you can’t just say “no” or “not:” you have to wrap the verb with¬†ne…pas. ¬†In some languages in some places you do not always need a verb. ¬†E.g in German, if somebody asks you¬†Bist du ¬†gestern nach Berlin gegangen? (meaning “Did you go to Berlin?”), you can answer with Nein, gestern¬†bin ich nicht nach Berlin¬†(literally “No, yesterday am I not to Berlin”).

I think we should generally not use word-for-word translation.  Why?

  1. WFW unnecessarily confuses the kids. ¬†The point of direct translation is to clarify meaning. ¬†You want to waste as little time as possible and having them think¬†through weird word order is not doing much for meaning. ¬†Terry Waltz calls this “a quick meaning dump,” by which she means the point is to get from L2 to L1 in as simple and easy a way as possible.

2. WFW turns on the Monitor.  In other words, when we do this, students start to focus on language as opposed to meaning.  We know that the implicit (subconscious) system is where language is acquired and stored, so there is little point in getting them to focus on language.  Both Krashen and VanPatten have argued (and shown) that conscious knowledge about language does not translate into acquisition of language.  Monitor use is at best not very helpful so why bother?

3. WFW can cause problems for people whose L1 is not English. ¬†In my classes, we have lots of kids whose first languages are Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Tagalog etc etc. ¬†Some of them are fairly new to English (they speak with accents and their English output has errors). ¬†For example, a classic South Asian L2 English error I hear/read in my English classes all the time is “yesterday he had gone to the store” instead of “yesterday he went to the store.”

What these L2s need, more than anything, is not just grammatically good L3 but also gramamtically coherent English.  We tend to forget that, say, the Ilocarno-speaking Filipino kid who is in our Spanish class is also learning English in our Spanish classes.

 

Powerhouse Spanish teacher Alina Filipescu writes

I tell students what “ME LLAMO” means word for word, “myself I call,” then I add that in other words it means “my name is.” Since I’ve switched to this instead of just telling students that ME LLAMO means “my name is” like a textbook says it, I’ve seen a lot less errors. I now rarely see students make the mistake “ME LLAMO ES John.” When students do volleyball translations, then I have them do translations that make sense and not word for word. I do it word for word as a class so that I can control where it goes. I also like that students can “feel” what the syntax of the sentence is in the language that I teach. Just like Blaine always says, if there is something better than I will try it and adopt it. This is not written in stone for me, it’s what I do right now because it made sense when I heard/saw somebody else do it.

Filipescu makes three good points here. ¬†First, students should know that you generally cannot translate most things WFW¬†and have it make sense. ¬†We all know what happens when legacy-methods assignments demand output beyond kids’ abilities: ¬†Google transliterate!

She also says that she gets less¬†*me llamo es (“myself I call is”) as a result. ¬†I don’t doubt it…but she raises the interesting question of why and under what conditions? ¬†Was this compared to when she used legacy methods? ¬†Or compared to when she started C.I. and just did general meaning translation? I too get a lot less¬†me llamo es and other such errors, but I think it has more to do with C.I. allowing me to spend¬†way more time meaningfully in the target language than anything else.

Third, Filipescu translates¬†me as “myself” which is correct…here. ¬†However, elsewhere¬†me means “me,” rather than “myself,” more or less like in English, eg¬†me peg√≥ means “she hit me.” ¬†Now if we obsess over WFW (not that Alina does so) we are going to focus the kids on two different meanings “anchored” to one word. ¬†Which I could see being confusing.

Filipescu’s post also raises the interesting question of under what conditions the kids write. ¬†I have found that the more time they have, the more they screw up, because when they have notes, dictionaries, etc, they start¬†thinking, and thinking is what (linguistically speaking) gets you into grammatical trouble. ¬†One of the reasons C.I. uses little vocab and LOADS of repetition (via parallel characters, repeating scenes, embedded readings, etc) is to automatise (via processing, and¬†not via “practise” talking) language use. ¬† The less time they have to write, the less they think, and the more you get to see what the students’ implicit (subconscious) systems have picked up.

Anyway, overall, I would say, point out the weirdness of word order (or whatever aspect of grammar is different) once, then stick to natural, meaningful L1 useage for translation.  Mainly, this is to keep us in the TL as much as possible, and eliminate L1 distractions.

Old Myths Debunked

This post comes from Carol Gaab.  She is an author, teacher and San Francisco Giants language coach, as well as a presenter and all-around thinker.  Gaab has one of the most critical minds I have ever run into, and likes to dismantle misconceptions almost as much as she likes to show us interesting and effective ways to teach languages.

So here she is, responding to myths like “we must use authentic documents” and “we must practice speaking,” etc.¬† A fascinating read, and great if you are having discussions with colleagues who embrace older methods.¬† Thanks, Carol!

Do You Even Lift? S.L.A. and Free Weights

Part One: The Basics

weightlifter_1216621c

My Mom– who at age 75 is still ski-touring, mountain biking and hiking, and is doing a three-week non-sag cycle tour in Quebec this summer!– is my stay-healthy role model. ¬†Thanks to her,¬†I’ve always been interested in– but lazy about– general fitness. ¬†I’ve always thought, I hate fitness and training, but I like climbing, hiking and cycling, and acro yoga. ¬†Through years of activity, and recent discussions with athlete Will Gadd, I’ve learned a few things¬†about fitness– for anyone, not just athletes– which we can boil down to three things

  1. Everybody should have basic cardio fitness.  A total of 60 minutes a week of sweat-inducing heavy breathing will do it.  You can do this in fancy running gear, or in a gym, or in your living room, skipping.
  2. We all need functional strength, i.e. the ability to lift and move things.  This can be done in about 50 minutes/week, in a gym or around the house.
  3. If you have basic cardio and strength, you can easily pick up anything else
  4. You may much later want some feedback to improve yourself.

On recommendation of one of my partners, I tried Pilates last year. ¬†It’s a set of exercises that stretch and work various muscles, and also aligns various bits of anatomy. ¬†I did it for a few months. ¬†I found it worked– it sure targeted specific muscles, and I got better at the exercises– but it was boring as hell and I did not see any overall fitness or strength gains.

And then I read this article about fitness.¬†And started lifting free weights:¬†squats, bench-presses, vertical presses, power cleans and deadlifts, five sets of five each, twice a week, after school in our weight room. ¬†I’m not trying to gain in size (that’s bodybuilding) but rather in functional strength. ¬†My total weight room time is about 50 minutes/week.

The results have been remarkable (for me). ¬†All my weights have gone up. ¬†I also feel much more stable while on trails and on the bike, and I can “do” more stuff, like carry a week’s worth of groceries with one arm and a climbing pack in another. ¬†I’m not much of a hiker– hiking is the boring warm-up on the way to the base of the climb– but now on trails, despite me never “training” by walking or running, my legs are waaaay more solid. ¬†Although my weights are up, I am not feeling much¬†bigger. I feel “connected” to myself in a way that vaguely resembles a post-yoga feeling but stronger.

I thought weights would be boring, but oddly I am not bored.  The post-first-set body buzz is killer, and since I am rotating through the various weights and it only takes about twenty-five minutes, and I blast music, so I am not bored.

Bottom line: basic cardio fitness, and then weight training make everyone healthy, and make it much easier for us to acquire other activity skills (climbing, tennis, paddling, etc).

Can you see where we are going with this?  

a. The basic cardio of language acquisition is oral input and reading in any language.

The person who can’t get their heart rate up won’t benefit from any activity-specific training. ¬†But the person who¬†can get the heart and lungs cranking can do/learn other stuff. ¬†Yes, you can lift, or play tennis, if you’re a two-pack-a-day smoker…but you can’t do it very¬†well, and you sure won’t make much progress.

If you get basic spoken (or recorded) comprehensible input, and you read in L2, you are going to be able to acquire a ton more language than if you don’t.

b. The strength training of language acquisition is¬†whole language, not “exercises” and “practise.”

Free weights, as Mark Rippetoe argues, effectively train the whole body, because all bodily systems workРand must be trainedРtogether.  A squat fires basically every muscle from the shoulders down.  A vertical press engages everything from the waist up.  Balance, co-ordination, big muscles, small muscles, tendons and ligaments: all are working together, the way the body is meant to.

In terms of method, Pilates (or exercise machines)¬†are to fitness what the textbook is to language learning. ¬†It breaks movement down into components, you “practise” each one, and your individual “skills” get better…even while the overall functional fitness gains are minimal.

Free weight lifting is the comprehensible input of fitness.

Bill VanPatten (1998) also notes that “[a] reading of the literature on second language acquisition and use suggests that communication is not the result of learning discrete bits of language and then putting them together.“ 

Language learners need big meaning chunks– meaningful sentences as part of conversation or description, which are in turn part of stories, etc– to acquire the language. ¬†The “stuff” of a language– vocab, grammar, pragmatics, semantics etc– can¬†only be acquired by exposure to “whole” input and can¬†not be developed by “practising” various “skills.” ¬†Sure, students will get some incidental benefits from worksheets or textbook exercises¬†if they are attending to meaning. ¬†Kids often don’t, though. ¬†The worksheets I see kids copying¬†in the morning¬†don’t suggest kids are doing anything other than making the teacher happy. ¬†And¬†Bill VanPatten notes that ‚Äúbuilding up in a learner‚Äôs brain [are] simultaneously ¬†lexicon and morphology, syntatic features and constraints, pragmatics and discourse, interfaces between components, communicative discourse [and] skill‚ÄĚ and that ‚Äúthese happen all at once. ¬†They are almost impossible to isolate and practice one at a time, because they don‚Äôt operate one at a time”¬†(2013).

You might be the one in twenty people who can assemble textbook fragments into something like language– and you might enjoy practicing and getting marks for your various “skills.” ¬†But you would get more out of good interesting comprehensible input, and most people do¬†get¬†much more from C.I.

So…let’s get into beast mode and get swole!

(Totally random side-note: ¬†Doctor Stephen Krashen was once a champion weightlifter! ¬†He weighed 181 and incline-pressed 285 ūüí™ūüí™)

Part Two: Planning and Feedback

So…what can athlete stories tell us about the language class? ¬†Do planning and feedback work in a language classroom?

Other than a teacher clarifying what was said/written, feedback does nothing…because it comes via conscious awareness, and language is processed and stored in the implicit (subconscious) system.

Planning, i.e. organising sets of vocab and grammar “rules” in a sequence (what textbooks do) ¬†doesn’t work very well, mainly because it is the brain, and not the teacher’s or student’s desire, that controls what gets acquired (see this).

Now, here is an interview with top climber Chris Sharma.  Sharma, who has done routes that only two or three people in the world can do, has never really trained.  To stay in shape, he climbs a lot.  But then he hit a wall trying to climb a route called Dura Dura graded 5.15c (imagine climbing 30 meters along a 45-degree overhanging wall, using only one fingertip per hand, and one foot at a time!).  He tried and tried, and failed and failed.

So, for the first time in his life, Sharma went into a gym and trained. ¬†Circuits. ¬†4x4s. ¬†Hangboard workouts. ¬†Weights. ¬†Structured rest and recover, mesocycles, the works. ¬†And…filmed feedback. ¬†His trainer Paxti videotaped Sharma trying moves and sequences, they watched them, and Sharma was able to adjust body position, timing, foot position etc.

He eventually climbed the route (after Adam Ondra got the first ascent).

 

The Wayback Machine

I was recently at a conference and thought, OK, I should go see what the Intensive Language teachers do, nd went to a workshop called something like “Get Your Beginners Talking!” Every language conference I’ve ever been to has a workshop like this. 

Here’s a part of a handout:


And here is what the kids would have handed out to them:


This is a classic “communicative” activity: it wants people to use the target language to bridge information gaps as a way to acquire the target language. 

So…what do the research and our classroom experience say about these activities?

1. Speaking “practice” as the exercise suggests does not improve aquisition.  We’ve heard this from VanPatten, Krashen and of course Kirk (2013). 

2.  Feedback– in this case on pronunciation– does not work. There are two main reasons for this:

  • You can’t produce language in real time while self-monitoring to make sure you are using the feedback correctly (Krashen). 
  • Conscious info does not end up in the implicit linguistic system, as VanPatten notes (see this). 

As BVP puts it,

3. This turns the teacher into the language police.  Someone asked the presenter “do they ever speak L1 while doing this?” and they answered “yes, I have to keep an eye on them.”  No fun. I personally find using L2 with other L2s “fake” feeling…and I’m a language geek. 

4.  In terms of personal interest, we have a problem: what if Johnny likes playing with dolls, and doesn’t care that Suzie is really interested in playing Grand Theft Auto?  What if these are low-frequency words?  If these are the case– and they usually are– the amount of vocab that the kids hear that is repeated is going to be minimal. If I hear about 15 different people’s 15 different activities, I am getting less input per item = less acquisition. 

5.  The junky output becoming impoverished input problem among L2s is here unaddressed.  

6. The repetition would be boring. In the presenter’s example, a classic beginner question is do you like to _____? and kids have to answer Yes, I like… or No, I don’t like… This is going to get old really quickly and of course it would be more natural, easier and faster just to use English. 

Anyway…the wayback machine took me to activities that I have never been able to make work. However as they say, your mileage may vary. 

I’ve been able to ditch 95% of output-focused activities, and– thanks to the ease and power of comprehensible input– I have ironically managed to build better speakers by avoiding making kids speak. Go figure. 

What Is Rule Overgeneralization, and What Can We Do About it?

So you are teaching with your text and in year one the kids “learn” first how to say “I like” in Spanish– me gusta– and then how to conjugate regular present-tense verbs.  And suddenly they are saying *yo gusto no trabajo. Then in Level 2 you “teach” them the past tense, like “she ran” is corri√≥.  And suddenly they are saying *los lunes corri√≥ a la escuela.  These are a lot like how kids pick up L1:  they acquire Daddy went to the store and then later say Daddy goed yesterday.

This is “rule overgeneralisation:” a new “rule” shows up and suddenly it gets applied everywhere, inappropriately.

Kids pull out of this very quickly, mostly because of the masses of input they get from L1 parents and other adults.  But what can we do about this in the language classroom?

So some random notes:

1. Avoiding conscious learning is the first key.  If you have to consciously learn AND remember AND apply “rules” in real time– ie during oral production– you will naturally default to the most recently-learned rule.  So all that hard work on the present tense seems to go out the window when the pass√© compos√© gets introduced.  This is not cos kids are dumb, lazy etc, but it is a brain-structure and bandwidth problem: you have a limited amount of conscious brainpower, and forcing it to “learn” and then remember and apply “grammar rules” (and the brain, as Bill VanPatten reminds us, doesn’t even actually use what we teachers call “grammar rules” in the first place) is too much.  Too many mental balls to juggle. TPRS or AIM-style stories, Movietalk, Picturetalk, novels etc– i.e. interesting comprehensible input– will take care of a bunch of this.

2.  Unsequenced or “unsheltered” grammar is second. Blaine Ray and Susan Gross pioneered using “unsheltered” grammar– using all verb tenses, pronouns, verb #s etc — from Day 1.  If the input is “modeling” L2 in all its diversity, the brain won’t default to conscious or recently-“learned” rules.  Yes, beginners can cope with sentences like El chico quer√≠a un mono que bailara (the boy wanted a monkey who might dance) easily.  There you have inperfect, subordinate clause and past subjunctive all in one sentence.

This way, the brain has “everything” coming in at once, and it is getting the “mental spaces” for the different “rules” built, ground up, from Day 1.  The kids won’t substitute trabajaba for trabaj√≥ because they have been hearing and reading them– mixed together, naturally– from the beginning.

(There is, btw, another argument for the use of unsheltered grammar: frequency.  A glance at any word frequency list shows us that the 250 most-used words (i.e. what Level 1 of any language class should teach) includes verbs in five tenses and the subjunctive mood.  And it’s not like Mexican moms or French dads delay speaking the subjunctive (or whatever) till their kids are ten years old!)

3. Avoiding “grammar practice” is the third key. The problems any output activity where we “practice” grammar are numerous:

  •  How do we expect people to do what they are trying to learn to do?  Are we not putting the cart before the horse here?
  • If we acquire languages via input, what good does output do?  “Little or nothing” is Steve Krashen and Bill VanPatten’s answer.
  • This will inevitably be accompanied by tons of English or other L1 discussion.  Even the eager beavers will be saying “is it the thingy, the subtunction?  Is that like you put an -a on it?  No wait that’s an -e. OMG this Snapchat. Shut up I don’t like her, OK it’s *ella trabaji√≥.
  • It’s boring. Generating sentences such as “the girl wants her cousin to cook” or “I want my friend to run” is not fun.  I’ve tried everything–everything– and believe me, I can get kids to listen to a fun story that has [whatever grammar] in it, but I cannot get 90% of kids to “practice grammar” or “practice speaking” in any meaningful way.

4. Remember that “errors” do not exist, from the learner’s point of view.  If somebody “screws up” in writing or speech, they quite simply have not acquired what they need to produce the language properly.  They are being asked to do something they quite literally cannot do. There’s an entire Tea With BVP devoted to this question. So, rule overgeneralisation– like any error– has more to do with what teachers want than how “good” students are.

5. We have to remember that acquisition is non-linear.  We can minimise problems such as rule overgeneralisation, but we can’t get rid of them.  Check out this mama bear and her cub going rock climbing.

They test pawholds.  They back down.  They try the sequence differently.  They don’t get there in one fast line.

Teachers are mama bear and students the cubs, if you will. They’ll do the moves…when they are ready.

Finally, we need to up the input.  Students only acquire via input.  Yes, it may seem like they are learning from doing worksheets, or using the subjunctive chart above, or practicing dialogues.  But such “learning” is incidental, and as we see from research, much less effective than lots of good input.  If you keep hearing “j’allais √† l’√©cole hier” or “yo gusto hamburguesas,” the students need to hear (and read) more je suis all√© and me gustan las hamburguesas.  In the long run, that’s the only thing that is going to work.