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58 thoughts on “ESOL/EFL”

  1. I’ll start the discussion. Why is it that, when confronted with the simple fact of the lack of a common L1, everything that we know about second language acquisition crumbles relative to ESOL/EFL? Why haven’t we been able to muster up at least a blind date between WL and ESOL/EFL teachers?

    1. Two guesses:
      -Because question posters become really cumbersome without a shared L1?
      -Because Step 1, establishing meaning, becomes really cumbersome without a shared L1?
      When you think about it that way, we have it really easy using TPRS in the typical WL classroom. Imagine life without posters or Step 1. Ouch!

  2. Ah Ben – we love you, we’re just a bit fragmented, that’s all. The guy AJ Hoge who runs an online school called Effortless English Club recommends CI methods including TPR and TPRS. He’s here

    I think, for EFL, the Cambridge CELTA method is so dominant, and it is quite a brainwashing programme they run, which teaches you nothing about how we acquire languages naturally.

    Also we are mostly not proper trained language teachers / linguists like you guys. So perhaps we lack the confidence or experience / insight into second language learning to go along another tack – the TPR / TPRS tack. It’s tiring enough just trying to organise ourselves and the classroom and following the Cambridge methods. It is very difficult also to grade our language – I know I am poor at this. And it feels a bit risky to embark on a whole new method of teaching after investing in the Cambridge one…

    Also I think you have to dig quite deep to find the TPRS advice and resources for TEFL teachers. The lady at the Canadian Language Institute in Seville, Spain – who posted the recent job advert – has set up her own curriculum for teaching small private classes to kids after school. She is really interested in TPRS stories etc that can be used for teaching English, but is unsure where to source them.

    I think there are lots of such enlightened people dotted around – they just don’t have a forum to share experiences and advice. And of course it’s heretical too. Cambridge makes a ton out of the CELTA qualification and out of its coursebooks… when with TPRS you can more or less throw away the text books, and get the kids and the teachers to write their own.

    For intermediate level…. I would like an approach for strengthening their acquisition of common structures – perhaps using stories- and then adding vocab and idioms, including independent practice.

    I personally love graded readers – there are tonnes of them in English – English learners are so lucky to have these… also there are free podcasts online such as and the BBC and British Council websites, which have easy soap operas for students to listen to. I would love to tie these in with a classic TPRS approach to allow intermediate level English learners to progress independently.

    For basic levels… I would like to learn how to apply TPRS to EFL. One idea I had was to find the cognates or borrowed English words from the students’ native language. So with Thai 6 y olds it was “I like icecream. Do you like icecream?” Icecream is the same word in Thai.

    I have also got pictures labelled with the word in English… ideally this should have the Thai there too. More difficult if students come from various countries. And bulky – I need a way to have a load of picture vocab I can turn to that doesn’t take up a whole wall.

    Also I would like a system for doing the explaining how we learn languages, how the class works, rules, and for students to reflect on how they are progressing. I find when I try to explain, it’s difficult for the students to understand. Perhaps better to have a whole course sign up pack with the class rules translated into their language?

    Also checking comprehension – how do we do this? I have used the 10 finger rule though not often enough. I was surprised how low it was – some at 80%.

    Small classes – how do we give jobs to the students – will this distract them from coming up with cute answers? How do we get enough repetitions in?

    That’s it for a start…. thanks Ben for setting this space up for us.

  3. The VP is reporting in and flattered with his new job title. I teach beginning ESL (3 half block classes). They call my classes “ESL Transitions” at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas. My students are mostly refugees from Burma and Nepal but this year I also have a larger number than usual of Spanish speakers from Mexico and Central America. I also teach Spanish at the high school and Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese in the evenings at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS.

    This year my high school hired a lot of new ESL and ESL sheltered teachers. The district also hired a new ESL director. The last one wanted to fire me and I am cautiously optimistic about the new one.

    At the IFLT conference in Breckenridge, Colorado I was able to talk to Beth Skelton for 5 minutes. She was going to be there for the duration of the conference but for some reason had to leave early. I believe that she was going to do something related to sheltered instructi0n. It’s a shame that the issue of sheltered instruction could not have been addressed. This is the main way that students are going to acquire English in schools. I totally agree with everything Krashen and others write about the benefits of bilingual edition but something like that seems like a dream when there are so few bilingual people around that speak English and the Asian languages.

    I was able to talk for a bit with Diane Noonan about ESL and she more or less communicated to me that it was very difficult to have a dialogue with the ESL teachers in her district.

    My situation is that of trying to bring recently arrived high school age students with little or no English language proficiency up to speed as quickly as possible so that they can function in mainstream classes. It is very difficult.

    As I have stated before, the main situation I and most ESL teachers face is that of teaching a language to people with whom you do not share another language. The problems of establishing meaning and checking for comprehension can be done in a microsecond if my students are Hispanic but for the ones from Burma and Nepal it can at times almost be impossible. Therefore, teaching ESL by bilingual English/Spanish speaking teachers to Spanish speakers is simply a piece of cake and really not any challenge.

    Most ESL teaching books don’t deal very much with the problem of truly beginning language learners. A new hire at my school showed me the book she used in her college classes about teaching ESL, “Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for Teaching K-12 English Learners” by Suzanne F. Peregoy and Owen F. Boyle. I went ahead and bought the latest edition (6th). I compared it with a text which I find somewhat useful, “ESL/EFL Teaching: Principles for Success” by Yvonne S. Freeman and David E. Freeman. This approach is much more that of whole language. The new hire insists that MLA format, similes and metaphors have something to do with the needs of a student who just beamed into my classroom from the Burmese refugee camps and can just barely respond to my question, “What is your name?”.

    At the beginning of the school year the ESL teachers of my district (of about 20,000 students and a huge ESL population) had district wide meetings. We were presented with Common Core ELA standards (MLA format, similes, metaphors, etc…..) and not a word was said about the needs of beginning language learners.

    I recently joined TOEFL and I am considering going to their national conference in the Spring to see what I can learn.

    What I have learned from TPRS has been of immense value to teach ESL. I knew after 5 minutes of a presentation on System 44 (systematic and intense study of the 44 phonemes of the English language in a computerized teaching program) that it was ridiculous. I know about comprehensible and compelling input. I know that language instruction must be driven by meaning and center around the interests of students to a large degree. I know that input comes before output. The situation of learning a language that is the dominant language of the country you live in means that the whole learning/acquisition process is greatly accelerated. Students must produce some language very early whether they are ready or not.

    We have another new hire named Kristi. She is Hmong and grew up in my school district as an ESL student. She teaches sheltered geography classes. Geography is a good content area for new ESL students. We have had many great discussions about language acquisition. Her language acquisition instincts are very good.

    I have been thinking of making my first post under Ben’s newly established ESOL/EFL category for many weeks now. Ben, I thank you for naming me VP and I will take the job seriously.

    At my school our principal allows us to form groups with any other teachers we want. I formed my group and called it Early Language Acquisition. I proposed that we study Van Patten’s book, “Input to Output”. My principal likes the book and said that she would buy a copy for everyone in the group. Does anybody have any opinion about a book they would pick if they were in a similar situation?

    I must go now. I will have to leave more to say for another day. I truly respect the views and ideas of the members of this blog. This blog and its members have been my main professional inspiration ever since the blog began.

    1. Whenever the question of ELA instruction and the lack of a common language came up in national conferences over the years, few had any answers. It was the shoulder shrug by the experts. Are there answers? Is the lack of a common language a nail in the coffin for CI type of ELA instruction? What do we do? Anyone else on the site got anything? Can anyone simplify the problem or is it unsimplifiable? I don’t want to work in an ELA classroom next year if I can’t bring any change. Help me out here. I have to make the decision in the next two weeks. Is my optimism unfounded? Why is this topic always left in the shallow and wide place? Does Beth Skelton have answers? What can we do concretely on this question? Just leave it?

      1. I think you just take a lot longer getting students comfortable with questions and Step 1. Use pictures and GoogleTranslate. Just plan on spending a lot more time on these things and perhaps often working one-on-one in the middle of class with a sole speaker. It would take the patience of a saint.

        And assessment needs to be super simple, which it already is for most of us.

  4. I have an ELL question. I have been asked to present in our district twice to evening ELL/ENL classes and to a local college once about TPRS–all three times to ELL teachers/undergrads. I am a new TPRS teacher and the only one in our fairly large district. I am very enthusiastic about it, and have been excited to spread the word. Each time I have provided a “mini class” to show them how it works. They have been quite receptive. I have also done a mini-story for a content example. BUT last week I got a question I had no idea how to answer, so I turn to the experts (I am far from that). I told her I had to ask people who were smarter than I! I hope someone can help or point me in a direction… An ELL teacher said she is a push-in and that appears to be the future of ELL. She asked how she could use TPRS with her small group of 5-6 kids at the back of a regular classroom without “disrupting” the other kids after the teacher has presented a lesson. I asked about the teacher getting training in TPRS, but she wasn’t sure he/she would be receptive to that. She loved the TPRS lesson and could see immediately how this would be beneficial. She has no other place to take the kids (and that is one reason, I believe, that some districts are going to the push-in model?). Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks for any help you can give me!

    1. How about a folding room divider (cheap) that can be used as a temporary visual barrier between your group and the rest of the class? Not much you can do about the noise, but that would be true no matter what method she used with them. Good pedagogy is good pedagogy. Can’t let the “push-in model” be the variable that derails the students opportunity to be taught well. She should go for it. I think it can be done. When the “home teacher” sees the gains and the enthusiasm of the students, he/she may be very happy.

  5. Britt can you elaborate on what the push-in model is? I don’t quite get that.

    I can state that Krashen’s work was done primarily in ELA and not TPRS or anything to do with WL. So in Denver we have this weird situation with 2000 ELA teachers using a corporate, hugely expensive book/curriculum in their instruction and then 100 of us in WL not doing anything with any book, curriculum or corporate help.

    So my principal has asked me to possibly next year work as a second teacher to a lead ELA teacher. So I will have more to say about this, if it happens, towards the end of next year. My principal used the word process – she said she wants to see the process of what I do in my French classroom applied to an ELA classroom. I told her that depends entirely on the teacher.

    It’s about teamwork. Most of the our ELA people don’t know Krashen and just follow the curriculum with predictable lame ass results from our huge immigrant population. I also told my boss that I would only do this if I had some serious data collection on it.

    Anyway, none of that helps you in this situation you’re in. I’ll give it some thought and hopefully others will respond.

  6. Some thoughts on the subject of what to do with students with whom you don’t share a language. I am no expert, but have witnessed immigrants learning a language with little or no translation most of my life.

    Having no shared language is a handicap, but it is offset by several powerful advantages. In fact, immigrants always manage to achieve enough language to be functional, because they achieve it through immersion. Your role as a teacher is to faciliate and improve their acquisition. One of my present students is a Roumanian who came here (in France) four years ago speaking no French at all. He was simply stuck in a class and expected to get on with it. He was nine years old and now he speaks French without a trace of an accent. ( He’s ambitious and motivated and his parents are well-educated. I could find many other students who came here at the same time, were not expected to do well in school, felt rejected and, while they now speak fluent French, have not mastered the formal language well enough to succeed in school. ) So, yes, no shared language is a handicap for both student and teacher, but drive, determination, motivation and need are far more powerful in these students than in those who are just there to get college credits. And there’s the immersion factor which is a vast echo chamber to every thing seen in class.

    Although it seems difficult to go straight into TPRS, TPR is a good first step since it’s based on actions and very visual. Berty Segal’s “We Learn English through Action” looks like it could work without any shared langauge. Once a basic vocabulary had been built up with TPR, the teacher could start introducing TPRS stories.

    There are bound to be misunderstandings. There are in any class. I had students convinced that “yellow” meant “door” because I always pointed at the yellow door as an example of the color. And I had given them the translation, but perhaps they were distracted then. Actually, any misunderstandings will eventually become apparent and then you straighten things out, and your students have acquired a new word. That’s how we learn in the real world.

    So I don’t think that the lack of a shared language is an insurmountable barrier. Things may go slow at first, but once you get past the first 100 words, I think you’ll find your students progressing rapidly because the input that they are hearing all day long will become more and more comprehensible and relevant.

    1. Doesn’t Carol Gaab teach ELLs with great results? Although the question of lack of a shared language may not pertain to her b/c I assume her students share Spanish as a common language (am I wrong with this assumption here?) Also another difference with Carol is that she teaches adults and not children, which is a total different population. Why don’t we ask her, or other people on this blog who teach ELL to kids how they incorporate CI in their daily practices?

      In my opinion (totally based on gut feeling and anecdotal observations) the challenge that ELL teachers face has less to do with the homogeneity or lack thereof of a common language than with the diversity of needs for English Learners. I agree with Judy that the lack of a common language can be overcome as she nicely described in her comment.

      From the little that I remember of my ELL classes as well as my short encounter in teaching ELLs, these students bring with them a great array of diverse experiences with them to the classroom, i.e. educational differences, cultural differences, linguistic differences, and socio-economic differences.

      All of these will mean different implications on instructional designs, assessment tools and curricula, and a great amount of differentiation and individualization in one’s teaching, which, if given large class sizes makes it challenging.

      I remember reading and hearing from my professors that a strong emphasis needs to be put on the academic language , the CALP : (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency ) b/c it takes on average between 5 to 7 years to develop that language, whereas the BICS ( Basic Interpersonal Language) only usually takes between 6 months to 2 years to develop.

      My point here is that you would need a lot of patience to get to fluency with these kids , but then again, you also need that when teaching a foreign language b/c nothing good happens fast.

      Add to that the fact that when teaching these population of kids , not only you have to teach language but content in areas where your expertise may be limited. I couldn’t teach math or science to ELLs as I would need major refreshers in those content areas .

      So a lot of differentiation, scaffolding and really individualized attention and instruction is needed . And I don’t know about the rest of America, but in the Great Chicagoland area, the class sizes for ELL is not all that smaller than regular ED classes. Teaching these large classes under those constraints seems to me like a herculean task to accomplish.

      But I don’t want to sound too pessimistic here . I think if given the right conditions there would be many PROS to teaching ELL’s.

      For one, I don’t think you would encounter as many discipline problems as you do in a regular classroom. These kids typically are so eager to learn English ( the dominant world language after all) because they have a strong desire to integrate the American society and culture. So the motivation factor is there for you, inherent and working in everyone’s favor.

      Having had a short opportunity to teach a man from Colombia English as a second language a few years ago, as well as having subbed ELL kids in high school while working on my teacher certification, I can share some of the takeaways from these brief encounters. In my emotional repository bank I keep the many positive feelings and vibes I felt back then. I remember the humility , warmth and gratitude that these people showed me for what I was doing.

      I would teach ELL students again in a heartbeat over a regular Ed high school student, given the right circumstances : a small number of students to teach, patience and CI. That to me would be the secret for success.

  7. mmm… can you teach beginners without a common language? Yes – says the TEFL world. Here is my small experience of TEFL – so you can compare the thinking / approach with TPRS.

    I have the CELTA – entry level certificate in teaching English to adults.. It’s very practical – no theory – for novices going overseas generally to teach in private language schools. (a 4-weeks, 200-hour crash course in teaching English, including about 20 hours of evaluated teaching practice) .

    What is the CELTA teaching? Communicative approach, lots of activities and pair work etc, giving learners to practice speaking and writing. They key was to “grade our language” and reduce “TTT – teacher talk time” to give students more time to practise. We were to write everything down after saying it.

    The mantra for vocab was Meaning – Form [spelling it] and Pronunciation [done through choral and individual drilling]. Skills based lessons followed a particular format introducing controlled practice and gradually freer practice. If we didn’t give enough time in the lesson for students to do their speaking practice or whatever, then we were marked down – having failed in our aims for that lesson.

    we learnt how to…
    – plan every lesson with a main aim – it must either be a skills lesson or a language lesson. Receptive skills are either listening or reading while a productive skill is either speaking or writing. A language lesson is either vocab (up to about 10 words per 45 minutes), grammar (list your structures up to about 3 I think) or functions (teaching language of practical use in a situation – eg ways to complain). Y
    – establish meaning by using pictures, facial expressions, mime, props, and acting dialogues / scenarios out etc.
    – for lower levels talk rather slowly and repeat ourselves a lot. You ask Y/N style CCQs – comprehension check questions.
    – at lower levels any new vocab needs to have a picture or prop etc to explain it.
    – For lower levels, you often teach vocab using the teacher-led method -“situational context” – which basically means telling a story – with lots of pictures to convey meaning.

    There was nothing about TPR aad gestures to help beginners absorb new vocab. And we we warned against giving translations for words. We’re supposed to infer meaning by context.

    Although the Cambridge TEFL boffins say you can teach without a shared language, the reality is that language schools put their newbie teachers with the intermediate classes, and only the experienced teachers (who’ve picked up the local language) with the beginners.

    I found intermediates a lot easier to teach. Now I have learnt some TPR / TPRS methods I find it easier to teach elementary level. But beginners are still hard.

    In practice – teaching beginners using TPRS as a newbie – without the common language… here are my difficulties in Thailand…. bear in mind I got forms and materials translated into Thai too.

    1. Getting kids to make up gestures – they didn’t seem to get it / want to do it.

    2. Getting kids to come up with cute answers – and if they did I wouldn’t understand them anyway because of a lack fo shared language. (actually it’s easier now I have beginner/elementary level Thai)

    3. Getting kids to fill out Ben’s detailed personal inventories meaningfully – they left them blank. Instead I made simplified post card name cards with lists of their favourites. I had to get their answers translated for me too.

    4. I couldn’t use the wall posters to guide students who weren’t literate in English yet. I was teaching 6-7 year olds who were just learning the English alphabet.

    Is this helpful? Having said this, once I lightened up and realised I couldn’t do any particular purist approach.. I’ve found it a lot easier to teach using a CI approach. And learning about TPRS and trying to do it has really helped me be understood – through lots of circling, and through using TPR for new vocab.

  8. Kath thank you for the detailed description. Now I really don’t want to teach those ELL’s next year. I can’t help it if my mind has been swayed by Krashen to the extent that I wholly and categorically reject these two statements that made up part of your training:

    …if we didn’t give enough time in the lesson for students to do their speaking practice or whatever, then we were marked down….

    …we we warned against giving translations for words….

    In my opinion, I would warn any teacher against the dangers of output too early unless it is really voluntary, which in the first few years is very rare (nor can a miler run a 4:20 with 4 x 65 sec. splits at the age of eight years old – for me it’s the same in terms of what is neurologically and muscularly possible).

    And giving translations for words is – oh hell I don’t have a comment on that one.

    I truly appreciate this heads up. I couldn’t possibly go into an ELA classroom next year. Most if not all of my kids would be Latino, and I speak enough Spanish to go back to their L1 with them, so that would work, but the lead teacher would probably mark me down for sheltering the students from output.

  9. I’m totally with you Ben – how do you think I got here to this site? Funnily enough in the teaching assessments they told me I was good at receptive skills classes…. YES because that’s the part of the course I AGREED WITH. These poor Thai students had been studying English at school for like 10 years and still didn’t have good real time simple conversational listening. I wanted to take each of them aside and just chat SLOWLy to them… or give the loads and loads of listening classes.

    Oh we had to give all these grammar lessons where the students knew more of the terminology than we did – but could they use these fancy things? Conditionals modal verbs or whatever. Could they chuff… it was all wrong… so very wrong.

    I was told I didn’t correct enough too – I should be giving ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ correction to people while they’re speaking or summing up pron errors after and giving practice… Oh it just felt a bit too intrusive control freakish to me… I’m too hippyish I suppose for the CELTA methodology.

    A lot of us felt this lopsidedness of production versus receptive skills on the course. Yes you guys have taught me so much. And it’s an honour to be included….. every time I teach I learn a little bit more and I know I”m giving the students a chance to learn their way in their own time… Thank you.

  10. I’m having a conversation on LingQ with a language teacher who is very interested in using TPRS, but he has the following questions…

    “I haven’t seen much on using TPRS outside of regular schools. We only see students for 90 minutes once a week, and some teachers can’t speak Japanese, so they wouldn’t be able to use translation. Given those restrictions, do you think TPRS is adaptable to our situation?”

    Can someone help? He teaches English to immigrant adults in Canada but also seems to be involved with teaching in Japan.

    1. He needs to clarify his question. This topic of when the teacher doesn’t speak the L1 of the student has come up before. I remember discussions about it at conferences and I agree that there was never a really good answer. To specify the problem, how can we establish meaning if we don’t have an L1 to tie the L2 word to?

      So if anybody wants to address that, we certainly have the collective knowledge here to do that. My own response is kind of simple. I would ask if we really need the L1 to establish meaning? Can we use pictures? Sometimes. What about feelings? That’s harder.

      Maybe if there is a person in the room who knows the L1 and some of the L2, they could serve as a translator. That’s an idea that I have heard suggested before.

      That’s all I got. I would love to hear what others say. In general, my position is that if we only need English to establish meaning when we use comprehensible input, and that is done less than 5% of the time, then why wouldn’t the method work with some kind of stretching and bending by the teacher to somehow get the message across?

      What we really need is someone who has done this, of course, like Kath.

      Shirley, we haven’t heard from Kath in a long time, since last year, so she may not respond. I miss her voice here because she is the absolute real deal. She is really a writer and may be doing that now. I will email her to try to find out. Just so you don’t look here for an answer from her.

      I give you permission to share her detailed text above with whomever. It’s my site and so I think I can do that. I just got through using a bunch of stuff that y’all wrote here in a big rewrite of Stepping Stones to Stories (it needed it!) but I got permission from people anyway. I hope I got permission from everybody. If anyone is quoted in there and hasn’t given me permission you can lash me with a wet noodle and take me to a basketball court. Just kidding. I quoted so many people in there. I’ll clarify all this in an upcoming post announcing that a second and much better, like much better version of Stepping Stones is now done. Of course anybody requesting it who has bought either the first edition from last summer will get the new ebook edition sent to them at no charge, because of how shitty the first one was.

      So back to Shirley’s question, I would love to see a thread on this guy’s question once Shirley can get us a better version of it so that we can understand exactly what he is saying. My interest is that we have never really addressed this question here on this blog and it is a really good question that needs to be addressed somewhere.

  11. Thanks a lot, Ben. I’ll share Kath’s post, and I’m hoping it’s OK to share yours as well. I’d like to show him that even though not a lot of people are attempting this, TPRS grows and adjusts and there are real people involved – not just a method.

    Of course, if he finds these posts helpful, he can then join the site on his own if he wants more, especially if this conversation were to take off.

  12. OK, here’s his explanation:

    “My situation is that I’ve been asked to apply for the head teacher position here at my school in Tokyo. I have a few weeks to decide, but I have to put a package together about what I would do with the program. I would of course want to take it away from using standard EFL textbooks, and more towards a mixed CI approach. The problems is that nobody else here is really familiar with this style of teaching, so it would be a big mountain to climb with respect to retraining and whatnot. So right now I’m researching TPR/TPRS/other CI textbooks and teaching programs. I’m pretty familiar with a lot of CI approaches, TPR, Natural Approach, Focal Skills, etc., but it’s just this interactive storytelling aspect of TPRS that is new to me. But for the other teachers here, all of it would be new.

    Our kids do 80 mins of extensive reading/listening, and then 80 minutes with a native speaker where they currently use standard EFL texts and do things like spoken grammar practice, substitution dialogs, structure-based games, and so on. It’s not terrible, and the kids use English with other to some extent, but it’s not as good as I think a CI program could be.



  13. I read this carefully Shirley. This jumped out at me:

    …[our kids] do things like spoken grammar practice, substitution dialogs, structure-based games, and so on. It’s not terrible….

    Yes it is. It’s terrible.

  14. He mentioned in another email that this school has around 1000 students. So there is a chance to make a real impact here if someone can help him figure out how to do it.

  15. My take on that, which comes from lots of encounters with lots of teachers over many years, is that they really have to want to make the change. They just can’t talk a good ball game, they have to get way out of the comfort zones and act by stepping up to the plate and taking some swings and be willing to strike out a few times. Is this guy ready to do that? They can’t get better at this unless they really want to, and only then we can help. Respond, don’t initiate, is my advise on this guy. It’s a sensitive topic and this is just my opinion. But in this CI stuff one thing I feel is true. There are those who are going to walk the walk and those who will merely talk the talk.

  16. It sounds like this man sees a couple of big issues:

    – He does some CI now, but none of the other teachers at his school do any. If he became in charge of their program, he’d need to learn how to train others in CI methods. If they are open to it, there are resources for this. They could get some kind of guide (Ben’s guides, the green book by Blaine Ray, something) and read a chapter every week and then practice doing it every day in their classes. Does his department have meeting time weekly they could use this way? Also, watching videos of TPRS teachers on YouTube is really helpful. Ben annotates his videos and that’s even better.

    – He doesn’t yet do interactive and TPRS-like CI but he likes the concept. I think with Ben that this means he needs just to do it. It doesn’t feel the same as teacher- and content-controlled methods and that is uncomfortable at first. Accepting that, that the kids might be confused at first, and that they’ll need to go much slower than they might think would be necessary, would help make a smoother transition.

    I wonder how open to CI his fellow teachers are? Could they all treat it like a workshop year in which they are trying CI methods and helping one another in that process?

    The issue of some teachers not having an L1 shared with the students must be possible to overcome. Do they have vocabulary lists now in textbooks that tell the meaning in both languages? The teachers could ask a student to write their L1 on the board next to the target language structure, based off of something in a textbook (I don’t trust translation websites for Asian languages), and use that for pause & point.

  17. Thanks, Ben and Diane, for being part of this conversation. I think he is fairly serious; he is the one initiating the conversation. We’ve been communicating about TPRS off and on for perhaps a year. And he does his own language studying at LingQ, which is based on CI principles. But, yes, my head spins at the thought of getting other teachers on board in a situation like this.

    1. I’m a new member here at the site, and the person being discussed in this thread. I’d like to thank everyone for their thoughts, and perhaps I can shed some light on techniques used in ESL to establish meaning as well as the nature of teaching in Japan.

      Our school is currently transitioning to a CI program. We’re already half CI as well stress extensive reading/listening, but we’re transitioning the Oral Communication half of the program towards CI activities rather than interactive grammar-based activities.

      First, I do object slightly to the program being called terrible above. Since our classes are 100% in English, students are getting a lot of CI regardless of what we do. Most people already personalize their classes and talk about the students a lot and do PQA-type activities. There is a strong demand in Japan for interactive communicative activities, but a strong reluctance on the part of students to actually attempt to communicate in English. Structured activities like substitution dialogues have been used in the past to give students a chance to speak and interact in English. I agree, however, that focusing on trying to get students to talk to each other is not the best strategy. As well though, it would be impossible to overestimate the shyness of some of the students we deal with as well as the anxiety they feel when asked to do something that isn’t scripted out for them. Students also generally dislike being the centre of attention, dislike having their personal information shared in class, and are extremely reluctant to volunteer for anything, particularly anything that would involve them standing up in front of the class and doing something like answering questions, or drawing on the board. This applies as well to suggesting “cute” or “interesting” ideas to stories, as volunteering ideas opens them up to the potential criticism of their peers. At any rate, I would prefer the term “not great” to “terrible” 🙂

      As for ESL, establishing meaning in English is not really a challenge. ESL teachers have no choice. We use pictures, gestures, context, and many other things to establish meaning. One thing to bear in mind though is that we rarely encounter true beginners. At most, we have false beginners who don’t appear to be able to say anything, but who have a passive understanding of several hundred or more words and passive understanding of some basic grammatical structures. The problem is that establishing meaning takes a lot of time when you only use the target language and really most meanings will still be fuzzy and ambiguous to many students.

      The Focal Skills program (where MovieTalk comes from) was/is an immersion program which didn’t use students’ native languages. The AUA Thai program in Bangkok is an immersion program which doesn’t use the students’ native languages. It’s certainly possible, but it requires time, and it requires students to have a certain level of comfort with ambiguity. Most Japanese-language schools for foreigners in Japan have to teach entirely in Japanese, including explaining/demonstrating grammar.

      So, for example, in a TPRS class you can write “has never been” on the class and just tell them what it means. In an ESL (or FSL, or JSL) class, you have to use the language students have already learned to communicate the meaning of this new phrase. And that takes time. In TPRS, phrases are introduced, translated, and then used many times to reinforce them. But in ESL, we need material which doesn’t just repeat the words a lot, but also helps to progressively clarify their meaning as you go through the class. Either that, or we just need more time to establish meaning before doing a story. We also have to accept that we won’t get 100% comprehension. Expecting 100% comprehension in an ESL class is unrealistic. Pop-up grammar is also doable only in English. ESL teachers are generally very experienced at giving very short and simple grammar explanations in English. There’s really no alternative as it’s impossible to give complicated grammar explanations in English to beginning ESL students.

      In an EFL context like Japan, establishing meaning of target phrases is not that big a problem, as you can have target phrases translated and put up on a poster. However, since most foreign teachers in Japan don’t speak Japanese, writing the translations of new words on the board is not really possible, which can limit students’ creativity. And of course, TPRS-style translation reading is not possible.

      The CELTA was mentioned above, and it shouldn’t be confused with ESL. CELTA is a 120 hour certificate designed to train people to teach in private language schools either in English-speaking countries or abroad, but primarily abroad. CELTA-trained teachers learn to present a particular kind of lesson. But it should also be remembered that CELTA-trained teachers are rarely providing a person’s entire language education. They are there to provide students with classes where they get to speak a lot.

      Since my background is in ESL, I’m used to doing everything in the target language (English) including grammar (show, don’t tell). However, as an EFL teacher in Japan and now that I’ve learned Japanese reasonably well, I see the merits of using the students’ target language in class. The main challenges of using TPRS in ESL environments are that you can’t establish meaning so quickly and you need stories which don’t just use the target structures but help to clarify their meaning. The main challenges of using TPRS when you don’t speak the students’ native language are essentially similar, but you can mitigate these somewhat by having a qualified person translate the day’s target expressions.

      Our transition has generally been going well. I appreciate the discussion people had on behalf of our program, and if there are other people involved in ESL/EFL, it would be great to share ideas on implementing CI in class.


  18. Alisa Shapiro

    Such a complex issue. What works for a group of professional adults in Japan won’t necessarily work in a public K-12 classroom.
    When I taught in the Chicago Public Schools in the early 90’s, I had 35 2nd graders from 17 countries. All first generation immigrants. Only a handful spoke Spanish (which I speak). The pedagogical model was Sheltered English plus bilingual support in the p.m. Students from school dominant language groups (Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese (don’t remember which) and a few others) were pulled out for native language instruction in the afternoons, and the rest – the stragglers and singletons – got straight-up ESL. I then taught the 1st-2nd grade Spanish Bilingual curriculum in the p.m.
    Wouldn’t it be great if students were sorted by language, not by age/grade, and a native bilingual spkr could teach all the (multiage) kids using T/CI? (Establishing meaning wouldn’t be an issue.) If the ELL classes have a few dominant language groups, perhaps they can be sorted this way, in order to match the Ss w/a teacher who can best serve their needs? Dreaming is free!
    Issues of prior schooling and literacy are huge in this ELL population. It really must be looked at case by case, student by student, as Sabrina mentioned. Rural and urban backgrounds are part of the puzzle.
    Sabrina pointed out the BICS/CALP dichotomy – but people need the BICS first! How many times have you talked to someone from another country – especially China, who studied a whole career in English there but can hardly converse face to face? Schools want ‘all business’ – Math, Science, Social Studies, Lang Arts – but it’s just too much for most novice-low-mids.
    Back in the day when I taught 2nd, lots of those kids had the profile Sabrina mentions – first generation, parents working the swing shift, no literacy materials at home (yet), barely scraping by. Being fresh outta grad school, I experimented w/lots of Whole Language strategies – including Language Experience Approach (LEA)- eliciting a repetitive story based on real life from the kids and writing it on chart paper, then reading it back. No c’ter or Smartboard, but we did our best.
    My most important task was to establish relationships, demonstrating that this new country was safe, interesting, worthwhile, supportive, patient and kind, and that I believed in their success.
    I also saw to it that my kids got public library cards, and read with them (some) there after school.

  19. Alisa Shapiro

    Also, when I lived in Israel 25+ yrs ago, I was in an Ulpan, intensive Hebrew language course. Ulpan is part of the country’s immigrant absorption plan.
    Since I already spoke the language, I was in university advanced level w/lots of reading/writing, but the govt provides such programs for the many & diverse immigrants of all ages. It’s like 5+ months of intensive language plus cultural activities & field trips, etc. All this before you go into an Israeli school (or university). You start wherever you are upon arrival – from novice all the way up. Only when you’re ready/able do you transition to regular school conducted in Hebrew.
    There are folks from all over the world in those Ulpan classes. They take it slow and keep it very social. It wasn’t (isn’t) T/CI techniques – as far as I know!, but there is exposure to written word (right to left letter system) and reading is integrated. It’s definitely ‘functional’ – uses street signs, forms, songs, clips, etc., like Carol G when she’s imparting survival skills to the baseball players. There are ‘easy’ newspapers and radio broadcasts (I’m sure there’s tons more digital media now) developed/adapted especially for language learners, since this was/is a national issue.

  20. Just a slight clarification – our school in Japan isn’t for adults, it’s for teens aged 12 – 18.

    As for the program in Israel, that sounds like a typical second language program. Not CI per se, but essentially CI since everything is in the target language. However, most second language programs (ie immersion programs) still focus on trying to get students to use the language with each other rather than expose them to a lot of language. Many programs don’t even include FVR.

    1. I’m not super knowledgeable about the integration program in Israel, but by most accounts I’ve read, their Hebrew language training has been quite successful. Full-time immersion programs tend to work regardless of the techniques used. It’s just a matter of how quickly the program works, and how far the student can get.

        1. True, I haven’t really dealt with students in poverty, which I’m sure presents a tremendous number of challenges. I’ve only worked in Canada and Japan where that is not as much of an issue as it is in the US.

          And motivation is no doubt a factor. But you immerse anybody in the target language 5 or 6 hours a day for several months, or a year, and they will improve, even if they’re not that motivated.

          1. An important distinction between immersion and what we do in FL (mainly because we lack time): we strive for targeted, transparent CI. We also strive to make it as compelling as possible. A teacher’s comprehensible message is no good if it’s boring and/or not personally meaningful, and thus not heard. Immersion is not nearly as comprehensible (not as transparent) as TPRS. That means that it takes longer for immersion kids to acquire accurate form-meaning links. These are main reasons that immersion takes so much time and also a likely reason for why kids don’t obtain more advanced accuracy.

          2. I agree. Comprehensible input isn’t merely using the target language, it’s using the target language at the pace and comprehension of the students. Better yet, about something that interests them and offers plenty of meaningful, varied repetition of a few new pieces of language at a time.

            I have an example of motivated students, but not comprehensible enough language input for acquisition: I have been attending a Chinese church for several months. (I really enjoy it!) Preaching, etc. is done in both Chinese with simultaneous translation to English, or vice versa, depending on the primary language of the speaker. There are some English-speaking adults in the congregation who are very interested in Chinese, and they’ve attended for many years. Yet the Chinese input is so far beyond their comprehension level, and comes at them too fast even with the translation, for them to get much from it. They know a few words here & there. They’d need a beginner class that is slow and tailored to their comprehension before such a heavy amount of target language would be useful to them. (I’ve offered to provide that class, but no takers yet.) Vice versa with some of the Chinese-speaking adults.

          3. True. It’s important to note that immersion programs stress that students must be immersed in comprehensible input, not just any input.

            For me anyway, the key point of TPRS is the storyasking technique. This is something that can easily be used in an immersion program. I don’t see the two as being in competition.

            And indeed, many immersion teachers do somewhat similar things. They’ll read a picture book with students and describe the pictures and ask the students questions about the pictures and characters and so on. This works with little kids because they’re interested in the stories.

            The genius of TPRS is in the interactive storytelling, which is a technique I never came across anywhere else.

          4. Immersion can be pretty targeted. I’m not 100% sold on the extensive use of translation in class. At any rate, for some of us it’s just not an option. Either we have multilingual ESL classes, or we teach EFL in a country where we don’t speak the local language. That’s the reality for a lot of English language teachers. Being in this situation forces you to get good at explaining things simply and clearly in the target language. But there are certainly times when the students just can’t get something, and you can’t explain it to them in a way they can understand, and you both have to sort of give up and accept a certain amount of ambiguity.

            I think the main technical difference is that in ESL establishing meaning has to be part of the input process rather than a prelude to the input process. This allows TPRS teachers to jump right into using new language in a fun way. Whereas, immersion teachers have to figure out fun ways to establish meaning, and establishing meaning constitutes a pretty fair proportion of class time.

            My gut instinct is to agree with David Long of the AUA school in Bangkok.

            If your ultimate goal is native speaker competence, you’re probably better off going for full immersion. But that just isn’t a realistic option for most people, and obviously not for high school students. And many students aren’t aiming at full native speaker competence anyway.

          5. …if your ultimate goal is native speaker competence, you’re probably better off going for full immersion….

            So how is full immersion defined Mark? I know it’s a gnarly question but I think we need to all agree on what the term means. For many it means confusion and explains our passion that the input be comprehended, and not submersion as you make clear in your other comment.

          6. “So how is full immersion defined Mark?”

            At its heart, I guess, immersion involves learning the language directly, without reference to your native language. By definition, then, this will involve a large time commitment. I suspect that if you’re in it for the long haul, and you have sufficient motivation, and your ultimate goal is the highest level of competence possible, immersion may be the way to go.

            I’m also not sure that using translation will shorten the overall time required to reach a high level of competence. The argument that some people make is that using translation, or speaking before you’ve acquired a reasonably high degree of competence, will limit how far you can ultimately go in the language. It may get you to the intermediate stage faster, but maybe you’ll then have to spend some time decoupling your understanding of the foreign language from its connection to your native language.

            I should also note that there are tremendous resources available in English for learners at all levels. Thousands of professionally published graded readers, audiobooks, podcasts, news programs, drama series, etc. This is obviously not the same for many languages, or probably really any other language. If a student is willing to dedicate the time, there is no shortage of interesting resources.

            However, all that aside, given the confines of a normal 4 year foreign language high school program, using the students’ native language judiciously seems like a good idea. Looking into TPRS has brought me round to that idea. But my experience tends to be bias me towards using the native language as little as possible.

            But switch the situation around. If TPRS teachers were teaching English to native speakers of French, Spanish, etc., how many people would be comfortable presenting the grammar of English in that foreign language? Now imagine that you’re teaching Japanese or Thai kids – now you’ve got to explain the subtleties of English grammar (via pop-ups) in Japanese or Thai in a simple way that kids can understand – that’s really hard. Your own level in that language has to be extremely high to be comfortable doing that.

            I’ve seen lots of teachers who think they understand Japanese well enough to do this, but actually don’t. They try to say what something means in Japanese, but they’re wrong. The languages are so different, and meaning is so dependent on context, that doing TPRS style translations into a foreign language is just a huge job.

          7. …my experience tends to be bias me towards using the native language as little as possible….

            This has been my experience as well. We had a big discussion on it here about four months ago. Not many people went for it. But a few did. We talked about simply using less L1 in the classroom, maybe once or twice for a few seconds in a class in order to stay in bounds completely, which means not using any words that have not been previously acquired so that the students only have to wrestle with the new structures being presented and used in every sentence we say during the class.

            My concern with the term immersion, and I am right to have reservations about it, is that when people don’t do what I describe in the above paragraph, the instruction becomes incomprehensible. We can’t do that, not even once. So in my view on this term immersion, we must exercise extreme caution.

            If they can’t understand or don’t care to know everything they hear, if the instruction is not delivered to them in a nice slow personalized and lighthearted way, if a pleasant din of unconscious processing is not created, then the speed and boring content and seriousness of it all will turn them off. Most immersion is too fast, too boring, not personalized and there is a sense of heaviness about it that it makes it unpalatable to most students.

            Another point here is about motivation and the use of immersion. We foolishly think our students are motivated when many of them are more motivated to get a meal that day, or see their dad get out of prison, or get their car out of the shop so that they can get their mom to work before school.

          8. I believe we should do all we can to maximize CI quality and quantity. And that means translation (of targets and some other personalized vocabulary that arises) whenever we can, even if not completely accurate. I do not see any acquisition harm being done. I do not see that translation as necessitating “decoupling,” so long as kids get ample opportunities to acquire, i.e. a large quantity of CI. That also means grammar pop-ups, which can be rules of thumb (the rules are not accurate in all situations). It all sorts itself out from the bucket loads of CI.

          9. But bucket loads of CI aren’t available to us, Eric. (I never thought I would be in disagreement with anything the Herminator said.) So that means, to me, that the quality of the CI must be as pure as possible.

            But it’s not just about available time and here I can’t believe I disagree with Krashen who also has said what you said here:

            …I do not see any acquisition harm being done [due to translation]….

            It’s also about the L2 purity of the CI. To me the din can’t happen if it has been interrupted by translation of new words – that creates a kind of overload, a scarring. I’m not saying it can’t happen, because it can – that’s the nature of doing CI instruction. But when we have a kind of standing rule in our minds that translation and pop-ups are o.k., we then open the door for more and more, the s0-called slippery slope, and we end up doing what most of us do now, about 60% of actual CI instruction in a typical class.

            Grammar pop-ups are fantastic in reading, by the way, in the ROA sequence that I personally find so easy to use for reading stories, but in my view pop-ups are not for listening CI – they create havoc that we cannot see. I think that had Krashen had the instruments to measure the scarring that happens in those really subtle language acquisition realms when L1 is used, which he didn’t, he might not be so pro-translation in CI classes.

            How do I know that those realms exist and can be damaged by L1? I don’t, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. L1 might be a lot more damaging than we think. I’m just going by feel and also in response to the great beauty, the majesty, of language. Why taint beauty? I know that there is a gossamer side to this work that we can explore. I want to try for happiness when I do this work, and mine the rich veins of gold that exist in language. I don’t care if I sound like a hippy.

            This is my professional life we are talking about here, which carries over into my personal life, and so if there is happiness and subtlety in not using L1 that can’t be had if I use too much L1, like I always foolishly have, then sign me up. We all lie about how much English we use – I’m not the only one*.

            So much of this work is about the higher human values. Why else would Laurie and jen talk so much about that side of things? Why else would people be so attracted or repelled by it? I think the whole process is too subtle for any L1 intrusions. excepting reading classes.

            Mini rant there. Not too bad. Average.

            *Those who have been following the thread on use of L1 vs. L2 over the past four or five months know that we are not talking about using L1 in the classroom for a few minutes to start or end a class or to get to know our kids better. Rather, we are talking about the mixing of L1 and L2 in class.

          10. Ben, maybe we’re talking about different things. I was responding to Mark who was discussing immersion. I am not talking about L1 blurting or L1 tangents. I’m not talking about a slippery slope – I’m talking about teacher ideals, not what may happen in a classroom where there is less teacher commitment to the ideals and less self-control. Just translation. And not excessive translation.

            When is translation excessive? Well, like I said, I’ll translate the targets and then some personalized vocabulary – those words that come up during the discussion because the kids want to know and use them. And there will be words that come up. Even the targets may not be predetermined and this “reactive approach” means an even more personalized curriculum (rather than having teacher predetermined targets). In practice, that means integrating the “establishing meaning – translation” into the lesson, rather than as a frontloading first step.

            I understood Mark to be implying that the L1 translation should be avoided entirely, because the L2 would become dependent upon it. I disagreed.

            Now, when we talk about FL classrooms, there is less exposure to the L2. All the more reason to translate – we don’t have the luxury of time it takes for kids to arrive at the meaning of the word from pure exposure. High quality CI (I take that to mean the most comprehensible you can be – transparent) and no translation are at odds. If you want truly transparent CI, then some L1 translation is often necessary and certainly most efficient. Or you’re going back to a more “immersion/charades model” in which kids kinda sorta get the gist of the message. In a TPRS classroom I would say that we do give bucket loads of CI on the targets.

          11. Eric that is a super high quality response. So much good stuff in there:

            1. …and there will be words that come up….

            I have to agree with this. But how many and in what context and will they remember the new words? Just in that little phrase lies a rich discussion.

            2. …even the targets may not be predetermined and this “reactive approach” means an even more personalized curriculum (rather than having teacher predetermined targets). In practice, that means integrating the “establishing meaning – translation” into the lesson, rather than as a frontloading first step….

            This happens when we move from PQA into a story and everything you say is spot on. We don’t have to work from pre-chosen targets and become their slaves. A lot of the fun of the ride is to let the laid back discussion that we start class with lead to a much more charged class because the kids think that they are the ones who initiated it.

            3. …I understood Mark to be implying that the L1 translation should be avoided entirely, because the L2 would become dependent upon it….

            I wasn’t sure about that. I agree with you. I think Helena Curtain says that you can’t translate targets as well. What a loss of time! Just tell them what it means or if they are EFL kids let them look it up on their phones if they have them and be done with it and move on into the lesson.

            4. …when we talk about FL classrooms, there is less exposure to the L2. All the more reason to translate – we don’t have the luxury of time it takes for kids to arrive at the meaning of the word from pure exposure…

            I can see this point. It is very strong. I have often wondered about how the time we have, since we are in school buildings, affects how we should define best CI practices. As I said, I don’t want any scarring of the language and I feel that I can accomplish this simply by not using any new terms. But maybe the scarring is necessary. The question has been in my mind if it is possible to get through a class with no new terms, so that, indeed, the comprehension be full on so that we don’t lose any kids. And I think you are right. I have to change my position here. Some words have to be let on for the reasons you give in the last paragraph in your comment above, which I will turn into a post because it pretty much kicks ass. (I should have known not to question the Herminator on anything. Final score today: Jackal – 1, Slavic – 0.) I need to read this paragraph right here about 40 times:

            …Now, when we talk about FL classrooms, there is less exposure to the L2. All the more reason to translate – we don’t have the luxury of time it takes for kids to arrive at the meaning of the word from pure exposure. High quality CI (I take that to mean the most comprehensible you can be – transparent) and no translation are at odds. If you want truly transparent CI, then some L1 translation is often necessary and certainly most efficient. Or you’re going back to a more “immersion/charades model” in which kids kinda sorta get the gist of the message. In a TPRS classroom I would say that we do give bucket loads of CI on the targets….

            However, I think I should get a quarter of a point because in theory everything we say either has to have been taught for acquisition or be a target structure new to the students that day. What you have written above makes me finally realize that that is not possible. But we still have to limit new words in our classes. That will always be true. It’s a balancing act, but one that should primarily reflect what you expressed in the paragraph above, Eric.

          12. I appreciate your response. You really are good at making others feel good and confident!!! That is one of your gifts: holding us up!

            Your point is clear and I agree: overall, in a FL class, we need more CI and less L1. Although we say we’re at 90%+, we are often (way) below. And in order for it to be high quality CI for everyone in the room, we need to really limit the amount of new language used in a class period.

            Even when, and if, we disagree, that will always be healthy, because we have mutual respect for one another and the conversation benefits everyone. We can always find common ground: the appreciation of a good rant 😉

          13. And ideally I may not as a result be at my goal of 99% TL but if this moves me down to 96-97% of judicious choices of new words I can live with that. As long as I don’t bullshit myself into thinking I am at those numbers but in reality, like I have done for all the years since I started CI, am clocking in at 70% or even less. I need to have the mental discipline to remember that when I speak English my students aren’t hearing French, that no new wiring is being created. That’s the butt kicker right there.

  21. We keep coming back to the problem of translating when the teacher doesn’t know the students’ language or when the students don’t have a shared language. I observed a private school here in France which had students from around the world (literally – there were seven different nationalities in a group of 12). These were not immigrants but well to do students who came to France to learn or to improve their French. The teachers were forbidden to use translation even when they could, but the students all had appropriate dictionaries on their cell phones. It was almost comical. The teacher would write a French word on the board and begin trying to explain it in French with gestures, mimics, etc. As soon as she turned around to write another word, the students were checking their phones. When she caught them, she scolded them and asked them to put their phones away, but as soon as she turned her back, all the phones were out again. I mean, the technology is there, why not use it? Especially since they’re going to be using it anyway, whether we want them to or not.

    Of course there will be misunderstandings, the kind you get when you look up a word in the dictionary and the correct meaning depends on the context. These can be funny, but usually will be cleared up quickly since in CI we work with words in context. I think that’s the clue. Using words in context. Always in context.

    1. Robert Harrell

      Using words in context. Always in context.

      This is so true. I participate in an online German-English forum sponsored by the Technical University in Munich. People often post wanting to know the meaning of a word or phrase. The professional translators who monitor the threads always ask for context. As one of them put it, Context is King.

      For example, someone posts and wants to know the translation for “train”. Without any context, “train” can be
      1. Scheme, trick (obsolete)
      2. Part of a gown that trails behind the wearer
      3. A moving file or persons, vehicles, or animals (a wagon train)
      4. The order of occurrence leading to some result (order of events)
      5. A succession of something (train of thought)
      6. Accompanying or accompanying circumstances (consequences it brings in its train)
      7. A line of combustible material laid to lead a fire to a charge
      8. A connected line of railroad cars, with or without an engine
      9. An automotive tractor unit with one or more trailers
      10. A series of parts or elements that together constitute a system for producing a result and especially for carrying on a process (as of manufacture) automatically
      11. To give instruction to someone
      12. To cause someone to develop a skill or ability
      13. To drag, trail
      14. To aim at an object or objective (train a spotlight on)
      15. To practice a skill or ability (train for a sport)
      16. To go by train (Amtrak campaign: America is into training)
      17. To direct the growth of a plant usually by pruning, bending, and tying
      18. To undergo instruction, discipline, or drill
      19. To follow a routine of lifting weights in preparation for a sport (weight training)

      So, which definition of the word “train” do we want students to memorize? Wouldn’t it be better for them to come to a full understanding of the word gradually through encountering it in context? After all, it is the context that determines which meaning is in use. Without context we don’t even know what part of speech the word is.

  22. Judy said:

    …I think that’s the clue. Using words in context….

    Ever since jen wrote that same thing here about a month ago I have been thinking how hugely important context is. Context is the ocean that the bubbles in the ocean float around in. Context is the fascia that separates bone from bone, muscles from muscle, cell from cell, giving everything shape and meaning.

    With enough input in comprehended context, the deeper mind can slowly, via unconscious wiring over long periods of time during sleep, produce authentic speech output, which itself is unconscious in nature in that the person thinks about producing a thought rather than specific words – so much input has occurred that the words just arrive from the deeper mind in the correct order.*

    (Circling is nothing but using words in context in this unconscious way, getting the listener focused on the meaning and not the words, whereas memorization gets the learner focused primarily on the words. By the way, I am starting to use the term circling a lot less, in favor of the term “contextualized input” more, because to me it is clearer to new people. The term “circling” causes people to be nervous, but asking teachers to use questions in a contextualized way – and actually caring about the information that is returned – is less rigid. It’s a minor difference, of course.)

    *Re: Laura’s situation, this is the exact opposite position that those in her building have taken against her. They think that speech output can be reached with little input, and quickly, and that the conscious/surface mind can do it, at first via memorization. But that only produces inauthentic speech. And yet they are requiring her to teach that way. I don’t think that they are aware of what they are asking her to do, because if they were, they wouldn’t do it!

    1. CONTEXT! So powerful.

      I’ve been thinking more about this lately, too! When we integrate pop-ups, error feedback, classroom rules, etc. into the story, then it’s so much more efficient and effective learning (and I use the word “learning” to purposely contrast with “acquisition”).

      When we provide sentence-length CI, rather than isolated words, then the kids begin to acquire (unconsciously) what words go together – what linguists call “collocations.” Even better than unrelated sentences (e.g. novel commands in TPR) are sentences that happen within a story framework, which provides a greater context and makes the language even more memorable.

      I’ve had a recent urge lately to try to provide more deliberate input of various tenses, but rather than design a separate tenses-driven activity, I just need to sneak the tenses into the story being created and check for accurate comprehension.

      1. I’d so agree with this, Eric and all! I’m doing my 20 hours of Latvian to be able to show respect to anyone speaking the language in a Russian-speaking town where I’ll be living for the next six weeks in Latvia.

        I’ve been using courses on for the purpose. Some teach grammar. Others have a mix of grammar and sentences. I’m finding that the vocabulary and the grammar pieces come to me much better in the simple sentences that I’m reading, translating, and putting into order. Context, even in this limited course selection, is key!

        I wish there were some simple books, since I now supposedly have learned over 200 words in Latvian. I can tell you my name but not the weather, that someone speaks Latvian or Russian, but not what I want. I can tell you who is tall but not what I need or what I’ve lost. I can’t ask you where anything is yet, but can ask who someone is. Our HF list is truly important. Still, it needs to be in context. I printed myself out a list of the “Sweet 16 +” but haven’t been able to commit them to memory. No context.

  23. Alisa Shapiro

    I must say that as a T of younger kids, I rarely if EVER go outta bounds or introduce new words in the moment that would require ‘code-switching’ or interrupting the flow of Spanish. All the caveats about not accruing a list of new vocab during the story spinning are practically irrelevant to me at this level, so careful I am not to fall off my comprehension wagon. Perhaps I’m too cautious, and don’t cast a personalized enough net to harvest cute answers, but I try to craft my Qs such that I’m fielding proper nouns (people, products, places) or providing choice /limiting options with either/or questions.

    1. Me too, Alisa. I think I can count on my hands how many words got added in class that weren’t a target, or on the wall (I have a lot on the wall and the trend is more for next year… I think it’s a non-cognate help).

  24. …perhaps I’m too cautious….

    Err on the side of caution. It’s a delicate balance. When I embrace Eric’s overall points, it is to acknowledge the fact that SOME new stuff will get in. But it should be a very little bit. I think that is what Catharina does.

    Most of us go far too much in the other direction, the wrong direction, by trying to make the story too clever and that allows in a slew of L1 words. Young kids and most teens don’t do clever. We should not try to be clever at the expense of staying 95% or more in the TL. Most CI ain’t that great anyway. Our job is to make ourselves understood and that’s the bottom line. Who can be clever all day?

  25. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Even the most mundane vocabulary is compelling when you’re wearing giant Homer Simpson slippers, studded pleather gloves with no fingers, and a set of orange Pippi Longstocking braids. Oh yes, when they call me the Prop Queen, they mean it.

  26. Interesting comments here. Just in response to Judy’s comment about the French teachers trying to explain and the students looking at their dictionaries.

    Part of the immersion approach is the idea that the destination isn’t really the goal. In other words, your only objective is not to get students to understand the target words or grammar, but rather the journey is the point. If students are more-or-less following your explanations, then they’re getting lots of CI. As well, hopefully, the teachers are trying to demonstrate the meaning in context rather than abstractly explain it.

    It’s true that they won’t understand the target language as well, or as quickly, as if you’d translated it. But that’s not entirely the point.

    On the other hand, many ESL (or FSL, JSL, whatever) programs don’t have much content beyond explaining vocab/grammar, and then practicing it. So if they translated everything, then the main activity remaining would be practice.

    A major exception is the Focal Skills program, which most people here probably know. As well the AUA Thai program in Bangkok, which focuses on having pairs of teachers tell silly stories together.

    1. …your only objective is not to get students to understand the target words….

      My position is that we want them to understand the target words but we want to use extremely limited translation during a typical class to do that. Ideally it is done in the first part of Step 1 of TPRS, when we establish meaning, and then is no more needed.

      …it’s true that they won’t understand the target language as well, or as quickly, as if you’d translated it….

      I don’t think that we have the same vision of translation Mark. We really don’t use it (very very rarely). I didn’t fully understand the big discussion here from last week, but those are my ideas.

      …if they translated everything, then the main activity remaining would be practice….

      We translate almost nothing. We only translate when needed, and if we have to do that after the first part of class when we have used translation to establish meaning at the very start of class, then we have made an error. That is the purpose of PQA, to make sure that they are solid on the structures during the story to follow. That is why TPRS has three steps – they each build on each other beautifully. We establish meaning on a limited amount of structures, we practice those structures, we start the story.

      During the we don’t go out of bounds. We never leave the two or three target structures during the entire class period. We are not there to teach the language, but only the structures for that day. We only use language that they already know. When we are in good form, we only use structures taught in earlier classes. Thus, we get the Din going because they understand it all, and that is how they acquire, because they are not being drowned in language that they can’t understand.

      1. I don’t think there’s that much confusion. By “translation”, I just mean explaining what something means in the student’s native language. It seems like TPRS teachers do this quite a bit. You can call it translation or glossing or whatever, but it’s still using the L1 to establish the meaning of new vocab/structures.

        Immersion (by which I mean teachers who only use the L2) also aims to provide comprehensible input. It’s not just immersing students in incomprehensible input. However, since we don’t translate/gloss, a larger part of class time is spend establishing meaning.

        Another way to think of it is that you don’t establish meaning and then do an activity. You do activities which help to establish the meaning of the structures.


        Yes, but the above comment was in reference to many immersion (L2 only) programs. The main content of many classes like this is using easy L2 to demonstrate/explain the meaning of new vocab/structures. It might be like half of class time. Or even more. If they started translating/glossing, they’d have to radically change the content of their programs.

        At any rate, my main point was that, since ESL teachers are used to teaching without the use of the students’ L1, it’s not such a big deal. They know how to establish meaning in easy L2. I don’t see this as a big impediment to ES/EFL teachers adopting Storytelling as an approach. We’re doing it here at my school in Japan and it’s going well. As well, MovieTalk comes from an ESL program where it was done with no translation.

        The main difference is that if you need to establish meaning only in the L2, then you have to approach it differently. But ESL teachers already know how to do that, so they’re fine on that count.

        However, I will say that many ESL/EFL teachers may look at TPRS demo videos and just dismiss them because of all the L1 they hear. Some of my staff felt like that. And I too, at first, almost dismissed TPRS because of all the L1 that was used in demo videos.

        If you’re interested in making connections with ESL teachers, I would suggest focusing on Storyasking as a technique. ESL classrooms are already, at least in my experience, highly personalized and full of comprehensible input (not 100% but still reasonably high). Storyasking is a fun and powerful technique that they may be interested in incorporating. And translation/glossing isn’t required to do storyasking.

        EFL (teaching English in non-English speaking countries) is a different ball of wax because of the PPP (Present, Practice, Produce) output-based approach that is standard almost everywhere in EFL. As well, many EFL teachers don’t speak foreign languages and are teaching EFL mostly because they want a way to travel, or because they live in a foreign country and no other jobs are open to them. They may not be particularly motivated to learn/improve.

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