A repost from January of 2014. It’s good to reflect on this topic from time.
In 2013, Steve Krashen said (source below) that curriculum and instruction based on a grammar-based syllabus has the following problems:
(a) the Natural Order problem – Krashen states that we do not know the Natural Order and even if we did, we would not want to base the syllabus around grammar because basing instruction on grammar leads to a constraint on interest as stated below.
(b) the constraint on interest problem – Krashen says that the input must be compelling as stated in the “forgetting hypothesis”, which states that students must forget that they are listening to another language (because Krashen has shown that language acquisition is a completely unconscious process – the student must not be aware of the language which is merely the vehicle but rather only on the message itself*).
(c) the review problem – Krashen states that the first year works through “basic” grammar and the subsequent years review it, because students did not master it the first time, so why do it at all?
(d) the teachable and untaught grammar problem – Krashen states that a grammatically-based syllabus cannot possibly do the job of producing advanced performers in a language.
(e) denial of i +1 – Krashen states that grammatical syllabi cannot give learners true i +1 especially since many elements traditionally included in the beginning classes are actually late-acquired.
(f) individual variation – Krashen states that due to personal differences, the students are all ready for a different i+1 at different times so the “rule/structure of the day” will not be the +1 needed for everyone. So why spend time on it when we could be providing far richer non-targeted input that everyone can grow from?
The most respected language scholar in the world also states in this paper (2013) that TPRS “attempts to reduce” the problems below:
(a) the constraint on interest problem – TPRS attempts to reduce it through personalization and yet retain the targets. So why not go whole-hog and ditch the targets since the interest is SO MUCH HIGHER with them gone? Plus, it is easier emotionally on the teacher, less to hold in our brains as we teach, less (zero in some cases) planning, and thus more energy for connecting with the kid and doing what I would call REAL personalization as opposed to FAKE personalization.
(b) the teachable/untaught grammar problem – through the inclusion of input that is not just the target structures, there is input that is “noise” or incidental NT input. This implies that the value in TPRS is the other language surrounding the targets. So my question is, WHY HAVE THE TARGETS, if they are so much trouble and the kids are basically “learning around” them?) and if they constrain interest?
(c) the review problem – Krashen states that targets tend to re-appear in later discussions and readings. He has also told me, talking about word lists, that if the language is important, then it will come up again. If it is not, it will not come up again. This is so simple – the students brains will retain what they want, just like in real life!
(d) the individual variation problem – Krashen says that TPRS makes sure that the input is comprehensible to all students. But then the fast processors get bored and the interest wanes, forcing more and more effort on the teacher’s part to sustain an unsustainable effort to make everyone understand the targets. And Blaine has surprisingly taken this a step further in recent years, aiming not for just comprehension of the targets but for speech output within that very class period. Some claim that Blaine has indeed taken a hard turn towards output, training people to repeat, repeat with love and patience till they get kids to produce the desired structure with confidence, accuracy, and no hesitation.
In that 2013 paper, Krashen goes on to say that NT input also “completely solves” to these problems:
(a) the natural order problem – Krashen says that grammatical competence will emerge in the natural order as a result of non-targeted input.
(b) the constraint on interest problem – Krashen says that anything goes, so if we are thus able to find ANY topic that the kids find compelling, then the comprehensible input that we do in our classrooms can take off – for me this is accomplished by the Invisibles system.
(c) the denial of i +1 problem – Krashen says that “i + 1 is always there if there is enough input.” So the idea that we should tell as many different stories as possible gives the most input, and therefore all the follow-up activities to check that the students have understood, and to reinforce the language used in the previous story, might be good for “variety” but are not needed for input. Therefore, maybe we should try how it feels to tell story after story. We might find that the kids are less insistent on variety than we think. Maybe we think that they need all this “variety” because our input has suffered from a constraint on interest and the kids are bored!)
(d) the teachable/unteachable grammar problem – Krashen says that acquirers have always been able to acquire rules that have not been taught from the non-targeted input they receive. This is like Noam Chomsky’s Poverty of the Stimulus assertion – “natural language grammar is unlearnable given the relatively limited data available to children learning a language.”
(e) the individual variation problem – Krashen says that “if the input is comprehensible for all members of the class, everyone is getting what they need, even if i+1 is different for every member of the class.”
Krashen offers this quote from Roger Brown regarding L1 acquisition and hypothesizes that the same is true in L2:
“Believe that your child can understand more than he or she can say, and seek, above all, to communicate. To understand and be understood. To keep your minds fixed on the same target. In doing that, you will, without thinking about it, make 100 or maybe 1000 alterations in your speech and action. Do not try to practice them as such. There is no set of rules of how to talk to a child that can even approach what you unconsciously know. If you concentrate on communicating, everything else will follow” (Brown, 1977, p. 26)”
Krashen offers some pointers on providing richer non-targeted input:
(1) Use readers that do not target certain vocabulary and structures. This recommendation has strong implications for the TPRS novels that are written with 60 words or 120 words and such.)
(2) “Loosen up” on class discussions to include only the “appearance” of 100% comprehensibility. Krashen cites Blaine Ray and Contee Seely as promoting 100% comprehensibility and suggests that we loosen up to include some “noise” in the input. Noise and “the Din” (search this site for that word) are in my view vastly under appreciated and misunderstood aspects of what constitutes real language learning and they need not be.
(3) Use realia and pictures to “loosen up” since we do not have to translate everything.
(4) Accept that acquirers might see a picture and hear “walk” and think that it means “go”. Krashen asserts that this is common in language acquisition and not to be feared. Why? It is because in non-targeted input students will get more repetitions in many contexts that will help them nudge their understanding of the meaning of the word closer to reality. This is what happens in L1 acquisition. Krashen says that not only the meaning but the grammatical properties of the word are thus nudged closer to true acquisition over repeated exposures in multiple different contexts.
*the failure to appreciate this fact – that the student must be focused on the message and not the on its delivery system, is in my mind the BIGGEST FAILURE OF MOST LANGUAGE TEACHERS in their profession. They intellectualize, parse, break down into small pieces, what cannot be broken down. Then they test their students on what cannot be memorized. They take the engine apart and lay it on the garage floor instead of just enjoying driving it down the road.