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Ben Slavic

We Focus on the Message

I just made about twenty TikTok videos that all focus on one thing – that we learn languages by focusing on the message and not on the form of the language via worksheets and other clever activities that purport to “teach” the language to our students. Why did I make twenty and not just one?

It is because I am convinced that teachers don’t really think about that (italicized above) fact. They don’t seem to care about it. They don’t seem to realize that it has everything to do with our students’ success.

Our purpose in this game of teaching comprehensible input is to teach using the language so that our students spend their time in class focusing on the message.

After class, when the students sleep each night, the language is woven into the fabric of the deeper mind in a magnificent process which we cannot understand. The teacher has very little to do with it and merely delivers the CI each day. We drive the delivery trucks. The deeper mind builds the house.

The key to our success in our teaching is to understand the research. Specifically, it is to understand that the building of the language system in our minds occurs in the unconscious mind, the deeper mind, where it is out of conscious control. Keeping the process out of our conscious control and away from prying hands is something nature does if the thing to be accomplished is really important, like the propagation of the species or the acquiring a language.

Why don’t we do that, then? We screw up the natural unconscious process by thinking that we are so important that we could teach a language via conscious means, via worksheets and such monstrosities. We need but drive the delivery trucks by speaking to our students in the target language in non-piecemeal ways, in more holistic ways that cause them to relax and enjoy what they are listening to without focusing on the form/structure of the vehicle being used to deliver the language. Let’s just turn it all over to our students’ deeper minds and be glad that all we have to do is drive the trucks.

We plan too much. We organize things too much. We seem to be perfectly willing to exhaust ourselves in providing our students with a kind of strait-jacket approach to instruction, one which completely ignores the facts provided in the research, which, again, reveal that acquisition is an entirely unconscious process that cannot even occur in the conscious mind.

Over time, in this overarchingly beautiful process that is so freely (divinely) given, we need only present the language to our students, and our students will move rapidly towards greater and greater levels of proficiency as the unconscious process continuous in the deeper mind unknown to anybody, with no need that it be known.

Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing that so many of us don’t understand how their students acquire languages. It’s even more embarrassing that we don’t even try to find pedagogies that aligns with the research. Should such teachers be retained as our students’ teachers? I don’t think so. But most of the people in our profession think it’s all right. It’s always more of the same. More tomb-like silence in online and brick and mortar classrooms. More miserable waste of time, more kids who study for up to four years without any results. What’s up with us?

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