WMP – 1

This post is from 2015:

We have talked so much about SLOW over the years, but I think we all still go too fast. We always go too fast. Our classes then split under this burden. What is too fast?

There are some posts from the recent years here that support 130 words per minute as minimal for our students. I think it should be well below 100 wpm for advanced classes and down around 20 or less for beginners. 

Audiologist Ray Hull and has said this:

The auditory processing speed is the same in any language. For an adolescent, spoken speech at around 135 Words Per Minute is perfect for speech understanding, particularly when the student is learning a new language. So, 130 WPM may be even better. It will seem very slow to you, but the central auditory system of the student will appreciate it.

Mr. Rogers trained himself to speak to his TV audience of wee ones at an even slower speed. See this post:

https://benslavic.com/blog/mr-rogers-had-it-right/

Related posts: https://benslavic.com/blog/category/slow-2/

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn

21 thoughts on “WMP – 1”

  1. The audiologist means speaking at 130 WPM in the students’ first language, right? Even slower in the TL?

    It would be cool if there were an app to measure how many words per minute was spoken. Ex: Read some text for a class for a few minutes, speaking as slowly as you think would be good for your students. Then it measures how many words per minute that really was. I bet there is an app like that: anyone know? 130 per minute sounds really fast to me — it’s a little more than 2 words per second. I wonder how slow it feels. (See, here’s where a Rosetta Stone-type app could be useful to a teacher. How slow am I speaking?)

    I have thought about slow that may not be new, but I don’t remember it. The idea: slow chunks of short, meaningful phrases (3 or 4 syllables max – I’m talking about Chinese with lots of one or two-syllable words) and then a longer pause after each short chunk. It’s slow, with pauses. Visual ex: “Hello. My name is Diane. I am an American who speaks Chinese.”

    I’ve been trying that consciously. I think it’s helping me with slower processors, and I hope it helps them catch meaning more easily because the chunk is meaning-based. The extra pause feels more like normal speech to me because it’s meaning-based yet slow. I do better if a student asks me for a repeat. Always the tendency is to speed up.

    Also, with brand-new phrases, they need even slower than on language they’ve heard a lot. Pause & point every single time the new phrase is used helps with staying slower. With beginners, everything is brand-new, and super-slow is required all the time. I am guessing more like 40-60 words per minute — but in the first week or two, like 30 words per minute: one word every 2 seconds, if the words are Chinese anyway — one or two syllables almost all the time.

    I’d love to hear what others think about the guesses at how slow, and about “slow chunk of meaning – pause – slow chunk of meaning” idea. Is it a mental tool to help us talk slow enough?

    1. Aw, my formatting with lots of extra spaces in my example above was erased when I clicked “post comment.” Bummer – tried showing it visually what I meant. Oh well, looks like I was understood anyway.

      Thanks Ben for the comments – right. It’s about the students and the speed is determined by their comprehension, measured by their eyes and their responses.

      Nonetheless, I’m wondering if (especially new) TCI teachers would be helped by some kind of gauge on their speed… the issues of student engagement, teacher speed, and classroom dynamics are deep. Being both generally completely untaught in teacher preparation and counter-cultural, they take time to grasp. Is there a way to assist with developing that? I’m thinking about Chinese teachers new to TCI again.

  2. Diane, I agree: short sentences and pauses between sentences helps. Counting syllables may be an even more accurate measure of speech rate than words. I think your WPM estimates for beginners sound right. I gave a short listening assessment recently where I spoke at approximately 80WPM, but I was trying to speak at a rate appropriate to someone who has had 1 year of TCI.

    1. I remember something I did when I was first learning. I actually counted to four to myself, slowly, between each word or word chunk, while using the laser pointer. I could see a difference. During the counting I am looking at eyes, building meaning between us as one would build a bridge.

  3. I would bet that if Dr. Hull fully understood what we do – I’m sure he doesn’t – he could come up with some numbers. For me it could be as slow as three or four words, or whatever the size of the chunk is, every four or five seconds with three or four second pauses and lots of laser pointing going on between those three words. Something in the range of 50-90 WPM? For me what defines SLOW is that the SLOW must be cheerfully delivered with not even a soupcon of English and lots of eye contact, always checking those eyes, which is the real way to see if they understand, not worrying about speaking at some certain rate of slow. Lots of human interaction going on. Going over to the barometers and letting them know I am on their side. Like that. I want to speak in my classroom so that my kids don’t have to struggle to understand. Slow personalizing interesting input provides the ticket to unified and happy classrooms. The speed doesn’t matter, really, in a way. If it’s not too fast, it could be any number of WPM. Those numbers vary according to the make-up of the class anyway. The big thing is to keep it interesting and that there be a web of connectedness going on in the classroom. If there is a web of connectedness between the members of the group, then everyone will communicate when they don’t understand. The WPM wouldn’t be important. The human element would determine success.

    1. I’m struggling with this a ton right now…recently I have found myself becoming undisciplined in the eye contact, checking barometers, and SLOW. It’s defin impacted my classes in a negative way.

  4. Great conversation everyone. The slow, well-enunciated chunking of meaning with appropriate vocal, facial, corporal expression–with the only objective being “to communicate” something to the listener–whew, just huge for me in this work.

  5. For me there is a living web of human connectedness in a class and it is THAT that I want operating in my classroom above all other aspects of teaching using CI. It is very difficult to get that into a classroom, because such a web of connectedness between everybody is such a fine thing and fine things are rare. But it is THAT that in my view should drive our teaching, even if it is so hard to capture, so like catching a rare butterfly.

    We can count words or we can focus on establishing more lines of communication and Chris you know I’m not dissing your point because it too is a very important one to make.

    We are taught to guard ourselves from others in our society. Look in any classroom. You’ll see the guards up. So by asking our kids to interact with us we are asking a lot. But we cannot have CI without this web of human interaction.

    I see a lot of the DPS young stars teaching the class, not the kids in the class. Not that I’m a pro at it either, but I can say that this point drives my interest in teaching and explains why I became a teacher – to connect with others in a real way. I would teach forty years to have one class of the type that I think is possible with CI. OK maybe a little hyperbole there but I think it makes the point.

    Those who attack Blaine for talking about pink plastic elephants miss the real point. Blaine, as a premier communicator with the individuals in his classes, is really doing some incredibly fine things when he teaches. He is honoring that each kid is different. He is honoring the fact that plastic pink elephants to a child may be a really interesting thing, and even to adults if they are weighed down with too much real stuff in their lives and a plastic elephant becomes just what the doctor ordered. I’m not expressing it well, but there is a sort of biodiversity in a classroom. Each kid is unique and plays a role in the class. To ignore that in favor of thinking out teaching would be a mistake. Honor your students. Make them important. Work at that. Ask for help. If you are not interested in Miley Cyrus, fake it. Honor them. That’s what I want to learn in this work. I’m still not saying it right. It has to do with tapping into how great they are, how very brave some are to even get up in the morning. I’m not talking about those privileged Latin kids, but all of our students. When we give kids who have no hope a smile, just a smile, because they liked what we said about them in the TL, then that is this work perfectly described. Oh I know what I wanted to say – it’s not about our being great teachers and impressive to one and all. It’s about our being humble and, as Saint-Exupery defines taming in Chapter 21 of Le Petit Prince, teaching our students that way, so that they don’t think that they are just like any other student, as in this paragraph, where the fox talks to the Little Prince, which could be words that our students might say to us from their heart of hearts:

    …- Ma vie est monotone. Je chasse les poules, les hommes me chassent. Toutes les poules se ressemblent, et tous les hommes se ressemblent. Je m’ennuie donc un peu. Mais si tu m’apprivoises, ma vie sera comme ensoleillée. Je connaîtrai un bruit de pas qui sera différent de tous les autres. Les autres pas me font rentrer sous terre. Le tien m’appellera hors du terrier, comme une musique. Et puis regarde! Tu vois, là-bas, les champs de blé? Je ne mange pas de pain. Le blé pour moi est inutile. Les champs de blé ne me rappellent rien. Et ça, c’est triste! Mais tu as des cheveux couleur d’or. Alors ce sera merveilleux quand tu m’aura apprivoisé! Le blé, qui est doré, me fera souvenir de toi. Et j’aimerai le bruit du vent dans le blé…

    …”My life is monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are alike, and all the men are alike. And so I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun were to shine in on my life. I’ll know the sound of a step that will be different from the steps of all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields over there? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I will love to listen to the wind in the wheat…” [translation mine]

  6. Ben this post brings to mind a question that I have had on balance. I have a group of students that has very mixed tastes for the amount of absurdity in a story. Some students would like them to stay more realistic, while others get more interested when something off the beaten path gets included. Do you have any tips on walking that line and keeping them all actively playing?

  7. Eric asked:

    Do you have any tips on walking that line and keeping them all actively playing?

    I gave up on that. They don’t get that from me. It’s more than I can do. It took me a long time, many years, to just accept that they, not me, determine the level of interest. I just ask questions. Giving that need to have them like me took years in the making. It is such a big part of the mental set I built for myself in order to survive the intensity of this work.

    Now, as you say, some classes will rock the house with the same questions that another class would be “meh” on. Fine. That usually happens, and I am sure you will agree, as a result of maybe two or three or four students who are just cool and ready to play. So when one class comes in and rocks it and the next comes in and makes it boring, I don’t put that on myself.

    That is not to say that I ask questions robotically. I ask them cheerfully. That is a huge word in this work. We often forget to be cheerful and the kids will jump all over that as an excuse to not be cheerful themselves. So conveying cheer and good will and genuine interest, no matter the stress I might be under outside of the classroom, is required in this work. But actually creating the fun is not part of my own job description for myself.

  8. Each day at home I listen to mp3s of Hebrew being read while I follow along in the written text. I just figured out how to change the speed on Windows Media Player. After reading this, I decided to do a little calculating. At normal speed, today’s reading worked out to 96 wpm. At slow speed it is half that, 48 wpm. At 96 wpm I find that I have to hit the pause more frequently. At 48 wpm I find I hit the pause less frequently, and have greater comprehension and reflection. Also, I hear sounds in word that I may not catch at normal speed. There are a few stock phrases (“answered and said”) that seem irritatingly slow, but for the most part 48 wpm with text in front of me is about right. And that is with a reader that has the English below each line (in the Hebrew order).

    This is probably the best we can get from technology now. I don’t know. But here is where the live teacher has the advantage: 1) Well-known phrases can be spoken at a more normal to normal rate. 2) Pauses can be inserted at the right place, instead of everything being slowed down. 3) A word/expression can be repeated at varying rates, volumes, and rhythms. And unlike technology this is all instantaneous. Not buttons to push. No loss of engagement.

  9. Eric,

    I think you have to say that out loud to your students. This process does not need to be a secret from our students. “Some of you like the absurd. Some don’t. We are going to do both. I’m asking you to work with a story that isn’t your favorite so that I can ask others to support a story that you love. We are all in this together.” Say it like you mean it and back it up. In time, if all goes well, they will learn to support each other better. If not, you will at least know that you asked it of them and believed that they had the potential.

    with love,
    Laurie

    1. That is actually what I have been doing recently, but it is good to see Laurie and Diane supporting that strategy. I also assigned a few students classroom jobs to keep me honest. (primarily about not going off the crazy end).

  10. This is one aspect of language acquisition that, I think, has strong parallels to learning a musical piece. When I was taking piano lessons, I practiced a piece very slowly until it lay “in my hands” very well. Then I gradually sped up with it until I reached playing speed. Most people practice by playing the “easy” parts quickly and then slowing down for the parts that are not yet “acquired”. This has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it keeps the piece together as a whole; on the other hand, unless extra time is spent on the harder spots, the variable rhythm can become ingrained and affect performance. N.B.: Analogies always break down somewhere, and this may be the point of breakdown.

    I speed up in two ways:
    1. As we work through new structures and a story, I gradually increase the pace of speaking as students acquire the portions of the story. I try not to have varying rates of speed within the “piece” but gradually speed up the entire text as it becomes increasingly familiar and acquired.
    2. I gradually increase the pace of my speaking across the four years of instruction. My fourth year students occasionally drop by my first-year class and are always surprised that I speak that slowly. The common comment is, “Man, that’s slow! Did you speak that slowly for us, too?” (The answer is always “Yes”.)

    1. ^ perfect analogy ^

      Same goes for dance, theatre, whatever: practice conditions are different from mastery/demonstration conditions.

      Irish trad motors along at around 130 (more if the crew is tight and the beer plentiful). I seem to learn chunes at around 80. It is not an accident that one of the most popular apps for phones etc is a thing that changes speed of MP3s so you can slow things down (without changing pitch) to pick them up by playing along.

      It is fairly easy to “get” chunes from dots. If you want to pick them ip by ear, it is VERY difficult if they are played fast. Whoever is learning Hebrew with listening and simul-reading is also doing what we do in trad music circles. Many websites now have chunes where you can read it and simultaneously listen to the MIDI of it (sounds like crap but gets the idea across). I too hear way more nuances when things are slowed down.

      When you meet these Irish who can play 2,000 tunes brilliantly– and can’t read music– they acquired trad the way regular folks do language: from age 5 when they were amped on pink lemonade and ripping around the pub dodging betweenparents’ legs to srarting to sit in on sessions in their teens, they got 1000s of hours of input.

      With music and language, keys to acquisition are repetition and input comprehensibility.

  11. Michael asked:

    I wonder if many of you intuitively or purposely increase the language that you deem acquired or easily understood?

    I don’t, except as stated by Robert in the above comment, when it is about kids trained over years. Once we make assumptions about what students understand, we usually get it wrong and our need for speed becomes their instant confusion.

    Therefore, we must make every effort to do the formative work on a minute by minute of checking for comprehension by looking into all of their eyes including those of the barometer.

    This is the one thing I have not seen in this latest round of class observations in DPS. And yet it is the main thing, along with SLOW. Those ideas have been around since 1995 for good reason.

  12. I do think that on the issue of split classes as a result of our speaking too fast for many of our students (who are not less capable, but are simply slower processors), Walk Before You Talk is the answer. It REALLY slows us down.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,

$10

~PER MONTH

Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben