Don’t Teach Greetings Too Early

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20 thoughts on “Don’t Teach Greetings Too Early”

  1. Hi Ben,
    Thanks for that tip. I used to start every year like this, after all greetings are on page one book one in just about every language course. I won’t be doing it this year.
    I am back to school tomorrow and am ready to change my traditional style over to TPRS and CI. I am looking forward to it and have done lots of reading and studying over the Summer. All that really amounts to is reading a manual about swimming without getting in the water. In a way it feels like I am beginning all over again. I know I will make lots of mistakes but it’s time to jump in and get going.
    All the best

    1. I’m totally in the same boat! (And reading about swimming while sitting in the boat! Haha) Ready to jump into the water, but also terrified. Can’t wait for Monday! 🙂

  2. …all that really amounts to is reading a manual about swimming without getting in the water….

    Philip I am so glad you said that. We must swim in the water.

    I would like to add a few points that that may help you swim better next week. These are points that have been made a lot here over the years, but that we sometimes forget because we get to thinking about other less important things and then forget these big boys listed below. In my view, there are only five things that you must remember:

    1. Language learning is an unconscious process. (I invite you to read in the category so labeled on the right side of this page before you start next week.)
    2. Your students cannot understand unless you go SLOW.
    3. Your students cannot understand unless you strenuously avoid adding in new words to your lesson – you must stay in bounds.
    4. Your students cannot understand unless you instill strong discipline via instant reaction to all infractions when they happen as per Greg’s post here last week.
    5. Your students won’t want to understand you unless you relax.

    To expand on those points a bit: our students can only learn the language we are speaking if they are focused on our message and not the language we are using to deliver our message. That is what unconscious language instruction means – that the students are focused on the message. We can’t forget that one. We must always keep that in the forefront of our awareness when we are teaching. Forgetting that would be like forgetting to put the tires on the car. Always ask yourself, “What are my students focused on right now?” If, as you are teaching them, you see that you are in the language and they are understanding you, then you are doing it right. If you find yourself using any L1 or intellectualizing the language, or riffing off into English now and then for no particular reason except that you have no self discipline in this area, then you lose the flow of things and your lesson suffers fracture lines. Do not prevent your students from doing the one thing that they need to be doing to learn – focusing on and interpreting the message. When you find yourself going back to L1, maybe translating for them on the sly now and then, maybe explaining a little grammar here and there in English, then you are doing it wrong and you need to stop yourself and vow to return to the target language, slow down, stay in bounds (trying hard to never add any new words that they don’t know), ask circled questions, enforce the Classroom Rules, and relax.

    And don’t forget, Philip, that really good swimmers keep their movements in the water simple. They power up with their arms and legs and breathing, find their best event, and excel at that one. One may be expert at the backstroke, another at the butterfly, etc. We should do that. We may not be great at stories, but rather feel that reading is our strength, or that we prefer to spend our time with our students just talking to them using PQA. It doesn’t matter what we are good at – we should develop our strengths. CWB can evolve into really good reading classes after just a few days. It would be really really simple reading, but it would be great stuff because it would be CI. There are many ways to teach using comprehensible input. As long as our students understand us, that is all that counts. We all don’t have to be experts at every single aspect of TPRS. That is too much to ask of anyone – to become expert in stories, PQA reading a few months after even hearing about the method. We really need to stop making everything so complicated. As long as it’s comprehensible, things will go swimmingly.

    1. Thank you so much for your help. I will take all these things into consideration next week. The classroom posters are ready including; word wall, class rules and question words. The mantra I keep repeating to myself is “-simplify-” as I sit at home preparing content for class.

      I think it was interesting how you said that; “Your students won’t want to understand you unless you relax.” I never really thought about that one! Sometimes I feel anything but relaxed in front of them. I can see how by creating a calm environment in the class will bring about the best teaching and learning in us all. My students must sense a kind of frantic desperation in me at times and this does not send out the right message. I will try and change that.

      On the eve of a new academic term I send again my thanks and best wishes to you Ben and wish everybody reading these words happiness and success in and out of the classroom!


      1. …as I sit at home preparing content for class….

        Philip I suggest sitting at home and not preparing content for your classes. Pet the dog instead. Watch some football. Go outside. That’s what the kids want. They want a rested teacher. Allow the content to just happen – that’s my advice.

        I know I know. I can’t do that either. But it comes with the change we are in. This is not just a change in methodologies, it is a change in ways of being as teachers. Teaching in this new way allows us to relax in the real way. All that preparation of content is no longer necessary. It’s not.

        Once when I was fourteen it took me a month to get up the nerve to call up a girl to talk to her, like the other kids were doing. I wanted her to like me. So I prepared a list on a piece of paper of about things to talk about. I prepared a list. I didn’t have to. But I didn’t know that then.

        I wish I had grown up in France. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so nervous, as per:

        I never got a chance to ask her later, but I bet that if I did, she would have said she that probably would have just enjoyed talking to me without my notes. And yes, our students can converse very deeply with us with just yes and no as answers – that is the art of what we do. But I was afraid of the silences, as per:

        I certainly don’t mean to be flip, Philip, about preparing content for CI classes, and as I said I was never able to do really let the conversation go in my classroom, but I wish I had trusted more in the inherent nature of language, and in the divine loveliness that drives and creates language a billion times a day, or more.

  3. This is just what I needed this morning as I was tossing around in my head of what to do this week! Thanks! I think I might just enjoy the day. Novel idea!

    1. I also needed to read this as I am about to put lesson plans in the grade program. We are required to have lesson plans for the week by 8:00 Monday morning. For my first year classes they will be CWB and TPR. Thanks for reminding me to simplify.

  4. If you are interested in seeing how greetings can be used in a story, check out the Grandma series here:

    It is in English (so take it and put it in your classroom language!) and is a series of Embedded Readings and activities that incorporates greetings.

    La did a fantastic job of putting it in Chinese here:

    with love,

  5. It makes so much sense. Greetings are difficult. They are also boring. The only greetings kids end up knowing are the ones that are used on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.

    Using them in stories is good. Using them with the students each day is even better because they serve a communicative purpose and we don’t have to worry about forgetting to remember to include them in a story.

    This post has really challenged me to reconsider the greeting I make in class since I am teaching Spanish 1 with no previous middle-school experience this year. “How are you?” requires the use of three unknown words and a response with a fourth unknown word (fine/poorly). We never start with a Who/what/when/where/why/how question. We always start with yes/no questions. So this post challenged me to start asking each Sp 1 kid “Are you doing well?” Yes/no. Then after a few days of staring off the class like that did I feel comfortable with the “How are you? Fine” routine.

  6. In 8th grade, our first year, we start the year with the following:

    Buenos dias Buenos dias
    Como estas? Bien, y tu?
    Yo estoy bien Me alegro!
    Adios! Adios!

    This is the “traditional’ Where is Thumbkin and we start it like that. Teacher sings the entire song line by line and students repeat. Day one. Many of you may already do this.

    Day two we stop the repeating and the teacher sings the phrases on the left and the students the phrases on the right…because it is a conversation. Then they sing it in pairs. Then they say it in pairs.

    Yes… I know…not acquisition. But we’ve been doing it for 3 decades, kids teach siblings and it’s fun!

    But….HERE is the difference….the other verses:

    Buenos dias Buenos dias
    Como estas? Bien y tu?
    Yo estoy triste. Pobrecito
    Adios Adios

    Buenos dias Buenos dias
    Como estas? Bien y tu?
    Yo estoy enojado. Calmate amigo!
    Adios Adios

    Buenos dias Buenos dias
    Como estas? Bien y tu?
    Yo estoy casado. Despiertate amigo!
    Adios Adios

    Buenos dias Buenos dias
    Como estas? Bien y tu?
    Yo estoy enfermo. Tengo que irme!
    Adios Adios

    These are song with gestures and sound effects. :o) Very popular!!!
    Now we have conversation to use in real life in a variety of situations…right away!!!!!!

    They become part of “stories” right away and of course, our daily greetings and conversations with students around the building.

    with love,

  7. Michael Miller has a story in which two students are talking, and one is saying “Good Morning,” and the other is saying, “Good evening,” because they’re talking on Skype from different time zones! That idea has been most helpful in my stories with greetings.

  8. An online Modern Greek course was an eye opener for me.
    They taught “My name is” in three ways. The first was in the first lesson or so: “I am Nathaniel.” This is what Blaine does in “Fluency” (7th ed), page 57-59.
    The second, after introducing “my” was “My name is…” or literally, “The name of me is…”
    The third, much later, after a lot of verbs had been done was “I call myself…”
    I realized that this works very well in Spanish: Soy Nathaniel. Mi nombre es Nathaniel. Me llamo Nathaniel.
    I used to think I was helping the kids get a leg up on reflexives (is that a horse metaphor, Robert and Judy?). But Blaine’s contention is that we should ride the “I am” horse until students can use it with confidence and accuracy and without hesitation. It would make more sense to introduce “I call myself” after internalizing “I call (somebody).” So avoid fancy dancy stuff on the “I call” horse until after demonstrating they can ride to the fence and back.

    Just throwing some thoughts out there. I will probably be having to do principal-mandated book coverage, creatively, though. First, I am still waiting to find out what my class assignments will be for the coming school year. Somehow the “working together” slogan kind of lost its teeth during the balmy days of summer.

  9. I always taught greetings in the hall. Whenever I crossed one of my students I said, “Hi, how are you?” Sometimes I got no answer, but eventually someone would say, “I’m very well. And you?” And I’d say, “I’m fine, thank you.” Before the year was out they all knew how to answer and how to ask and sounded very natural. And would get surprised looks of admiration from comrades in other classes.

  10. Yeah this is a good way to do it. I personally always felt like kind of a doofus asking kids in French questions that they might not understand (because I couldn’t clarify and make comprehensible instantly), and I don’t like those funny teenage looks I get, but that’s just me. The fear-of-doofus status has never quite left me, I guess, probably since high school, where being cool was the only thing that mattered.

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