High Quality CI And No Translation Are At Odds

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45 thoughts on “High Quality CI And No Translation Are At Odds”

  1. I think Eric’s comment is valid for those of us who share a common L1 with our students. In another thread, Mark Knowles points out that the shortcut of translation is often not possible in an ELD class where numerous L1s may be present, and the only shared language is L2.
    At the same time, I think relying on translation as the first resource can be the result of laziness and lack of thought on the part of the teacher. There are things that can be taught directly without using the “immersion/charades model”, though asking a student to “translate” (i.e. tell you in L1 what the L2 term means) remains a good check for understanding.

  2. …relying on translation as the first resource can be the result of laziness and lack of thought on the part of the teacher….
    Huge point. I am not talking about that kind of laziness, of course, but it sure needs to be pointed out. The thread here since February on tightening up our L2 use has been a good thing. As long as we are aware of our use of L1 in our classrooms, that is a beginning to ultimately being in Linda Li or Blaine Ray control of it. If we can’t aim to get a din going in their heads after they leave class and then in sleep, we won’t get the kind of results that the approach has potentially in it.

  3. A number of years ago I attended a workshop put on by Susan Gross at the CLTA conference in Fresno. During the the workshop, Susan told some stories. One of them was about being at dinner with a number of other language teachers and Stephen Krashen. The agreement at the table was to speak only Spanish, and one of the teachers was telling a story, the crux of which revolved around the word chispa. Krashen didn’t understand the word, and a teacher played charades / pantomime for a while, then leaned over and whispered in his ear, “spark”. Immediately he understood the story and humor. This is an example of judicious use of L1. Otherwise, by the time he had figured out the meaning, the story would have lost all appeal, and the conversation would have either come to a complete stop or moved on without him.
    Here, I think, is part of the art of instruction: being able to engage a class of up to 45 students (sometimes even more) so that the conversation neither comes to a stop nor moves on without the students who want to understand.

  4. You make an important point, Eric. The bucket loads of input are lost on the minds of the students if they are not comprehensible.
    I would suggest something I mentioned on another thread. The use of the word “translation, being polysemous in usage, requires to explain what we mean by “translation.” (Yup, we have to translate it into English.) I prefer to say that I am glossing unknown words.
    I am just telling what it means, which is what we do.
    I think that “translating” gives the picture that I am saying a sentence in L2 and then translating it in L1, so that the students do not have to pay any attention to L2. Some teachers do that. We do not. And I know that you do not mean that. You mena that you make the incomprehensible word comprehensible. That is, you gloss the spoken text, and point back to the gloss (on the board) each time it is necessary.
    “High quality CI (I take that to mean the most comprehensible you can be – transparent) and no [glossing] are at odds. “

      1. These are great points. Gloss is a much better word. Nathaniel, I’ve heard TPRS directly criticized because supposedly we are translating whole sentences for students as a “time saver” which is a straw man argument against TPRS. We might gloss to keep things comprehensible. I don’t think it’s well understood or accepted how different those two things are.
        Then, occasionally also I’ll ask students for their English understanding of a sentence or a question. It’s to check what they understand (sometimes I’m so, so glad I asked because I have something to clear up). That could be called “translation” but it’s not really, either. It’s a comprehension check.

        1. Yes. We’re either establishing meaning quickly so we can get into a flow of L2, or else we’re doing a comprehension check. Translation is a whole other art that we are not really involved in, especially in novice / intermediate level classes. To me, “translation” is an advanced / superior level pursuit, where the translator is proficient in both languages and the cultural contexts in which each language is rooted.

          1. …“translation” is an advanced / superior level pursuit, where the translator is proficient in both languages and the cultural contexts in which each language is rooted….
            Really well said, jen. Thanks.

        2. So Diane or Nathaniel could you summarize below the above points about glossing so it’s in one place and easy to grasp? I agree that it is of huge importance to be able to defend how limited our use of L1 really is in our classes, how nuanced and effective it is. So much work has taken us to this point.
          By the way, glossing came up in an article here in 2013 and I made a category for it so I will add this discussion into that category. Here is that old post on glossing:
          https://benslavic.com/blog/translation-vs-glossing/

    1. LOVE this phrase. I’m going to use it from now on. Wonder whether there’s a different way to say “gloss” in Russian!
      The big piece that comes into play for me is that (even if it’s a single level I’m dealing with) students know different vocabulary because of inattention, experience, or even because of a week’s absence or life event at some point. If we can get them comfortable with signaling confusion, or if they have active partners for glossing, or if we read their eyes well enough to know when we need to gloss, we can make everything CI for every kid.
      Unfortunately, sometimes kids still feel stupid and don’t ask for help or signal, so I can go for five or six minutes at a time with students underwater. Sometimes I don’t remember to do enough of the right kind of comprehension checks for all the kids. And sometimes the kids don’t realize how important it is to be understanding; they’re just not that motivated, even if I drag out jGR. Sometimes if we have regular quizzes, they’re more likely to speak up. I hate quizzes as a tool, but I probably can manage them better.
      So I think that this “glossing” vocabulary might just be one more part of the message and tools I use with kids in the coming year. “Need a word glossed? Just let me know!”

      1. What you say here, Michele, is really important and the reality of what happens in our classrooms. We MUST do regular comprehension checks and re-establish meaning if need be, and not assume kids will signal and assume kids are always trying to understand. Many won’t.
        On the positive side, I saw Blaine argue recently on moreTPRS that TPRS doesn’t have to be compelling and comprehensible every instant. It’s still the best approach/method so long as it’s more compelling and comprehensible than everything else out there. I found that reassuring.

      2. …unfortunately, sometimes kids still feel stupid and don’t ask for help or signal, so I can go for five or six minutes at a time with students underwater….
        You’re certainly not alone on that one Michele and it needs to be talked about here more often. No matter how clear we ourselves think we are being, it counts for nothing if we are not actively holding them accountable during class, raising their awareness of how they are responding to us, etc.
        …sometimes I don’t remember to do enough of the right kind of comprehension checks for all the kids….
        Could you define what those right kind are? I’ve sifted them down to “What did I just say?” and “What does _______ mean?” All the others, like the ten finger hand check, are bogus indicators. (I only do those when being observed so the guy can check the box.)
        …sometimes the kids don’t realize how important it is to be understanding; they’re just not that motivated, even if I drag out jGR….
        If not the Achilles Heel of working with CI, the students’ lack of appreciation for how they listen is close. The ISR (jGR) is a mixed bag and the culture in the school determines how useful it can be. Moreover, if we can’t enforce ISR at 60% or more of the grade (!), it loses it’s punch. We must therefore combine the rubric with in-class invisible strength (i.e. we have to act like the adult and they have to know that we are the adult and that our instruction is not optional). What works for me beyond ISR is that smile thing using the Classrooms Rules poster and a laser pointer that I have been doing for so long now and which forms the backbone of my instruction. If jGR is a bow and arrow to get their focus going, and if the Classroom Rules are a hammer, then the quizzes are a buzz saw that I would use up to four times per class and more during a block to guarantee that they sit up and give what I require for my class to work. So if I have “one of those classes”, and we all have at least one each year, then when my superstar quiz writer walks in, I task her or him to write a quiz every eight to ten minutes. Eight to ten minutes of CI followed by a quick quiz four times. I only need five questions because when I do this I double the grade since I personally prefer a ten point scale on everything I do. Then I take those four grades and slam them into the gradebook. Then I do it again the next day. So between ISR and the Classroom Rules poster vigorously enforced at every infraction from the beginning of the year (with a smile) and the buzz saw action with the quizzes, I offer them a deal that they can’t refuse. In general, this topic needs a lot more attention here and inner reflection by all of us before we head into next year, in my opinion.

          1. …some students are good at faking it also. They answer right after the others and in large classes can be missed….
            Great point and all the more reason to put our full energies next year into monitoring and exposing kids who won’t show up. There seems to be a general acceptance that some kids won’t show up. I don’t buy that line of thinking. What if half the people in a board room tuned out the boss? Oh I get it. School is not that important. I see a direct connection between what goes down in our high schools, the incredible level of it’s-ok-if-you-don’t-pay-attention from some teachers, and the state of our society right now. No. They must be held accountable. Yes there are exceptions so this is not a blanket statement. However, if we can’t deal with the problem of engagement via using comp checks that work, along with making our intentions and expectations clear, then why use CI? We could just teach out of the book and probably should at that point. I would suggest that next year we get serious about engaging kids via comp checks, going slowly enough, being fully aware of where the kids are (teaching to the eyes), staying in bounds, avoiding L1 use, and giving our instruction everything it needs to work. A lot is at stake, since most people (over 90% in my view) who “do TPRS” don’t even know what it is.

        1. This is important. Besides the tools already mentioned, the reason I started spending 2-3 minutes or so on Fridays talking about SLA principles was to get another angle on students understanding what we’re trying to do in class. I really think it’s helped in terms of buy-in.
          By SLA principles, I mostly mean a quote, usually brief, on some aspect of language acquisition. We read it aloud as a class, take comments and questions (or I ask some), and the point is made that it isn’t Mrs. Neubauer asking them to listen, look, read, comprehend, signal when I’m unclear, etc. etc. but in fact it’s how they can best gain Chinese ability. Also it establishes that our goal is fluency, not grades. Thankfully I don’t have students who whine for “games” anymore but I started with the SLA stuff with my middle schoolers who thought good language class = fun output games. It helped with them, too.

          1. “the point is made that it isn’t Mrs. Neubauer asking them to listen, look, read, comprehend, signal when I’m unclear, etc. etc. but in fact it’s how they can best gain Chinese ability. Also it establishes that our goal is fluency, not grades.”
            Thanks for this, Diane. I wrestle with whether or not to do this. In the past I’ve thrown some of this in here and there, mostly when momentum slips and complaining and “can we play games” begins. I love your format because it’s brief and consistent. It seems that this process would foster student self-reflection. It could indeed carry over into other areas, the whole self-observation and “learning how I learn” piece is valuable. I think this would pair really well with Laurie’s scale of engagement and the way she uses that to ask students where they are with the various skills. A regular predictable 5 min per week on SLA and self-reflection (concrete, using the scale of engagement) could be powerful.

  5. Michael Coxon

    I just did my very first Blaine Ray workshop as a presenter and this topic came up with a few skeptical teachers. As I am demoing the process using French, a teacher that admitted to being skeptical and looking for things to pick out said that when I gave the direct translation that there was something questionable about it.
    The implication was that there is nothing special in giving the meaning for the word explicitly/directly. I just don’t care about finding something that is less efficient as many point out here.
    I believe my job as a language teacher is to provide CI to my students and I think my goal for implementing TPRS is to bring students from slow processing to fast processing the language/information they understand (CI). In an hour and 15 minutes all those participants felt confident about the French they were exposed to. I have no doubt they would have had doubts about the process/method if I compromised on a super quick L1/L2 direct translation.

    1. Michael Coxon

      Ben,
      I just meant that if I would have taken time to gesture my way through establishing meaning or something other than word L1 translation that the language processing would have suffered.
      Those same individuals in the workshop later commented about how much language and story they were exposed to. Direct translation is the fastest and most efficient way to storytelling in L2.

        1. I think Mike is talking about using L1 to gloss/translate the targets in step 1. After that, there is an attempt to stay entirely in L2, but a few cute answers in L1 may sneak into the story and you may want to give the L2. Or, maybe you reactively decide on your targets, letting the story develop before you decide what to target, so you gloss them when they come up.
          I found myself doing a lot of glossing (perhaps too much) during the “Special Person.” But then again, I’m torn, because those are the most personalized and meaningful words to the students that will ever come up, so I do think they are more likely to stick (be acquired) without all the repetitions. Quality & quantity.
          By the way, the idea of getting repetitions is a form of “practice” (albeit comprehension practice) and can start to sound like “skill-building.” This is where I think there is a distinction between acquisition (mental representation) and comprehension skills (processing). The reps on a target (especially in different contexts) would help us to “acquire” a fuller understanding of that word’s meaning and function. But those reps would also help us to get better at the skill of comprehending L2.

        2. Michael Coxon

          As many as the class needs. In French I pointed to words and barely used English (other than pointing).
          On day 2 this new kid demoed Arabic for the group. It was hard for me and I was nervous for him. In the debriefing I asked what percentage of Arabic did Tyler use and the students guessed around 95% because he stayed so narrow and focused.
          Storytelling teaching requires little L1 in my opinion. What I’d think though, is that doing SCHOOL requires English because we have to communicate to children other things than just stories e.g. school announcements, school rules and procedures, discipline, etc.
          School actually interferes with TPRS 🙂

  6. While presenting I have also come across a number of teachers who “use” TPRS (Maybe I should write use “TPRS”) who ONLY do translation for reading and this has really upset many people…or led people to believe that reading in TPRS is ONLY translating passages from TL to English.
    I can see how this occurs, particularly if the teacher has only been to one presentation/workshop.
    It is important to keep sharing reading as reading and the occasional use of “translation” in reading as we share what we do with others.
    with love,
    Laurie

    1. Honestly, I think what really helped me when I was acquiring Spanish was to watch tv/movies in English with Spanish (L2) subtitles. Completely comprehensible reading! Of course, that would only work with someone motivated to read the L2.

      1. That (English movies subtitled in Spanish that I knew very well and therefore didn’t have to pay much conscious attention to) is how I acquired most of my Spanish. I still add all sorts of new vocabulary this way. I have a very photographic memory. If I see a new word even just once or twice in a subtitle during a movie, there’s a good chance it’s sticking with me.

  7. Steve Johnson

    “The thread here since February on tightening up our L2 use has been a good thing.” Yes, Ben, this emphasis really made me stick to it and what a message it sends to the students. I always struggled because I felt like when words were translated (by me, by students, by pointing or writing the out-of-bounds word) it either broke the L2 consistency or slowed the flow of the conversation/story. If I go out of bounds too much I know the CI suffers, which is just a part of the process for me because I get better each time I am AWARE of this. There are times I know most of the class knows a word but I don’t want to break the L2 consistency while at the same time make sure all students understand. Two things that have helped me with this:
    (1) the L2 timer job… when I know I have to speak English I stop the timer so everyone knows that the clock stops when a rule wasn’t followed or meaning needs to be established in English.
    (2) have an L1 translator who writes translations (instead of saying them) on a dry erase board at their desk (better at front of room)…. I always saw Blaine use people in his sessions that would “represent” a word and when he pointed to that person they would quickly say the translation in L1. I loved the technique but realized other students could always use this as an excuse to speak English. So, I give a board to a slow-processor and if there’s a need for a translation I say the word in question and that student writes it on their little board in English. If it’s correct we show it to the class and move on. If it’s not then I need to use some other means of establishing meaning (love the gesture king/queen job!).
    “spending 2-3 minutes or so on Fridays talking about SLA principles” Diane… thanks for that idea. Metacognition has really helped students understand the purpose of the interpersonal skill in acquisition. I like how you use a “quote” to give you a focus to the discussion.
    The teacher who “said that when I gave the direct translation that there was something questionable about it.” Sounds like “Orc” behavior to me! But I was once Orc-like: one who didn’t understand what it means to make class comprehensible to all students (more Hobbit-like) instead of teaching language to the ones who can keep up. Michael, seriously, congrats for getting that gig and for being brave enough to promote this cause in the face of the old ways looking to pick you apart.

    1. … this emphasis [on limiting L2 use more than is comfortable] really made me stick to it and what a message it sends to the students….
      Steve I honestly didn’t feel much support in this discussion, and it lasted a long time. You and a very few others really backed up the idea, however, and I can’t thank you enough. I have become a vicious foe of L1 use in the classroom in recent months. I think it ruins Krashen’s precious Din, which alone – in my opinion – leads to real gains. It takes into consideration the supreme role of the unconscious mind in language acquisition.
      So I thank you deeply. I don’t care how dramatic that sounds. We need to cut the Hell One (L1) out of our classrooms and we need to do it yesterday. I capitulated to Eric on this point lately but that is because his insights are based much more on the research than mine (based only on years in the classroom), but the end concept is the same and we are really in full agreement on this point. Whether it’s at 95% (my read on Eric) or at 98% (my dream), most of us and certainly yours truly don’t get near those numbers currently and we must change. We need to talk less about it and just do it.

      1. And Steve I just love the sentence below. It contains, for me, real CI wisdom because why should I bust my hump and lose the precious Din for a few kids who don’t want to show up in my classroom as actual human beings for whatever reasons?
        …there are times I know most of the class knows a word but I don’t want to break the L2 consistency while at the same time make sure all students understand….
        Thank you for that sentence!

        1. Okay, Ben. Time to start taking your “break” from work. … Ready? 1-2-3… go. Okay, didn’t work? Me, neither.
          Seriously, I agree with your “update” that we need some real rest and mental break. I love the blog so much it is definitely therapy and a way to feel part of a community, so I keep coming back. But after your post earlier about needing a break I realized I need to just totally let go of the guilt I feel

      2. I think part of the discussion needs to be the difference between goal and reality.
        If the ACTFL position statement is a goal, the percentage is set too low; if it is a statement of acceptable reality, then it is a minimum standard for evaluating our instruction.
        The ideal – the Pure Land – is 100% use of 100% student-comprehensible target language (i.e. 100% of the students understand 100% of the language). I once had an evaluation in which the evaluator (an assistant principal) noted 99% use of L2; unfortunately, I knew that it was not 99% comprehensible to 99% of students, so amount of time in the language is not the only parameter for this criterion.
        That being said, if our actual numbers are in the 90%+ range (90%+ time in the language and 90%+ comprehensible to 90%+ of the students present), then we are accomplishing something rare indeed. If we can move those numbers to 95% or 98% not simply as goals but as reality, then we are accomplishing something unheard of. At the same time, we must not berate ourselves when our efforts fall short but rather analyze what could have been done differently, choose to correct it, pick ourselves up, and move on.
        Those of you who have been members for a while know that I had a horrific class (the infamous fifth-period class with “grape soda boy”). There were enough students in that class who did not want to learn a language, who were notorious discipline problems school wide, and who deliberately set out to demoralize teachers that I struggled a lot. (BTW, just to give you an idea of that class, out of 35 students only 25 were in the second-year class. 1 chose not to go on; 3 moved out of the district or voluntarily transferred to another school, and 6 were expelled or sent to continuation school. Only one student from that class made it to third year.) Since then, I have looked at what I did and did not do, have learned a lot from this PLC, and have figured out ways in which I could have better dealt with the situation. While I do not wish to have a class like that again – ever – I believe I could handle it in a way that would cause me less grief and frustration and allow the students who genuinely wanted to acquire German to do so more readily.
        This past year I dealt with a student who has impulse control problems, and some days the only option was to remove her from the class for the sake of everyone else. I am now analyzing how I can better help both her and the class. She is likable but not able to follow social norms on her own – a very different situation from the previous one. So, after looking at what I did and what I could do better, I will start fresh next school year and not spend time on what cannot be changed (the past).
        So, Ben’s and Eric’s “disagreement” is an extremely minor point, especially in light of some research that Jason Fritze shared with the COACH team a few months ago. On an ACTFL survey, language teachers self reported (SELF reported) on average about 25% use of the Target Language during instruction. 59.1% self reported a GOAL of less than 90%, with 6.8% self reporting a goal of less than 60%. Of the 40.9% who self reported a goal of 90%+, only 10.5% reported achieving it. [So, according to self reporting, perhaps 4% of the teachers who are committed to membership in our professional organization achieve 90%+ use of target language in instruction. What about all of the teachers who don’t even belong to a professional organization? At my school, for example, only 2 of 8 teachers belong to any professional organization – no FLAOC, no CLTA, no AATSP, no AATF, no ACTFL – and we are the two most committed to T/CI.]
        Here is a link to an article about the research:
        http://www.csctfl.org/documents/2013Report/Chapter%201.pdf
        That is the state of our profession.
        Here is a quote from the article that needs to be shared with our colleagues:
        A reoccurring topic in publications, target language input is fundamental to overall language development. Exposing students to significant amounts of comprehensible input has proven to be crucial to the development of student proficiency and essential for the establishment of mental linguistic representations of the language. Chambers, 1991; Chaudron, 1988; Ellis, 2005; Ellis, Tanaka & Yamazaki, 1994; Ellis & Sinclair, 1996; Frey, 1988; Gass, 1997; Gass & Varonis, 1994; Krashen, 1987; Krashen & Terrell, 1988; Lightbown, 1991; Macaro, 1997; Pessoa, Hendry, Donato, Tucker, & Lee, 2007; Van Patten, 2002; Van Patten, 2003; Wong-Fillmore, 1985).
        Look at the list of researchers all saying the same thing about target language comprehensible input. Any grammar teachers out there who can marshal a similar list of researchers to support talking about the language and learning grammar rules in L1?

          1. …any grammar teachers out there who can marshal a similar list of researchers to support talking about the language and learning grammar rules in L1?…
            I’m going to say no on that one….

        1. …we must not berate ourselves when our efforts fall short but rather analyze what could have been done differently, choose to correct it, pick ourselves up, and move on….
          THAT is the battle right there. We can’t “break” in class. We can’t. We can’t do it.

          1. What has always mattered is how much we are being comprehensible. It’s not %L2, but %CI-L2. Now, if the “din” only happens when 99%L2, then we have got to be masters at staying in bounds. Even then, just because the words are familiar doesn’t mean they’ll be comprehended in an unfamiliar sentence/context. L1’s role in these cases would be to check comprehension.
            One criticism I read recently of Krashen’s Comprehension Hypothesis was saying that Krashen was not clear HOW comprehensible the input needed to be. It’s certainly a continuum. Well, in TPRS we feel the more comprehensible, to the point of it being transparent, the most efficient acquisition will be.

          2. Well said, Eric. Huge point. Just to say it again so that when we discuss or even think about the key CI concept that we must strive to stay at as high a percentage of L2 use as we can in our classrooms, the twin thought that should always pop into our mind with that, the other side of the CI coin, is to be aware of what percentage of our kids are understanding.
            This becomes a very big problem for teachers with rooms full of students who learned to hate school in 6th grade in the memorization camps of middle school.
            How to stay (ideally) completely in bounds and to thereby guarantee that most (if not all) of our students are fully understanding our input is the job of the great key skills that we have in this work: SLOW, Teaching to the Eyes, teaching the target structures and not the whole language, Checking for Understanding, providing high quality repetitions in context (Circling as it is called in TPRS), etc.

  8. Robert pointed out to me in an email this morning that I had said in my response to Steve that I am a “vicious foe of L2 use” in the classroom, a clear error but with a strong Freudian side to it which I thought I would own up to here. (I fixed it above.)
    Yes, I taught my share of level 1 – AP grammar for all those years as well as AP French Literature without hardly using any French. It was a neat trick involving constant use of smoke and mirrors with the brilliant kids at that level who with me fooled everyone including ourselves.
    (My own trick with AP Literature, which they no longer teach because it wasn’t profitable because so few students actually knew enough French to take the exam, was to get the reading list and find the required authors that I like the most and always read – with discussion in English – the texts and keep it all about the concept of love in French literature. My reasoning was that love (all sorts) is perhaps the most common theme in all of literature so whatever the question was my kids could dissemble the essay to fool the readers into forgetting the question – like we do in PhD oral defenses – and it usually worked. I had them memorize certain sentences to write throughout their essays. One time a kid who went on to Princeton got a 4 on the AP French exam with that kind of programming. When I think of all the bullshit that people do to get smart kids to pass that exam, I want to puke. Sorry for the digression.)
    So if the Freudian slip assumption is true, then the “vicious foe of L2 use” in the foreign language classroom still lives in me, that grammar dude who was 24 years old when I thought Susan Gross took a hammer and beat him out of me – it felt like that if you know Susie – and killed him, but who I guess isn’t dead. At least this is true if we believe that such things as Freudian slips exist and aren’t just passing events.

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