Implicit/Explicit Learning

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16 thoughts on “Implicit/Explicit Learning”

  1. Dude, Ben, you tell us to focus more on classroom practice and less on research, and then you post this, haha. Make up your mind! Maybe we can have both.

    The link shared to “Consciousness in Second Language Learning” is a compilation of researchers with very different viewpoints on the relative effectiveness of implicit and explicit learning. DeKeyser opposes VanPatten and Nick Ellis is somewhere in the middle. I recommend people read the Wikipedia article on the “interface position” so you can see how Krashen compares to DeKeyser and the 2 Ellis guys.
    There is far from a consensus in SLA on the roles of implicit and explicit instruction and learning.

    Somewhere on this blog a few comments were made, I think led by Catharina, maybe Michele, of VanPatten’s ACTFL article. He sounds good in theory, but in practice he sounds like old school Natural Approach teaching of semantic sets.

    Congrats to James Hosler! I recently borrowed a copy of the recent Lang. Educ. and saw his “Latin Teacher’s Blog” advertised in the “Web Watch” section. Awesome!

    I need to read more, but so far I’ve noticed there are 2 “CI camps.” There’s the TPRS (transparent) version of CI and the immersion (non-transparent, Helena Curtain) version, the latter espoused in the article by Douglass Crouse (Catharina shared with us a screenshot of that somewhere on this blog). The difference I think is in understanding the importance of CI to acquisition.

    Though, to their credit, it seems Krashen has in the past not supported the use of the L1. “Do not refer to a student’s L1, when teaching the L2. The second language is a new and independent language system. Since successful second language learners keep their languages distinct, teachers should, too” (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 1982, p. 269). And Krashen’s non-targeted CI and comprehensible-but-not-transparent stance is used to support immersion, but also what leads a teacher so quickly into incomprehensible waters.

    Crouse quotes Curtain in saying “We ask kids to read complex texts that were designed for native speakers. Most are beginners and intermediate learners, so what we expect them to understand has to be adjusted accordingly.” Why can’t people hear how stupid that sounds?! Give beginners complex texts written for native speakers?! How about this for an adjustment: take the auth.res. and shove it!

    And then there was this that made me cringe, from an ACTFL co-author of a curriculum design book, Laura Terrill: ” Students with their own copies of a text can highlight the words and phrases they understand on first reading . . . if it’s 80%, that’s great. But if it’s closer to 50%, you have to be prepared to work with that text.”

    Really?!!! You consider 80% to be great?! You only have to work with the text if it’s close to 50% unfamiliar?! Somebody needs to show them the research on vocabulary coverage as it affects reading comprehension (you need 98% coverage if you want a good chance at comprehension!)

    Let me also say that so far the term “Comprehensible output” is being used in the LangEduc in a different sense than (I think, but maybe I’m wrong) was intended by Merrill Swain. It was intended to mean that a person tries to output, fails, then makes adjustments, and upon successfully adjusting acquires something. In other words, it’s output + feedback. Thus, there is more to CO than what the term sounds like: saying something comprehensible causes acquisition. Interestingly, 2/3 of the Wikipedia page on CO is given to critique, mostly that given by Krashen! Yay!!!

    Wolfgang Butzkamm is referred to at the end of that Wikipedia article – you can read the original article here:

    It is a critique of Krashen (that is written more like an opinion and not empirical), but there is a part that seems to get at our TRANSPARENT version of CI!
    “understanding must occur on two levels, a situational/functional and a formal/structural level . . . in order to make progress, the child must not only understand what is meant, but must also see through the linguistic structure. . . thus, for the language system to be acquired, a double transparency or double comprehension is necessary. Much of the special nature of mother-child dialogue can be seen as aiming at both levels of transparency” (p. 84)

    For accurate acquisition, you need form-meaning links, which we give via transparent CI. With less transparent CI you can get meaning without close attention to form.

    I knew I recognized one of the LangEduc authors – Ellen Shrager – from her distracting comment on our thematic/authres discussion on ACTFL in which she implied that TPRS was a fad and linked us to her website on visual CI to sell her book. Visuals are good, but Ellen wants them used every moment, saying “For each 45 minutes of instruction, I prepare 50-100 slides.” No wonder she didn’t like us questioning textbook curriculums, since she wrote in the article “I follow the curriculum of teaching the typical topics, such as the words for different members of the family.” She has spent tons of time creating slides and writing a book based around these semantic sets. She obviously tries to teach too much – “I teach six to eight new vocabulary words each day . . . when I include a visual with the phrases for 20 different activity-related verbs . . . we can usually flip through 20 review slides in 4 minutes.”

    Don’t let the Oct/Nov LangEduc fool you. Check out the topic of their next edition: “Designing Learner-Centered Language Instruction . . . put learning in the hands of the learners . . . tell us about how you have incorporated flipped classrooms, hybrid learning, use of tablets.” Yuck.

  2. You make a good point, Eric, but that article was from Michele. And anyway I didn’t mean “focus entirely” on what is going on in our classrooms. I just want the focus here more on instructional practices and less on theory and we seem to have that reversed.

    First, we must have our mental health and take care of ourselves. This allows us to use the method to its potential. Then, we focus on strategies and skills, the core goal of this website, and third we should talk from time to time about the ideas that infuse the strategies.

    Since we all agree on a definition of CI, unlike so many others if you remember what James found here:

    then there is no need to talk so much about the ideas that infuse our work and focus more on what we do on a daily basis in our classrooms.

  3. Whatever interface position you take– and Krashen has to the best of my knowledge modified his no-interface position– one thing remains clear: comprehensible input, and a ton of it, trumps everything else by a mile. It simply doesn’t matter how much talking, grammar practice, grammar lectures etc students get– none of this is worth anything without a ton of comprehensible input.

    One of the problems with any interface position is that nobody can explain the mechanism.

    Eg I teach my kids how to conjugate the -ar verb “jugar” (to play) and then I get them to make sentences in speech and writing, and I ask my class what these sentences mean, and I fix– orally or on board– the wrong conjugations. Then we do some nice fun worksheets involving reading and writing. And eventually lo and behold the kids can use “jugar” in sentences and recognise its various forms.

    Now, here is the problem: why exactly are they acquiring? You could equally plausibly explain acquisition– in this case– as a result of comprehensible input OR as explicit->implicit acquisition. Are the grammar explanations and practice turning into acquisition? Or is it the fact that the kids are hearing and reading various versions of “jugar” that they *understand*? Or is it both?

    The point is that we will never really know…because it is impossible to “purely” separate the effects of explicit grammar instruction from C.I. ANY grammar instruction is by definition also C.I.

    In terms of research, we have short term and weak results for explicit grammar instruction. We have MASSIVE gains coming from FVR in target language, and from good, SSM and all-necessary-grammar c.i. The result is clear: loads of c.i., plus grammar explanations for the curious, is best practice.

    1. Chris said:

      …ANY grammar instruction is by definition also C.I….

      I don’t define CI in that way. Maybe we need a definition. To me, CI is a process that happens when the conscious mind of the learner is not involved, and the unconscious mind is fully involved, in listening to or in reading the language.

      In this definition, the conscious mind is involved in maybe 1% or 2% of the process, when the language is a second language, and the unconscious mind churns along at 98%+, providing wave after wave of input that puts the learner’s focus entirely on the meaning of the language and only minimally on its form.

      Doing this drives the language so far down into the deeper mind that the deeper mind, which alone is the place where language happens, is not bothered by the petty and invasive hassling of the conscious mind, and, safe from all bother, it happily (because the learner feels as if she is learning) builds a strong and secure language system, without any help except the constant input.

      And that process, the one described in the previous two paragraph, is exactly what does not happen in school settings, which explains why any teacher who doesn’t use the kind of CI described above is kind of a dumb ass, in my opinion.

      1. How about this definition, borrowed heavily from Bob Patrick?

        Comprehensible input is delivering understandable messages, both heard and read.

        I wanted to add in there “co-created with students” for our school settings. What about this for a school CI definition? “In a language classroom, comprehensible input is the delivery and co-creation of understandable messages with our students.” Developing instead of co-creating?

          1. This is timely for me, as I am working an inservice this morning and charged with writing district standards for my FL program (a one school district). Are there any good simple templates out there that anyone recommends? I’ve never undertaken this kind of work. I’m a standard newbie.

        1. That’s what is so awesome about processing instruction studies. The control group that gets traditional instruction + communicative output acquires the grammatical aspect only in production, not in comprehension. So, something special about input. Then again, DeKeyser has critiques and includes alternative explanations. . . I want to keep informed of findings from research, but at the same time, I’m kinda sick of it, too.

          The problem with just calling it understandable messages is that you get that in grammar, too, as Chris says.

          When we say SLA is unconscious, we are talking about the focus on form. We are placing conscious attention on meaning, while form gets acquired incidentally.

          Isn’t acquisition about making links between form and meaning? The debate is how both can be done (simultaneously? meaning before form? or viceversa?). The reason reading below your level and the reason that transparent CI may be so good is because the person easily processes meaning and can also process form. Seems sensible to me that visual CI makes it easier to process form. You can also ask questions that require accurate processing of form (e.g. ask a question purposely in the wrong verb tense to see how students respond). More and more I see the power of transparent, targeted CI, on a theoretical level and as it plays out in my classroom! I’d describe my instruction as getting more and more narrow. I think the challenge is to teach narrow and deep and stay compelling.

          1. Maybe I need a definition of grammar instruction. To me grammar instruction is telling kids a rule (using English probably to do that) and then making them practice that rule and pattern repeatedly. (Like the majority of textbooks I’ve seen.)

            Ex: So, in Chinese, we put a modal particle at the end of our sentence, and that makes the sentence into a question. It’s a yes or no question. Now let’s practice. Make these Chinese sentences into a question:
            You like apples. – You like apples ma?
            He likes basketball. – He likes basketball ma?

            So I don’t think of grammar instruction as delivering and co-creating understandable messages at all. There’s no meaningful communication, but manipulation of language patterns. Yes, perhaps a little incidental comprehension happens, but I would not call that real CI.

            (In a CI format I give this explanation of that same grammar point in Chinese: “this ma? at the end makes a question.” Focus stays on meaningful communication that way.)

          2. Agreed. We TEACH with the focus on meaning vs. on form, but we can’t be sure what goes on in the students’ head, whether LEARNING is focused on meaning or form. Still, I’d expect a strong correlation.

  4. Bill VanPatten moderated three research presentations related to implicit/explicit learning and/or SLA topics. It was fun. I shook Bill’s hand and said I’d enjoyed the videos from his presentation (which were shared here by Michele, too, I think). Anyway, he was a fun guy. There was food and nice teas and coffee in that conference room when no other room had anything – or just water for the speakers. I mentioned how nice that was and he said he’d ordered it, and it came from our dues! And proceeded to peruse the Mexican-looking pastries and fruit.

    I share this to say he seemed an approachable person who would be fun to talk with.

  5. So…I think that some of what I’ve sent in the note above is a bit outdated.

    Anyone who wants a copy of the recent chapter VP collaborated on should email me…much of it is in the Michigan videos, but it’s nice to have it in writing.

    My email: whaley _ michele @ (Sorry for the separations…suspicious of the internet as always).

    Also, I just did what I promised I’d never do again…recorded a piece of someone’s webinar, VP’s, to be exact. Please don’t share this! Given what VP had said earlier in the webinar, this was praise, since no other methodology had met with his approval! (You have to wait while he ends one answer to get to the storytelling question.)

    I thought it was clear that he understands how TPRS can be done incorrectly, as well as correctly, and I’m pretty excited to have him come visit us and see the variety of teachers using CI methods in our town.

    Back to what we’re doing…I used Martina’s Fan N Pick today, and it was awesome! (Links to my blog on having not done it right, and to hers explaining how to do it better from there.) I liked having an activity that repeated the questions on a story that kids had come up with, in a system that got them re-reading, making them move around and let me off the stage for 20 minutes or so. (That’s critical for my self-health right now.) Oh, and I learned which structures I had not actually taught them.

    But then again, maybe I’m just wanting to hear favor where there is none.

    1. Thanks so much, Michele, for sharing that audio clip!
      I hear VP say that the proficiency-based movement is not enough to eliminate traditional instruction, that teachers need to also be well-educated in SLA, that a method that has students actively expressing and interpreting meaning (communicative) and that accepts the classroom as the context (“the classroom is not a bank, not a restaurant, etc.”) is key, that a teacher should not make more than 3-4 sentences before they expect some type of student reaction or else it is talking “at” the students and not “with” them.

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