Tina’s admins want to see more speech output in beginners. They misunderstand. If it takes a child up to five years or more to be able to speak, how then might seventh graders speak after twenty or thirty hours? Over the years we have had some nice posts on this topic. This one is from Nathaniel Hardt:
In Massachusetts (maybe there is something similar in your state), Stage 1 students are expected to “use selected words, phrases, and expressions with no major repeated patterns of error.” Sentences are not expected until Stage 2.
Students are not expected to reach proficiency stage 1 until the end of grade 4 if they start L2 in Kindergarten or 1st grade. (Those who start a sequential language program in grade 6 are expected to reach Stage 1 at the end of grade 8.) Stage 2 is expected to be reached in grades 8 (if they start in K) and 10 (if they start in 6th). So we allow quite a bit of time to transition from words into sentences.
Second, We use an interactive, student-centered process to teach the grammatical relationships to a particular verb (has). By focusing on “who?” we lead students to intuitively and automatically identify the subject of the verb (who has?). By focusing on “how many?” we are teaching numbers as well as helping them to unconsciously respond to the morphemes for number (-s in cuántos) and gender (cuántos vs. cuántas). Note the combination of buzz words and linguistic analysis.
Third, we start simple and make sure that our students understand us. This will motivate them to do their best. If they do not understand they will become discouraged and give up. Their success in understanding will motivate them to speak.
Fourth, we work with complete sentences. A complete sentence is a conjugated verb and whatever is needed to complete the verbal idea. Structures used are very often either complete sentences or the kernels of a complete sentence. Working with your structures and family vocabulary a complete sentence that might be likely to develop is “He has a sister.”
Fifth, after declaring a complete sentence statement you use circling to help students process this complete sentence in a variety of ways. In the following example, the students must focus successively on the truth value of the complete sentence (yes/no) and on the object of the verb.
Statement: Tiene una hermana. (He has a sister.) [The teacher speaks in complete sentence]
Q. How many sisters does he have? [The teacher is helping students to process one aspect of the complete sentence]
A. One. [Important feedback: student is not responding in complete sentences, so teacher will model again, in the interrogative form]
Q. Does he have a sister?
A. Yes. [Normal conversation would not require a complete sentence here, but teacher keeps modeling]
Q. Does he have two sisters?
That’s correct [encouragement]. He does not have two sisters; he has one sister.
Q. Does he has one or does he have two?
A. He has one. [The complete answer here is a complete sentence. Some students may be able to give this.]
By circling the verb you may find that more students are able to respond with a complete sentence
Q. He has one or he doesn’t have one?
A. He has one. [Complete sentence.]
Q. Does he need a sister?
Q. Does have a sister or does he need a sister?
A. He has a sister. [Complete sentence with direct object noun.]
If we decide to name the subject we will be considering the complete sentence in yet another way. Note that by calling it “modeling” we are showing that we are in touch with current modes of thinking. We are giving lots of meaningful input, but this may not register as essential for everyone.
Sixth, although the focus is on a single complete sentence, repeating the question with slight variations challenges the students to process multiple complete sentences: He doesn’t have a sister; he has two sisters; he has one sister; he needs a sister, etc.
Seventh, the value of single word responses is that it allows the students to stay focused on the complete sentence utterance and not be distracted by word order, googling their brains for vocabulary, self-editing utterances for grammaticality, or deliberating the proper pronunciation. This is similar to using calculators to do the calculations in higher level math problems so that students can focus on a complete mathematical thought.
Eighth, when we speak to the students in such a way that they must try to understand the message, and not focus so much on responding to it in the target language, we engage our students in higher-level thinking that is natural. Forced speech output in language acquisition is unnatural and impossible. Speech output will eventually emerge but not because of rote memorization of complete sentences. Rather, we skillfully lead our students by playful analysis of many complete sentences to the point of spontaneously producing their own complete sentences because they have been listening and understanding.
Doing this requires far more time than we have in our classrooms, thousands and thousands of hours and, according to Dr. Stephen Krashen, the process is not even a function of the conscious mind. So trying to focus on speech output in class, especially in the early stages of language study, is futile, like trying to shine a light through a wall of rock. To quote Dr. Krashen on the subject:
“Language is acquired through comprehensible input. It is an unconscious process that happens when the learner is focused on the message, rather than the language itself.”