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Ben Slavic


This is from a comment made earlier today:
…they learn how to read because they are not really conscious of reading….
This kind of reading turns the focus from paralysis by analysis of reading to just experiencing the flow of the images created by the words being read. In the one, the focus is on the words, in the other, on the meaning of the words, exactly as happens in TPRS with auditory input.
When reading input is thus kept out of the left brain analytical hemisphere (focus on the words) and moved via the art of teaching into the right brain spatial hemisphere (focus on the meaning), the students do much more than learn about, they acquire.
Here is another passage from that comment:
…they are just pulling meaning from the text and the words are not really the focus of what is going on….
In the analytical breakdown of discrete item analysis of grammar, the brain kicks everything over to the left brain and it becomes a lot of effort to get what is going on. It is the nature of the conscious mind to almost enjoy this kind of academic struggle to figure it out.
If the locus of language acquisition were indeed placed in that part of the brain, the analytical mind would be happy. It would learn the language, albeit at an absurdly slow rate.
But Krashen has shown that the locus of language acquisition is far from the analytical mind, light years away, in the whole brain, in the deeper mind, in the unconscious mind, where things happen, language decisions are made, at a pace that is millions of times faster.
That number of “a million times faster” is not a product of formal research, by the way. Sorry. What I mean is a hell of a lot faster. Years faster. So much faster that it’s ridiculous. If the analytical mind could acquire a language, even if it could, that process would still be way too slow to prevent life from happening as we know it.
Sorry, that last statement is not a product of research either, but feel the truth of it anyway. Learn to trust the truth of things that seem to be true, because if it seems true, it probably is. Give up your need to prove shit all the time. The unconscious mind is the master in language acquisition. Get over the need to prove that or to have it proven to you, if you are going to book passage on the power boat that is comprehensible input. If you want it to not be true, don’t teach this way.
In fact, if language acquistion were indeed a process that could be accomplished consciously, it would take so long that we would all be well along into life before we knew the language and we would then be able to do so much less in life. If you were to have to analyze that last sentence to make sense out of it, it would take you hours and hours. But all you did was read it, like you are reading this one, and you are making perfect sense out of it at a pretty fast pace, thank you very much. That is your unconscious acquisition process in action.
We can’t afford to analyze a language to learn it. This goes back to primitive man. If someone yelled to everybody in the group to “Run!” because an out of control elephant or other pachyderm, or a baboon, was about to run over the camp, and the people had to think back to what their language teacher taught them as to whether that was a verb or not and in what form (“oh it’s the imperative form” and” oh, it’s in the second person plural form”, before getting the message, it would not bode well for the longevity of the group.
We understand what we read and hear unconsciously because it is the fastest way, the easiest way, and because everything is instantaneously taken care of, the message communicate by the most powerful unconscious mind. Unless you want to take six days to read this post. So fuggetaboutit.
Here is the part of that earlier comment about making reading unconscious:
…they can read it, but only if you read it enough times. You can’t read it just once and go do something else. It’s like doing anything well – you have to go over and over what you want them to learn many times so that they don’t notice it. That is a whole new topic. It’s like in stories, where you repeat one thing like 10 times in a row but they don’t notice it, it’s almost the same sentence, but the way you say it, using slight variations in meaning or different emotions, causes them not to notice the repetitions – we should also do that in reading. I act like I lost my place and so have to go back to the top of the page for the choral translation work, etc. I’ll do a one question spin out in L2 and then sneak back a few sentences to get a few reps on their reading of those two sentences one more time. I just try to trick them into not noticing that I am getting lots of reps on the reading. It is precisely in that repetitive reading, broken up – importantly to give their brains a rest – by those L2 spin outs, that they learn how to read because they are not really conscious of reading, they are just pulling meaning from the text and the words are not really the focus of what is going on. John commented on this last night. It is what Susan Gross calls creating a movie in their minds while reading. That is why we call listening and reading input. If we slowed down the flow of the reading and picked apart minute grammatical details like people used to do in the old days, we would hand the process over to the conscious mind and it would no longer be unconscious input. There is a real delicacy to reading. Reading in FLOW is in my view far better and efficient to acquire a language than spoken stories….
I might add that the auditory piece – the stories – is a pre-requisite for the reading piece to happen. It can’t happen the other way around.
[ed. note: the logical next blog post on this would be the enjoyment piece. Language has to be enjoyable if the deeper mind is going to be involved, just like other important things in life that really count in the safety and survival of the species. That is why that guy who was hopelessly dyslexic and yet won a Pulitzer for writing is so cool. I’ll try to write that up soon. Right now it’s all about So. Carolina vs. Arkansas. ]


  • Brian
    November 5, 2011

    In Ben’s blog post above (“Fuggetaboutit”), two phrases from his first sentence there (“the paralysis of analysis” and “experiencing the flow” got me thinking again about my most recent, VERY slow and thoughtful read through Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If I mention this book any more I am probably risking excommunication from this blog, but this whole traditional versus CI approach to language teaching seems more and more to me to be just a reflection of the much larger philosophical dilemma of modern society that is really the core subject of his book. Ben, shut me up if necessary. I don’t want to distract this wonderful blog community with my, at times, seemly abstruse ideas.
    The Paralysis of Analysis
    “Walk into any of a hundred thousand classrooms today and hear the teacher divide and subdivide and interrelate and establish “principles” and study “methods” and what you will hear is the ghost of Aristotle speaking down through the centuries – the desiccating lifeless voice of dualistic reason.”
    – p. 370, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    Language is not an object that is “used”. Langauge is not a phenomenon separate from humanity, as if it were some “other” that we “use” as a medium of communication. Language is simply our highly developed way that we interact with the world around us. Language is us. Language is our conscious, meaningful experience of the world around us. Language, to be sure, has never been some”thing” for humans to learn.
    Definition of Quality
    “In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality…But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuous stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it.”
    – p.255, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art…, gives the very essence of the world around us – the very essence of life itself, the word Quality. Quality, he insists, is not a descriptor of subjects or objects in the world around us, but the reverse: Quality is that oneness of life that, only in our human response to it, becomes in our minds subjects and objects. Our typically dualistic response to the world around us (“I am me, that is a tree”) is but an analogue to what is really the one Life Force he dubs Quality.
    In our day-to-day lives, it is only during moments of reflection that we call our meaning-full self-expression our “language”. Otherwise its an invisible part of our every waking moment. Our language is such an integral “part” (there’s that tendency to objectify everything…) of how we experience life around us that to divorce language from the reason it exists – to react WITH and therefore COMMUNE-icate with others – is to zap it of its very life force, to remove it from the Quality that gave “it” its very existence.
    Experiencing the Flow
    “In my mind now is an image of a huge, long railroad train, one of those 120-boxcar jobs that cross the prairies all the time with lumber and vegetables going east and with automobiles and other manufactured goods going west. I want to call this railroad train “knowledge”…In terms of the analogy, Classic Knowledge, the knowledge taught by the Church of Reason, is the engine and all the boxcars. All of them and everything that’s in them…[But] a train really isn’t a train if it can’t go anywhere. In the process of examining the train and subdividing it into parts we’ve inadvertently stopped it, so that it isn’t really a train we are examining…The real train of knowledge isn’t a static entity that can be stopped and subdivided. It’s always going somewhere. On a track called Quality. And that engine and all those 120 boxcars are never going anywhere except where the track of Quality takes them…It’s the leading edge of the train of knowledge that keeps the whole train on the track. Traditiional knowledge is only the collective memory of where that leading edge has been. At the leading edge there are no subjects, no objects, only the track of Quality ahead…The leading edge is where absolutely all the action is. The leading edge contains all the infinite possibilities of the future. It contains all the history of the past. Where else could they be contained?”
    – p.288-289, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    Getting our students to, as Ben says, “experience the flow” is to take students to the only place that language has true purpose: to the leading edge of our experience of life and of each other. If we can, through our CI approach to teaching language, get students to focus NOT AT ALL on language (as if it were some object with structure) but COMPLETELY on the exchange of meaning, then we are flying down the track of Quality, not disservicing them with a desiccating, lifeless examination of some static, derailed, objectified version of language that fits in a boxcar. Language is experienced, not talked about.

    • jen
      November 6, 2011

      Brian, I live for this stuff! Please continue to share your insights and enlightened connections!

  • John Piazza
    November 5, 2011

    Forgive me if I posted this some time ago, but I keep thinking of the exercise they have teachers do to feel what it’s like to have autism, or another related processing disorder: They ask the group to make up a story together, going from one person to the next in a circle, adding one sentence to a story. But they first say you are not allowed to use the letter R or S, or some very common consonant. All of a sudden, your analytical mind takes over, and things go very slowly, almost robotic. This would be a great exercise to have language teachers do.
    Philosophical digression warning!
    while we’re talking about the irony of influence, it was Pirsig who got me interested in ideas at 18, then Jung, and ultimately led me to fall deeply in love with… ARISTOTLE. He is not the dualistic robot, in fact his influence is what saved our western tradition from being consumed by the Platonic/Augustinian (ironically turned into Manichean) dualism that threatened to dismiss anything worldly as evil. He has subsequently been embraced by dualistic robots of the academy (McKeon, etc.) and now is held up by people like Pirsig as the founding father of robots. But there is much more to the story, as with these methods we are exploring more and more deeply. As I mentioned to Bob the other day, CI turns our attention away from the BS busy work mandated by the robots, and toward the inner work of preparing ourselves to be honest and present (i.e. not robots) with our students and with ourselves. What could be more philosophical than that? Forget Plato’s cave. Aristotle offered his own version of the allegory of the Cave, in which the trapped inhabitants made their climb out of the darkness to arrive not in the dream-world of the forms, but HERE, IN OUR WORLD, TRULY PRESENT.

  • Kate Taluga
    November 6, 2011

    Brain, Ben and John–
    Thank you so much for this discussion. You keep pushing me forward in my own thinking. I have been beating myself up as a learner because I am not acquiring my language. Oh, I am using it with my Master, but it isn’t sticking. It isn’t sticking because it isn’t compelling. It isn’t what I want to learn, it is just words and I am hanging up in the grammer of it all.
    Thank you for inspiring me to just read words. Albeit there isn’t much of interest to me written in Mvskoke that I’ve found yet. Treaties aren’t very compelling to me. But, I am on the lookout for something more recreational. And my Master is a place to begin asking for resources to that.
    Keep up your deep work. It means a lot to us all as we explore and experience Quality.

    • jen
      November 6, 2011

      Ditto what Kate says. This is all resonating on a deep level for me. Way deeper than me “trying to become a good teacher.” As if I even know what that means. More like helping me to be who I am. And maybe in the constant practice of redirecting of my energy toward this I can model it for the kids that are in front of me, so that they might have a chance to feel the energy and power of who they are rather than march through life reacting, cowering, escaping or just playing charades.


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