Blowing Up Alaska

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31 thoughts on “Blowing Up Alaska”

    Route & Rate. Those are the 2 things VP mentioned and the 2 BIG ideas all FL teachers should know and own about SLA. The ROUTE of language acquisition is systematic – it’s roughly the same regardless of L1, age, and context. The RATE is variable – people pass through the route at different speeds and the ultimate achievement is far from uniform (unlike L1 acquisition).

    1. Is L1 acquisition really uniform though? Certainly it is on the surface level of everyday speech, but when we delve deeper into more complex word usage, don’t we find some discrepancies too? Isn’t it just that the sheer amount of input is so great that all of the simple straightforward practical uses are mastered by all native speakers. I would think we would see greater discrepancy with more vocabulary and more difficult readings. That being said they all achieve fluency, certainly not an outcome that all non-native speakers achieve with L2.

      1. Vocabulary size differs, yes. There is probably less variability in acquisition of the grammar, i.e. there is a uniform competence to be able to judge a sentence as grammatically correct. Of course, there are exceptions, so maybe we just say that the L2 outcome is much more variable than the L1 outcome. You hit on one BIG difference, contributing to variability of outcome – time on task.

        1. I think that the correlation is that the level that people get to in L1 is comparable to the level they can get to in L2. The time it takes people to get to a given level can vary, but it’s just like the high school debate team. Some kids have what it takes to be really strong on the team. Others (like me!) will probably never get the skills to be effective debaters. They are not likely to be hitting the Superior ACTFL level either, since they may barely get to Advanced in their L1. Cognition plays a role.

  2. This is great to hear. I loved that Martina was Tweeting about VP and Scott Benedict this weekend. Martina Tweeted something very interesting…she tweeted that Vp questioned doing any writing at all with students until the 4th semester of learning a language.
    To me this is the “Flood of Input for a trickle of output” idea. I think many TPRSers need to get with some of the things VP is discussing it makes a lot of sense. In fact at this point if teachers only think INPUT plays a role and our classes have nothing to do with output…I would say they are harming the progress of TPRS! When students get an opportunity to play with the language and manipulate it their fluency development improves and grows. This is the other side of the coin that I think we should be looking at.
    We have to continue to welcome VP to the work of TPRS.

    1. “…she tweeted that Vp questioned doing any writing at all with students until the 4th semester of learning a language.”
      Mike, I don’t have context for this. Who is he hearing say “no writing until 4th semester?”
      Re opportunities to play with the language and manipulate it, how does this manipulation improve and grow their fluency? I can see the interpersonal exchanges allowing them to engage with and process more input and therefore grow fluency. And I can see the writing boosting confidence and showing progress, again perhaps getting them more engaged with the available input. Does VP say that the actual output process improves and grows fluency? What’s on the other side of the coin?

      1. Hey Jim,
        I took that tweeted message as a general statement about the role of writing ouput. According to Martina VP made a comment about that.
        VP does discuss the role of output. It has been discussed in the PLC before.
        VP indicates that output has a role in language development. “The claim is not that output can replace input as the means by which acquisition takes place. Output is viewed a something that can influence how learners perceive language and thus interact with the input data.” To me this is has so much to what we do with TPRS. I am guarded against outsiders that might misintepret what VP is saying here about ouput. We have to discuss output with a purpose and fight against output in the traditional sense. If we aren’t particular about this outsiders will justify old school output practice activities and output drills which VP has written extensively against.
        VP says something else that I would like to hear feedback about. {with output} “They can become aware of deficiencies in their linguistic systems and expressive abilities that push them to acquire more language.”
        Is that an accurate statement for some learners? IS this what we do with timed writings?

        1. Michael said:
          …we have to discuss output with a purpose and fight against output in the traditional sense. If we aren’t particular about this outsiders will justify old school output practice activities…
          Bam! I agree. I have changed on this. Output in the form of a trickle is part of the deal. But we never have tried to abolish output and that has been a misinterpretation by the language teaching community about TPRS for a long time. Natural output that is fun and that doesn’t destroy self esteem has its place. Michael describes that place nicely above.

          1. I am realizing that Krashen must be exhausted! How many times do people misinterpret his work?!
            Just because he says comprehensible input is the only way to acquire does NOT mean there is no role for grammar and output. Krashen has ALWAYS allotted a (limited) role to grammar AND always allotted output an (indirect) role in the SAME way as VP speculates. Yes, it is just that: speculation. Output that makes you pay more attention to input is Swain. And it’s just speculation.
            The clear difference between Krashen and VP (and I am swaying to VP’s side) is whether they distinguish acquisition and language use.
            Here is Krashen’s model (simplified):
            input -> acquisition + output + fluency
            And here is VP’s model (simplified):
            input -> acquisition -> output -> fluency
            In other words, Krashen does NOT distinguish between acquisition, output, and fluency. VP says that output practice of what has been acquired IS necessary to build fluency (fluency means speed AND accuracy of language use, what VP also calls “skill”). Notice: VP is not saying anything original here. It’s a commonly-held perspective of the generative linguistics model. Krashen does NOT prescribe to any theory of language (one reason he has been criticized – he name-drops Chomsky and LAD, but is never specific about how CI interacts with universal grammar).
            Under Krashen’s model, a speed write can only provide feedback and build student confidence, but would do NOTHING for fluency development. VP’s model would support the speed writing practice as a way to develop productive fluency.

        2. Exactly Ben… nobody is trying to abolish or squelch natural output, so the criticism from VP seems misplaced. My students write and speak WAY more now than when I was a grammarian. It’s just that the great majority of it is spontaneous.
          Re your question Mike about VP saying “They can become aware of deficiencies in their linguistic systems and expressive abilities that push them to acquire more language.” I think this may be so with motivated students. I honestly don’t see the majority of my students as having this metacognitive experience when writing. It’s way too early for that. I think their implicit system needs to build up much stronger and their maturation also, before we can expect such awareness. That’s my thinking, with my students (levels 1 and 2).
          For any students of mine who may become aware of deficiencies via output activities and want to strive further for more input, I fear that an equal or greater number get discouraged and shut down (again, if forced to output before ready).
          Eric, I have to re-read what you wrote, then read it a couple more times after another cup of coffee. I hope we don’t lose this thread because I want to understand this difference between Krashen and VP better. Thanks for helping me understand SLA better y’all!

          1. Somewhat off topic but Jim Tripp makes some great points above and it made me remember that he told me in recent private conversations that he is getting ready to launch his own TPRS/CI website. A Jim Tripp TPRS/CI website! Anyone reading here over the past 7 years or so knows what a finely nuanced mind Jim has. How true and honed his insights always are, not to mention his great story scripts. Just saying that if and when this site happens, I will be the first to recommend it to the serious student of CI. I will be a regular visitor, that is for sure. As I get more information I will let you know, or Jim if you read this maybe you can give us a little information, what you wish to convey, when it will launch, so that when it goes live you right away get some visitors who have loved everything about your CI insights for so many years. Maybe you will get an instant audience and that is in your case exactly the way it ought to be. The reason for that is that you rock the house.

          2. Ben, thank you for the very kind compliments.
            Sure thing Nathaniel. I’ve set a date for myself to get it functional which will be in the next couple weeks and I’ll share with you all the url when I make it live.
            The website/blog has a few purposes: to flesh out some things I’m thinking about; a place for me to post scripts and thoughts and readings and song lessons and questions and possibly rants and to connect with others about them; and to sell a few things I’ve created;
            I’ve been inspired for years now at the talent and hard work that exists in the TPRS community. What finally pushed me over the wall that was stopping me from writing more was listening to Krashen at iFLT this summer. It seemed most of the session focused on the composition process. Mike and Sabrina and Diane and Bryce and Ben were all there. Who’d I forget? Wasn’t that session the bomb?

          3. Haiyun Lu, Carol Gaab, weren’t they, too? Some people I saw for the first time there.
            I have been doing 15 min. of writing almost every day since school began because of Dr. K’s advice about writing. 15 min. is never so long that I run out of things to write. Maybe someday it’ll be longer, but for now, the consistency and satisfaction of “did it!” is really powerful.

          4. Could someone post on this session for those who were unable to attend? I’d like to hear what it was all about.

          5. There is a free link to Krashen’s talks about writing…Ben posted it here a while back. It was a series of online lectures…they were great. If anyone has the link, please post again. If not, I’ll search my computer at home for the link.

          6. Diane what about Dr. K’s advice convinced you to write for 15 min a day, if as Eric was saying according to Krashen it doesn’t help fluency?

          7. I’m talking about my writing for 15 min. a day, on a book I’ve been writing for over a year now. (Nothing about students writing intended.) It got set aside from May-August, and now I’m aiming for 15 min. a day. It’s way better than trying to do more time less often.
            Krashen said writing helps us think better (I take that as more thoroughly and looking at all angles). I think that’s true.

  3. I love the image of “Flood of Input for a trickle of output”
    An old university professor of mine came to Central States when it was in St. Louis a couple of years ago and gave a presentation on how his work has changed in the past several years. He is not a TPRS teacher by any stretch of the imagination, but his new way of thinking is squarely CI. He described his vision of his students soaking up his words (when comprehensible) as a desert plain might do, with little visible evidence on the surface. He went on to say that his job was to continue raining input on that plain until it was so saturated that the water filled all of the reservoirs below the surface and came bubbling out.
    He presented along with two other professors from the school, another Spanish teacher and a French teacher, who are all working together to bring more meaningful instruction to their students. I was very happy to know that my alma mater is seeing the light of CI!

      1. I think this is almost entirely true, but I bet we have all seen someone use a word they have only read in speech. Usually they mispronounce it, but that does happen. However, everything starts with listening and it needs to be the core of what we do, especially in the beginning.

        1. My older daughter refused to let us read to her once she turned three. She could read to herself faster than we could read to her, and our pace was frustrating.
          As a result, though she is now 26 and has had a lot of input in English, she still mispronounces a number of words. She heard only herself when she was learning them.
          (She’s very academically smart, and speaks two other languages, but her English is sometimes funny.)

          1. Interesting Michele! (btw, props to you guys for hosting one helluva conference, by the sounds of it anyways).
            This is purely anecdotal and small sample for sure, but of some homeschooled kids I’ve met and read about who did not start reading (in L1) until they were older, but instead soaked up more aural language, their ability to process text later in life was not hindered and perhaps even enhanced.
            Often my weakest students pronunciation-wise and fluency-wise are the ones who labor to speak complete sentences before they’re ready. Sometimes that misplaced confidence can get in their way of hearing more language. They’re more listening to themselves trying to piece together a potential utterance than they are to processing input. Do other people have this experience? Happens more in my adult classes for sure.

          2. I have a student who took 10 years of French in India from a French speaker, no less — her French is hard to listen to… and so many tiny errors that would not be there if she had only heard more than she had been forced to speak. I feel so bad for her — she loves French, and thinks that she is bilingual. What to say to her?

          3. Don’t refute it, but if she asks, you can be honest.
            If she could listen to music, watch movies, and especially read all the time, it will improve.
            If she doesn’t ask, the most you can do is offer her those opportunities.

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