We translate almost nothing. If we have to translate words after the first part of class after we have established meaning, then we have made an error, we have gone out of bounds. That is the purpose of PQA, to make sure that the students are solid on the structures during the story to follow. That is why TPRS has three steps – they each build on each other. It is Blaine Ray’s genius. Highly personalized discussion provides the glue and energy for the process. The three steps are: we establish meaning on a very limited amount of structures, we practice those structures, and then we start the story using only the targeted structures as new words in our instruction.
During the class we don’t go out of bounds. We never leave the two or three target structures during the entire class period. We say them in every question and statement we make. We are not there to teach the language, but only the structures for that day. Aside from the target structures, we only use language in class that they already know, structures that have already been taught in earlier classes and thus have been acquired or are at least very familiar to the students. In that way we get the Din going (Krashen) because they understand it all, and that is how they acquire, because they are not being drowned in language that they can’t understand and because translation isn’t tampering with the process going on in their unconscious minds, so that it can be allowed to happen. When the students go to sleep, the unconscious mind goes through and parses the parts of the language that it heard and understood that day and some gets into the growing language system, the parts the person was interested in, and some parts don’t get in. There is no conscious analysis involved and each moment spent talking about the language instead of doing lots of input in the form of listening and reading is wasted. A lot of it depends on the CI skills of the teacher and the classroom culture, one built on trust and not fear, that has been established.
Our work is a daily practice. We learn from each other. We will never master it totally and we will always feel inadequate about it. We have accepted that the only path for us is in doing it in our classrooms. All the other options no longer pass muster for us. Plus, they are really boring. We use videos and communicate with each other in the greater TPRS/CI community and we visit each other and get to know each other in real ways and we share and take risks and put ourselves out there at our three major conferences: iFLT, NTPRS, and Agen. We allow ourselves to become vulnerable. We share our teaching disasters with each other as well as our triumphs, and there are many of both. This work with comprehensible input is a big deal to us and it should be because it is our profession. This way of teaching requires work, not talk. We cry and laugh. We wake up at night thinking about what is happening in our classrooms. At the bottom of all of it we trust in what Dr. Krashen says, that language can only happen when the conscious mind is not involved.
We believe that a student learns a language because she wants to, that it has nothing to do with thinking, and virtually nothing to do with translation or with immersion as the term is currently used, which is really submersion of the student’s understanding, a teaching process that is very insulting to the students who learn more slowly than the faster-processing and faster-thinking teacher’s pets. We don’t like it that people get away with actually teaching only a small percentage of their students in upper level classes because they have left behind the others and made them think, quite wrongly, that they can’t learn languages. Blaine Ray has never been heard by those people. But now they are starting to lose their jobs over it, so they are starting to listen. They have for too long built their scope and sequences from the Table of Contents of their textbooks, which makes it that the textbook companies (corporations) determine what American students learn in American schools. Do you know anything about that? Same with Dr. Krashen – he just gets ignored in spite of a body of work that is unmatched. And current researchers like Bill VanPatten seem to dance around the topic of TPRS and CI without actually vigorously endorsing it publicly when nearly everything VanPatten says is a ringing endorsement of what Krashen/Ray have given us.
We who use comprehensible input (it’s best form is stories) place our trust in the unconscious mind because we know that it and not the conscious mind is where actual acquisition takes place. We also believe that enjoyment of class is a huge factor not just for teenage students but for everyone, so we personalize and invent bizarre scenes to keep our students’ interest. Bizarre does not mean silly or pointless. Bizarre is a deadly serious aspect of TPRS. It means that the information will stick and that class will be much more enjoyable. Thus as teachers we enjoy our own classes a lot more. This aligns with Dr. Krashen’s statement:
“The path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.”
Some of us have tested the above concepts for almost twenty-five years, and we are happy with the results.
Without stories and without other forms of lighthearted discussions, success in teaching a foreign language is virtually impossible. When our classes are conducted over 95% of the time in the target language, we actually (we do not lie about it) align with the ACTFL 90% Position Statement and the Three Modes of Communication. Blaine Ray constantly asks for tips on other approaches that might work better than TPRS. He has been given none, and he started asking that question about twenty years ago. The old way of foreign language instruction reaches only a few bright kids and therefore creates a stink of elitism in our classrooms, separating classes into haves and have nots. That is not what we want and that separation of classes has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with intransigent teacher pride. The old ways of teaching languages align with nothing and are based on no research that the ACTFL Foreign Language educators group or any group has been able to locate and share when challenged online. Could you help us with that? Could you show us the research that defends the textbook?
When teachers pick stories, they align with 21st century standards and with research that actually exists. Do we really wish to convey to most of our students that they can’t learn a language? Let’s not do that anymore.