Here is an old blog post from 2008:
There is a line in either Baudelaire or St.-Exupéry, I can’t remember which, in which the writer is talking about some guy who thought that he could get somewhere by “voie de terre”, by land, not realizing that his destination was an island. I’ll have to track that down.
It will come to me. The point is that many of us teach like we think we can get to the island of fluency by land (grammar/translation/the book). We think we can get to our destination (our students’ fluency) by merely talking about the language. How absurd! It’s obvious! We can’t get to an island by land. We have to speak the language in our classes to get there!
When are we going to get this? How complicated is this? What don’t we understand about how we really acquire languages? Is not the work of VanPatten, Krashen, and those guys enough? Do we need more? How many more decades of research do we need?
Look. Reaching our students with fluency, with fluid language that means something to them and is therefore interesting enough for them to remove the temporary tattoos on their forheads that say, “I am not interested in this analytical stink”, cannot be done with the old approach. It cannot be done with the mind.
In order to become the teachers we want to become, we must open our hearts and trust ourselves to verbally interact with our kids without having everything all planned out. It’s the only way. We must trust that the language that we want to teach, the level of fluency of communication that we want to achieve with our students, can be achieved in only one way and that is by speaking to them in every possible instant in L2.
Susan Gross has said as much all along. We must learn to just talk to the kids! Mary Anne Williamson said, “We are not educated in America – we don’t know how to talk to each other.” I have always thought that “just talking to the kids was a simple thing, that all we needed to do was just put down our battle armor and talk to them. Just stop the warring and start the negotiating.
What Susie is proposing here is a massively revolutionary proposition. Thomas Young once said as much on this site:
I was doing some browsing on Susan Gross’s site a few months ago and read her article about her story. This was when I was starting to read more of your stuff and form a new way of teaching that is basically just talking to kids in CI. She stated that one year she just decided to throw the book out and just talk to the kids every day. I relate to that in a big way. Why do we have to do all this other stuff that is not helping kids learn the language and making millions for textbook companies. It is such a terrible situation. We hate our jobs, have tons of papers to grade, most of the kids hate our class, and what’s worse is that they don’t know any L2.
When Susie says “just talk to the kids”, to me that is code for, “take down your armor (your materials), your battle plan (lesson plan), your sword (your determination to reach them by analysis of the language), your stink (your book), and just talk to them.
Why is this so hard?
I think I know one answer. It is because the thing that is confusing us in our quest for this freedom of simply being able to talk to the kids is our mind, which attempts to control what is essentially an unconscious process, an affair belonging to the realm of the heart, to el corazón. (I had to use the Spanish word – I don’t know why. I don’t even speak Spanish…)
Reaching our kids with fluency, teaching for fluency, is really an affair of the heart, and that is a problem for many teachers who thought they got to be the ones in control when they got their teaching licenses. We have it all backwards. We are trying to reach our kids consciously with our minds, when we can only reach them unconsciously with our hearts if they are to learn anything.
Just like that guy who was trying to reach his destination by the wrong method, if I can ever remember that line. If we try to get to Hawaii by land from California, then we are not going to get there.
That is how we are with our kids and the reason for the absolutely dismal track record of traditional methods with the majority of students. That is why we internally balk at what Susie says. We don’t trust the process and so we create all these crutches and we walk around in our classrooms all afflicted and wonder why we can’t get anywhere with our kids.
We really do need to throw away our crutches and just talk to our students. We need to trust that we can do that. And trust is a business of the heart. Of opening up the heart. There is that word again – corazón. Honestly, if there is a more beautiful word in any language, I don’t know what it is. The word corazón in Spanish makes me cry.
I think it is Baudelaire and not St.-Exupéry on that wayward traveler thing. Any ideas? It may be one of Baudelaire’s spleen poems. I think it is. It feels like Baudelaire.