Today my students took the speaking portion of the French level 1 assessment that we use here in DPS. I expected nothing, because rarely have I asked for any output during the year. I have received a lot of input from them this year, of course – please don’t misunderstand that last sentence. My watchword for level one languages is input leading to natural and unforced output, so, as one would expect, I got a lot of output from the kids who were ready to do that, and I didn’t force those not ready.
I figure that, when it is time for language to emerge, it will emerge. After all, in the end, people are going to do what they want to do. They won’t do something because we want them to. If they are not interested or, worse, forced to output L2, they will find a way to toss off what we think as so important as not important at all, and our struggle to get them to do our bidding will lead to quick and certain burnout. And they will not enjoy our class.
There is so much in output that we can’t control anyway, so much really delicate neurological stuff, as per Krashen’s natural order of acquisition. If we who study Krashen agree that languages are acquired naturally as a result of lots of CI, then it follows that speaking will occur only once the brain has unconsciously organized the things it needs to know to be able to speak properly. Key word there is unconsciously. Not to mention the affective piece.
I have noticed that when nature has a really important job to do, it hides the process away from us, so we can’t mess it up. The same is true, in my view, of language acquisition. We can’t fully approximate the natural process of first language acquisition in our classrooms, but we can at least try to imitate that model to the extent possible – via constant CI.
When we look at how a seed becomes a tree, naturally, without any conscious work on our part, or how a cell becomes a human being, then we can perhaps understand how one small set of words can flourish into brilliant spoken language – again, in a way that is natural and not forced, and according to rules that cannot be memorized, because their level is so high that it has to be handled away from our conscious intervention.
I define forced output here as a kind of wanting a level of speech from a kid that the kid doesn’t really want to provide. I mean, how many teachers go up to a five year old tree in the woods and tell it to remember about the rule of positive phototropism? Who goes up to a baby in utero and gives it a pep talk on growing those arms and legs. Just seems kind of stupid.
It is certain in my mind that, to expect to get results when we consciously/cognitively interrupt the natural flow of language acquisition by the frivolous and boring use of English, is folly.
Therefore, when I asked my kids today to speak from a prompt, a series of images, I expected nothing. From some, those whom I couldn’t really reach this year, I got what I expected. I’m talking about the kids whose lives are such that they just can’t sit in rapt attention to our CI offerings each day.
God bless those kids, because we know how wonderful are the pearls that fall from our lips each day, but that they can’t yet appreciate. I mean that last sentence. Our knowledge of L2 is a remarkable thing, all the more remarkable because we managed to learn it, most of us, in classroom settings that were not working in our best interests, to say the least.
But, from those (luckily very very many of them) who had stayed with the CI, to varying degrees, throughout the year, I got back a degree of output that reflected the amount of input that they had accepted over the course of the year.
Some kids wouldn’t shut up, and I had to cut them off. So, as with the writing, I can say that, in general, the speaking assessment was another pleasant surprise. Even though we had not worked much on writing and speaking this year, they could write and speak much better than when I used methods not based on comprehensible input.
I might add that, if the purpose of assessment is to really assess, and to me that means assessing long term gains, not short term (read: memorized) gains, then this experience of listening to my kids speak today has been a very positive one. I can’t say that about the years when I taught without comprehensible input based methods.
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