A 2010 repost:
I used to think that forcing and prodding the kids into early speech production too early was just a waste of time, but now I see it as harmful. The image is of a field with seeds just sprouting but not yet above the crust of the earth, needing the protective warmth of the soil a bit longer before breaking through to be above the ground.
Do we language teachers even have the right to just go in and, in our efforts to see the plant – oral production – before it is ready to appear, move the dirt away with our hands and expose what is not yet ready to sprout visibly?
Especially if the kid is just in the class for the credit, right? Here is a teacher doing a kind of Berlitz “hands-forward-now-look-at-the-picture-and-say-it-even-if-you’re-not-sure-it-means” kind of number with a kid who is not that into it and super self-conscious of being looked at by others at this point in her life.
We wait for the roots to form because they – the roots underground where we can’t see them – come first in nature, and also in language production. The flower doesn’t come first. The roots come first.
So also, speech and writing output come last. So much in life is natural, if we would but listen to it, if we would but allow the neurology to happen according to its own dictates, studied and presented so masterfully all these years by Krashen and the other CI pioneers.
We can’t “want our kids” into speaking the language. If they’re not ready, then they’re not ready, and that refers to kids even in “upper level” classes (not upper level at all in terms of the time needed to produce real output). But we can give the CI the time it needs to incubate before sprouting.
Nature hides from our meddling hands those things of greatest importance, the most difficult things to accomplish. She hides away the process that leads to the production of human language – it is all kept out of our reach, kept natural. For good reason.
And yet, we as a profession must at some point own that we have, by not respecting this principle, over the decades, crushed many plants. That is not a very fun thought, is it? We as a profession have crushed a lot of kids’ dreams. We have.
This topic makes me think of this passage, written by someone not forced to speak French, I am certain:
“…la fleur n’en finissait pas de se préparer à être belle, à l’abri de sa chambre verte. Elle choisissait avec soin ses couleurs. Elle s’habillait lentement, elle ajustait un à un ses pétales. Elle ne voulait pas sortir toute fripée comme les coquelicots. Elle ne voulait apparaître que dans le plein rayonnement de sa beauté. Eh! oui. Elle était très coquette ! Sa toilette mystérieuse avait donc duré des jours et des jours. Et puis voici qu’un matin, justement à l’heure du lever du soleil, elle s’était montrée…”.
“…the flower took a long time getting ready inside the shelter of her green room. She chose her colors with the greatest care. She dressed herself slowly and adjusted her petals one by one. She did not wish to go out into the world all crumpled up, like poppies. She wished to appear only in the full radiance of her beauty. Oh, yes! She was a coquette! Her mysterious preparation had lasted for days and days. And then one morning, at sunrise, she suddenly presented herself.
Le Petit Prince, Ch. 8
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry