Targetless Instruction – 19

This is a repost from 2009:

In mid 2009 Dr. Krashen wrote this draft as part of a series of emails on the topic of non-targeted input and on a new term he had just defined called transparency, which is very much related to the Net Hypothesis. I responded that I felt that what he had written below was true, or true for me. I said that my gut instinct was then (and still is) to rely entirely on the Net Hypothesis as he has described it for us. In the text below, by the way, when Krashen refers to a grammar syllabus, he is not referring to any kind of old style grammar plan, obviously, but to the general tendency of the TPRS community to organize and target a planned sequence of high frequency words – a kind of grammar planning that, as I have said here often, may counter the natural order of acquisition. Just because a word is high frequency doesn’t mean that we can plan when and how we introduce certain structures, in my opinion. I wonder how this article was received. Have we heard about it? I think that it was pretty much ignored. I say that because we in TPRS have ignored it, so who else would want to bring it into any ongoing mainstream discussion?

The Case for Non-Targeted, Comprehensible Input

Stephen Krashen


In nearly all foreign and second language classes, there is a “rule of the day” as well as vocabulary that students are expected to focus on, often referred to as “target” grammar and vocabulary. In traditional pedagogy, exercises are aimed at the conscious learning of targeted grammar and vocabulary. Targeted grammar and vocabulary are also included in brief readings, which are generally packed with these new items, making it impossible to create interesting texts.

Targeted grammar and vocabulary is also present in TPRS (and in “modified” Natural Approach, as manifested in the Dos Mundos textbooks), although the goal in these cases is the acquisition of the target items.  TPRS provides longer, more interesting reading selections and discussions, but still utilizes a grammatical syllabus.

I present here disadvantages of the grammatical syllabus and discuss how TPRS deals with these difficulties. I then argue that we do not need to have a grammatical syllabus, and that “non-targeted” comprehensible input effortlessly deals with grammatical syllabus’ shortcomings. 

Problems with the grammatical syllabus 

The natural order problem.  As is well-known, studies have shown that we acquire the grammar of a language in a predictable order, and this order cannot be broken (Krashen, 1981).  For an item of grammar to be acquired, the language acquirer must be ready to acquire the item. It must, in other words, be at the acquirers’ i+1, where i = aspects of grammar that were most recently acquired.  

This presents a problem for any grammatical syllabus. An obvious solution is to teach along the natural order, presenting earlier acquired aspects of language first and late-acquired aspects of language later. There are, however, problems with this solution. While we have enough evidence for the natural order in a few languages to support the hypothesis that the order exists, we do not know enough to create a syllabus. So far we have only been able to specify the order of acquisition of a handful of structures.

But even if we could specify the entire order of acquisition, it would not be a good idea to base a syllabus on it. I argue below that it is not a good idea to have any grammatical syllabus. 

Constraint on interest.  The goal of the language classroom is to provide input that it genuinely interesting, so interesting that students, in a sense, “forget” that it is in another language.  In fact, the “forgetting hypothesis” requires that the messages be not only interesting, but compelling, with all attention focused on the message to such an extent that thoughts of anxiety do not occur.

The Forgetting Hypothesis is influenced by the concept of “flow,’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993).  Flow is the state people reach when they are deeply but effortlessly involved in an activity. In flow, the concerns of everyday life and even the sense of self disappear – our sense of time is altered and nothing but the activity itself seems to matter.  “Forgetting” and flow occur in reading when readers are “lost in a book,” when they are aware only of the story or the message in the text.  It is when this happens that language acquisition occurs most effectively. Note that this position is the opposite of the “focus on form” or “focus on forms” points of view.

It is very hard to create compelling messages when the hidden agenda is the relative clause.  In fact, it is hard enough to do it this when there are no constraints on what vocabulary and grammar can be used. 

The review problem.  Traditional second and foreign language methods work through what is considered to be the basic grammar of a language the first year. Once a grammar rule is presented and practiced, it may not be seen again until the second year when we review the entire grammar again, because students did not master it the first year.

The unteachable and untaught grammar problem. The grammar presented in class is nowhere near the complete grammar of the language. Even the most accomplished linguists concede that they have only described fragments of languages. Moreover, language textbooks do not contain all that linguists have described, and teachers rarely teach everything in the texts. Thus, a grammatically-based syllabus cannot possibly do the job of producing advanced performers in a second language.

Denial of i+l.   The impoverished input provided by the grammatical syllabus may result in students not getting input in structures they are ready for. Grammatical syllabi typically place easily describable items early in the sequence and more complex ones later, but the natural order runs on different principles. Some rules that look easy to the linguist and teacher (e.g. the third person singular in English) are acquired late, while others that appear to be complex are typically acquired early.

Individual variation.  There is individual variation in the rate of acquisition, because of input factors (some students may have or may have had additional input in the language outside of class) and affective factors.  Even if the rule of the day happens to be at i+1 for some students, it will not be for other members of the class. Some may have already acquired it, and others may be nowhere near ready to acquire it.

These problems are extremely serious for traditional grammar-based classrooms. Current TPRS practice attempts to reduce these problems.

TPRS and the natural order problem: Since the goal of TPRS is acquisition, not learning, TPRS teacher experience might provide us with an idea of what can be acquired early and what cannot. These hypotheses can be confirmed by examining the spontaneous (Monitor-free) language production of students.

TPRS and the constraint on interest: TPRS teachers have been remarkably resourceful in coming up with stories despite the constraint on vocabulary and grammar, thanks to full use of personalization and emphasis of the class as a community (Ray and Seely, 2008).

TPRS and the review problem:  Because of the lively discussions and interesting stories, previously presented structures and vocabulary, to at least some extent, re-appear in TPRS classes and reading materials. 

TPRS and the unteachable/untaught grammar problem and the denial of i+1 problem: No grammatically based method can hope to teach all the rules language users need. TPRS, however, has the advantage of including a great deal of comprehensible input, input that certainly contains more grammar than just the targeted structures. It is quite possible that teachers include some aspects of grammar in the input that are not in the curriculum. The insistence, however, on total translatability (e.g. Ray and Seely, 2008) makes this unlikely.

Individual variation:  TPRS makes some accommodation to this problem by making sure input is always comprehensible, which allows additional exposure for students who are not ready for the structure of the day.

Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input

Although TPRS succeeds in reducing the problems of the grammatical syllabus, there is another possibility: Non-targeted comprehensible input.

The Net Hypothesis

An important corollary of the Comprehension Hypothesis is the “Net” Hypothesis: Given enough comprehensible input, i+1, all the vocabulary and structures the student is ready for, is automatically provided.  In Krashen and Terrell (1983) this was referred to as the Net: “When someone talks to you in a language you have not yet completely acquired so that you understand what is said, the speaker “casts a net” of structure around your current level of competence, your “i”. This net will include many instances of i+1, aspects of language you are ready to acquire” (p.     ).

The same, of course, goes for reading: If you understand the text, and you read enough of it, you will get i+1.

Before looking at the evidence, let us for the moment assume that the Net Hypothesis is correct and see how non-targeted comprehensible input solves the problems of the grammatical syllabus completely.

The natural order problem:  Non-targeted comprehensible input, according to the Net Hypothesis, contains the aspects of language the acquirer is ready for. This means we do not need to know the natural order. Rather, grammatical competence will emerge in a natural order as a result of the acquirer getting non-targeted comprehensible input.

Constraint on interest: With non-targeted comprehensible input there are no target structures and target vocabulary that must be used in creating activities and stories. There are no grammatical or vocabulary constraints (need period here) The input only needs to be comprehensible and interesting (or compelling).  This is hard enough to do.

The problem of providing input that is both comprehensible and interesting is the fundamental problem of beginning language teaching. It is easy to get input that is interesting but not comprehensible from the real world. Unfortunately school tends to provide input that is comprehensible, but not interesting. It is hard to get both, to say interesting things using limited language, even if one is not required to use specific vocabulary and grammar.

Denial of i+1: Non-targeted comprehensible input, according to the Net Hypothesis, solves this problem easily: i+1 is always there, if there is enough input.

The review problem: Non-targeted comprehensible input provides natural review, especially if there is some topic continuity to the progression of activities and reading.

The unteachable/untaught grammar problem: This is no problem for non-targeted comprehensible input. “Unteachable rules” are only a problem when the goal is conscious learning. Second language acquirers have always been able to acquire rules that have not been taught and that cannot be taught.

Individual variation:  If the input is reasonably comprehensible for all members of the class, everyone is getting what they need, even if i+1 is different for every member of the class. See the discussion of “picking out” i+1 below. 

The evidence 

The evidence supporting the Net Hypothesis comes originally from first language acquisition. Caretaker (parents, siblings, and others) speech to children is typically comprehensible, but is not “finely tuned” to the child’s current linguistic level. As the child develops linguistically, caretaker speech tends to get more complex, but the relationship is not exact: The caretaker does not supply precisely the next rule the child is ready for.

Evidence supporting this includes studies showing that the correlations between input complexity and the child’s competence are usually positive, but are not extremely high. Cross (1977) concluded that “… the syntax of mothers, even to rapidly developing children, is not uniformly pitched just a step ahead of the child in either linguistic or psycholinguistic complexity. Some utterances are pitched at the child’s level, some even below this, and others are considerably in advance of what the child themselves can say” (p. 180).

No studies of input to second language acquirers have examined input to this level of detail, but we do know that teacher talk is roughly-tuned to the level of students (Krashen, 1981). We also know that second language acquirers improve from communicating with native speakers and from reading authentic reading material (Krashen, 1981, 2004), input that is certainly not finely tuned to the acquirer’s i+1.

Picking out i+1

There is, in addition, evidence that children are able to pick out the aspects of the input that are relevant to their stage of development, that is, they can pick out what is at their i+1.

First language researchers (Gleitman, Newport and Gleitman, 1984) studied the relationship between the frequency of yes/no questions in caretaker input and the development of the verb phrase auxiliary.  This was suspected because in yes/no questions the verb phrase auxiliary in English is placed at the beginning of a clause and is stressed, which makes it very prominent (e.g. Is John playing the violin? Does Mary have a kite?).  They found that the frequency of yes/no questions was indeed very strongly related to verb phrase auxiliary development for the older children in their sample (23.9 to 24.8) months (r = .91) but was not significantly related to verb phrase auxiliary development for the younger children (18.5 to 12.3) months.

The two groups received exactly the same input; for the older children, however, this structure was at their i+1. For the younger group, it was beyond their i+1. This did not, apparently, impair their comprehension. This suggests that the best input for acquisition is input that contains maximum richness but remains comprehensible. Such data will contain, inevitably, some i+n (input beyond i+1), as caretaker speech always does, in the form of later-acquired aspects of grammar. Including this “noise” does not impair communication, nor would deleting it make the input more comprehensible. Rich input provides the acquirer with a better sample to work with, more opportunities to hear and read structures he or she is ready to acquire.

Roger Brown summarizes this point of view succinctly. After reviewing research on how caretakers talk to children, Brown offered this advice in answer to the question, “How can a concerned mother facilitate her child’s learning of language?”

“Believe that your child can understand more than he or she can say, and seek, above all, to communicate. To understand and be understood.  To keep your minds fixed on the same target. In doing that, you will, without thinking about it, make 100 or maybe 1000 alterations in your speech and action. Do not try to practice them as such. There is no set of rules of how to talk to a child that can even approach what you unconsciously know. If you concentrate on communicating, everything else will follow” (Brown, 1977, p. 26).

The same, I am hypothesizing, holds for second language acquisition.


The Net Hypothesis is, of course, a hypothesis. As is the case with all scientific hypotheses, it could be refuted tomorrow. I suggest here some modest ways of introducing non-targeted comprehensible input into TRPS classes, and at the same time further test whether the hypothesis is correct. 


A modest first step is the creation of readers that are not targeted at certain structures and vocabulary. Instead of writing stories that include just those items that have been taught or are about to be taught, writers can just try to make the texts interesting and comprehensible, based on their own experience with students at the beginning levels. This of course is easy to test with real people who are at that level – if they understand it (and like it), then the text is appropriate; the Comprehension and Net Hypotheses claim that just the right aspects of language will be included automatically.

To see if the Net Hypothesis is in fact correct, we can examine the texts of the comprehensible/interesting readers that are constructed on this basis and determine what structures and vocabulary are in fact covered. If they are successful with beginners, for example, they should contain structures that research tells us are early acquired. We can also compare the achievement of classes using these texts with those using readers matched to a grammatical syllabus and vocabulary list.

In class

We can also consider loosening up class discussions and in-class stories. Our focus has been making input 100% comprehensible, with students being able to understand, and translate, every word (Ray and Seely, 2008). It might be more efficient, and easier, to relax this constraint and insist only that the input appear to be fully comprehensible. I am suggesting that it is ok, and even desirable, that the input contain a small amount of noise, or i+n, that acquirers will not even notice.

Note that some of the late-acquired structures have little communicative value. The third-person singular –s in English is hard to avoid in English input, yet it is acquired very late. English acquirers have no trouble understanding input containing –s because it contributes so little to meaning. “Teaching” –s to beginners is useless, because it is late-acquired, and “simplifying” the input to exclude it is hopeless.

An implication

Ray and Seely (2008) emphasize the importance of translation because they feel that student should understand every word of what is said in class and what they read. If we only require the feeling of full comprehension, if input is allowed to contain some i+n, we are no longer restricted to translation as a means of making input comprehensible.

We are free to use pictures and realia, as emphasized in Natural Approach (see also comments by Carol Gaab in Ray and Seely, p. 235), as well as other means of making input comprehensible that do not obviously provide a one-to-one mapping from form to meaning (e.g. background readings that provide a general context for a story).

The usual objection to the use of pictures and realia is the possibility that students will not get the exact meaning of a vocabulary item. Ray and Seely, for example, point out that when we only use pictures and do not use translation a student might conclude that “caminar” means “to go” instead of “to walk.”

This is, however, the way vocabulary is acquired: Each time we understand a word as part of comprehensible input, we acquire part of the meaning of the word. As we encounter it more and more, we gradually build up the precise meaning of the word as well as its grammatical properties. Research in first language development suggests, in fact, that each time we encounter a word in a meaningful context we acquire about 5% of the meaning of the word (Nagy, Herman and Anderson, 1985).  The response to the objection that students may not get the entire meaning with one exposure is to provide many exposures in different contexts, something that non-targeted comprehensible input can easily provide.

NOTE: This is not to say that translation is bad. As I have pointed out elsewhere (Krashen, 2006), when translation is used to make input more comprehensible, it is very helpful. TPRS has done a great deal to restore translation to a place of honor in foreign/second language education.


Brown, R. 1977. Introduction. In Snow, C. and Ferguson, C. (Eds.) Talking to Children. pp. 1-27. Cambridge University Press.

Cross, T. 1977. Mothers’ speech adjustments: the contribution of selected listener variables. In Snow, C. and Ferguson, C. (Eds.) Talking to Children. pp. 151-88. Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi , M. 1992. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.

Gleitman, L., Newport, E. and Gleitman, H. 1984. The current status of the motherese hypothesis. Journal of Child Language 11: 43-79.

Krashen, S. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. New York: Prentice Hall. Available at

Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann and Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. 2006. Is first language use in the foreign language classroom good or bad? It depends. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 2 (1): 9

Krashen, S. and Terrell, T. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Hayward, CA: Alemany Press.

Nagy, W., P. Herman, and R. Anderson. 1985. Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly 23: 6-50.

Ray, B. and Seely, C. 2008. Fluency through TPR Storytelling. Berkeley: Command Performance Language Institute. (Fifth Edition)



48 thoughts on “Targetless Instruction – 19”

  1. I got an instant response from Dr. Krashen just now and publish it here – (he has given me permission to post things he sends about his work here)

    The [article] is an update or reminder of what I wrote in the early 1980’s. I haven’t tried to publish it yet, but I should. I think most people ignore this concept and try to do what I call “modified natural approach,” give comprehensible input but still focus on a target structure. Classic TPR does this. It works because it is CI: students get lots of interesting CI and acquire OTHER structures, not necessarily the one the teacher focuses on.

    I responded:

    I agree. I am wondering about the reliance we see in TPRS on the three structures in stories. I don’t think that it is necessarily bad to do that, but is it such a bad thing to introduce other new structures in a story? I do it all the time. As you know, the party line is now (and has always been) that any other words in a story script must have already been acquired so that ostensibly the only words that are new in the story – under ideal conditions – are the three structures. This is supposed to limit all new input to only the targeted structures, thus giving the kid’s mind a break and the kid acquires only the new structures (one or two usually, rarely three) taught in that story. What do you think about that idea?

    Random other thoughts on this (not written to Krashen – yet):

    I also think that some of those other 2009 emails need to be brought into the discussion. I mean, this was the period when Krashen came up with the word transparency and also the concept of compelling input. This would take us into a discussion of what makes up a compelling CI class and how to achieve that. But for now, I’ll wait to see what he says in response to my question above.

  2. Ben,

    Very interesting reading. Has there been any further research on the Net Hypothesis since then? I ask only because it seems that this entire conversation is based on accepting that hypothesis as fact, and the evidence was lacking. I want to believe in it, it makes sense to me intuitively, but grammar instruction makes sense to most teachers intuitively as well. It is hard for me to get up before my colleagues and argue for CI and TPRS and the net hypothesis without having a hammer to drop down on them.

    My other question is about transparency. What do you mean by it? It isn’t mentioned in this article at all, but you emphasize it.

    thanks for the compelling reading!

  3. …it is hard for me to get up before my colleagues and argue for CI and TPRS and the net hypothesis without having a hammer to drop down on them….

    Since it is an intuitive response to something that can’t be proven, I wouldn’t try to convince anyone about it. I would just use it for myself because I respond to it personally.

    From discussion I had with Dr. Krashen this past summer, I would guess that the Net Hypothesis is still out there next to the Wingnut Factory in the eyes of most scholars.

    Isn’t it strange how, if there is a 2% chance of a hypothesis failing, the 98% that is so obviously true in practice is somehow discounted and the idea is dismissed as not fully provable? Hmmm. As if the grammar teachers have research on their side….

    On your transparency question, here is another email from October of 2009 in which Dr. Krashen tells me and Linda Li about this word. Again, I publish this here with his permission:


    I introduce here a new term, transparency. Transparent input is input in which the acquirer understands every word, or at least has the feeling of understanding every word. There is, in other words, no “noise” in the input. Also, in transparent input, the listener or reader is certain of what each word means, that is, ALL the semantic features of each new word are clear.

    TPRS, or what we might call “classic TPRS,” as done by Blaine Ray, aims for 100% transparency. This is done by insisting that all new vocabulary be translated, that input be slow, and that new words are repeated a great deal. If movements are used, as in TPR, it is essential, according to TPRS practitioners, that there is a clear and obvious connection between the movement and the word or phrase used, and that they be simultaneous.

    The transparency requirement assumes that full word meanings will not be gradually acquired from context, but that the meaning must be absolutely clear for every word from the beginning.

    1. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak

      Wow Ben,

      Fascinating stuff!! Thank you so much for providing the space to talk about this in this timely manner.
      I read this and need to reread it again this weekend in a quiet setting.
      However, the one thing I take away immediately is summed up in krashen s advice for now (until the net hypothesis can be refuted, it it can be at all):

      “We can also consider loosening up class discussions and in-class stories. Our focus has been making input 100% comprehensible, with students being able to understand, and translate, every word (Ray and Seely, 2008). It might be more efficient, and easier, to relax this constraint and insist only that the input appear to be fully comprehensible. I am suggesting that it is ok, and even desirable, that the input contain a small amount of noise, or i+n, that acquirers will not even notice.”

      So I am going to interpret this as an OK to continue doing what I am doing, which is to not restrict myself entirely to the 3 structures I am tring to teach but if I need to use out of bound stuff , I will continue doing so as long as I make it comprehensible in whichever way possible. If they are ready for it, good, if not they will in time. Amen.

      I wonder if any research has been done (may be through action research) in the TPRS world regarding what is/is not acquirred early in our students’ spontaneously language production without the use of the monitor in regards to the natural order. This would be a great tool to have I think.

      1. …if they are ready for it, good, if not they will in time….

        And If I interpret Krashen correctly, the decision if they are ready for something new is not ours, but that of the deeper mind where all of the organizational work is done, at a level far beyond anything we can do consciously as teachers.

        I often think that we try to think of so many things in class that we forget to be with the kids in the real way.

        Another thing we do that I find weird is to assume that all 35 kids are learning, absorbing the same thing at the same rate. They’re not.

        We’ll never figure it all out. I say piss on the constant assessing, the constant ruminating on how this all works. The more we stay stuck in our minds about this, the less our kids will perceive us as fun. When I am fully present with my kids, it is so much different, so remarkably fun, and I am not thinking about doing it “right” in those moments. Those are great moments, those moments of not thinking about myself or the method or any of that stuff, because it is then when I see how absolutely brilliant they really are. I just have to be out of the way for that to happen.

  4. I think that *compelling* is the key and don’t think that TPRS necessarily needs to limit structures. However, for planning purposes, limiting structures makes sense – but that doesn’t mean we have to deny our students more language (by limiting ourselves) when they are fully engaged.

    Being a baby in TL myself, I feel more comfortable when I know what it is that I’m focusing on; but I still “go out of bounds” if the momentum of the class takes me there. The reality is though, I cannot keep the CI compelling for everyone all the time. Just my thoughts on the topic.

  5. I was only able to skim this–I need to read this a few times through very closely. My initial response is that the rigid program of circling three structures is in place for OUR benefit as teachers. We need the structure so that we can internalize a rhythm of communicating with our students in a comprehensible way that is interesting but does not overwhelm them. Circling three structures is not essential to the students’ acquisition of a language, and if we can offer comprehensible and compelling input for our students without following that pattern, then great–but most of us can’t, not yet. We need the structure to fall back on when we are uncertain where all this is going, or when administrators are asking us where this all is going. I do see activities like OWI (one word image) and “just hanging out in the TL” that Ben and others have demonstrated as indicators of this net-based instruction of the future that Krashen is pointing to. It all goes back to the mind-meld, knowing what is interesting/engaging to our students, and exactly what they can handle in terms of new structures (=noise).

    Thought-provoking indeed. Thanks for posting this, Ben.

    1. I fully agree John. Great points. And then there is the thing about having non-motivated kids tht factors into the discussion. We are always adjusting our teaching to kids who have long ago, to one degree or another, mentally checked out of school in all their classes in terms of showing up to really play (read “learn”). That fact is a big complication if we are looking for true things to say about the points Krashen raises above.

      1. “We are always adjusting our teaching to kids who have long ago, to one degree or another, mentally checked out of school in all their classes in terms of really showing up to really play (read learn)”.
        That is my situation , with my last two classes of the day, a mix of 10, 11 and 12th high schoolers , most of whom I had in French 1 last year. Some are way advanced in terms of acquisition, and some failed French 1 but were put in my French 2 b/c they have nowhere else to put them!!!! The school doesn’t get that there is some degree of comprehensiveness in languages. I was shocked when I heard of such policy . How can a kid who fails a level 1 be accepted in a level 2?! Nowhere else in academia could this happen. I m going to talk to my principle about that tomorrow, may be things can be changed b/c it is absurd. It sends the kids a message that the teacher is not important and creates a inherent tension the following year.
        However, b/c I know what I know about CI, I know that it really doesn’t matter b/c those kids theoretically could catch up. The problem does not lie in their ability or lack thereof, but in the other stuff that makes them not show up (or be able to show up) in class (emotional baggage, socio-economic and so forth) . I always have hope I can turn a kid around but it’s so hard, especially when I have no background or training in psychology.
        I wanted to pull my hair out today with a couple of them. One is way out there with ADD, so as we were doing the choral reading of the story we did yesterday, I had him come to the front of the room to check that all of his classmates’ lips were moving. And as expected he did great. So when I give him a job to do , it’ s great , he gives me a mental break, but the moment we are done he goes back to his regular self and I start getting angry at him. I have such dichotomous feelings towards him, on the one hand I get mad at him and on the other I can’t help but think to myself that he is not a bad person and that it is NOT his fault. I guess I have to accept some things are just outside of my sphere of influence. No matter what, the idea I can reach all kids is just an illusion in my opinion.

        1. I think the issue of students being in more advanced classes might be a problem in all grade schools. It is in mine for two reasons. 1) Kids fail Latin but still move on to the next grade (being held back in grade school takes serious problems it seems), and 2) students come in from other schools in the 7th grade (e.g.) which would be the third year of instruction for those students at the school since 5th grade. I haven’t had too much problem with it yet because I’m practically “started over” each of the last three years because I’ve been learning so much new things and only this year have I really started doing CI/TPRS. But next year I’ll have more multi-level classes with new students coming in the later years. I know in principle it can go well because I just need to make it comprehensible. But in practice I’m not sure how the details will work out (does it require more point and pause for that one or two new students?)

  6. …on the one hand I get mad at him and on the other I can’t help but think to myself that he is not a bad person and that it is NOT his fault. I guess I have to accept some things are just outside of my sphere of influence….

    Sabrina I would say to read the article John just posted. I so agree with the green light idea. We have to deal with such kids. No option. Deal directly with the kid agressively by picking up the phone for starters or we lose the class, as John pointed out.

    1. Ben, I just read the article and I am in full agreement with John’s point of view. We have to react immediately and consistently to the kids who test us and bully us. However, ADD I think falls in a different category.
      The kids don’ t necessarily do it on their own volition, some of them need medication to control the impulse and if the parents don’t want to address it or give the medication, what can we do? I was such a parent. The teachers of Dylan, my 14 year old were bugging me for the last 2 years to get him checked for ADD. And I refused b/c I didn’t want to medicate him knowing all the side effects it has on the kids (loss of sleep/ appetite , etc) but under the pressure I gave in and it worked , he is now focused and doing well in high school. In his case I think he will outgrow this b/c I think (and this is purely intuitive) that all it is is his nervous system not being fully developed yet.
      But this one kid I have is so strong on the ADD spectrum, he is chewing on anything he can put a hand on, he just never stops blurting and moving uncontrollably. He doesn’t bully me or shows me disrespect, b/c he is a very sweet kid and apologetic and does not mean to disrupt, he just CAN’T control it. Medication could help but he doesn’t take any. So what can we do about these kids?
      I know this issue has come on this blog before and I don’t think we found a solution for it. Correct me if I am wrong.

        1. Ben,

          I am not sure I understand your question. Is this a rethorical question ,or are you genuinely asking? If it is a genuine question, I can say that I have more than one kid whose needs are unmet. These kids get lost in the shuffle, we have 3000 kids in our school, not enough teachers, social workers, etc…. I have a kid seating on my chair b/c I don’t have a desk for him yet, let alone taking care of the kids’ emotional needs. That is why Chicago went on strike.
          So I guess I can only do the best I can with what I have. I take the good days and on the bad days I vent on your blog (and thank you for listening), that s all.

          1. No it’s true Sabrina and it wasn’t my intent to suggest that you can change anything – it was more rhetorical with that kid. I am sure you are doing all you can and much more. Plus it must be just whack to be a French national teaching Chicago city kids when the little French fauntleroys are so much more easy by comparison, I am certain, given the French constraints on kids. Mes apologies if they are necessary.

  7. OK – this is probably a good place to put this….I had parent-teacher conferences tonight. they were AWESOME! My Level 2’s wrote individual stories the other day for the FIRST time! (I gave them 10 minutes to write) they were incredible! I was SO pleased with them. So, at PT conf tonight I showed the parents, who were VERY impressed, and then their son/daughter read their stories BACK to their parents in English!!! I was so proud! Especially since the kids are LOVING to do this! They asked me if they could write a story individually as a big project! (Of COURSE!!!!)
    BUT…..the biggie of the night for me, as a professional: I held one of the conferences completely in SPANISH! the mom is from El Salvador, and I greeted her in Spanish, and was not afraid to keep it going in Spanish!!! Now, I am NOT a native speaker – only studied for a month at a time in Spanish-speaking countries a few times, and I am the product of grammar-based instruction. But, now that I am in my 2nd year of CI, and using the language EVERYDAY – as it FLOWS!!!! – my speaking confidence has skyrocketed!
    I love this. What a reward I received tonight!

    1. I did this for open house. I showed the parents their kids’ free write. I let them know that it was light years ahead of what a “normal” high school class could do.

    2. I did this for open house. I showed the parents their kids’ free write. I let them know that it was light years ahead of what a “normal” high school class could do. I have half of my class writing about 130 words in 10 minutes.

  8. Ben,

    I am new to the forum and I think it is a fantastic thing you got going here. thanks for all the hard work to help us foreign language teachers. Fascinating stuff on Krashen. I am an avid fan of Krashen and his work. I tend to agree with the non targeted input but at the same time I can see kids tune out when they have no idea what I am saying. But even if the kids know what we are saying and they are not ready for the structure they will not acquire it. I think that making it 80-90 % comprehensible with some noise makes a lot of sense. I also think that making kids listen is the key. The JGR is the key. When I learned the language in Argentina I HAD to learn it in order to survive. I can remember there were times when I didn’t want to learn it but I had no choice and I eventually acquired it because I received so much input ( much of which I didn’t understand at first). So I think with TPRS we are getting there and keeping it mostly comprehensible and forcing kids to listen and making it interesting are the keys.

    Darren Drago
    TPRS teacher in Temecula, CA

  9. …I tend to agree with the non targeted input but at the same time I can see kids tune out when they have no idea what I am saying….

    I thought I was kind of nuts lately bc when I looked at that last video (that I pulled until I can study it more and subtitle it) I could see that I was introducing too many new structures but the kids were getting it and it confused me. Your sentence here speaks to that directly:

    …I think that making it 80-90 % comprehensible with some noise makes a lot of sense….

    Further clarficiation comes from this:

    …I also think that making kids listen is the key. The JGR is the key….

    It makes me see that before jGR, all those years, I wasn’t putting that first – I didn’t have a way of making them pay attention and it drove me nuts for all those eleven years prior to this one, where the jGR has indeed proven to make all the difference.

    This sentence in what you said is key:

    …even if the kids know what we are saying and they are not ready for the structure they will not acquire it….

    You see this is pretty much “in your face” to anybody who preaches that, once a story is done, the three structures, if they have been sufficiently circled/repeated, have been acquired. That is what I have been wrestling with.

    I see now that your reminder that we acquire what the deeper mind decides we acquire (pure Krashen) is the key, and whether the input is targeted to just a few structures, as in a story, or to a lot of structures (as when we go out of bounds in a story) doesn’t matter.

    As you say, the student must be engaged. I don’t deny that less structures make it easier – of course they do – but to have a little noise in there is not such a bad thing.

  10. Ben,

    I am seeing on a daily basis that what I arbitrarily decide is going to be the focus of the lesson and circle it hard and use it in the story and circle it some more, all that has only a tangential relationship to whether or not my kids acquire it. Their acquisition seems primarily based on factors that I have no control over (i.e. their personal interest, their level, their maturity).

    I was circling “se queda” “he/she stays” in connection to the Matava story “An Important Test”. We circled it, talking about where they stayed on vacation (me of course in my house!), and then worked on it in the story. Yet at the end of the story they were not all on board with that structure. They were, however, all on board with “he flew” talking about the dog who magically flew out of the river at the end of the story. I touched on that 1/50th of the amount I worked on “he stays” but it was so much more memorable that it stuck with them so much more.

  11. So David between you and Darren and me could we say that we have at least a mini-forum supporting what Krashen says about compelling input and the Net Hypothesis? And could we say that the largely accepted idea in the TPRS world that our kids acquire the targeted structures may not be perfectly accurate? I really feel the truth of that example about the kids retaining “he flew”. This is fascinating stuff and thank you so much for throwing it into the mix of this discussion.

    1. Doesn’t the Natural Order hypothesis state that grammatical structures are acquired in a predictable order? If I am understanding this hypothesis correctly (anyone correct me if I am wrong), each language ‘s average order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes is different from one another (not language neutral).
      Furthermore, isn’t the rate of acquisition different in each and every child? Could we then extrapolate and add in the mix of this fascinating conversation that kids will acquire whatever structure we are teaching whenever it fits that order (unknown to us), and whenever they are ready for it ( following each individual’s rate of acquisition)? The new emerging question that comes to my mind is:
      Is the structure I am teaching my kids too early for them to acquire and are they ready for it (no matter if I circle it 100 times or 1000 times)? Since we don’t have an answer to both questions, the problem becomes irrelevant and outside of my sphere of influence.

      1. And here’s one more question to ignore:
        If we knew the order of acquisition and deliberately postponed the presentation of”late-acquired” structures, would that postponement delay the acquisition of those structures even further? In other words, does the presentation early on of late-acquired structures actually facilitate their acquisition when the student is ready for them?

        1. On that same note, but not sure whether it has made a huge difference or not yet, but last years, as a dept., we decided to incorporate some things that are difficult for kids to pick up on (in our observation) as early as possible so that they could get the max reps possible!! (btw…se queda is one of those!!)

          with love,

          1. Exactly, Laurie! If we delay exposing students to “late acquired” structures, how are they ever going to acquire them? The whole idea of NOT sheltering grammar is vital. When kids are not ready to hear it, they just don’t hear it. But one day, kaplunk! It falls into place. I’ll never forget how amazed I was last year with the least grammatical of my students in a group of adults. We were reading the subtitles to Shawshank Redemption. Morgan Freeman said, “he should have died in here.” Before I could say anything, she said, “Il aurait du mourir ici.” Now, grammatically that’s a pretty advanced structure, especially to the French who don’t have modals. This is a woman who still occasionally struggles with his/her. I don’t need any more research to believe in Krashen.

      2. Great points. Do you know how sometimes you look at the kids in the middle of a too fast story and they seem to be following right along? Are they? What are they getting? Can we know? I like that we can’t, if we are to believe Krashen. It takes a lot of the burdensome aspect of teaching off our backs. I don’t know why anyone would not want that. Simplicity is what we are striving for.

        It is amazing to me that before lately, when simplicity (see the category by that name) became my primary goal, which I have now realized in my teaching, I spent days like that. So chaotic. So inwardly painful. Now we are talking in a general way – no big crisis that we have to solve – about the possibility that Krashen is right as you expressed so well above, Sabrina, and if he is right, then a lot of what we do during the day is unnecessary to what the kids actually gain from our instruction. (Does anyone feel the truth of that last statement? I do.)

        It ties to this from Dr. Krashen:

        Compelling input = input that is so interesting that the acquirer at least temporaily forgets it is in another language. There is zero focus on form.


        Personalization > compelling, i.e. personalization is a powerful way of making input more compelling. (But it is not the only way.)

        So there is that word compelling again. Not trying to make a point here – just going back through some old emails. All grist for the mill. I like it that we are challenging the three structure format. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

        1. Here’s another email I found from the language bossman:

          Negotiation = strategies for converting incomprehensible input into comprehensible input

          (1) interactional: e.g please repeat, slow down (built into TPRS, hold up your hand indicating degree of comprehension)
          (2) non-interactional: get background information, select readings and movies carefully, eg series, familiar

          There is no need for negotiation in a 100% transparent classroom. There is a great need for negotiation in the outside world, when the acquirer is not fully competent in the language.

          I hope you don’t mind getting this a little at a time. I am heading toward some interesting conclusions, I think.

  12. Another one, while we’re having fun:

    Transparency: Advantages and Disadvantages

    The major advantage, of course, of transparent input is that it insures comprehensibility. But there are disadvantages (I return to some more advantages later): Most important, it does not allow the acquisition of vocabulary or grammar through context, which is necessary for acquirers to get the full meaning of words (beyond a synonym or translation). This is true because we have not yet fully described the grammar of any language, nor have we described the vocabulary, or lexicon, with subtle meanings and collocations.

    Excessive transparency, especially when translation is used, might encourage focus on form, that is, students deliberately attempting to remember synonyms and rules, which means less focus on meaning.

    1. Even more – I don’t think this stuff is for general consumption or he would have published it. Keep it here in the PLC, where I do have his permission to publish it:

      Students vary with respect to their need for transparency.
      There are two sources of individual variation: personality and past experiences.

      Personality: Hypothesis: People who have less tolerance for ambiguity and are introverted have more need for transparency. The person who can tolderate a high degree of vagueness and is socially aggressive requires little transparency. This person does not need to understand everything right away, and actually enjoys using conversational strategies to make input more comprehensible. My colleague Steven Sternfeld is like this. In fact, for him, language teaching IS teaching students conversational strategies.

      At the other extreme: There are people who do not tolerate vagueness, who like “certainty” in their lives, and who are shy. They require high levels of transparency.

      Notice I am not discussing (at least not yet) the other possibilities: extroverts with low tolerance for ambiguity and shy people, introverts, with high tolerance for ambiguity.

      Next: The other source of variation – past experience in school.

        1. Next email:

          Past experience in school as a source of variation

          Some students are “battered” language students. Because of past experiences in foreign language classes, classes in which they were exposed to incomprehensible input or no input in the language at all, they get upset when there is anything they do not understand. Transparent input is theraputic for these students.

          Students who are addicted to conscious learning also fall into this category. These are students who have been told that the only way to acquire language is to consciously learn everything. They like transparent input. The problem is that transparent input allows them to do more conscious learning, it gives them more of what they think they need.

          1. Ding ding ding! Maybe this is one aspect of my 7th grade problem class. They are addicted to their conscious learning. They think if they have been told what a word means, they “learned” it. Ha.

      1. “The person who can tolerate a high degree of vagueness and is socially aggressive requires little transparency. This person does not need to understand everything right away, and actually enjoys using conversational strategies to make input more comprehensible”

        That s me! I am a sophist, I love dialectics. Give me a hypothesis, then tear it to shreds with a counter hypothesis, and then a new one comes out, in this unstoppable cycle. The vaguer, the better, I’m just crazy I think!

      2. Wow! Of course. This totally makes sense. I also think that in addition to the personality of “people who do not tolerate vagueness” there is the developmental issue and also the home situation. This is probably obvious to everyone but it’s kind of all sinking in for me in this thread.

        I have been having a very hard time lately with a few students who fit this description. So much so that I am in the process of a major “reset.” This information supports how I am trying to teach and it definitely underscores (for me anyway) that I must re-prioritize so that my main focus is personalized, compelling interaction that fosters a genuine sense of belonging. The structures I end up using will give us a focus, but I can’t know which ones to pick.

        1. …the structures I end up using will give us a focus, but I can’t know which ones to pick….

          This reflects what Sabrina said:

          …is the structure I am teaching my kids too early for them to acquire and are they ready for it (no matter if I circle it 100 times or 1000 times)? Since we don’t have an answer to both questions, the problem becomes irrelevant and outside of my sphere of influence….

          And that is what you said here, jen:

          …this information supports how I am trying to teach and it definitely underscores (for me anyway) that I must re-prioritize so that my main focus is personalized, compelling interaction that fosters a genuine sense of belonging…

          So maybe it’s not all about the structures. Maybe it’s about personalized and compelling comprehensible input and the (far more complex than we could ever grasp consciously) work that goes on in the deeper mind that we call the Net Hypothesis. But with the focus, as jen says above, on:

          …personalized, compelling interaction that fosters a genuine sense of belonging….

          So the story we pick may not matter. We just roll the dice on structures and that is just fine. I like this line of thinking bc I really have felt for a long time that everyone gets too wigged out about the structures, which ones to choose, which ones are highest frequency, etc. Look at how well CWB works, and it has no formal structure presentation process – it just focuses totally on the kids. Better to focus on throwing out a big net and getting a big catch, like Judy said here yesterday:

          …this is why the Net hypothesis makes so much sense to me. We cast our net, over and over again, and we’re never sure what is going to come in and what will slip through the holes, but if we do it often enough, we’ll get a pretty good catch. It may not be exactly what we’d planned on, but none of our students will go hungry. And when they start casting their own nets, reading in the TL, listening to songs, films, etc., we’ll know the battle is won….

          In other words we can say that we may be gaining in this discussion key insights into what language is – a mere vehicle to greater, more human things.

          Why focus on the language when you can focus on the kid? Why analyze the structural components of the bridge when you can happily skip across it to your friend’s house, knowing that it is just there to serve and help you have a happier life? Why worry about how the Giants scored when they and their fans had such fun just winning the first game of the World Series tonite, in the happiest of places in the City by the Bay?

          Really, we are so looking at the trees of language, y’all, when we could be listening to the sound of the wind in the leaves, hearing melodies, hearing laughter….

        2. jen,

          Like Ben just said maybe it’s not about the structures but about Comprehensible Input. At the beginning of the year I gathered the high frequency list for French trying to prepare for the year (how can we ever prepare for comprehensible input?), OK I do prepare somewhat but my plans always fall short). I was thinking may be I would try and hit most of them throughout the year but I soon realized it was a very difficult task to accomplish. So I tossed that idea aside b/c it dawned on me that when I speak French to my kids in the stories most of what I do is use the high frequency words structures anyway!

          1. “So I tossed that idea aside b/c it dawned on me that when I speak French to my kids in the stories most of what I do is use the high frequency words structures anyway!” Exactly, Sabrina. That’s what it’s all about.

  13. Last one for now:

    Linda Li and I visited the AUA Natural Thai center in Bangkok last year. The method is claimed to be consisted with the Comprehension Hypothesis, was developed by Marvin Brown, and is described in a book, the Listening Approach, by Adrian Palmer and Marvin Brown. We visited several classes and had great conversations and dinner with the director.

    Their classes are the opposite, in a sense, of TPRS. The input is not transparent at all. They use two teachers who engage in interesting activities and supply lots of context, and students don’t speak at all: the silent period lasts for hundreds of hours. But the classes are interesting and somewhat comprehensible, thanks to the interest level, background knowledge, chalkboard, and movements/actions of the instructors. (EG there is money on the sidewalk. Would you pick it up if it is ten dollars (yes), five dollars (yes), a penny (no): What is the cutoff?)

    At one end of the transparency extreme you have TPRS, fully transparent and fully comprensible. At the other end you have the Thai center, maybe 5% transparent and 20% comprehensible.

  14. So the real point here in my mind is providing compelling input. That is hard to do. But at the same time input can at least become more interesting when it is understood. I think only understanding 20% of the context is tough. Although my 2 year old girl watches word world everyday and begs to watch it every day. She has graduated from mickeymouse clubhouse her old favorite. I know she can’t understand everyting they say in that show but it is very compelling for her. She will gradually get as time goes on. In our world we need to provide rich, compelling input. It may not work everyday but we must try. Also repetition is very important in my view. I have 4th graders that in third grade acquired lots of past structures do to interest level and lots of repetition. We have got to provide repetition. The bottom line is Krashen in my view is suggesting we provide more input than what we already do. I think when everything is translated and transparent we miss out on more input that maybe could have been provided had we skipped the making it so comprehensible part. Very interesting.

  15. …the bottom line is Krashen in my view is suggesting we provide more input than what we already do….

    I agree – we go for i + 1 but Jody’s point is hard to refute – how do we do that with 35 different people in the room?

    But I really like your basic point bc it kind of supports my own of late here:

    …the bottom line is Krashen in my view is suggesting we provide more input than what we already do. I think when everything is translated and transparent we miss out on more input that maybe could have been provided had we skipped the making it so comprehensible part….

    I am adding subtitles to that one video I made, and once it is done, along with a demo class on the Word Chunk Team game, I will replubish it and we can look at students who have Spanish and are understanding but kind of like your daughter, where

    …she can’t understand everyting they say in that show but it is very compelling for her….

    And then maybe on Monday, I had this idea just now, I will video a class with a very simple story with limited structures – Jim’s are great for that – just to compare the two classes, one out of bounds a lot and the other by the book with three structures with very few out of bounds terms (if I am even capable of that anymore) and we can talk about both vids. But it will take time to get them all together for a discussion here, so I will need a few weeks. But it may help if we can talk in terms of images instead of ideas.

    Thank you Darren.

  16. When I feel as if I am doing real CI, I really strongly resonate with this from the above. Dr. Krashen said:

    …students get lots of interesting CI and acquire OTHER structures, not necessarily the one the teacher focuses on….

    This is so crucial to my new approach to CI. How do I know what they are going to acquire?

    1. The truth is you don’t and if focusing on structures helps you keep in bounds then I say focus on the structures. I think we need to differentiate between language and content. The students create the content the teacher provides the language. Just don’t think you can assess the kids on the structures. Because you don’t know if that’s even what they acquired. I think the real change needs to be in assessment and not instruction. Just my two cents.

  17. What Russ said. The way you said it set off a lil bulb in my brain!
    Lil kids can’t really do word for word simultaneous translations – when the scene or story is chopped up like that they lose their ‘grip’ on meaning.
    They get the story but not the (de-contextualized) individual words – I see this all the time.
    Definitely the targeting keeps us narrow & in-bounds. It also helps with the sound/cadence of the TL (and later, matching that to the reading). But who knows what’s really ‘acquired?’ So the assessment needs to reflect comprehension of the whole thang, not each fragment.
    The storytelling/asking format tries to insure that the structures and all the other parts and pieces are contextualized.

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