What is Student Speech Output? What Does That Term Mean?

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30 thoughts on “What is Student Speech Output? What Does That Term Mean?”

  1. I was presenting yesterday to the SFU student teachers who’ve just done their short practicum. They had a TON of questions about output (cos their sponsor teachers think output = acquisition). Then it hit me:
    The trick in language teaching re: output is knowing the sweet spot where to aim. If you aim for immediate output– like what a “communicative” teacher wants– you get the kind if stuff Laurie correctly writes off. This *looks* good to an observer– “see! the kids are talking!”– but is crap output, slows acquisition, is boring, etc.
    On the other hand, if it’s all talking or grammar or both, and the idea is “well it may suck but in 9 years when little Baninder is grown up and goes to Paris– as all young men are wont to do– he will be guaranteed able to order escargot,” you are aiming WAY too far into the future.
    Ideally there is a “sweet spot” like on a baseball bat where you get max power. And that sweet spot wants to neither rush output nor interminably delay use and enjoyment– in whatever form– of the language.

  2. Can you hear my head nodding enthusiastically?
    Memorized chunks, like poems, songs, chants, finger plays, Gouin series, cloze dialogs, etc. can only be broken apart/mined/manipulated later if the learner understands which part means what – with some sort of a word-for-word map. In my old teacher life, I relied heavily on the laundry list of memorized chunks above…and even though my young Ss seemed to understand the main idea, I couldn’t get them to use the pieces to create novel utterances. True work in Comprehensible Input insures that the Ss hear and understand the targeted and hi-frequency/practical/useful pieces in novel ways enough times to be able to mobilize them in the moment. Voila!! REAL output!!
    Thanks so much Laurie and Ben for this topic of discussion. It is crucial to what we are trying to do.

    1. …I couldn’t get them to use the pieces to create novel utterances….
      I didn’t think TPRS could meaningfully lead to that goal either, because like many of us I had bought into the idea that even in a four year program, those 400-500 hours of input – as long as we stayed in the TL all the time for four years – were nowhere enough to lead to significant and frequent unforced novel utterances. But then I saw Julie’s first and second year kids doing that in a vPQA class and so my mind was changed. We can invited conscious output.

  3. ^ if I, the laziest shittiest TPRS teacher on the planet can get first year kids writing 450-850 3-tense stories in first year, ANYTHING is possible.

  4. I hope the below info adds to the discussion and gives us some definitions.
    As discussed in Wong & VP, 2003, Paulston categorized drills into 3 types: mechanical, meaningful, and communicative.
    Mechanical – controlled response, only 1 right response, don’t need to comprehend to complete.
    E.g. comer (tú), response: comes
    If nonsense words can be substituted as the stimulus and it can still be completed.
    E.g. rarer (tú) – response: rares
    The purpose is to automatize the pattern – habit formation.
    Meaningful – controlled response, only 1 right response, DO need to comprehend
    E.g. Are you a boy? – response: Yes, I am a boy.
    Same purpose as mechanical drills, i.e. pattern practice.
    Communicative – free response, no right or wrong response, DO need to comprehend
    E.g. Where does he go to buy his purple elephant?
    Input = meaningful or communicatively-oriented language that is heard or read and attended to for meaning. Alt. definition = meaning-based language that learners hear or see in context – the primary goal is to comprehend the message. Input is NOT practice in the language.
    Likewise, we could define output as meaningful or communicatively-oriented language that is spoken or written with the focus on meaning or as meaning-based language that learners speak or write in context – the primary goal is the convey a message. Output is NOT language practice. Output is NOT practice of a form.
    Furthermore, since we teach with implicit instruction (acquisition), the output is dominated by reliance on the implicit knowledge (what has been acquired, not learned). That output reflects a greater proportion of acquired competence (ability based on implicit knowledge) than learned competence. What that means is that our students’ output is based on 4 criteria (Ellis et al, 2009):
    1. rely on feel (not rule)
    2. under pressure to perform in real time (what is called “online”)
    3. focus on meaning – fluency (not focus on form – accuracy)
    4. does not encourage use of metalinguistic knowledge, i.e. explicit rules and linguistic terminology
    So we can say that output = access and production based on an internalized linguistic system. Output does NOT directly cause acquisition to happen. VP suggests output may help us improve the fluency and accuracy of drawing on our internal grammar.
    VP said this: “Acquisition of a linguistic system is input-dependent, meaning that learners must be engaged in comprehension in order to construct that system . . . Production is not comprehension and thus produced language is not input for the learner. That input must come from others.”
    VP also wrote: “Output is viewed as something that can influence how learners perceive language and thus interact with input data. Learners become better processors of input because they have to create meaning as part of having to express themselves. They can become aware of deficiencies in their linguistic systems and expressive abilities that push them to acquire more language.” In other words, output can make us aware of our gaps and get us to pay more attention to input in order to fill those gaps.
    Wong & VP’s paper has so much gold in it that you can reread it over and over again and find something new: drive.google.com/file/d/0B6n9VA2R4h9IQjZtb1RiRDVETTQ/view?usp=sharing

    1. Thanks for the link. It contains a nice summary of Swain’s hypothesis. VP’s point is that “What is clear from Swain’s discussion is that nowhere is input discarded as a fundamental or critical construct in acquisition.”

  5. So affirming to hear the masters expressing what our teachers’ brain tells us. Thank so much for annotating, Eric.
    The part about raising awareness in the speaker’s gaps/deficiencies sounds like a boundaries issue- so often our kids forget to stay in-bounds / use what they know to express their ideas (circumlocution). I sometimes (seldom) elicit different ways of answering a given question ‘in-bounds’ -it’s an important habit/skill and helps stave off frustration/build confidence in ability to express.

  6. This addresses a question raised elsewhere on the blog. Does Blaine force output when he tells the actors what to say? Based on what is said above we would have to say no. That is what actors do, repeat what the director tells them to say. We find it very entertaining watching actors say what directors have told them to say. So Blaine creates entertainment, as well as more comprehensible input for rest of the students.

  7. “While some may see co-created stories differently, I see them as a background for natural interactions (what did he say? what did she do? how did he feel? what happens now?)”
    On page 406 of the “Drills are Out” article cited by Eric, VP & W critique Omaggio-Hadley’s use of contextualized drills, pointing out that they are still mechanistic drills. The problem, which Laurie has so well stated with only one cup of coffee is that it is staged. And yet we can “stage” that scene with actors in a co-created story, and the whole scene is “a background for natural interactions.”
    Well put, Laurie.

    1. This is amazing. I love the scaffolded-staged analogy. And seeing stories as the background for natural interactions. Something really clicks for me (ka-thunks?) now. Thank you!

  8. Interesting re: Swain: In order for output to work as an “input booster” or “grammar error noticer” or whatever her term is, there has to be a massive base of competence already there.
    Learners are processing for “most significant meaning” first– e.g. a Mexican hearing “I have run” will note “run” = “correr,” but the subtle verb disitnction of present perfect or whatever is either lost or not important to him/her. Only when s/he learns a ton more English will they get (i.e. have the spare mental bandwidth) to process the tense stuff.
    So if output is going to focus learners on what grammar they need to know– as opposed to simply revealing to them the massive vocab gaps that come with early and mid stages doing– a TON of vocab has to have been acquired (for meaning recognition, not nec for output) first.

  9. Spare mental bandwidth – thanks for the image, Chris. The part about getting the kids to notice a “gap” is something I see often with my level 4s. They start off explaining something and hit a “gap”. I circle what they need and I teach them how to roll that language around in their heads. Michele Whaley once told me that she circles in her head when she is reading and comes across a tricky passage and I always remembered that.
    How many of us who are non-native speakers have noticed that our fluency and accuracy improved greatly as a result of circling and teaching with CI. Magic with some solid research underpinnings!
    For level 4, as they are getting ready to leave me, I may make up a slide to explain Laurie’s descriptions of output. Explaining their “gaps” and what to do about it will be helpful to them.

    1. When TPRS teachers say that TPRS improved their fluency and accuracy, I wonder HOW. The teacher is not getting much input and spends the vast majority of time on output, so sounds like it contradicts the very premise of our approach: acquisition is input-dependent.
      Unless, you buy into VP’s distinction between mental representation and skill. I don’t really buy it, at least not for output skills. If you have acquired the grammar, I don’t see why output practice would be necessary to make accessing that internal grammar more accurate or fluent ??
      I do see why input practice WOULD be necessary to make more fluent and accurate our comprehension, since there are lower-level processes that can be automatized with practice: e.g. word recognition, working memory, decoding. This is what we mean when we talk about making students “fast processors.”

      1. Maybe it is the physical part rather than the linguistic part. The linguistic part can be processed totally in the brain. The physical part requires all of the parts in the vocal tract. Think of learning a new word in L1. We keep saying it until it flows out of the mouth. We have a new word or phrase but the mental representation is already their. The Where I saw improvements was on the use of preterits and subjunctive constructions in context. I could read and understand, but I was consciously processing what I was saying (for form). After saying, “Es bueno que vaya”(it is good that he is going) hundreds of times a day, the focus on form ceased. I was saying it as a chunk of meaning, so that my students could hear it as a chunk of meaning so that they would not have to go though what I went through to and to get farther than I had gotten.
        I had to go from thinking like the grammar book represented thinking to how the brains of my students (and mine) think. It was a conscious process to train myself to create meaningful chunks, but after a time of using them with the class it was an unconscious output on my part.
        The other thing is that this was not just a bunch of repeating on my part. It was creating Q&A opportunities in the interpersonal mode. Interpersonal puts the focus on meaning and as as we focus on meaning, fluency comes.

        1. I don’t deny your experience, Nate. But it is still very “skill-buildy.” Like improving your monitor and automatizing declarative knowledge. When I personally was acquiring Spanish I did a lot of repeated classroom lectures and most of my instruction was grammar or communicative based and I was immersed in a Spanish-speaking country. It’s impossible to say what was causal.
          I do not think pronunciation practice plays much of a role. We can already make sounds. Those sounds would improve the most with more listening, right?
          Of course, meaning-focused output may actually help develop acquisition, despite Krashen. I understand that the idea of Krashen is that what worked for SL1A works for SL2A. I agree. But in SL1A a kid really doesn’t have the cognitive capacity to utilize the monitor to create meaning. So, it may be that there are additional processes we can utilize for SL2A.

          1. Skill buildy maybe for our students but for a mature, motivated adult who has heard a language spoken for years – without being engaged in a scaffolded questionning sequence – heard a lot of language. Just letting that language roll around in my mind – some undoubtedly even unconsciously – allowed me to stop engaging the monitor to the extent it was present pre TCI.

          2. A thought: I did not set out to build a skill. I was playing the “es bueno que vaya” game with the students. I was saying/asking “es bueno que vaya” and reacting to their responses à la circling with more “es bueno que vaya.”

      2. But, Eric, I had years of input- much structured in a classroom setting and some on my own – movies, music whatever. In addition, sixteen years of teaching grammar from the textbook. In addition, I would consider myself to be a mature learner who is highly motivated. However a researcher would explain this is not known to me, but my fluidity and ease of oral production – via lots of circling, my reading, and my writing skills all improved.

          1. What just dawned on me is that when I began circling, perhaps I was giving myself input – self input if you will or auto input. Via slow focused circling, my fluency or fluidity improved not as a result of skill building but from listening to myself speaking slowly to the kids and circling different parts of the sentence and just letting the language roll around in my head. There was a lot of French in my brain, but TCI made it all come together and kind of put the monitor out of commission.

          2. Nice Chill. That’s it. Then, in sleep after a day of circling, all that input/auto-input gets compared to a French movie we may have watched that weekend or whatever input we ever had to the language and our command over output gets aligned more and more, very subtly and outside of our conscious awareness, in sleep, with the actual language system we are teaching.
            I have heard that unless you were born in the country of the language you teach you cannot be called fluent in the language and I agree with that. BUT we can get to where we can imitate it really well and fake even native speakers out. So the more we circle and keep on keeping on with this work, that deeper wiring gets more and more solid, and the better we get at the language. The system is genius, really.
            And we know that because we feel good about it, about our growing abilities at the language as the years go by. We begin to like the sound of the language as we teach it. We love the language, so why shouldn’t we enjoy listening to ourselves speak it? (We are teachers after all, and that means we all love the sound of our own voices, just kidding.)
            When I first started teaching I spoke really shitty French and it has just gotten better and better each year. How do I know? I can hear it, and my heart feels good about that. That’s how I know, by listening to my heart. Like Napoleon Dynamite. Because I love the sound of the French language madly.

        1. I agree, Chill, that circling is a key in auto-input.
          Last year in my own study of modern Greek (which is on hold right now) I noticed that if I circled each sentence that I was reading I made greater gains in retention.

  10. Perhaps T/CI helps self-conscious teachers practice staying in bounds/circumlocution. So they feel like better communicators as they steer clear of their own AND their Ss scary no-man’s-land of ‘out of bounds.’ In so doing they keep their own communicative filters low too…

    1. I never knew how to speak to beginning students in the TL and have them understand, unless it was staged and/or something they’d memorized. Now I’m speaking and thinking in French and Spanish all day which I haven’t done since I graduated college 11 years ago.

  11. Larry Hendricks

    “What we are expecting is quite different:
    *language that indicates a level of comprehension
    *details recalled from a shared experience”
    Okay, clarification, please 🙂
    1. I’m assuming Laurie means all of this scaffolded output is in the TL, correct?
    2. Since this output will indicate a LEVEL of comprehension, then it’s okay if they don’t have the details perfect, right? I.e., maybe a mispelled word or two. Maybe a verb or a noun is slightly “off,” but we know they’re capturing the idea. We know that the input we’ve given them is truly comprehensible.
    I’m really glad Laurie amplified this for us.

    1. ^
      — yes all scaffolded output (from teacher) to students is in TL
      — students should output in TL. Slow processors: y/n or one word answers; fast processors sentences & follow-up questions
      — you’ll NEVER get perfection even from a native speaker. The more you restrict vocab and up reps (circling, using parallel characters in storyasking and during reading, etc) the fewer errors you will get

      1. Larry Hendricks

        “— you’ll NEVER get perfection even from a native speaker.”
        How true. Chris, I lived in Costa Rica for 15 years and then in Mexico for another five. It was amazing to me to occasionally hear native speakers making mistakes with the language. (I’m sure I do the same thing with English.)
        I also remember my teachers at the Spanish Language Institute in San José, talking about the purity of the language and how much they detested “Spainglish.” One teacher said (in the TL), “What does ‘auto’ mean? It means ‘self.’ It DOESN’T mean a CAR.”

        1. There’s always people like that. They are called Quebecois politicians, or the Academie in France.
          Language changes. “Literally” can now mean “figuratively.” Kids say “search it up.” Mexicans say “el living,” and not “el salón.”

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