Paul Nation

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14 thoughts on “Paul Nation”

  1. Susan Gross uses that term all the time. She talks to people about their “fluency programs”. Using that term sends a powerful message – that in TPRS we teach for fluency. The old guard dare not say that, because it does not describe what they teach for. What do they teach for? Oh, never mind.

  2. I would agree that Nation said “vocabulary acquisition is much less effective from listening than from reading” because he is NOT talking about what we do in TPRS which is having the student interact while listening. He’s likely talking about the kind of listening activity, found in most language classes, where the student sits, listens, and tries to identify something she/he hears–very different than the kind of listening TPRS/CI students do in our classes–which CREATES meaning, which creates acquisition. Listening activities in traditional classes mean the language is coming at you so fast, you are lucky when you understand something. Reading can be slowed down so, analyzed, chewed upon–much easier to make vocab gains. I don’t think he’s talking about what we do at all. I know I sound cranky.

    I don’t understand what the “fluency development” means in Nation’s quote. What does HE mean by fluency development? I know what we mean by it. Why are we discussing Nation’s thoughts?

  3. I said more about this on the forum, in multiple different posts. Paul Nation is a leading vocabulary acquisition researcher and we should know his work. He’s got some great YouTube talks, one in which he talks about how much vocabulary can be acquired via extensive reading.

    In fact, we actually integrate exactly what he recommends: meaning-focused input & output, fluency development, and language-focused learning. TPRS teachers are NOT doing pure CI, whether we attribute gains to pure CI or not.

    Fluency, to Nation, is about getting faster with what you “know.” We do “fluency” activities when 98%+ of the language is “known.” Nation claims fluency activities also make you more accurate, but I’ve looked at the studies he cites as evidence for that and I think Krashen would have a field day attacking that one.

    I love Nation’s activities for increasing fluency – fluencywrites we already do, but there’s also speedreading and 4/3/2 for speaking – 4/3/2 is a cool alternative (one you can modify) for a final activity at the end of a 1-2 week cycle. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this also on the forum.

    I don’t know what type of listening he was referring to in that quote. There are studies, e.g. Mason, that try to measure vocabulary acquisition from listening to comprehensible/compelling stories. Still not TPRS, but it is TCI.

    Nation also supports a high-frequency curriculum. I’d consider him much more a friend than foe to TCI.

    I have another interesting question out to him and I’ll share with you all his response.

  4. …fluency, to Nation, is about getting faster with what you “know.” ….

    Where’s the rush? What does it mean “what you know”? Tip of iceberg or below? It seems to me that he wants to rush the baking time on the cake. I don’t know why. I agree with Jody but was afraid to say but since she said it now I can say I agree with her. And really, what indeed does he mean by fluency development? That is a fair question, if we know that fluency develops naturally and out of sight so what’s he talking about? Is that like where you make the flower grow faster with chemicals, doing things that are under the conscious control of the analytical faculty? Now I am sounding cranky. But when you break things down into quarters like that in terms of “focused” areas like 25% “focused output”, then that means you are getting involved with control and trying to speed up or in some way put the conscious mind on to the process of acquisition where that is not the way it works. Krashen says that the process that leads to fluency is unconscious, cannot be controlled, is natural, and results from constant input and the flower blooms when there has been enough input, which is a really really long time. It’s sounds as if Paul Nation wants to speed it all up. Why do that and make it all complicated? We speak and they listen and slowly they acquire. After four years, we don’t see strong output, not because we suck at teaching but because we have only had about 500 hours when well over 10,000 are needed. But he has kind of a cool name.

    1. If we truly taught only to the unconscious then we would never establish meaning (translate), never pop-up any grammar, and never do any translation.
      If we truly only did CI, then the students would just shut up the entire class. No retells.
      When we put time pressure on kids to rewrite a story, writing with language that is already super familiar, then that’s what Nation calls “fluency.”
      We already do what Nation recommends. Our strands are integrated throughout the lesson. And Nation writes, the 25% is arbitrary and may depend on level of the student.

      Nation is talking mostly about vocabulary. There is a lot to “know” about a word, so I don’t know exactly what he means. I would guess it to mean knowledge of L1-L2 translation and knowledge of the spoken and written form. What then gets acquired from repetitions are restraints on use, collocations, grammatical function, and other meanings of the word.

      Nation makes a great point that says teachers commonly make the mistake of skipping over fluency activities, probably because, as he says, a fluency activity is time spent on language already “covered” rather than introducing anything new. In other words, they don’t get enough reps and they don’t build student confidence. Under Nation’s definition, TPRS focuses primarily on listening fluency.

      I thought it really enlightening to think of non-targeted CI as his meaning-input strand (95% coverage of words) and targeted CI as the fluency strand (98%+ coverage). And rather than see it as needing one or the other, maybe it’s best to have both.
      *The percentages are based on vocabulary research: 95% coverage (knowledge of words) gives you moderate comprehension and 98%+ ensures high comprehensibility.

      Of course, all of our students are different, they are at different places in their vocabulary acquisition, so 95% coverage is not gonna be the same for everyone. And as teachers we could never plan out our input to an exact percentage. We likely fluctuate between 95-100% for our students if we’re good. When we go too fast or too wide, we likely drop below 95%.

        1. I think this has also been referred to as “automaticity”, working with certain language so much that the actual conscious processing becomes less and less, and the automatic (unconscious?) comprehension or output becomes more fluent. I think this allows the i to grow faster, because the brain is not working as intently on certain high-frequency items, therefore making +1 available to more, faster. But overall, does this make net gains greater? No idea.

          I agree Eric, fluency = fast processing, but does fluency also means other things toot?

          1. Fluency in speech, as defined in the Green Bible, is the ability to express intelligibly and spontaneously what one wants or needs to without excessive hesitancy or difficulty. It includes the ability to say one sentence after another. It is NOT grammatical correctness nor native-like pronunciation.

            To me, fluency is ease (easy-hard), speed (slow-fast), and quantity (little-lots).

            Automaticity, declarative knowledge becoming procedural, falls within skill-building theory. It has to do with practice. It’s about turning conscious into unconscious. We would define practice as more comprehensible input. Theoretically different, but in practical terms, you’d be engaging in the same activity.

            The question is what is different about the acquisition when there is 95% vs. 98% coverage, i.e. when there is moderate vs. adequate comprehension, i.e. comprehensible vs. transparent, i.e. non-targeted vs. targeted. Non-targeted CI means more vocabulary and grammar exposure, but fewer reps in the short-run. Targeted means higher comprehension (more confidence) and further opportunities to deepen other types of word knowledge. The other difference is that in order to be considered a fluency activity there has to be time pressure (that takes away 1 of the conditions of Monitor Use).

          2. “Automaticity: the state or quality of being spontaneous, involuntary, or self-regulating”

            I did read a definition that supports what you say also though, that it “is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.”

            I think it can apply to what we’re doing. We don’t have 10000 hours with students. But we want them to be fluent with what we feel to be most important for them, within the time constraints we have with them. So, although I totally agree with Ben on a theoretical level that we can’t rush a flower’s bloom, I do think we can put the seed in a smaller pot (less +1; targeted) so that the soil warms quicker and consequently blooms (produces more fluent comprehension/output) with greater speed.

            I’m not saying either is better in general terms, but for certain clientele we can sure do more of one than the other to get them more fluent (btw, I’m only looking at the first two parts of the “fluency” definition as Eric defined above, not quantity of course. That’s because for the great majority of our clientele, quantity is not as necessary, IMO.)

  5. Ok, y’all ready for this?! Q is my question and A is Nation’s answer. Here is where Nation loses me. Here is where I sense the disconnect between researcher and teacher. I’d been putting the TCI twist on his recommendations, but I can’t spin this one for him:

    Q: What should the expectation be for quantity of vocabulary words acquired in 1 year? Assume 1 year is 100 hours. Assume these are level 1 students who are middle school and high school age.

    A: I actually think the 1000 word families per year goal should be aimed for. There is an article of mine very soon to appear in the journal Reading in a Foreign language that looks at the quantity of reading that would need to be done to get around 1000 words a year learned. It is feasible. More conservatively, I would aim for at least 500. The central issue is that learning can occur without teaching (through input, output and fluency development activities) so not everyone of these would need to be explicitly taught.

    Q: How can we on the one hand say that there’s too much vocabulary to deliberately learn (thus arguing for more incidental means of acquisition) and at the same time argue that the high frequency vocabulary should be deliberately learned?!

    A: High frequency vocabulary makes up a relatively small number of words. It is feasible to deliberately learn such words over two or three years.

    Q: Wouldn’t incidental acquisition be better for all words, especially since students would get lots of reps of high-frequency words, by definition, from CI?

    A: Incidental acquisition is good for all words. Deliberate learning greatly speeds up learning and makes incidental acquisition possible by allowing learners to quickly move to extensive reading. Deliberate learning using word cards of 75 words would take most learners only a couple of hours in total and then they could get into incidental learning through reading.

    I added this comment:
    I’d like to see more short, comprehensible & compelling stories that are pre-graded readers. Level 1 graded readers, e.g. assume the reader already knows 75 word families, are incomprehensible to a true beginner. At the moment, an independent learner would have to deliberately learn enough words in order to reach 95% coverage of level 1 readers.

    Nation responded: Surely learning 75 words is not a big deal.

    Nation added this comment:
    Word cards work very well, but they are only a step towards knowing a word. Recent research shows that word card learning results in both explicit and implicit knowledge. It is a very effective means of quickly expanding vocabulary knowledge.

    To sum up: Nation says 500-1000 word families can be acquired in 1 year of instruction. High frequency words (2,000-3,000 word families) should be deliberately and incidentally learned. Deliberate learning speeds up learning and enables incidental learning. Nation thinks 75 word families is not a big deal for beginners. He thinks that deliberate learning (word cards) is enough to prepare a student to read a level 1 graded reader.

    My response: What are you smoking? haha. No, 500-1000 word families is way too much to acquire in 1 year. Maybe at the shallowest level, that many words can be recognized and an L1 gloss known. But surely that many words won’t be known after 1 year well enough to be processed fluently in spontaneous input situations and produced fluently. And so, recommending too many words promotes “covering” and “shallow knowledge” and not “mastering” and “deep knowledge.”

    His recommendation for using deliberate before incidental learning is much like what we do by establishing meaning before we jump into CI. That said, we stick to 3 targets (often 3 words at the beginning stages), while he’s saying we can establish meaning for 75 different word families and that the resulting learning is sufficient for incidental acquisition at the 75 word family level. Another BIG problem is that each graded reader at 75 headwords (by the way, most start at 100) has some overlap of course, but also new words. In other words, the 75 words of 1 story are not the same 75 words of another graded reader.

    I will be following up. Maybe he’ll keep responding to me. I’ve only seen one paper cited as evidence that deliberate learning can lead to implicit knowledge. Elgort, 2011. It’s a super dense paper. And the “implicit evidence” is that the receptive reaction times of very advanced proficiency students are similar to known L1 words. So, maybe a tiny bit of incidental acquisition was possible. Only been shown for adult, advanced subjects. Only been shown on a decontextualized, recognition test. And they eliminated a few words that subjects didn’t master. They also eliminated subjects that didn’t master the words. And it hasn’t been shown that this implicit knowledge would be enough for the subjects to then be able to read texts with these words, let alone use the words in realtime communication. On a more practical note, the word card study (of 48 words) was time-consuming and without question painful. There is some evidence that word knowledge is more efficiently learned from incidental, rather than deliberate learning (Mason). Also, we build much more than vocabulary knowledge from incidental learning. Krashen sent me his notes responding to the Elgort paper. He needs to get it published so researchers can stop saying Krashen was wrong, i.e. stop saying that explicit study can become implicit knowledge.

    1. YOU GO ERIC! Your points are right on in my view, as a teacher. I’m so grateful you are questioning this stuff at the level you are. You said this:

      “Also, we build much more than vocabulary knowledge from incidental learning.”

      Exactly. We’re building efficiency (and joy!!) into the system we’re using, by allowing the acquisition of grammar/vocab/pronunciation/cultural nuance/etc/etc to happen at more or less the same time, with real human interaction. Seems like Nation is in favor of delayed gratification with L2 learning.

      And the estimation of students acquiring 1000 words in 100 hours… like you said, shallow knowledge and covering, that’s all that will happen with such numbers. I’d like to see him prove us wrong though… I mean, that students (the mean # in an average socio-economic setting) can acquire this many word families without losing interest and while also picking up all the other elements of L2 communication.

    1. Thanks, Jim. I too would love to see someone accomplish this! Show me that 1000 word families is acquired in 100 hours and is not just a theoretical possibility. And by “acquired” I mean that I want to see the students fluent in that vocabulary. And at the same time show me they also pick up the other aspects, besides vocabulary, that our students do.

      I have mentioned to Nation a few times how TPRS actually fits quite well with his 4 strand recommendation, but he’s not responded to that. It seems, but I’m only speculating, that he is not familiar with TPRS. We need both more teachers informed of research and researchers more informed of teaching. I wonder how many researchers have ever experienced TPRS . . .

      25% of a Nation class would be spent on language-focused learning – our establishing meaning phase, plus any pop-ups and point & pauses. The rest of the Nation class is focused on meaning and fluency. Since a translation is the quickest way to get to the meaning of a word, Nation would like that to happen for all the high-frequency words (e.g. word card study) while still spending the majority of the time on meaning-based activity. After the high frequency words (2-3,000 word families) have been deliberately AND incidentally learned, then the mid- and low-frequency words are acquired entirely incidentally and the teacher trains students in reading strategies.

      The analogy is correct.

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