Just Talk to Them

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29 thoughts on “Just Talk to Them”

  1. This is power Ben. One of your better if not the best blog post right now. Even though I am new to the scene, I see that you continue to not only push the envelop but you are actually broadening the horizon of TPRS and education itself. You are including the roots of how language emerged when we as humans didn’t care for race, methodologies or labels. By being loving, we undermine the school system because school has been less loving with age groupings, emphasis on products, grading,

    This is what is needed now more than ever. While there is more technology and perhaps resources, it isn’t going into what matters most: students and happy teachers. It’s so true what Krashen is constantly stating in his posts about poverty and equity. Every smile in our classes is a brick more in the house of CI.

  2. …by being loving, we undermine the school system because school has been less loving with age groupings, emphasis on products, grading….

    Especially in our area of languages. The affective piece in how a child learns a language is so key to their success. And yet many of us have, even in CI classes, successfully re-created the old model of those who can vs. those who can’t.

    We can’t do that anymore. The future of this work lies in applying it equitably, with both hands to all of our students. Thank you for this validation, Steve.

  3. Yesterday at our Jobalike meeting (the normal one, not the CI one; they disbanded the CI group. The director told me that it is more important for us to get together across philosophies and compare kids’ work and rank it on the ACTFL standards to see whose practices are most effective and hopefully spread practices around that lead to greater proficiency…so I guess it might somehow pay off but to me it seems like weighing the pig more instead of feeding it, by letting us teachers get together to hone our skills), anyway, at the Jobalike we were looking at the proficiency levels and some teachers were saying, “too bad we can’t retain a kid if she has not reached level X by the end of year Y.”

    And I was thinking about this post, thinking, “Well, if all we did was talk to the kids, in every level, and make sure that everyone is comprehending, then we could just welcome anyone, really, into any level. This would take some major skillage on the part of the teacher but it is what I think is possible if we truly stop thinking that magically everyone will be at Intermediate Low or whatever by March 31.

    That is based in the old 19th and 20th century industrial model of education. Making widgets not kids, preparing factory floor workers (which jobs are GONE by and large) instead of independent thinkers, and making us teachers into mere “providers of instructional services”, not the life coaches, role models, leaders, and meaning-makers that we really are.

    The time is here for us to create creativity and hone the kids’ group thinking skills. I feel that in the OWIs this year (pretty much all we have done- OWIs and then follow-up literacy with write and discuss and reading options), the kids are getting a ton of language but also they are learning some 21st century workplace and life skills – being a member of a group working together to create an imaginative product, learning to negotiate meaning in a group (in any language!), learning to be OK with accepting others’ ideas and moving forward and incorporating them into the work, learning to listen, learning to be patient with the group process and learning to tune into a higher group mind. THIS IS WHAT THE WORKPLACE IS THESE DAYS.

    1. collaboration and cooperation at best with OWIs. 21st century skills indeed!

      Did you get my email about presenting on the 9th of October? I got chosen.

      Tomorrow I will be talking to some HS teachers that feed from my MS. I need some talking points. I will post it on the FB group.

      1. I got your email. HS feeders, talking points. I wish I knew Steven, I am kind of at a loss right now. Here is Day Three of French 1/2 at the high school my kids feed into (YES, I stalk the guys blog. I am not ashamed to admit it!)

        We learned the alphabet and practiced spelling. We counted to 10 and we reviewed basic greetings.
        Devoirs: Go to the blog, find the page called “Counting/Alphabet/Greetigs.” Practice the numbers 1-10 until they are mastered. Practice the alphabet until it is mastered. Review the greetings you’ve learned. Feel free to learn some new ones.


        I was just telling Rhea who is student teaching in my room, I still have issues with the alphabet and numerals. They are actually hard to acquire. I find that I look at that symbol, a letter or a numeral, and it just means L1 to me…

        For homework, MASTER the ALPHABET in French?!?

        1. They don’t need the alphabet. And this is a combined 1/2 class. Whoa!

          Also, on this homework request:

          …review the greetings you’ve learned….

          I have this to say about that:

          There is a danger in teaching greetings without visual reference. There are too many of them. Moreover, the expressions in French:

          How are you?
          What is your name?

          can sound very much alike:

          Comment allez-vous?
          Comment vas-tu?
          Comment vous appelez-vous?
          Comment t’appelles-tu?

          Not only that, there are many different ways to ask how a person is:

          Ça va?
          Comment ça va?
          Vous allez bien?
          Comment vous portez-vous?

          Now, the brain has to handle each of these arrangements differently, because each sound pattern is different. It is bewildering for kids who have never formerly studied a language before.

          Yet, since we are usually under district pressure to “teach greetings” in the first few weeks of school (the district and the book publishers think that asking how one is or what one’s name is or what time it is or what the weather is are easy tasks), we drown our kids in these complex sound patterns and undermine the trust that we are otherwise so carefully trying to build with our students.

          Usually what happens is that the teacher walks around the room with a fake smile and fake interest (do they really care how the kid is?) saying the “How are you” question over and over, and very soon the kids’ eyes start to glaze over and with good reason. How would you like to be sitting in a room where someone keeps asking people how they are for five or ten minutes?

          Some teachers even sneak in things like “What is your name” (which sounds a lot like “How are you” in French) and then, when the kid innocently answers that they feel good today, the teacher says in English, “Ha ha! I tricked you! I asked you your name, not how you are!” which begins a tirade of using L1.5 to explain the difference and the kids just scrunch down in their seats in an effort to get away from this over-explainer who asks boring questions.

          So we need to till the greetings soil with absolute simplicity, so that our students really get it. We can teach greetings slowly over the course of the entire year, a little bit at a time. Delivering easy to understand and interesting and meaningful comprehensible input from the beginning, clearly enforcing rules, going slowly, talking only about the kids, these things will have the kids leaning forward in their seats trying to understand what is going on. But how can we do this with greetings?

          No formal reps in class on greetings. Greetings are too boring, too complex, too similar sounding to teach using circling in class. We can teach them in conversations in stories or use them in the hallways.

          I like the way Sabrina starts her classes with greetings, with a big list of possible responses on a big sticky note and she goes around to each kid and asks them how they are doing. If it is a repeat answer, she says in French, “Already taken!”

          Here are those responses to “How are you?” that she uses:

          Ça va/ Ça ne va pas – Good/Not good
          comme çi comme ça – so-so
          Je vais bien – I’m well
          J’ai confiance en moi – I’m confident about myself
          J’ai soif – I’m thirsty
          J’ai faim – I’m hungry
          J’ai sommeil – I’m sleepy
          J’ai mal – I am sore, I hurt
          Je me sens/Je suis… I feel/I am…
          content – happy
          heureux – happy
          excité – excited
          amoureux – in love
          en forme – in shape, feeling good
          fier/ fière – proud
          soulagé – relieved
          grincheux – grumpy
          irrité – upset
          stressé – stressed
          triste – sad
          fâché – angry
          inquiet – worried
          frustré – frustrated
          nerveux – nervous
          déçu – disappointed
          vaseux – out of it
          malade – ill, sick
          confus – confused
          épuisé – exhausted

          1. Sabrina’s is way more communicative.

            I had a parent during a back to school night mention how my class doesnt “teach” the alphabet. I told him. I have limited time in class only 45 minutes. I need them to say something. Also, in France no one ever asked me to spell anything. I just wrote it for them.

          2. The parent felt you needed to teach the alphabet. Funny, I don’t think you would ask them what they did for a living and make comments on how they could improve their own job performance. How did we get here, where admins and parents get to exercise their opinions in this way? What, really, is going on?

          3. Respect Ben. We treat teachers as “providers of educational services” which means that parents feel like they can question, suggest, complain etc… about what we do as professionals. It is the consumer culture. I am sure you know that.

            On the positive. I had nothing but parent support for my native speaker Spanish classes when I met them at back to school. They just greeted me and told me that I had their support and trust to engage their kids.

            This was different for parents whose kids were taking French.

          4. If our students were to go over to Paris or Dakar and stand in the street and recite the alphabet, I think the French would get kind of a kick out of that. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea!

            Here is the way I teach the alphabet (from the Big CI Book):

            Bail Out Move #4: How is That Spelled?

            Teaching the alphabet does nothing for acquisition of the language. And yet district benchmarks often include teaching the alphabet, so it must be taught. Here is a way to teach the alphabet while at the same time allowing you to temporarily bail out of some auditory instruction that may not be working.

            Whenever you write a new word or structure on the board, if you wish and if you remember, you can simply ask in the target language, “How is that spelled?” The kids call out the letters of the word, and you write each one down in large letters on the board as the kids associate the right sound with the letters they see you writing. It’s better than the lame repetition of the alphabet that makes you wish you had never become a teacher, or singing some song with the kids for the millionth time in your career.

            The alphabet gets plenty of practice throughout the year in this way. Not only does it give you a moment to regroup your thoughts and the direction of your instruction, it also gives the students a nice neurological break from the hard work of decoding the story, and they clearly enjoy it. For some reason, I prefer spelling names out more than other types of information. When we use this technique, we are teaching writing.

            A shorter variation on this skill requires only a few seconds. Quickly ask, about a certain word that has been written on the board, “This word begins with what letter?” or “What letter does this word end with?” or “What is the third letter in this word?”

            Doing this bail out activity usually requires less than one minute. It’s a winner, but like so much about this work is often hard to remember to do. Practice makes perfect!

          5. With Little Kids we stand up and gesture each letter. Whole body movement,
            arms and legs and all. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. Cute brain break.
            For me.

          6. Steve, I had a student in first grade who told me last year: “My dad said you’re teaching all wrong, you didn’t even teach us the alphabet yet” I had two letters that I wanted to teach that parent right there and then…..

          7. …I had two letters that I wanted to teach that parent right there and then….

            I am guessing F and U. The same thing happened to me. A kid said in class about ten years ago, “You haven’t even taught us our ABC’s yet.” Those are moments when we truly gain some idea of what martyrdom might entail, being belittled for what one believes in. The fact that you and Steve also had to experience “dumb alphabet comments” does make that moment, which still burns bright with pain in my gut after all these years, not so bad. (It’s amazing how much ignorance in speech can hurt others.) I figure if teachers of the calibre of you and Steve have had to endure that, so can I. It’s part of our work as revolutionaries. Dylan Thomas has a line from one of his poems but I can’t find it on the internet, so can only approximate what I remember to be the jist of it: “There are pauses in life that are as empty and dark as death itself, and it is during those moments that the creative change takes place.” Maybe dumb alphabet comments are just a part of those transitions we have to as people who happen to be employed as teachers try to undo some of the disgrace wrought for so many years on our children by well meaning but out of control egomaniacs posing as…..(really?) language teachers.

          8. Sabrina’s list is fantastic. The kids have so many options. Last year I used it. Every student chose a different feeling (maybe I directed that way). Then we had statements about how each person was feeling and it became a memory game asking students for the name of the student who feels “angry” or how Tom feels. The class can end with a quick quiz. The next day can be a review of who people felt. And we have authentically moved from the present time frame to the past time frame. We can then compare with how they feel today.

            As a result of this students began to respond to “How are you?” with a wider range of responses. And nobody had to memorize anything for a quiz and, as a result, they did not feel compelled to forget it the following day. The uninformed observer might conclude that a lot of effort and memorization had been necessary but I was so satisfied with what had happened that I would have had not interest in convincing them otherwise.

        2. Tina’s colleague wrote, “We learned the alphabet and practiced spelling. We counted to 10 and we reviewed basic greetings.”

          Hmmm, maybe I should write a blog article about what we did in my class today:

          Today we learned that AJ and Logan, who were absent, had gone to Hogwarts. They both play Quidditch. AJ plays Chaser for Hufflepuff and shot 10 goals. Logan plays Beater for Slytherin. Logan hit the Bludger. The Bludger hit AJ and broke his arm, but he continued to play. He shot 12 more goals. The Logan hit the Bludger again. Then Bludger hit AJ and broke his jaw, but he continued to play. He shot 32 more goals. Then Logan hit the Bludger again. The Bludger hit AJ and broke his toenail, but AJ continued to play. Alec played the role of AJ; Travis played the role of Logan; Blake was the Keeper. We didn’t even get to the Seeker and the Golden Snitch.

          BTW, this is from one of Anne Matava’s newest scripts, and it fit perfectly with what we were doing.

          I know that we often think in terms of choosing a script and working from there. I would like to suggest becoming familiar with several scripts and having them in the back of your mind. Then, if the class starts to go there, you already have ideas for a story and vocabulary to help with a class story. That’s basically what I did. Since we are starting to look at the German Soccer League, this is pertinent vocabulary: plays, shoots a goal, breaks, continues.

          Today’s class was, needless to say, a home run. Both I and the students were definitely in the moment.

          1. “I know that we often think in terms of choosing a script and working from there. I would like to suggest becoming familiar with several scripts and having them in the back of your mind. ”

            Yes. This is much better than the way I had done it.

        3. One fundamental problem with the Master-the-alphabet assignment (apart from the other fine objections above) is that it ignores the principle that “Language is acoustical” (Segal). Without “mastering” the sounds through continuous input learners with make up their own sounds for the names of the letters, as well as all other words. They will use the made-up sounds until they have sufficient caregiver input with the authentic sounds.

    2. I had to show my sister this post. She adopted a 2 year old 15 months ago from China. The orphanage from where she was adopted had a 17:1 ratio, babies:nanny. All of the Chinese-American children from that particular orphanage are “suffering” from “slower” output. She was told by the school speech therapist that if Lila (my beautiful niece) said “want puppy,” that my sister should hold the puppy away from Lila until she said “Mommy, may I have the puppy, please” and that my sister should do this for every.single.thing. I wanted to cry for Lila. I had no idea that the forced output is perpetuated in the “speech therapist” community. I have been sharing with my sister today about CI. I’ve never really told her about it – and she is so interested. She wants to know if anyone out there knows of any really great resources that she could use to encourage Lila. I think Lila is getting it, as Ben says, in her own good time. Today she’s said things to me like, “Where’s phone?” and “Watch Frozen please.” Anybody know of any awesome resources or materials I could recommend? Thank you!!!

      1. I hope we can locate some resources for you and your sister. Those children don’t need to be shamed like that. This is a red alert, really:

        …I had no idea that the forced output is perpetuated in the “speech therapist” community….

        When we engage the conscious mind in the form of forced output, we go against the best research. Doesn’t that count for anything?

      2. I suggest reading Stephen Camarata’s book, “The Intuitive Parent”.

        He is Professor of Speech and Sound Pathology at Vanderbilt University.

        In the book he debunks the idea of speeding up acquisition and making your kid smarter by various “tricks”. His prescription:
        1. Talk to kids in ways that involve genuine communication
        2. Dialogic reading (aka Read and Discuss)

        I think language teachers ought to read this book as well.

          1. And that’s why Camarata says that kids need only their parents and the things they do intuitively (hence the title, “The Intuitive Parent”) to succeed. All of the skill building, computer programs, and “Baby Einstein” courses can’t hold a candle to talking and reading with kids.

  4. Tina said:

    “we could just welcome anyone, really, into any level.”

    This is what I do. I do not claim to have the major skillage yet, but even though my classes are labeled “1, 2, 3h” on the schedule, I have told guidance, and by now the kids know that if they want to take Spanish they can just sign up for whichever class fits their schedule.

    I did this last year too, my first year at this place. I guess it was a lil radical and presumptuous, but what the heck? Why not?

    My current “level 3H” (honors? what does that even mean?) is about half “level 2” kids plus there is one “level 4H” kid (who is not as “advanced” as some of the other “lower level” kids).

    Guidance splits up the sections on the computer so the kids transcript has the correct “level” so it looks fine.

    I would like to be up front in the course titles and such, but not sure how to state this concisely so that it’s clear to everyone how it works. I’ll need to address this in my upcoming curriculum documents I suspect.

  5. Tina and jen have both mentioned here recently that they would both like to be able to “just welcome anyone, really, into any level.” This is not idle talk. Welcoming any child into any level class will one day be done en masse. It’s the best and the right way to schedule classes. There are absolutely no “levels” in L2 acquisition. There is only making sure that the professionals involved seek to make themselves understood in the most loving way possible.

    1. Today I presented at a “Jamboree” and had the opportunity to speak briefly with Jason Fritze after the event was over. We talked about precisely this idea. There is no reason, other than the convenience of transcripts, to insist that students sit in a course with a particular label. I, fortunately, have the ability to jump faster processors up a level. I do not currently have the ability to suggest that a student stay in a particular level without assigning a failing grade – and I am not about to do that just so a student gets more time in a particular “level”.

      1. I have three kids in French Two – technically an eighth grade class (second semester of what is the high school year one) who have never had French before. They are seventh graders who have Band second period and want to take French. Admin was pretty surprised that I would take them. In the same class (38 kids in there) I have three kids who attended FAIS (French-American Immersion School) for various lengths of time. And then there are the rest of them, just my own kids who had me for French One last year. We are all getting along. I told the FAIS kids that they could go to the library and do a book study…but they are content to participate in class. It seems like an art/drama class to them. Since we are focused on the people in class and being creative together, they are content to listen and participate. And the seventh graders are a gift from admin – they slow me down. To the benefit of everyone. It can be done.

  6. I would think that about 25%-30% of my kids would jump up, skipping a level. I would think that very few would choose to stay at the same level the next year. It would be the kids who know:

    1. that their motive in being in the class is to actually learn the language, and
    2. know for themselves that they would be happier and more relaxed repeating what they just did.

    Such students are rare, but both are positive reasons, odd things these days in schools.

    Remember before people began accepting Krashen’s work as the guiding work that it is for all future language instruction design? Their students used to take languages in secondary schools just for the credit, and the result was a flat and unfulfilling career for them and their teachers. Now, those days are on their way out, as some teachers doing CI start to think of their classrooms as their happy places, which just by chance Tina told me in an email today! Imagine that! FL classrooms as happy places and not as places of doom and gloom, not because of any lack of capacity on the part of the teacher, but rather because everyone was thinking the same way.

  7. or is it un-in-formed? OK. The “untrained” observer.

    Btw this is not a jab so much as a recognition that with only experience in the 3P method (Present, Practice, Produce), we may not know what to look for in the TPRS/CI classroom.

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