Writing in NT vs. T

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28 thoughts on “Writing in NT vs. T”

  1. Alisa, can I talk to you by Skype? I’d like to talk about what I’ve been doing, what I surmise could be possible, and what I think Chinese reading really must include for people to achieve literacy, whether short- or long-term. I’m at hotmail.com questyn@ (reverse the order of course). Thanks!

    1. I want to know too. So much discussion on the More List, I had to come here to get some sanity back under me. It is like diving into the ocean, surviving a storm, then going back to the hotel pool. 🙂
      I really really want to work with a Mandarin teacher and coach them in what I know. I really really want to see if what Terry said is true. I feel like she uses Mandarin’s differences to sort of bludgeon NT work, and I am not sure why she is so opposed to it, but she is, and she says it is because Mandarin is so different. Then an Australian who just brought Terry and Blaine there (and so of course is pretty heavily into targeting) says that the students can not be comfortable in T2/NT situations with Mandarin.
      Thinking that these people misunderstand the nature of T2. It might be used a good deal. It might be used a LOT for beginners.
      He said he would love to be able to teach Mandarin the way I teach Spanish/French. I think it can be done. I want to work with some Mandarin teachers, like, really really bad. I am doing free coaching in Portland and hope to find some.

      1. Maybe the feeling that NT/T2 doesn’t work with Mandarin and others while it does with romance, germanic and similar languages comes from the point of TPRS seen as a super calculated group of techniques almost robotic that sometimes makes CI look boring, specially the circling one. I think the key is the compelling component of CI, if the content is relevant and aligned with students’ interest NT/T2 works with every language. People have acquired languages this way for thousand of years. If that Mandarin teacher tries other ways to provide CI, the NT/T2 will work and if he is not in a hurry, he will feel happy.

        1. “if he is not in a hurry”
          KEY point there. People are in hurries these days. I would rather be in a surrey than a hurry myself, taking in the scenery. What is the rush? Again, it is a question of trust. Do we trust Nature or do we try, in our human hubris, to tinker with it and hurry it up? I vote for the path of pleasure, again and again. Teachers’ jobs are too hard already. Why internalize the persona of the harried, hurried teacher? Who is doing that to us? Imagine a relaxed school under the shade of a baobab tree. That is what I want my classes to feel like. And my kids love me for them, and I have time to love my kids too. I had a student teacher and I was MISSING my students. She is gone now so I am LOVING being their teacher again. What a privilege. I worked my tail off to get this privilege – teaching languages all day – and I am not going to let some 1880s vision of factory floor education models steal my peace.

      2. I almost sent you a FB message, Tina, on this very thing. Can we talk? Let me teach you some Chinese and experience some reading in Mandarin, and you coach me on how you think it could be adapted? It could be fun. I’m open to improvement; I want what is best for students. I’ll acknowledge that I think I know some of what that is now, but there’s always more to experiment with. And, perhaps you would get a clearer sense of what Chinese teachers need to address? So many of them only know to have kids memorize characters explicitly. One goal for me is to help Chinese teachers stop doing that, but still allow their students to develop literacy.

        I have motives: my own exploration of NT and Chinese language acquisition in the big picture, but also the good of Chinese teachers you & Ben train. I have spoken to at least one of them at length. She has had a lot of questions specific to Chinese language. What visual to use in introducing words; what to do with characters; what to do when students are not able to read. (I am not saying you didn’t train her well; perhaps it’s just that there are a lot of things that only come up later, after one tries CI for a while, and bumps into the challenges.) I have some ideas for helping people you train as NT who want students to read in characters without stress or memorization. Maybe you would hear them and give me feedback? I have tried Invisibles once in most classes and Story Listening with all 5 levels, so I have at least some experience in those approaches.

        1. I’ll email you. I’ve been corresponding with Australian Ian and he’s adamant that one cannot do OWI with Chinese beginners and get them to read the text you create. He sent me a lesson plan. He said his work is very hard. It wears him out to the point that if he’s not feeling it they go on iPads for the day. I want to help him but he’s been trained by TW and is also adamant that they read characters from the first days. So I’m curious now. So curious.

          1. I’m sorry Ian’s finding things so hard — but he’s like in his maybe 3rd year with CI? Still finding how to proceed. Perhaps with time it’ll soften. That’s what happened with me. I was really concerned about doing things “right” my first year or so of CI, but it taught me a lot, and I shifted & things improved. It’s a process. This PLC was a big part of that.

          2. If Ian is sure that we can’t get kids reading about their one word images, then that is his reality. We can’t change it. Diana what do you think?

          3. Ian also admitted he doesn’t like reading characters himself. I think that’s coloring his thinking somewhat. I really like Ian; I didn’t realize he felt this was so difficult.

            I’m starting to think that anything could be comprehensible in Chinese with a little thought and students who are with me. Sure, OWI could be, but at first a lot of Chinese teachers would overwhelm their students and/or not make it meaningful enough (and also include repeated exposures to new words). Creating reading with them sometimes can be a helpful starting place, but I find they need more than just something short. Read once, read again, read something really similar, etc. Characters do not stick as easily as phonetic writing, and limiting how much new is seen at once has been important. I also assess for overall comprehension now, not word-for-word, and that helps, too.

            I had a really wonderful experience during FVR reading today. I interviewed students one-on-one about their FVR reading, what books they’d liked, what else they’d like to read (like topics or kinds of genres), and celebrated how many minutes they’ve read so far this year. They speak like people who read Chinese and enjoy it, and who feel in charge of their reading. I’m so happy for them. I started by interviewing some of the novice class students I thought most likely to be faking or hating FVR… they were not! I need more for them to be able to read.

          4. Diane said:

            …at first a lot of Chinese teachers would overwhelm their students and/or not make it meaningful enough….

            I am not a psychologist but in reading this I smell a source of failure in working with CI. It lies in the age-old lie that we can teach a language, a thing born in ego. What does that mean? I sense in this work some very strong egos who by God are going to fricking out-teach the next teacher but in that pride they forget that a good conversation is never dominated by one personality. So that our field becomes one of self-effacement and permission-giving. I feel that is possibly involved in the current strife in our community. God always forgives, so if I am wrong on this He will forgive me. But I feel the need to say it. Language teaching cannot be housed in ego. It just can’t. Rather, it is about loving others, listening to them, giving to them, not judging them, which is why I am so anti grading (how can we even think about grading language learners? It’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard of!). Language teaching is a giving thing. We must give not take when we work with our students. I almost feel the need to apologize for my thoughts here but I won’t, because this is how I feel.

          5. Surely teacher egos are part of the problem. Yet I feel compassion for teachers. They are being judged by the perceived “success” of their students and how much they can get them to do — by admins, parents, themselves. And then there is the mindset that language can be taught, memorized, and learned. That’s bad for students and bad for their teachers.

            For many Chinese teachers, especially those from a Chinese educational background, CI and free-flowing, meaningful communication with students is really, really different from their own experience in language classes. It can be a big adjustment.

          6. What you say there Diane makes me see how this time of change is not a little one. It is a change of huge proportion, from a focus on getting (higher scores, more things taught), to one of giving (permission to enjoy the class, etc.). It is perhaps true that in our profession nothing like this has ever happened.

          7. I remembered to check in w classes about how they feel about what they are reading in FVR/SSR when being observed. Admins love to see kids owning their reading and sharing it out as Diane describes above. It always brings good admin. response during observations. Diane did one on one interviews but it can be done with optional quick sharing out after the ten min. reading period, where each kid who wants to share is given about 30-45 seconds to describe their book and how they feel about reading it. A few questions to draw them out during the share out period completes a very nice picture of success to any visitor.

          8. It seems that there are two distinct issues.

            1. Learning Mandarin. Like any language, it has its unique difficulties and mentality that one must assume (that is, acquire, not presume).

            2. Learning the characters. This is really weird to an alphabet guy like myself, because, the characters are not language specific. They are used for the distinct languages in China. They express ideas/entities/actions. They do build on one another, it seems, in a way similar to phrases/idioms being built on words. So could one learn to “read” characters in L1 without knowing a “Chinese” language? What I have in mind in a TED Talk by ShaoLan Hsueh who has developed something she calls Chineasy. Have you seen this?

            Is Hsueh doing something really innovational? Or is this something that has been done before under a different name?

            Could one teach character reading by doing stories around the building blocks of characters? Is this what is already being done? If not could it be done?

            This would not be NT. And I am probably muddying the waters. But I think back to Chris Lonsdale’s Ted Talk and how he surprised people by cutting a 10-year expectation before reaching fluency to 2 years or so. I understand that there is an expectation that Chinese learners will not learn to read characters without years and years. And yet that is being done with TPRS. The challenge for NT with Mandarin is working with two distinct systems: a written symbol-meaning system and a sound-meaning system. In Spanish, we have to tie together the written and spoken, but the written symbols and spoken sounds correspond to each other, so there is a three way link. With Chinese, the links are through the meaning of each symbol or sound. This is more like linking “perro” and “chien” because they both mean “dog,” although they come from two different systems of conveying meaning.

            So the question is not Can we get Mandarin through NT? That would be question under the rubric of Are there any hard languages?

            The question is, Can we get students to understand Mandarin when they look at characters? We can do it with T? Can we do it with NT?

            This is not necessarily an insurmountable wall. But, as I understand it, it is a real wall. Blessings to those who are attempting to surmount it.

          9. Hi Nathaniel,

            You are talking about Mandarin, so are you interested in hearing how I’d reply to these questions? Of course, I do not have answers to everything, either, but I do have some thoughts:

            1. Acquiring Mandarin by sound, I personally believe, is not objectively difficult. It is very different sounding from European languages, but after that initial difference, a lot of the language structure is really not so challenging to an English mindset. Not ever having to conjugate, tense, change pronouns, or make verbs agree is one reason it seems to me that Mandarin CI students start speaking soon and quite well (compared to Spanish or other inflected languages where the verbs are so variable).

            2. Yes, the characters can be assigned a wide variety of sounds. Their meanings are pretty much constant. The variety of sounds including many Chinese dialects and Japanese (to some degree – Japanese uses a lot of characters from Chinese for more or less the same meanings, sometimes even borrowing their sounds). Vietnamese & Korean were once written with Chinese characters, too. People there decided to create their own writing systems that worked more closely with those languages. (They share some things with Chinese but are very distinct, esp. Korean.) I think that those language teach us that Chinese script can be interpreted somewhat if someone just knew the meaning of lots of characters, but it’d be very frustrating & imprecise without really knowing Chinese. That’s what makes the meaning clear: flow of language.

            Shaolan Hsueh and “Chineasy” are not describing a new approach at all, just a new packaging and styling. I have had Chinese-published books of drawings and explanations of character forms that are very similar. But those approaches are very explicit instruction with a dash of meaning. It’s analysis of form. There’s no reason to “need” for that with CI. I think it’s way better to get used to the character and link them to sound and meaning first, and later on get some of that attention on forms, after acquiring language and after at least starting to develop literacy. Ex: this part of characters means something related to “small plants,” so see how it’s in the words you know for tea, apple, and flower? To memorize that in advance or when words are new seems unproductive to me. Kind of cool for people like me, at least, but not really leading to functional literacy. Kind of how we let kids learn and read English, and in middle school or so teach them about Latin and Greek roots of words. That’s a decent comparison to character components.

            I’m not totally sure what you mean: “Can we get students to understand Mandarin when they look at characters? We can do it with T? Can we do it with NT?” By NT, do you mean, can students look quite a few new characters only a few times each and, over dispersed times seeing them again, become able to read Chinese characters well? They stand a much better chance if they have CI first b/c they can better estimate & predict what an unfamiliar character must be. But I think they become literate more happily with a scaled-back approach, limiting new language, and letting them (start to) retain a few words at a time rather than giving a lot of new characters at once. It’s less demanding. I’m guessing that would be termed targeting. Is Dr. Seuss targeting in English? Kind of like that. Then, they need to keep seeing those words dispersed over time for them really to retain them. Each person on their own time frame. So that is more like NT.

          10. Thank you, Diane.

            You said, “They stand a much better chance if they have CI first b/c they can better estimate & predict what an unfamiliar character must be. But I think they become literate more happily with a scaled-back approach, limiting new language, and letting them (start to) retain a few words at a time rather than giving a lot of new characters at once.”

            I think that when you say “limiting new language” we are at the crux of the matter. So Dr. Seuss would be limiting language rather than targeting it.

            This is where we enter into a dynamic area in which we have to discern in the moment where we are with the affective filters of our learners.

            How limited does the language have to be to maintain a low affective filter, maintain engagement, and continue to provide comprehensible input?

            How much noise can we allow which will not raise the filter, which may provide compelling, and remain comprehensible?

            It is a fine but wavy line.

            Wouldn’t the reading need to be more tightly controlled than the oral part in order to give greater recognition for the characters?

            (One thing that I had forgotten but which clears things up in my mind a bit, is that you support the oral language with pinyin prior to character reading.)

          11. “Wouldn’t the reading need to be more tightly controlled than the oral part in order to give greater recognition for the characters?”

            That’s what I’ve found, yes. But also, I don’t want to shelter the possible, natural uses of that limited number of familiar characters. Kind of like the principle of “don’t shelter grammar.”

            I use pinyin in single words or phrases as I introduce a new word, not to read whole pinyin texts.

          12. What Shaolan Hsueh and “Chineasy” got me to thinking was that it is plausible that one could read characters in English. And if so, that muddies the waters (and probably muddied my “Distinct Issues” comments above.

          13. Not very plausible, Nathaniel. Smooshing English onto Chinese texts would sound really bizarre. The structure of the language is so different — you’d get the gist, but it’d be very odd and stretched. Ex: you good question-particle? (Does that sound meaningful?)

            Way better to acquire auditory Chinese and read once it’s there, I think.

        2. Diane, based on my one SL lesson with you (yes, one whole lesson, so clearly a double blind study with lots of data points…hahaha) I say it works. It was easy to follow the story (listening part). When we got to the character reading the auditory piece (even just in the one short story) was pretty established, so hearing and seeing merged, especially the way you did it, where you read and invited us to jump in when we felt comfortable.

          Figured I would chime in since I had a SL lesson. I imagine if I had a class (or skype with Diane ) regularly with SL I would make pretty big gains in understanding Mandarin and eventually speaking it. Like, no big deal. I know I am probably oversimplifying and overgeneralizing, but my only experience with Mandarin has been 2-3 sessions with Linda at conferences, plus the one skype lesson with Diane. It seems to me that it “works” in the same way that it “worked” for my Russian sessions with Katya and in the same way that my Spanish lessons “work” for my students. Compelling comprehensible input. Relaxed friendly atmosphere. The right not to speak. Magic. The brain is magic I tell ya!

  2. What if the whole Mandarin thing was not true? What if people could learn ANY language if the approach was the right one? I’m with you Tina, on this. It seems somehow fishy that Mandarin would have its own set of exceptions. I don’t believe that for a minute. And why does all that discussion have to feel so damn heavy? Or is it just me?

  3. I think that any comparison is going to be pointless in the first few years.
    I am just NOT INTO drilling the kids so the output looks good. It is like cheating on the test in my opinion. I may be the worlds most horrible teacher but I truly weigh my success in smiles and love notes. And if they comprehend the input. That is all I see my job as. I just want to find the guy who said alls we have to do is talk to the kids and give him a big old hug.

    1. Tina, I think that you are hitting the major points that we tend to forget. Compelling input, as Krashen puts it and the Affective Filter. If the input has students on the edge of their seats then awesome! This has many manifestations. How about changing our finger comprehension check to “on a scale of 1- 10 how fun was the story?” Compelling input leads to higher noise tolerance and reaches deeper into the sub(un)conscious.

  4. This comment reminds me of Narnia. What will the Ice Princess do when she reads such perfidy? You must be one of them Portland Elves – A Rivendelf. Only elves would talk about such things. Flout the data? How could you?

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