The Language Acquisition Kitchen – 5

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20 thoughts on “The Language Acquisition Kitchen – 5”

  1. Sounds like that time spent cooking those cheese eggs was like a state of meditation. I sit and meditate every morning, and something like refreshing thoughts come through my head during that time. We are taught to meditate properly by letting go of the thoughts that come streaming in. As soon as they come streaming in, you let them go. And eventually you reach a state of being present and find a peace beyond the self.

    I’m left wondering if the practice of meditation helps language acquisition.

    1. correction: it’s not just refreshing thoughts that stream through… they very much so include anxious thoughts, sad thoughts, happy thoughts, desirous thoughts… all of them.

      But I’m wondering if that when you were cooking those cheese eggs you were surrendering to the present and letting go of any distracting thoughts that came streaming into your mind.

    2. If you can slow the brain waves from 22 cycles per second (normal active awake state) down to 14 cps (alpha state, which we pass through to get to deep sleep (8 cps) we can approximate a state of meditation. How to do this? The slow movements of certain baroque concertos are written at 60 beats per minute, so when you listen to that music, your normal pulse of 72 slows down to 60 and the alpha state is reached. This interested me greatly a long time ago. The research is fascinating. It was the beginning of the whole visualization thing but it was started for language acquisition by a guy named Georgi Lozanov in Bulgaria. It was also at the same time, in the 1950s, being studied in Venezuela by on Lozano Caycedo. Same name, same research, same year, but they didn’t know about each other’s work. That is what I remember in doing research on Suggestopedia and I won’t vouch for the details. I do know that it worked for me, but I had to give it up because it was just too weird doing yogic breathing with my students in South Carolina, not exactly a bastion of change.

      Now, in looking at the cheese eggs, I was very much aware of the functioning of a computer with absolutely no feelings.

      1. aah… slowing the brain waves down… very interesting. With all the stressors of the West Side of Chicago, I can see how especially challenging it is for my students to slow their brainwaves.

  2. “the order of acquisition is a natural one and we could never figure out what word is going to be early acquired or late acquired or what will happen when.”

    Maybe we can’t predict what words are going to be acquired, but we CAN predict what grammatical morphemes are going to be early and late acquired, at least there is enough research to do so in the English language. I recently posted information about the NO Studies on the forum under the topic “SLA Quotes.” I’d love for someone more researched than I to fill in my gaps. Specifically, I asked this question:

    1) “most ‘NO studies’ are of grammatical morphemes – is there an order for acquisition of lexicon/vocab? In the TCI/TPRS world we talk a lot about acquiring vocabulary, but the NO studies appear to be solely grammar-oriented.”

    Acquisition of grammar rules seems so much more difficult than the acquisition of vocabulary. There is research on the average number of exposures we need to read a word in order to acquire it’s meaning in our L1 and research on exposures in L2. Unfortunately, it is not a simple science. You can get to some research by doing a google search for “number of exposures to acquire a new word.” Here is an example article that reviews many of the facets of vocabulary acquisition and learning.
    Immediately, you read about multiple determinants (word salience, student interest, contextual clues, current vocabulary size) of vocabulary acquisition. This article also cites research that supposedly found that combining incidental and intentional vocabulary learning was superior and suggests that incidental vocabulary learning (acquisition) is more effective in the L2 if the person is already at an intermediate level. Of course, we have to ask whether the assessment tools in this research were measuring proficiency and if the tests were all given in the short-term. . .

    I can also tell of a situation we are all familiar with in our L1: memorizing “sophisticated,” low-frequency English words for vocabulary tests or for the SAT/GRE and then rapidly forgetting them. Eg. I memorized 500 of the most-common GRE words and I scored in the 91st percentile on the Verbal section. Do I speak or write with any of those words now? Hells no. There is a difference between knowledge and skill, but I probably couldn’t even define most of those words for you. Unless we get A LOT of exposure to this vocab IN CONTEXT we could never use this vocab in our own output.

    On the forum, I also listed some of the determinants of the order of morpheme acquisition, input frequency believed by some to be the 2nd most influential determinant, and I asked this question:

    2) Is the power of input frequency strong enough that it could be manipulated to alter the NO?
    In other words, are the thousands of repetitions of target structures strongly affecting the order of acquisition of vocab AND grammar?

  3. “This article also cites research that supposedly found that combining incidental and intentional vocabulary learning was superior and suggests that incidental vocabulary learning (acquisition) is more effective in the L2 if the person is already at an intermediate level.”

    In a TCI classroom we ALSO combine incidental and intentional vocabulary learning to the degree that we are transparent. We translate/gloss to L1, we point and pause, we bring words in bounds, we pop-up vocab and grammar, etc. which are all intentional. Even in the TPRS Novels, there are extensive glossaries. Especially with students that have post-grammar-stress-disorder (PGSD), we strive for 100% transparency, until we build a rapport and build a students’ confidence to enable them to handle more ambiguity. Then, we can be comprehensible and less transparent, less intentional, and depend more on incidental processes.

    And actually, the 2nd suggestion from the article is something we already know: the outside world is only useful to the intermediate-level student and too much of the outside world is incomprehensible to a novice. But I wonder if the research cited in this article attempted to provide listening and reading at the level of the student and then tested for effectiveness of incidental processes. ??

  4. It’s become my mantra: all we have to do is show up and deliver understandable messages.

    Of course, there’s always more, but in terms of students in my room making progress in Latin, all I have to do is show up and deliver understandable messages in Latin.

    I have had the experience more than once of saying this to another teacher only to have him/her formulating and spewing their objections before I can finish the sentence. Sigh. That’s where it is. Right there in that space where we want to formulate an objection. There is all is.

  5. Another issue with a grammar-driven approach, even one that attempts to reflect the natural order of acquisition, is that grammar and syntax are presented piecemeal rather than holistically. While we can limit vocabulary for the sake of comprehensibility, we damage the language when we limit (“shelter”) grammar. Besides, what if – in addition to a learner’s need to be ready to acquire an element of the language – some things are late acquired simply because we need to be exposed to them longer. If that is the case, then we delay their acquisition even further by waiting to introduce them. On the other hand, by “using the whole language the whole time” (as Susan Gross puts it), we give students exposure to all grammatical and syntactical elements of the language from the beginning, and they are exposed to the late-acquired items for a longer period of time.

    Just a thought.

    1. Yep. The Latin teachers here have long complained that our best textbook still falls into the trap of sheltering grammar and not vocabulary. Really we need to do the exact opposite: shelter vocabulary and not grammar.

      That’s exactly how I speak to my children when I want them to understand me. I use words I know they know but I don’t pay attention to dependent clauses or the subjunctive or anything like that. So why does every single textbook ever present the language backwards with vocabulary first and grammar second?

  6. “what if some things are late acquired simply because we need to be exposed to them longer. If that is the case, then we delay their acquisition even further by waiting to introduce them.”

    I believe the term for this determinant is “input frequency.” Late-acquired structures may be “late,” because the student requires more input of this structure. I use this argument and I probably first read it from Susan Gross, but what is the research to suggest that this “is the case?”

    Also given as an explanation for the NO, and probably playing the greatest role, is that the late-acquired stuff adds less meaning to the language, is less recognizable in the input (salience), and thus producing without the late-acquired structures does little to affect one’s comprehensibility. I’m not sure what the academic term is for the “meaning weight” of a structure. ??

    1. To my knowledge, there is no research to back this up. It is a conjecture or postulate. I can think of two ways that this could be tested, but both would have to be diachronous studies that followed language learners long enough to evaluate how soon and how well they acquire late items (whether structures, morphemes or syntax).
      1. Do a meta-study of several diachronous studies and analyze for variants to see if introducing late-acquired items early makes a difference. That would require having enough diachronous studies (not just anecdotal evidence) to compare effectively.
      2. Do a diachronous study that manages to make time of introduction the only significant variable. It would, of course, have to be carefully planned.

      At the moment, I don’t think either of those two methods is feasible. From personal observation over several years, I conclude that introducing “the whole language”, including late-acquired items, from the very start is at least not harmful, so I will continue doing it. The evidence, while mostly anecdotal in my personal setting, overwhelmingly supports TPRS/CI instruction is by far the most effective method for producing speakers and life-long learners of the language.

      On the Friday before Thanksgiving break, we were talking about what one of the students had done the night before. She is a big “Hunger Games” fan and had gone to see the first showing of the “Catching Fire”. Suddenly one of my other students laughed and said, “We sure spend a lot of time talking about films in this class. In the Spanish classes all they do is worksheets.” [Not entirely true, but true enough.] I responded with, “Isn’t that what people do in real life, sit around and talk to each other about things that interest them? Films, school, sports, family, travel, etc.” My student said, “Yea, but I just feel so sorry for the other students. They just talk about conjugating verbs.” This took us to a discussion of theoretical underpinnings of the methods, in which I tried to remain professional and suggest that my colleagues had theoretical reasons for what they do. [In most cases, I highly doubt it. The vast majority of teachers simply teach they way they were taught without ever considering theory, research, etc. I know more about this stuff than anyone else in my district, including the Foreign Language TOSAs – Teachers on Special Assignment. But I was trying not to criticize too harshly.] Several students gave examples from their own experience of how students in the other two languages were unable to use the language outside of class, whereas my students know they can communicate. One student speaks Spanish at home and did a great job last summer of getting around Germany. He told of greeting a Spanish AP student in Spanish and having her tell him that she couldn’t understand a thing. Other students echoed similar experiences. My non-language colleagues report similar experiences: my students generally know how to communicate in German far more effectively than students of the other languages; my students actually use the language in other classes to talk to one another; my students write messages in German on the board in other classes; even before class begins, my 3/4/AP students walk into the classroom and start chatting with one another in German as a matter of course. Parents regularly report that their sons and daughters speak German at home – even the ones that never open their mouths in class – especially if they want to talk to a brother or sister and not let parents know what they’re saying. Observers who visit my class are constantly amazed at the level of student communication going on in the classroom. (First-year classes are consistently thought to be at least second or third year; some observers say they hear students using the language more in my first-year classes than they often hear in AP classes.)

      Eventually the weight of evidence, even if not part of a “study”, makes people stop and think. Those who experience it (students and their parents) understand it more fully and thoroughly than those who remain afar (administrators and other teachers). As a result, they embrace it more readily because they know it works. Eventually this is how we will change the profession, by having more and more students who have experienced the reality of CI become teachers. Some day those teachers will also become the heads of our professional organizations. Then look for a sea change.

      Since I’m already rambling …

      As part of our conversation mentioned above, one of my students said, “What is ‘conjugation’, anyway?” I explained that its most basic meaning is simply “yoking together” correct forms, and we do it in German all the time – just not the way they do it in the other language classes. Then I asked the class to tell me how to say “I am” in German. They all responded with “Ich bin”. I told them that they had just conjugated the verb because they yoked “ich” with “bin”. The overall response was, “Oh is that what it’s all about? That’s so easy.”

      Okay, I need to go. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I’m thankful I get to participate in this PLC with so many dedicated, visionary, compassionate, and thoughtful colleagues.

      1. Oh, I would so much like to get your results for my students. I believe I’ve become a good TPR teacher but after grade 4 I was always kind of fiddling around with the language trying my best to get on the communication train and always feeling like falling short of the mark.
        Although I’ve been a PLC member for only a couple of weeks you and all the other great guys here have convinced and motivated me to go all the way with CI to my best ability!

        But even at our Waldorfschool it won’t be easy to implement the CI-approach (many parents seem to feel unsure without vocab lists and some grammar rules and we can’t risk loosing them), though I have two colleagues at middle school level who are interested, my upper class colleagues seem to be set in their ways of teaching traditionally. I will see what the next years will bring.

        Thanks for your motivating experiences and thoughts!!!

        1. Udo, Germany has such a long way to go with this… I feel like languages are still taught here the same way I was taught in school. It’s painful and I get the feeling that the thought “If it’s not painful, it won’t work” is often attached to it. results don’t lie though, keeping fighting the good fight!

          1. Kathrin, I also believe that in Germany there are very few teachers who are into CI. I give private tuition to a girl who is in her final year (Year 10) at the Realschule (middleschool) and the textbook and exercises make me want to scream most of the time. She has quite a good knowledge of grammar but when I try to converse with her she speaks hesitantly and usually uses the most simple vocabulary and this after 8 years of language instruction.
            I seem to have intuitively been walking towards CI- methods during my whole career: First I discovered TPR and fell in love with it, then the TPRS-approach by Blaine Ray which I couldn’t make work for me and now The Invisibles and SL (long way to go!) but as you asked me to do, Kathrin, I will definitely keep fighting the good fight bc it’s for the kids!!!

          2. I look forward very much to meeting you in person, too.
            In the meantime I’ll start working on my CI-approach.

        2. I agree with you and Kathrin, it it not easy to get other colleagues on board, not even at a Waldorf school. Me too, I’m teaching at a Waldorf school in northern Germany. We are three CI colleagues after 8 years of trying to implement CI methods, mainly for French. But our parents are happy with it. Would be nice to get into contact. My email:

  7. What a response! Thanks Robert!

    I agree . . . if no harm done, and if it’s what we do with children acquiring their first language, then give FL/SL students the whole language.

    I loved reading the anecdote from your class discussion. I feel like that could have been a recount of one of my conversations with the students 🙂 I get similar positive comments from students, parents, and observers and that is enough for me.

    The shift to TCI/TPRS is bottom-up, starting with teachers. I think we need to make more public our individual successes in our communities. I’m thinking I’d like to invite the local media to my classroom, maybe get an article in the newspaper. Especially since the only recent local articles being written about FL programs are about debating the effectiveness and cutting the programs.

    Thank you Robert for being one of our most dedicated, visionary, compassionate, and thoughtful colleagues.

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