The First Twenty Hours

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15 thoughts on “The First Twenty Hours”

  1. You know, I had this thought last year and I’m going with it this year, to require that my students speak no English when they are suggesting answers. The only time English will be allowed is if there’s a real lack of comprehension. Sheltering vocabulary, especially at the start, is SO very important. Staying in the TL while also being comprehensible is also SO very important. If we shoot for staying in the TL more than 90%, that sounds like a good plan. Especially because, that way, if we slide back a bit, it won’t be as big of deal, right? We won’t fall as far, maybe. And there are a number of ways to incentivize students to stay in TL, be it JGR/grades or PAT time, etc. We can do this! I feel like the beginning of the year is always a battle cry, a call to arms to do our duty as language teachers. To teach in a way that speaks to research, but also to the hearts of our students. Let’s get it! 🙂

  2. Hi Ben,
    I was the one who posted the link about the First 20 Hours, in the comments for “A Conversation with Contee.”

    I bring this up because part of the 20 hour rule is finding what is essential to the things you want to learn. (Those last 5 min on the banjo are really worth watching). At NTPRS, David Talone told me about “Where are your keys?” (WAYK). It’s supposed to be a game that accelerates language learning. The guy who started it says you can learn any language with 10 nouns. He limits vocabulary severely in the beginning, with intro discussion around “rock,” “pen,” and “stick.” He does a(n incomprehensible) demo where he does an ACTFL proficiency interview with a guy who has been learning a native american language for 18 months using WAYK and is now speaking at a superior level. I ask the this next question with that dreamy hopefulness that looks beyond actual possibility: would it be possible to teach students all the essentials of grammar (in use, in context) in a language in 20 hours, so that they just have to keep widening circles of communication by increasing vocabulary after that? I don’t know the answer. And I’m not sure what all the essentials of grammar would be. I do know that I started learning German in March using mostly DuoLingo. DuoLingo threw words at me like a waterfall, such that after three months, they said I “knew” over 1600 words. I knew most of them passively (or very slowly) and some not at all. I did, however, get a pretty good overview of German grammar and how the language works. I kept thinking that if they had just limited vocabulary, I could really have mastered all but the “spice” words.

    1. (Sorry…Please ignore/delete “I bring this up because” from the beginning of paragraph 2. I did some editing and streamlining and accidentally left this in.) It should start with “Part of the 20 hour rule…”

    2. …would it be possible to teach students all the essentials of grammar (in use, in context) in a language in 20 hours, so that they just have to keep widening circles of communication by increasing vocabulary after that…?

      If Krashen is right we don’t have to think about teaching grammar. It teaches itself. We just provide the interesting input. Susie’s famous statement that we should shelter vocabulary and not grammar is consistent with that – we are to use it more, not teach it. In truth, can anything be taught, ever?

      …I’m not sure what all the essentials of grammar would be….

      Thank goodness and what a relief, right? It’s all done unconsciously. That is why I even created an entire category on that topic (labeled “Unconscious”) here.

      Many of us embrace Krashen but conveniently leave that part out of our practice and it drives him a bit nutty as well that we forget that part. I mean, we agree with it but we don’t do it, daily sneaking conscious instruction in L1 in a brazen way back into our classroom process as if we are addicted to grammar instruction in L1. The kids don’t care and it does not help them.

      All along, we have not needed to worry about teaching even. What a relief that should be to many of us at this time of year! When we worry about it we just mess it up.

      Unlike my thinking before (where I felt that I had to control everything), I can respond to what I do in my classroom much like I have long waited to be able to respond to life itself – by not feeling as if I always have to do so much all the time and put such pressure on myself and instead realize that everything is taken care of and all I need to do is relax and enjoy this most excellent planet.

      (jen and I and others even have a periodic leit motif going on here that life and teaching are not even separate things – who would’ve thunk that?). Our lives and our enjoyment of ourselves and others and our work doesn’t have to stop just because we walk into a school building for a certain amount of time each day. We don’t have to suddenly go into fear mode.

      We don’t have to worry about teaching grammar because the way we do comprehensible input has that piece built into the process. The statement that Woody Allen or whoever said that showing up is eighty percent of life applies to the time we spend at school as well. Especially faculty meetings.

      We’ve missed you Carla. We need your insights and that mega mind sharing stuff with us here often so don’t be a stranger. Awesome stuff – for me it’s helping me see even more about this work we do, how rich it really is.


      1. Actually I need to clarify Carla that I get – after allowing myself the above rant – that you were really asking/wondering how much grammar could be taught in those first 20 hours, and if it is possible to teach students all the essentials of grammar (in use, in context) in a language in 20 hours. It just shows how that topic of the process being unconscious gets me ranting, in this case missing your point entirely.

        I think a less insane/emotional answer more to your point would address the length of time it takes the unconscious mind to organize years of 24/7 input into speech output – if it takes that long – over four years at least – we probably can’t teach much grammar (correctly spoken language) in 20 hours.

        However, we can do more in 20 hours than we can in 10 hours, which many of us, in spite of knowing better, will probably end up doing in the first month and a half of school – using 50% English because that’s what we are used to. Hey, it’s how we were taught and a tough one.

        Sorry I missed your point the first time. I am a ranter. My take on grammar instruction is the more we speak to them properly in the language in a way that they want to understand and focus on meaning and not individual words, the more and faster will they learn correct grammar in the target language. Years. And we have 500 hours tops in a four year program.

        We keep coming back to that point and I forgot to ask Krashen about it this summer. How do we reconcile the fact that we have literally a drop in a bucket available to us and we’re supposed to fill the bucket up with all sorts of language goodies and be IB and AP rock stars and all that entirely unreasonable stuff that unknowing admins and parents want from us? Harrell has addressed this a lot here over the years.

      2. I wish I could write one article here each day on the fact that language learning is an unconscious process. If you are new to this idea, since it is so fundamental, I suggest you go click on the category labeled “Unconscious” and read as much as you can. I have to say to the group that in my opinion we must embrace and fully grasp this one idea if we are to get the CI plane off the ground in our classrooms.

        The fact that language learning is an unconscious process affects every single aspect of everything we discuss here in terms of the new pedagogy. We can’t just focus on the how – we must focus on the why. We make these changes in our teaching because language learning is an unconscious process. Just needed to say that this morning.

        By the way – off topic – check this out. Diana has her training for the 25 new WL teachers in DPS today. Annick was going to do the 2 hour CI demo and couldn’t so guess who is doing it? Sabrina! Diana told me she is amazing. I can’t wait to see how it went. Sabrina let us know. I just know it went well!

  3. Leigh Anne Munoz

    For any newbies reading this post, I just want to add that watching Ben’s video, “Brrrr 1” was essential to my ’20 hours.’ Now I can teach a single structure so much better than in the past, thanks to Ben’s funny video.

    So, if you are new, watch “Brrr 1”.

  4. I am having a very difficult time organizing in my mind how to cover all of the things that need to be covered (rules, student jobs, policies, student information sheets, etc, etc, etc, etc,) AND maintain the 98% rule….

    Organizing is one of my greatest challenges… Any advice?


    1. I wouldn’t try to do it all at once. Last year I talked class rules, student info sheets and rationale the first day, then went straight into first basic TPR and then super basic PQA (with “s/he is a boy/girl”). I introduced jobs as they became necessary. The focus here in first days should be first lots of listening in TL and it should be fun IMHO.


  5. Once, a tortoise and a hare had a race . . .

    And the moral of the story is, “Slow and steady wins the day.”

    Most teachers are trying to be hares and wearing themselves and their students out. We need more tortoises.

  6. Shooting for 98% is essential. I really believe that most of us, while shooting for (and thinking we’re getting) 90% , are really only hitting about 80%. If we go for 98, we may actually get 90.

    My question…if this idea about banning English is to work, we need a really solid word wall to have up on day 1. So, how many words should we have on it, are they a mix between places, things and actions, and what are some of the “essential” words to have up on it?

  7. Chris –

    We have a list of the 200 most common words on the DPS website but I want words that lend themselves to discussion so don’t use it. I think 200 words is too many anyway and a lot of them are taught “in process” anyway and so don’t need to be on the wall, so to speak. This list is very popular when the kids do free writes, as well. Periodically we translate the entire wall together. Kids love lists.

    So my own Word Wall, the one I have developed over the years and use in French 1 (and again in French 2) is a bit different from others out there. It kind of evolved:

    Spanish Sample Word List

    da una vuelta
    tira la pelota
    le da, dale
    a la derecha
    a la izquierda
    una vez
    me gusta

    French Sample Word List

    on se lève
    on s’assied
    on se tourne
    montre (v.)
    les yeux
    lui donne
    lui dit
    à gauche
    à droite
    montre (n.)
    une fois

    Please tell me if the Spanish words are incorrect. I suck at Spanish.

    To me a Word Wall is not about the amount of words – which prompted your question and was a good point to reiterate above – but their quality and how the parts of speech can mix together and be useful in class. I have lots of nouns, some verbs, and a limited amount of adjectives and adverbs on there. I have prepositions and connecting expressions and another verb wall only for verbs (I have realized how important it is to TPR verbs lately) as separate posters so those words don’t appear in this word wall.

    I have become comfortable with this list. It is my friend in class. I have used it so many years in a row that I can laser point to a certain word almost with my eyes closed (to the great delight of my students when I miss).

    Maybe some of this can help, Chris.

  8. I totally agree with the 98% thing. it will be difficult.

    Just putting this out there as we are all getting ready for the new school year. On the jobs portion- does anyone one use secretaries to watch the class and kind of ( not officially, but unofficially) put down the scores of how all the students are doing as far as the interpersonal scores daily. For me it is always difficult to keep an eye on who’s answering all the questions and whos not because when I hear a strong response from most of the class its hard to tell who is not answering therefore having a lower grade. I was thinking about doing this. Not sure if anyone else does this.

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