Jody And I Were Talking About Krashen

I thought I would repost this from November of 2009:
Jody and I were talking today about Krashen. Aren’t we all trying to figure out, by studying his work, how to reach our kids at a more authentic level?
Krashen is prodding us all to look at the ways in which we provide Comprehensible Input to our students. For instance, when we write a brief translation on the board as “the meaning” for the target phrase (Point and Pause) in our CI classes, are the consequences of that act a bit more complex than meet the eye/ear? In giving the students a synonym (albeit in another language), are we asking them to “try to remember” the synonym instead of “feel” its meaning? By giving them the “meaning” of every single word, do we stymie the all-important process of using context to comprehend more and more meaning of a structure or vocabulary item over time? By providing the student with the meaning for every single word, do we hold her/him back from building the necessary skill of negotiating meaning with speakers of the target language? There are, of course, MANY positive consequences for students when there is 100% transparency in the classroom. However, there are other consequences we may want to consider. Interesting question–and this is just one way we provide CI. What about the others?
As we discussed the topic, Jody asked me if we provide translation to small children when “teaching” them their first language. She talked (she has known Dr. Krashen and his work for close to thirty years) about the entire process of language acquisition as much more intuitive than most of us make it, hence the kind of distance between Krashen and TPRS (even though he supports TPRS more than any other approach), a distance which is now centered around Krashen’s new term of transparency (which started out last summer in discussion of “non targeted CI”). See the link below. 
To expand on the term “transparency”, when we translate, we think that we are focusing our students on meaning, but Jody was suggesting to me today, in direct alignment with Krashen, that when we do that, we are in fact asking our students to focus on form – i.e. we may be asking them to try to learn the language in a part of their brain that cannot acquire language, the analytical part. Jody reminded me of the importance of the concept of FLOW, which we have discussed a lot on this blog. Jody asked an incredible question – does anyone really know when they first acquired their second language? Wasn’t it really a din and then suddenly you noticed that you were communicating in the language? Is it not true that we have no real cognition of acquisition? We have no idea when we became fluent. The way we do school is so bizarre and against all of what Krashen suggests to be optimal. And then we in school classrooms dismiss Krashen, for what reason I will never be able to understand, as if what he is saying is interesting but not really on point in terms of what we do. Well, maybe what we do is not on point in terms of Krashen and maybe we better get off our asses and make it align with him, with much more CI that is not a kind of CI that focuses on form. Maybe we really need to look at our history of ignoring what Krashen has laid out as neat as this whole acquisition thing can be laid out, and make that work for us and quit messing around in silly arguments, or cat calling out, Chesire Cat-like,  at colleagues who are desperately trying to change a broken system. We either focus on form or we don’t, ultimately, right? Now that Dr. Krashen has come out with this new word transparency, I will now change how I discuss this stuff with my colleagues. We can’t just slice and dice TPRS into a thousand pieces and claim that it aligns with Krashen any more. Many of us, most of us, don’t even do TPRS the way Blaine invented it, but I’ve beat that horse enough times on this blog to go there again. What are we doing? Anyway, here is Jody’s email. We all would do well to visit and study the link.
I’m sure you’ve viewed/listened to this. Everyone who reads your blog should be versed in what he has to say about the current state of theory and how it jibes/or not with current TPRS practice.
He addresses strengths and weaknesses of TPRS as he sees them. One of the most fascinating points he talks about is the difference between 100% comprehensibility and 100% transparency. Subtle, but powerful shift.
At the end, he also answers some questions. He addresses “songs/music” and “output”.



11 thoughts on “Jody And I Were Talking About Krashen”

  1. Two comments from me:
    1. In your second paragraph you talk about unintended consequences of giving students a translation. I see this issue in dealing with German verbs. “Ich spiele” can be translated, depending on context, as “I play”, “I am playing”, “I do play”, “I have played” and “I am going to play”. Dumping all of those possibilities onto students all at once would be overwhelming, but if I give just one translation when I introduce the word, then students tend to get that stuck in their heads and want to translate it the same way every time. German simply has fewer verb tenses than English, so they are employed differently.
    2. Jody talks about benefits of learning songs. From my own experience I know that songs can be helpful as an intermediate step to long-term memory of structures. Sufficient studies have been done to show that incorporating music helps the memory. (When I was in college, we were once asked to write from memory Isaiah 9:6. Yes, it was a Christian university. The professor stood at the front of the class and chuckled. Then he pointed out that well over half the class was humming the chorus “For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s “Messiah”.) I can recall times that I have used songs that I have learned to help me recall both structures (“El quiere, desea y puede salvarte” gives me both the modal + infinitive and the attached personal object pronoun) and discrete grammar items such as gender and case (The phrase”Gib dem guten Mann einen Fisch” gives me Dative and Accusative forms for masculine nouns – and “Der doofe Fischlied” is fun to sing.) I recognize that this is anecdotal evidence, but it is evidence. I have consciously used songs in these ways. Krashen would probably label this as using the Monitor, but there is a place for using the Monitor. I have also used songs in English to give me nicely turned phrases for public presentations, so I figure it’s legitimate in the languages I am acquiring.

  2. Jody, thanks for the video. It’s great. BTW I wish the video was with YouTube and without the spam. It’s great info which outta be easier to get and use and share. Karen? If you put it on youtube, I’ll transcribe it. Gracias =)
    Ok, so now it’s “transparency”. I watched the video. I looked it up. Still don’t get it. What does “transparent” mean? Obvious? 100% comprehensible? Loosely comprehensible? Why replace comprehensible with “transparent”? What’s the value added?
    “Translation.” OK so maybe translating totally locks us all into this analytical monitoring unfeeling half of the brain which is incabable of unconscious acquisition. Maybe like Robert suggests, people want “translation” easy: we want one word or usage to equals another word or usage. Fixed. We want it that way forever and get pissed when the same translation doesn’t work in another context. Can’t always get what you want, right?
    Songs. You’re right. Stuff from songs can, but only rarely do appear in spontaneous speech. Life ain’t a musical. But maybe there is some potential for more use of songs outside the classroom, like FVR out on the Internet library:
    find a way to make the lyrics comprehensible
    choose songs that are liked so they’re personalized
    listen regularly to get more hours of fun input
    Classroom time: it sounds like L2 meaningful interaction between students and stories is, within the limited timeframe, by far the most effective way for useful language to get learned. Or acquired or whatever. Very helpful post and much appreciated, thanks!
    ps you can follow me on twitter, how can i follow you on twitter? thanks again

  3. I have a question here. What about when we use the lyrics of a song as the CI and use that as the basis for asking a story etc.? I am specifically thinking here of Ben’s description of teaching the love song between Marius and Cosette in TPRS in a year! There are many narrative songs that can be incorporated into class this way. And if we continue to circle the structures and treat the song as literature, even in the first levels- spinning parallel stories as we read the lyrics, why wouldn’t it lead to the same levels of acquisition as other forms of CI?
    I have recently been amused as I am “friends” with a number of former students on Facebook. And oddly enough, I see them typing lyrics to songs we sang in class years ago. I see them talking to each other in a mix of Spanish and English, a few of them write many of their posts in Spanish. It’s fun to watch. But it also makes me think that there may be more to the music thing than I ever gave credence to – I am not musical and rarely use music in my classroom.

  4. Another thought. I was always against providing translations. I came to TPRS through TPR, and I thought we should simply teach the meaning of the words in the TL. I was actually convinced of the power of providing translations in one of Blaine’s workshops. When we began circling, I found myself looking at the board for each word. As the circling continued, I began to find that it was faster just to answer – looking at the board became redundant and in fact slowed down my own processing of the language.
    This summer, taking Linda Li’s Mandarin classes, I found the same thing. At first, I relied on the translations up front. Then, as the new sounds became words in my mind, it was faster just to think on my own, so I did. But, every once in a while, I would hit a mental blank spot, and not understand something even though it was a structure we had used 1000 times already. And I could look at the translations up front, catch on to what had been said, and quickly participate in class again.
    One difference we have between L1 and L2 acquisition is that babies are exposed to thousands of hours of input often directed solely at them. Often, the person providing the input is extremely patient and will respond to every thought that crosses their face. In L2, we are limited in that we do not have years in which to provide constant input personalized solely to each individual. Even if we did, adults would not tolerate, in my opinion, the constant “babying” of concepts. Adults want to be able to talk, and about topics of interest to us.
    Another issue many of us have is that we have to straddle two worlds in our capacity as teacher. We have to, each of us, find a way to provide as much CI as possible, while still assuring colleagues, administrators, and districts that we are actually “teaching.” As much as I would like to, I am not afforded the opportunity to just have discussions in the TL without the artifices of vocabulary and grammar imposed upon us. I have a pacing guide, and each day my colleagues ask me which concept I taught today. We share students – at semester the students’ schedules change and they may or may not get a new teacher. I have to make sure that my students are prepared for the “academic” nature of the classes they may inherit in a month and a half, for their sake and mine 🙂 I am forbidden from having Friday Fun days, any food in my room, etc.
    So, it is a balancing act. How do I teach in a way that I know will result in better acquisition and yet survive in the environment I find myself in? It’s not necessarily that TPRS doesn’t fit with language acquisition, but that TPRS adapts itself, or we adapt TPRS to teach in a world of “standards” and “accountability” and make acquisition sacrifices.

  5. just another thumbs up for the use of music. In college I discovered an album (you know, those big black CDs 🙂 ) of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg with the lyrics in a side by side translation. I must have listened to it upward of a billion times. There are now phrases in French that I have trouble not singing. Everytime I say “Bonjour” I hear singing (Bonjour, Guy. Bonjour, Madeleine. Je suis très contente que tu sois revenu…). I don’t know that I’ve ever used those exact phrases in my speech, but they echo in my head. (Les Parapluies and Le Petit Prince are the reason I continued in French instead of just concentrating on my German, by the way.)

  6. The reason I think music is so powerful, as others have already stated, is that it provides an enjoyable, sometimes necessary (if it really gets stuck in the head) form of input for students outside of the classroom. Songs sometimes rattle around in heads for days, even years, after we have been exposed to them. Then we start singing along, if only just in our heads. An enjoyable form of output, nobody is rejecting our rendition of it (unless you get caught by a debbie-downer who hates happy people singing), and so we are inclined to have positive feelings about the language.
    Duke made a good point: repetition of the song. I think students would be much more interested in learning the lyrics of the song if they had heard it a few times already, sans visual lyrics. If you do a Repasito of some sort, this would be a great place to set as background tunes.

  7. More on songs…
    Earlier this year, a parent told me her daughter and a friend played a video from class and were singing along… they knew all the words. That kind of repetition seems way better than any kind of homework I could have given. Sometimes when I ask them all where they learned a certain word, and, es obvio, it’s from a song.
    Earlier this year, I read something posted by Laurie Clarcq talking about how she encourages kids that there are three levels of learning a word: recognizing it, recognizing it in context and knowing what it means when you hear it (if I remember correctly). So I think that music helps foreign words to sound familiar, which also means that it moves those words along the continuum towards acquisition.
    On a personal note, songs were really motivating for me… I could endure any hardship in language learning for a song –(dictionaries, grammar books, poring over words and structures (whose meanings I thought I knew) until something made sense)… they’re short and usually have at least a chorus that repeats. They’re fun to listen to. They’re language in context. And they’re designed to be enjoyed repeatedly. So you really get to feel the fruit of your labor as you listen over and over and the thing becomes more comprehensible. For me, listening to Russian songs was very helpful to learning Russian…

  8. My kids listen to and ‘see’ American music on the tv (we have 6 channels that play music clips!). French music doesn’t really get as much air play. I get questions from my students all the time about what this or that means. Music motivates them, music is enjoyable, and the lyrics can have a message or tell a story whose impact is stronger with music.
    This sounds like an old debate about language acquisition where the behaviorists said babies just copy what they hear and Chomsky that responded then how do they invent new utterances? So in my opinion, whose to say that just because L2 learners don’t spit back given phrases learned from songs in conversation that they haven’t acquired some vocabulary and integrated it into their L2 database!

  9. I don’t believe it is an all or nothing debate. It’s more a question of quantity of acquisition after time invested in the activity. The “other” benefits of songs (interest, fun, culture, feeling part of a group, etc.) may outweigh the limited acquisition gains. I don’t think anybody says that no acquisition occurs, however.

  10. This is definitely one of the most thought-provoking posts I’ve read in a while — and that’s saying a lot since your posts are always so great.
    Specifically the comments about translation. As my own Japanese has progressed, I have been translating a lot of English words for my students in Japan to make them comprehensible (with Pause and Point).
    I’ve always tried to do this only with difficult words (concept words, the kind of things you can’t TPR gesture or demonstrate easily with a visual, prop, or action). Yet, could translation just be another form of “focusing on form rather than meaning”? Say it ain’t so! Hmmmm…..
    I know from my own studies that understanding a translation of a word is NOT the same as acquiring the word. It definitely happens in a different part of the brain. Even if I know the meaning, I often don’t know how the word is used in natural speech, connotation, what lexical phrases it naturally fits into, etc. That’s a lot not to know. I may understand the translated word, but don’t OWN the word. Similar to “intellectually understanding” grammar on paper vs. having acquired the grammar.
    So what I’ve been trying to do since reading this post is really really try not to translate if I can help it. Still, I think it is sometimes unavoidable, especially if you are using a school-chosen textbook that forces words on students. In that case, the best one can do is translate to make the word comprehensible and then just try like hell to get as many repetitions in / use the word naturally as much as possible and hope that the word is eventually noticed by the other part of the brain.
    But yeah, I have to say that translating is probably focusing on form. At least the intention is to make the word comprehensible though. (And still better than old style teachers who use 99% L1 and translate EVERYTHING.)
    For example, I translated and paused and pointed to “What color?” at the beginning of the school year. Many students were still watching my hands after several weeks. But I’ve asked “What color is her shirt?” “What color is the car?” “What col0r is Taro’s pencil case?” so many times since that my students can now understand this question and answer correctly without any translation.
    First, the question was made comprehensible by the translation. Next, the question was repeated so many times that it became a din in the head then just an everyday thing my students heard and knew how to respond to.
    I too was totally fascinated with the Krashen’s comments distinguishing comprehensibility from transparency when I first saw the video on the Fluency Fast website. It actually caused me to relax a bit in my own study of Japanese and realize that I did not have to know the meaning of every word I heard if I understood the general message. In fact, it seemed to say that understanding the general meaning of message was the best setting for acquisition of new stuff — and that trying for 100% transparency would actually slow one down.

  11. When we teach a new word through gestures or TPR, first we model the action and ask students to repeat it. Once they get more or less comfortable with that, we delay modelling. And then we stop modelling altogether.
    I find I do the same with the words on my board. If it’s a new word, or a throw away word, I point and pause. Then when we have used the word a few dozen times, I delay my pointing, then I stop pointing, then I stop putting the word on the board.
    I think we do the same thing with our own children when they are little. At first we point things out and ask, “What color is that cloud?” Then later, we stop pointing, only clarifying when there is confusion.
    I think this allows for the + 1/2 at least, and allows for the acquisition of the target structure.
    For a while I have been emphasizing to my students that when they read they should be able to understand about 80% of the words, I strive for this when I type up our class stories/PQAs, as well. It’s so hard to allow for ambiguity as a student… I remember the feelings of near panic when I didn’t understand a single word while reading oh, Don Quijote or the like. There’s a sense of vulnerability and feeling like we aren’t doing our jobs as students. At least, that goes for those of us who survived more traditional language classes. (Or am I assuming too much, it’s how I felt as a student at the very least.) Now, when introducing my students to that nebulous +1, I try to make it as safe and unintimidating as possible.

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