The Truth Will Out

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11 thoughts on “The Truth Will Out”

  1. And this is part of my concern with teaching in TPRS style to middle schoolers-they’ll go into Spanish 2 in high school and feel lost because I didn’t give them the grammar or the conjugation practice and the huge lists of vocab to memorize as they do in high school. And then they drop Spanish because it’s “too hard.”

  2. Dear Annemarie,
    My feeling, and experience, is that these kids would not have been considered “Spanish 2” kids anyway….and putting them through the hoops in middle school would not have been successful, nor allowed them to succeed in those classrooms. So what you have the amazing opportunity to do is to provide them with an amazing experience of the heart and mind in another language, which they would have missed entirely.
    It is heartbreaking to see them in those programs in the high school…however…these are the kids who you will run into at the mall years from now with stories to tell you about how they have used their Spanish.
    with love,

  3. Thank you-your comment is reaffirming. Most of my students really enjoy my class and I am blown away with how much they have acquired, especially my 6th graders whom I’ve had for just 6 weeks. I talked to Susie Gross about this the other day and she suggested I write my students’ high school teachers to tell them what the students are able to do because of their time doing TPRS.

  4. Melanie Bruyers

    Now, I teach the high school class with the huge lists of vocabulary and grammar points that is too hard. I have students in my college in the schools class who after 2 years of TPRS and 1 year of textbook German can communicate and be understood, but they lack accuracy. In a real world situation, being able to communicate will trump accuracy, but for my college quizzes and tests and essays, they have to be accurate. It is very frustrating and I am asking myself how I can better prepare the kids I am starting in German 1 right now. My goal is to teach in mixed tenses and to do more verifying with actors to get the different perspectives.
    When I was just teaching German 1 and 2, everybody was just so excited about how much they could do with the language.
    But then, at the Upper Levels, the expectations are raised and the pressure is on. So, I want to make sure that what I am doing from the beginning will get the best results in the end.

  5. Just a few quick comments, for whatever they’re worth:
    I’d recommend reading the newest feature article from the National Geographic Magazine, “The New Science of the Teenage Brain”. Its a great primer on the changes that are happening in the brain all the way to our mid-twenties. Great for those of us who on a regular basis are trying to reach out to this strange species known as the teenager. It does mention at the very end the not-so-new idea that our brains are not so primed for language learning as we get older – not in any way like when we are younger. (That reminds me as well of linguist Steven Pinker’s popular books on the subject).
    I’d also recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”, where he lays out the research on the 10,000 hours of immersion that it takes to reach mastery in any endeavor.
    Regarding language output at the upper levels (including college), perhaps there are unnecessarily high expectations when it comes to grammatical accuracy. It seems the so-called ‘academic rigor’ at that level of language learning is a remnant of the old ways that many of us agree need to go. Don’t get me wrong, higher level means higher level, but if we know the research is sound on CI, then shouldn’t even college classes have as their foundation a trust in the time (10,ooo hours?) and techniques (CI) that acquisiton requires? I think our fearless leader here on the blog said somewhere that even after the first two levels of studying a language, students have not really been exposed to THAT much CI – the time in no way really adds up to two years worth. By the time college comes, how many hours do we think non-native students with unprimed (for language) brains have put in on average? Personally, I know my own proficiency increased much more AFTER college as I continued (as we all always continue) to read and listen.

  6. According to statistics I have read, the Foreign Service Institute indicates that small groups (no more than six) of mature (30s-40s), motivated (they want to learn this) students with an aptitude for language need 600 class hours of instruction to reach General Professional Proficiency (ACTFL: Superior) in Class 1 languages (e.g. Spanish and French). Class 2, 3 and 4 languages take longer. In addition students have over 400 hours of exposure to the language outside of class. That’s more than 1,000 hours of instruction.
    In the average American high school we have about 120 hours of potential exposure time. The amount of time we have to take out of that for discipline (stopping the talking in English, settling disputes between students, getting everything out of students’ hands, etc.), transitions, interruptions (call slips, clubs, ASB) and necessary brain breaks drops the exposure time even further.
    The end result is that during four years of language instruction in the average American high school we have perhaps one fourth of the time needed by those mature, motivated, apt students in small classes. Yet we are dealing with immature, unmotivated, often inapt students in large classes (usually in the 30s but also in the 40s and even 50s). Is it any wonder that we don’t reach General Professional Proficiency with them? It’s a wonder that we get much of anywhere at all.
    It just really hit me that many of us take heat, from ourselves as well as others, for not achieving more in the classroom when we deal with classes 6-7 times larger than those taught by the experts (highly trained native speakers) and filled with students who would have no chance of even getting near their program.
    A friend of mine told me about an opportunity she had to take a course at the FSI school in Monterey, CA. On the first day of class there were nine students in the class. The teacher walked in, looked around the class and said, “This is impossible. I cannot teach a group of this size. Go home.” The next day there were two classes. Imagine trying to limit your class size in most public schools.
    I hereby give myself and anyone else who sees the difference between the two situations permission to let the guilt simply roll off our backs the next time someone starts quoting FSI statistics. Tell the people who are citing these statistics that if you wanted to take a guilt trip you’d call your travel agent.
    I also wonder how Malcolm Gladwell’s statistic of 10,000 hours for mastery fits into the equation. Would that be for Functionally Native Proficiency? (ACTFL Distinguished; ILR 5 – a level that many experts say is not “teachable” but only acquired.)

  7. Robert, are you counting 4 years of high school as 120 potential hours? That sounds more like a 1 year estimate. So we could POTENTIALLY almost reach that level of hours needed (of course fully considering the exceptions and factors you explained in your comment). I’m just talking out loud and making sure I get your numbers, and I completely support what you say about us having unrealistic expectations put on us. Thanks for the info Robert!j
    And Brian, I agree, I was inept after a major of Spanish grammar and vocab study, but it was the listening to story after story by my host family AFTER college that led me to acquisition. Makes me wonder why I’m not spending more of my time and energy as a school teacher trying to set up exchanges and travel opportunities for my students.

    1. Jim, 120 hours is the one-year total. My district has foreign language in grades 9-12. That means 480 hours of classroom time. Not all of that is comprehensible input time. For German the number of exposure hours according to FSI is over 1200, so in four years I can get to perhaps one third of the hours necessary – if every second of every day is spent doing compelling/transparent CI.

  8. Grant Boulanger

    If we have 180 days of school per year and teach 50 minute classes (.83 of an hour) we come up with a maximum of 150 hrs per year. ASSUMING: No absences, no field trips, no assemblies, no visits to the nurse AND 100% CI 100% of the time.
    Multiply that by the number of yrs your school/dist offer languages and you have a measly total. For a four year program that’s less than 600 hours of CI.
    Compare that to the FSI statistics or perhaps even to a native speaker who listens to 10-12 hrs of “perfect”, i.e. socially acceptable, language 365 days a year for the first 5 years of life. You get to about 18,000 hours… and they still have grammar rules to acquire (not to mention writing conventions).

  9. Grant, the numbers are even worse.
    180 days of instruction
    -4 days for finals
    -4 budget cut days
    -2 days for California High School Exit exam
    -2 days for SAT/PSAT
    =168 days of instruction
    = about 140 hours in the classroom
    -school business
    -“getting settled”
    -brain breaks
    -clock watching
    -mind wandering
    = 120 hours of instruction at most
    120 x 4 = 480/1000+ for Spanish and French
    120 x 4 = 480/1200+ for German
    Remember that the 600 hours are class hours, not exposure hours. For most urban and suburban high schools in the US you have to basically discount time outside the classroom as non-productive. Furthermore, time spent with Incomprehensible Input does not contribute to language acquisition or language learning.
    Personally, I believe the FSI numbers are a bit unrealistic even given their elite clientele. Given the average high school student they are pure fantasy. Nonetheless I have heard those numbers cited as a guide to how long it should take a child in public school to become “fluent” in a language.
    At least the California State Standards read that Pre-Advanced/Advanced is reasonable only after thirteen years of instruction.

  10. I teach both Spanish I or II and Spanish IV (a college course concurrent with a high school course), the same as Melanie’s German course. Hi Melanie. After four years of teaching that course with grammar-based preparation is that their writing and speaking are like a not-so-modern version of Google translate.
    Since our goal is to reach Intermediate-mid for productive skills and Intermediate-high for receptive skills, plus ”cover” the entire 12-chapter book, I feel a psychic split on a daily basis.
    I think this will be an inevitable transition at the university level as well as at the K-12 level. I don’t see any other way to get my students to the goal proficiency level. I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. My students really miss the grammar-based instruction. They don’t see real communication as learning and many times chat through the entire activity. It can get frustrating. But, it is time. I see Melanie’s situation as being ready for tons of pop-up grammar and compare/contrast. Focused writing maybe rather than free writes. We really need more years of language. Luckily, we started teaching W.L. in Middle School last year, so we’re on our way to an addtl. year of CI. Using Grant’s math (Hi Grant), that should be about 150 more hours to begin focused writings and compare/contrast. Higher-level readings with less pre-teaching?
    How is this being handled in Denver? I am very interested to see where we end up, both in our district and across the country. What about required travel/exchange programs? 🙂 Seriously, that seems to be what we need to top out on hours. Also, maybe h.w. as listening to 5-10 hours of L2 outside of class. Of course, it would have to be comprehensible input…

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