Does anyone know the number of words in the average person’s spoken vocabulary? We in DPS had lunch today and the number 250 came up. Whatever the number is, I know that when we hear it in workshops it is always surprisingly low.
I mean, we can and of course will use some words beyond those 250, but in order to get around in our language on a daily basis I am under the current impression that all we need is that basic group of 250. Correct me on this if I am wrong.
The number of words is hardly important – it makes no difference what the correct number of words is, except inasmuch as the fact that there are so few of them makes a crucial point about how this idea effects what we choose to teach our kids in our classrooms – CI or lists of words?
What is the point of teaching a lot of words if our kids can’t put them in basic sentences? What is the point of teaching a lot of words if they never really hear the language? I think this is a good use of the “can’t see the forest (the real language) for the trees (individual words)” adage.
Why teach a big list of words like trunk of a car etc. – I had to do that in a college class once and it sucked for me and my students. Words like collarbone are words that our students may (almost certainly) never use, although after six years of middle/high school French and three of college I went with Washington University St. Louis to Strasbourg, France for a year and, in my first week there broke the bejangles out of my left collarbone on my new road bike and was actually able to say clavicule (probably only because it was a cognate) to the emergency personnel but, en effet, that’s all I could say. Bonjour and clavicule. Besides, they could figure it out because there was an American lying in their street cussing and writhing and pointing to his collarbone anyway. So all I could do there was cuss in English and let them communicate with each other in French because, after my nine years of formal training in French up to that point, leading to a major from WU in French (shame on them for giving me that degree – I didn’t know any French even if I was a specialist in stem changing verbs and if clauses), I really hadn’t heard much of the language. I do remember saying Bonjour to a crowd as they put me in the ambulance, but I remember the sheer frustration of not being able to communicate with anyone at the hospital.
Anyway (nice rant, Ben) why learn useless words, which is shaming to all but the perfect little memorizers, when we could be repeating the 250 so often that our students can seriously and for real begin to prepare themselves for the output game of putting those 250 into various arrangements to form sentences? It may sound like just a few words, 250, but do the math on how many ways those words can be combined, and then ask yourself if our students need to learn them COLD so that they can output them with some ease maybe as early as the third year of study. I mean, in my cases I couldn’t output much after nine years! When are people going to wake up to this?
I would add that I stand by my current position that two full years of just using those words most of the time in our comprehensible input is barely a sufficient start towards real spoken output, because of all the combinations possible.
I know that if some curriculum badge from a district or within my school came up to me and ordered me to teach those long lists of useless words instead of using those 250 OVER AND OVER AND OVER in interesting and meaningful comprehensible input (got that term from Joe Neilson – the interesting and meaningful part), I would refuse and offer my resignation to whomever wanted it, with a flourish.
All of the new state standards are or will soon be all about proficiency, anyway, and if we are not repeating those 250 enough, mistakenly assuming they’ve been “taught”, in the first few years (they haven’t!) and instead are teaching big lists throughout the year, and then testing the kids on those fairly useless words, then we are not teaching towards their proficiency but towards their shaming. God forbid that they break a collarbone in another country after nine years of studying that country’s language and only be able to say hello collarbone to them.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
29 thoughts on “"Hello, Mr. Collarbone!"”
* 025 words = 33% of all English in print
* 100 words = 50% ditto
* 300 words = 66% ditto
The math is crazy. 100 words sounds tiny, but in 2 word chunks there are 10,000 possible combos; 4 word chunks = 100 million possible combos. A few words can say many things.
But can many words also say few things? Things like common messages we use when we talk: to define things, make sure we understand each other, agree or not, make plans, request things, express feelings, etc?
Dave Willis and the Lexical Approach has an interesting activity: learners look at common chunks (word combos or phrases) culled from actual spoken corpus (BBC billions of recorded spoken words); learners group the oft used chunks into categories of oft used messages.
Maybe that’s not CI, but if it earns learners more feeling of ownership in the new language, why not? If you wanna learn to understand and talk in a new language, why not aim immediately for control of common spoken interactions? I don’t get it. Can you tell me more? Say it again, another way?
“In the real world, conversations with sympathetic native speakers who are willing to help the acquirer understand are very helpful.”
Yup. Next year I am going for 3 words a day at the beginning of class – to provide some structure and organization – but I am making sure that each and every one of those 3 words is high frequency and useful and meaningful and all that.
Several times this year I looked down at the word I was giving them at the beginning of class and just crossed it out as I said to myself “They just ain’t gonna need that one.” Collarbone wasn’t in there but many others were.
I think I could look at our district topics / outcomes list (for cya purposes) and make a good list of 250.
Hmmmm great post! But I’ll be honest…when I read the title I thought you were going to tell us that you started naming characters in your stories esoteric names like Mr. Collarbone because that would be the only way students would remember these words lololol. I might try it….. think they’ll remember la Doctora Clavícula???
Do you know where one can access those “oft used” messages from that activity you named?
Yes, great post, Ben. One of my projects for this summer is to go through the German Frequency Dictionary and work on laying out my curriculum (at least for first year) based on the most frequent words. For several years I have used Michael Miller’s Sabine und Michael materials – and they are great for getting started in TPRS/Comprehension-based Instruction – but like so many of the others who share here, I feel the need to leave behind the constraints of even that excellent work in favor of greater personalization and involvement with my students.
One of the phrases I teach is tut weh “hurts” (literally “does pain”). Two very common words that, when put together, enable the student to express a need. Armed with that and the ability to point, they can let someone know where it hurts, even if they don’t know “collarbone”, “sternum”, “patella”, “anterior cruciate ligament” or any of a number of other body parts. (Of course, we do learn the common ones, like “Arm”, “Finger”, “Nase” – but we learn them in the course of discussion and stories.) Slightly OT: today one of my students asked me what the English word is for the bone down the middle of your chest. Shows you just how common “sternum” is these days. 🙂
And yet I specifically remember teaching from a college textbook long lists of words like that. I hadn’t heard about Krashen then, but, even so, it just felt so stupid and shaming. I think some people still do that.
I also plan to cull my vocab list and make sure I’m only choosing high-use words that I don’t have to artificially try to get reps on. Seems if we teach high-frequency words and engage in normal conversation, those words will be repeated enough for the students to acquire them. I “taught” several words that seemed important this year and were in the novels, yet they never came up in our class conversations or stories.
I’ve been presenting about 400 mostly high-impact words/year (plus “chicken” because my rubber chicken is just so much fun), because the statistic I had heard was 90% of English is 1,000 words. If textbooks present much more vocab than that each year, it seemed reasonable to get it in two years. But I see none of my kids acquired all of the vocabulary, so it’s probably too much to get enough reps.
Perhaps a related thought… why is it so hard for my kids to read Blaine’s novels? We read his books later than they are rated (Casi se muere to start Spanish 2, Mi propio auto the last quarter), yet some still struggle to understand. There just seems to be so MUCH vocabulary and every unknown word trips them up. I am beginning to believe that the novels need to be super comprehensible, even for in-class reading. I think they would absorb the flow of language so much better if it were and I’d rather do reading that we don’t have to translate. I think translating to English disrupts the reading experience.
This is an interesting paper I found about creation of high-frequency word lists. He makes a case for 1,500-2,000 words being the most high-frequency.
That is truly a very interesting paper! I was fascinated to read the difference in usage of days of the week–Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday being so often used–and colors, with black, red, green, yellow and blue at the top of the list. I think those are the ones that come up most often in my classes too–as well as the adverbs of time and frequency. I wish there were a way to get this in Russian, where our frequency lists are all taken from text–but given that much of what the article says makes sense also for Russian, I suspect that we can follow our intuition because of what comes up in class for stories, as long as we are changing perspective regularly and at least occasionally changing theme.
And on the Blaine books–I had thought that the word count for Poor Anna was about 200 words. I knew it had to be more for the Poor Anna Russian book. I was making a list of verbs and one of adjectives, and got nearly 200 just in those two. Then I decided to count the words in the glossary. There were 680. Taking away the average number of the “extra” verb forms on each page (I saw, he sees), I still got 520 words. It’s a lot, and explains why it’s too hard for at least half my first-year kids. Someone else here commented that kids like these books about a year later than they’re rated, at least for individual reading. I just wish there were more in the series for Russian. The “easy readers” in Russian, A-level, start with 1,000 words plus the new ones in a given glossary.
Thanks for sharing this Rita. Is this the kind of information one can find in a frequency dictionary, specifically the category hierarchies and the synonym comparisons? I found his closing statement right on:
“But the list can also be very useful in suggesting priorities for apparent synonyms and in establishing graded information for closed sets consisting of very large numbers of items (e.g. the human body parts). Armed with the complex information a computerised list can give, the teacher, syllabus designer or materials writer can elaborate a more use-centred vocabulary pedagogy at the elementary level and provide useful and usable language items even to very low level learners. Until recently, word lists were derived from intuition or from written text sources; our ability nowadays to produce lists based on spoken data considerably enhances our potential for teaching the spoken language more effectively and authentically.”
In addition to these lists of high-frequency words, I think we also need a nice long list, which would surely constantly evolve, of the “goofy” words that kids want to know and giggle at. Words like “boogers” and “creepy”. Hell, I don’t know a lot of these words, but I sure would like to. For some reason, despite its importance, I have failed to research this much. Ben, you have written about this a lot, the power of a good and goofy image in grabbing kids’ attention.
We could all use a nice list to refer to, with at least 170 of those goofy words. Anyone working on this??
Yeah…one word that showed up in a song at the beginning of the year was “bloodthirsty,” and even though I never personally offered it or tried to use it, kids used it at regular intervals, including in their finals, when they had to describe antagonists. Russian students love the word “brave”: “smelyi.” Lots of heroes were brave. Anyone who’s taken a Katya class knows how to say “brave bellybutton.” “Smelyi poop.”
Jim back in the day there was a “secret weapon arsenal” floating around. It had all sorts of categories of weirdness. I think Karen Rowan gave it to me. I made my own about five years ago and carried it around during class that year for quick reference in the discussions. Ironically, it really had no impact. Anytime I made a suggestion from the list the kids sent me an invisible message that THEY, not me, were responsible for providing weird details into class. So now, if a word comes up and we need it, I have a kid who either jumps on wordreference.com during class, or some get on their blackberries with permission to find the word, and we deal with it more organically during the CI.
I agree. I think there are two types of vocabulary we should focus on, and that is supported even in Blaine’s stories. We need the high frequency words for sure. But we also need the high interest words. I’ve heard Blaine say over and over to focus on the top 100 most frequently used words. But then his stories involve cats and boulders and blue cockroaches and belly buttons – none of those are on the top 100 list (maybe cat), but we use those words that are unexpected and high interest to get the high frequency words to stick. What are the most frequently used worsd? The, I, you… they aren’t any fun until we stick them with something.
Back when I had waaay more freedom than I do now… I would tell my kids that the crazy and unexpected things were mental super glue. They get the language to stick in our brains. They liked the image, and it helped calm the fears of those super analytical students who were sure they weren’t learning anything when we were discussing the flying pirate ship, or how Mike Tyson made cereal that looked like ears so he wouldn’t go to jail…
“…we use those words that are unexpected and high interest to get the high frequency words to stick…”.
Jen you da bomb. That’s it, exactly.
Jim, http://j.mp/lexical-approach-humanizing-language-learning and http://j.mp/200-frequent-word-types-100-frequent-chunks may be two places to start. List reordered below includes the top 40 4-grams (4 word chunks), culled from a spoken corpus. The ALL CAPS are imaginary categories; as if we use language to get info, we make sure we understand it, decide if it’s true, then maybe do something about it. Or something like that.
a lot of people
i ‘m not sure
i think it’s
i think it was
i mean it’s
i think that’s
i don’t know if
i don’t know whether
i don’t think i
i don’t think it
i don’t know what
do you know what
it ‘s not a
you know it’s
you know what’s
know what i mean
that ‘s what i
i ‘ve got a
you ‘ve got a
a bit of a
it’s a bit
or something like that
and things like that
that sort of thing
at the end of
the end of the
it’s all right
that’s all right
SO DO WHAT?
if you ‘ve got
do you want to
you ‘ve got to
i ‘m going to
i ‘ve got to
i ‘d like to
we ‘re going to
you ‘re going to
In our lab we do want to understand real spoken conversational English. So we’re looking a bit at these common chunks of spoken speech. But mostly we just listen to songs we like then ask and answer good questions, so we understand what the songs say.
What are high frequency words for teens? I have a list of some expert’s top 1,000 words in Spanish, but I guarantee my students don’t want to say many of those words. Frequency depends on the individual’s social group. When I went to school in Spain I learned zero words about baby care. However, a few years later when a Spanish friend lived with us after I had my first child, “binky,” “rubber pants,” “bib” and “drool” became high-frequency words. It would have been foolish for my Spanish college to have taught us those words. It was impossible not to learn them while Chus and I took care of my baby. I hope to hone a list of truly important words that my students need to communicate their interests. The list will still include “has,” “wants,” numbers, colors, and most of the basics, because those words will matter for any subject. I’m not inclined to include the “goofy” words in the list of words they’re accountable for, however. They’ll probably learn them without having to be held accountable and I want to make sure they are accountable for the things that will transcend the interests of this moment.
Thanks Duke for looking into that. Very useful stuff for the TESOL teacher! It would be great to have a resource like that for all languages we teach (perhaps it exists out there somewhere…)
Ben, I don’t know, but I think I may see a different reaction with using those words more often in classes. When I pulled out MOCOS (boogers) in a couple classes this semester, they grabbed onto the image a little more, and it most certainly pulled a couple kids out of a bored haze they were in. I would love to see/have that list you were talking about. And I remember getting a page of weird suggestions from Karen from the FF workshop last summer, but I misplaced it. However, I remember it being good, but not exactly what I’m looking for.
And I agree Rita, I think it silly to require kids to know words that are low-frequency. It seems a little too tyrannical to me…
This is one of your GREATEST posts in a while (granted, I don’t get to read your blog every day though, and you are always brilliant and inspiring).
It REALLY got me thinking about language in a different way. You are absolutely right… what most students need most is to have the basic skillset /high frequency words down COLD. This might be one what would call colloquial or every day language.
From there, once the students feel comfortable with common words and understand a lot of natural speech/text, they can only continue to improve and reach higher levels of fluency — as long as they continue getting more input.
To me, this seems exactly what Krashen is talking about when he says that the goal of the language teacher is to create an Autonomous Acquirer, someone who has enough basic fluency to go out in the world and get more comprehensible input by listening (can notice unknown words and figure them out) and reading (enough of the basics are comprehensible that the person can start pleasure reading on their own).
Most traditional language courses do the exact opposite… they introduce lists of harder and less useful words, thinking the student needs “more vocabulary”. But adding more and more vocabulary when you haven’t mastered the basics only insures frustration and incomprehensibility — and encourages “memorizing” (for tests) rather than acquiring.
You’re right, what students need is LOTS of stories/aural input with MOSTLY the high frequency words (and, as you said, a few crazy words to add interest). Once they are really comfortable in that, they will have the skills to add new vocabulary/lexical chunks as needed.
It reminds me of something Katzumoto (the All Japanese All The Time guy) said about (totally paraphrasing here) “Study what interests you. 90% of the language is the same.” In other words, 90% (or whatever number) is the high frequency basic foundation and 10% is probably specific vocabulary (most which can be learned better in CONTEXT than from word lists).
Imagine how this should change the view of students about “learning a language”. You don’t have to know a million words and phrases. All you have to do is get comfortable in the basics through input, and (if you keep getting interesting input), the higher levels of fluency will pretty much take care of themselves.
I think someone besides me can probably come up with a better metaphor for this, but we could call the basic level “Functional Fluency / Autonomous Acquirer” level. That’s all the teacher really needs to get the student to. The teacher should also explain how languages are acquired… once the student understands the process, he or she will continue to be able to progress by getting comprehensible input outside the classroom.
In short, acquiring a language is not as difficult as it sounds. And no one needs to necessarily sit around memorizing lists of low frequency vocabulary. If one reads and uses the language enough and has the basic skills, all that will come naturally. The goal of the teacher is make sure students OWN the basics — which are the keys that open the doors to the higher levels of fluency.
While it is true that there is a somewhat finite quantity of “basic words” that one could memorize or know cold, knowing them in isolation means just about nothing IMHO. To me, it’s the same as teaching them verb charts for important verbs. The number of combinations of these words seems almost infinite, and thus almost impossible to learn in a conscious way
I notice that every time I introduce a new “structure” or phrase–word chunk, as it were, even though it may contain words that they already know, in many ways it is brand new—because it part of another meaning, another order, another sound combo.
I don’t believe that anybody really has any idea what should be taught, taught first, not taught, etc. I know I sound grumpy. Sometimes, I believe this discussion has much more to do with our worries about assessment and what they will be asked to do on some test—not what they really know or can do.
Duke’s list looks like a tprs phrase guide to me. I like the chunks–certainly looks like what people really say. Although, in another language, they would look quite different. (Native speakers to the rescue, please–not textbooks.) I would never want to teach them in list form or clustered together (just me) of course. It would seem better to choose a few that made sense together as a good story that has real context and meaning.
I don’t appear to really be in charge of my students’ acquisition anyway. Their brains are. I just kind of help them along and hope. I don’t want to sound negative. I like lists, but they’ve never worked for me. I often think of the chunks that I choose as anchors for stories/comprehensible input–merely that. It is all of the other language around them that makes the magic/acquisition in the brain happen.
Jeff you said:
“…imagine how this should change the view of students about “learning a language”. You don’t have to know a million words and phrases. All you have to do is get comfortable in the basics through input…”.
…and the key phrase there is “get comfortable [via] input”. I’m not kidding when I say that my own personal definition of the best way to assess what a student has gained in my class is to ask them and their parents about the class, how they feel they are doing, if they like it and want to go on the next year, how many times they smile in class, if they text in French to their friends, if they like the French culture and feel it is within their reach, etc. I don’t care how unscientific it is, language acquisition is not scientific. We need less measuring and more laughing. So when you say “get comfortable” – that takes on huge meaning for me. Thanks for the post Jeff and especially the stuff on Krashen above.
Jody I saw two wonderfully true statements, for me at least, in what you wrote:
“…I don’t believe that anybody really has any idea what should be taught, taught first, not taught, etc…”.
“…sometimes, I believe this discussion has much more to do with our worries about assessment and what they will be asked to do on some test—not what they really know or can do…”.
In schools teachers think so highly of themselves that they think about “what they should teach this year” or “what should be presented to the kids next”, etc. What hogwash. Either we cop to what Krashen says about the brain arranging what it hears in its own magnificently complex ways, which are super beyond what our conscious minds can ever try to emulate, or we don’t. If we don’t, if we really believe that we need to plan out what is taught, then we are not aligning with Krashen, and I don’t know about you, but, more and more and more lately, I am starting to see that we can’t just pick and choose what we like about Krashen anymore. We can’t do that anymore than we can pick and choose parts of a house and then move into those rooms only. Krashen has set forth a vision that is very complete and unified. We can’t just say, “Well, I like the CI hypothesis but there is that other hypothesis suggesting that the brain will organize the language it hears and take what it wants when it wants – I don’t really like that one because I can’t test my kids on such California hippy stuff. I am saying that we can’t fracture Krashen’s message so that it fits with what we think we are as teachers in schools, thus allowing school culture and expectations (especially in the area of assessment), to kind of put us out of touch with Krashen’s theories. I mean, I really do see a fundamental disconnect between teaching in a classroom and what Krashen says is best for acquisition. Duke and I have talked a lot about that, and yes, that list Duke provided is the product of MUCH thought and many years of his own research and it is spot on, but “does it fit in schools?”, “will it work in schools?” OK, rant over, but that is what I am seeing more and more lately – a rift in what Krashen says and what we have to do in schools and so, as one might expect, we kind of make subtle ignorant decisions in how we plan our teaching that allow us to keep our jobs instead of dig deeper into what Krashen is really telling us – something flabbergastingly important. It is much easier to dismiss Krashen as off base then try to really let his pure CI octane drive our cars, which would put holes in the walls of foreign language sections of most American school buildings. OK rant fully over. I personally think that those who dismiss Krashen have their heads up their asses.
I just read through the entire thread. With (or without) everyone’s permission, I’m going to do some thinking out loud and try to synthesize a bit.
In my opinion, most teachers miss a critical piece of foundational thinking: why do we do what we do? Since that question could be answered a lot of different ways (so students can get into college, to meet district requirements, to keep my job, etc.), let me re-phrase it: What is the goal of our instruction? Once we have an answer to that, everything else is merely backward planning. Even the second question needs clarification, though. At the end of 4 years (or 2 or 3), what do I want for my students:
-for them to read “great literature” in the target language?
-for them to understand the grammar of the target language (and their native language)?
-for them to have “exercised their minds” through the analytical study of the target language?
None of those are my goals.
My goal is that when they walk out of my class, my students will
1. love German enough to want to continue acquiring it
2. have a solid foundation in the language on which to build
3. know how to continue acquiring the language without ever having to take another language course (though they may certainly do that if they wish)
I accomplish goal #1 by making the class interesting and relevant in the target language. The ideas for student engagement, ownership of stories, etc., etc. address how to do this.
I accomplish goal #2 by getting in sufficient repetitions of the basic structures that students should “know cold.” However, if Kazumoto (See Jeff Jones’s post above) is right, those structures will be covered no matter what we talk about. Here is where a frequency list can help me as the teacher, but it should be part of my background knowledge, not necessarily something I hand out to students and say, “Know this.” (Reminds me of the old Bill Cosby routine about his military days as a medic. One day they were presented with an anatomical chart. The presenter said, “This is the human body. Know it.”) Such a list could be helpful for students to see that they are acquiring the basic building blocks of the language or for students who miss a lot to have as a guide. As an analogy we could think of mixing concrete: cement (the “goofy” words), aggregate (the basic chunks of language), water (the flow of personalization) and chemical admixture (classroom management). The end result – if we allow time to “cure” – is something strong and functional; it can even be beautiful. Later we can adorn this foundational construction with other ornaments, but if the basic structure is sound it will stand the test of time. After all, the Pantheon in Rome is built of unreinforced concrete and has stood for centuries.
I accomplish the third goal by talking explicitly at some point (or some points along the way) about why I teach using TPRS/CI and giving students ideas about how they can continue to learn on their own. Recently in a language forum I contribute to, there was a great deal of “advice” (read: criticism) that this person – a non-native speaker of English – needs to “go take a language course” and “study grammar”. My advice was:
You are correct that a language course will not take you to native fluency. However, neither will continually repeating mistakes because you are trying to give output beyond your ability. A language course can help you. Beyond that, the single most important element in learning a language (first, second, third or beyond) is “Comprehensible Input”, that is target language that you understand. My suggestion is to do the following:
1. Get yourself some simple English books (so that you understand at least 90% of the words on each page) and read, read, read.
2. Get yourself some videos that you can understand and watch, watch, watch. (Hint: watch in the Original Version with German subtitles; watch films that you already know extremely well in German)
3. Get yourself some English-language songs that you understand and listen, listen, listen.
4. Join a German-American or German-English club (if there is one) or start a club (if there isn’t one) where you live and interact with native speakers. The best way to start out is for English speakers to speak English and German speakers to speak German. Be sure the person talking to you makes it understandable. No fair simply speaking the other person’s language until you can’t help yourself and it just falls out of your mouth without consciously trying.
5. Whenever possible put yourself in an English-speaking environment and insist that the people speak English to you. Go to England. Visit America. Vacation in Australia or New Zealand.
In all of this pay active attention to meaning primarily, but also to form secondarily.
The consensus that I think I am hearing throughout the discussion is that because we don’t know the order of acquisition for any individual and do know that lists of non-contextualized words don’t further acquisition, we need to “give students the whole language the whole time” (Susan Gross) in a comprehensible, relevant, engaging and personalized way, and the rest will take care of itself.
Now if I could just be sure of what was in every instance comprehensible, relevant and engaging to each of my students at every moment, I would be home free. 🙂
Thanks, Mr. Harrell–I think you’ve got it–nice synthesizing!
Perfectly expressed Robert. No, it is expressly NOT my goal that my kids, when they graduate, are all going to have a thorough knowledge of French grammar (think about that…) or of 19th century French poetry. That is because few of them can do that. Or, more precisely, they didn’t sign up for my class to become that. They signed up to learn how to speak and understand, and to a lesser extent, read and write, French.
I am not an elitist. That shit ended the day I left Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, a school that divides the community of Columbia, South Carolina like a meat cleaver along racial and economic lines, to head for the beach to go to Myrtle Beach High School.* I’ve never looked back from my commitment to public education, but I have looked everywhere for a way to reach ALL those kids, not just the rich and the white. Thank you, Robert. If I may just comment on your last line:
“…now if I could just be sure of what was in every instance comprehensible, relevant and engaging to each of my students at every moment, I would be home free…”.
Of course you and I both know that as long as it’s comprehensible, we are o.k…. we need not fret if our instruction is not always relevant and engaging. We teach 25 classes each week and we aren’t going to knock it out of the park each time. We can all relax now. Summer is here. We are taking baby steps in the direction of the creation of our dream jobs. We are learning more each day. We are getting better at delivering CI to our kids each day. We no longer teach with a sense of urgency mixed with frustration so that our kids can know, because it was SO important, that “in the past tense, when the helping verb is avoir, the past participle agrees with any preceding direct object, including relative pronoun objects.” We know, particularly, that our minds have locked onto something real. We are indeed blessed now that we can RECOGNIZE and now IMPLEMENT this stuff into our teaching.
*Ironically, a few miles from where I began my career in SC is now a vibrant group dedicated to getting CI right in Irmo Schools, the best public schools in the state. Their leader is Michel Baker and she is actually having a workshop this month in Columbia, which I find very gratifying, with Liz Hughes coming down from Breckenridge, CO. Here is the link if you want to get that training as well as 3 hours of graduate/recertification credit:
Unfortunately, there are teachers out there who expect those other results that I mentioned. No wonder they are frustrated!
Here’s an interesting tidbit of information I came across today. In the article “The Development of Oral Proficiency During a Semester in Germany” (Martina U. Lindseth in Foreign Language Annals, vol. 43 no. 2, Summer 2010), the author describes a study done with university students on the impact of a semester in Germany. What caught my eye, though, was how far and how quickly students progress: “It is clear from the pre-program OPI levels that the average rating at the end of 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-semester college-level language courses is Intermediate Low.” (p. 251) Since the normal equivalent is one semester college = one year high school, I can expect my 4th-year students to function, on average, at Intermediate Low. (End of third semester college)
There was another article in the same issue about “Maximizing the Use of Target Language Literature”. When I get some time I’m going to summarize it; there were some good insights there. One interesting quote, “‘there is scarcely a right or wrong text for a particular learning level, but there are definitely right or wrong tasks applied to a text.’ ([Swaffar and Arens], 2005, p. 61) In fact, Swaffar and Arens proposed using the same text with different levels of students, provided it is accompanied by level-appropriate tasks and . . . activation [of learner’s background and personal information].” (p. 218)
Robert do they define the term “task” in the second article?
Also Robert ACTFL places intermediate mid as passing the AP exam. I personally think that intermediate low would be reflected in a grade of 3 on the exam, and intermediate mid as a 4 or 5. I am now convinced that, with input based methods, it is no longer possible to talk about proficiency levels in terms of seat time. It is all a reflection of the student and what they have taken from the mass of comprehensible input in their class and now, from accessing the internet to learn languages in ways that have never happened before, with so many great things happening on the internet to instruct kids in language, and with kids learning to write by texting each other in French, and stuff like that. I remember being genuinely surprised last year when some kids told me that they text each other in French a lot! It’s changing so fast. Using a pacing guide attached to a book is looking just more and more bogus.
Ben, thanks for the clarification on Intermediate Mid. Now that I think about it, Jason Fritze once (or more than once) said that the majority of students in high school will be Novice High at the end of four years.
As far as the “tasks” from the other article are concerned . . . The example given was for a Spanish text, Apocalipsis. The primary examples of tasks were for intermediate students. Here is the first task: The instructor introduces the author and title of the story. Then the instructor elicits from students a definition of apocalipsis. With a partner, students brainstorm a list of apocalyptic short stories, novels, or movies. As a class, the students pool this list and then together select one of the examples as the class favorite. Based on this example, students answer the following questions with their partners:
1. When did the events occur? Where do the events occur?
2. What is the central conflict? What threatens to destroy the world?
3. How is the conflict resolved? Does the human race survive?
As a follow-up students report their answers while the instructor summarizes the on the board.
Then the author gave examples of modifying the tasks for other instructional levels. At the “Beginner Level” (author’s term):
-To learn vocabulary students complete a pre-reading task in which they match the vocabulary to cognate-laden definitions. Once students understand the vocabulary, the instructor can use the terms to elicit appropriate background knowledge about common characteristics of a science fiction story. If language proficiency is a concern, the instructor can provide a checklist of possible answers and have students select from the list.
-So that students become familiar with the actual organization of a text, the instructor gives students an unordered list of the main stages of the story . . . and asks them to predict their order. This list uses words from the story itself to introduce new vocabulary from the text in small chunks. Then, while reading the text, students check the accuracy of the order they predicted. The class compares answers to ascertain that all students understand . . . .