Tears

My son Landen, now in high school, had a middle school French teacher a few years ago who taught the old way. He quit the class at the semester that year, telling me he just didn’t enjoy the class and he didn’t feel as if he was learning anything. I didn’t object. Just yesterday out of the blue Landen told me the following story that his teacher had once shared with the class. I wouldn’t have shared this with a class, but apparently she did. It’s kind of a sad story:

This teacher loved French in high school and majored in it in college. She thought she was really good at it. But when she arrived in France on the junior year abroad program of her university, in Paris, she quickly realized that she couldn’t understand anything that the French people around her were saying and so one night she just sat down and cried. [ed. note: that’s the part I wouldn’t have told my class. Oh well, at least she was being honest.]

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20 thoughts on “Tears”

  1. My sister took AP in high school and majored in Spanish in college. It wasn’t until after she did a semester abroad in Spain in her junior or senior year that she could produce anything with much spontaneity and fluency.

  2. I have only ever learned languages the traditional way. The majority of “immersion” that I’ve experienced was in my advanced grammar, conversation, and literature classes in college (I majored in French and Spanish, but wasn’t ever able to study abroad).

    I’m curious about how others on this site have gained and maintained fluency. I have seen suggestions in other threads about regularly watching tv and reading in the TL. I’m also curious how an adult might learn a new language “from scratch.”

  3. “I’m also curious how an adult might learn a new language “from scratch.”

    The same way our students learn–with CI! I’m sure others will chime in, but I have taught a few adult classes using CI. My adults love CI and it has released many of them from the fears and nervousness they formerly associated with “learning a language.”

    I know I am simplifying, but I always say “if you understand and speak one language (your mother tongue / native language), you have the wiring and innate capacity to acquire another one!

    Re: gaining and maintaining fluency. I use music, movies, reading. I grew up speaking Spanish in my home, but for French I have gained fluency mostly through CI. I have had very little formal education in French (3 years in HS and one semester in college). I don’t claim to be a grammar superstar, but I love the language and I try to keep it up by listening to radio / music, watching movies and reading. Haha, and getting fun youtube videos from Sabrina 🙂 If I lived in a more urban setting I would probably go to a meetup group. I did this for awhile to learn Haitian Creole, but it was a 2 hour commute!

      1. There’s a really nice article contrasting CI-like reading for pleasure with traditional methods. I love the blog at Mandarin Companion in general, and have shared this article with others. They seem to understand Krashen over there…

        http://mandarincompanion.com/blog/7-mistakes-about-extensive-reading/

        Since I relaxed and started reading things I know I like, and not stuff that had more than maybe 10 new words on a page, my reading has become fun and has obviously improved a lot. I’m a Chinese teacher and non-native speaker of it.

        1. That was interesting, Diane…the article and the site. They define “extensive reading” as been reading which is at around 98% comprehension , in comparison to “intensive reading” which is between 90% and 98% comprehension (also known as “Study Reading.”) I had to think through their definitions a bit. My expectation was that by “extensive reading” they would be talk about reading several authors, whereas “intensive” would refer to reading several works by a single author. “Intensive” by the second definition (multiple works by one author) would lead me to recommend “extensive” reading in accordance with the first definition (98% comprehension).

          1. I’ve understood that intensive vs. extensive has to do with quantity and yes, comprehensibility. Intensive reading is shared reading of a text that needs the teacher or you are good friends with the dictionary, because it’s incomprehensible and/or you are analyzing the text. You therefore spend more time on fewer texts in intensive reading. As was explained to me, since many advocates of “extensive reading” do not accept Krashen’s theory entirely – I think they do not think extensive reading alone is enough and see extensive reading as one thing in addition to intensive reading and in addition to learning activities – that the best term for us to use is Free Voluntary Reading.

          2. I take it that the quantity part is due to reading less because you have to look up more words. So there would be an inverse correlation between more time in the dictionary and less time in the reading for intensive and vice versa. If we want intensive, we do not have to look far. The problem is getting lots of highly comprehensible (extensive) readings.
            Check the article/site Diane referenced. Also,
            http://mandarincompanion.com/blog/three-fool-proof-ways-to-know-a-graded-reader-when-you-see-one/
            I do not see anything that is non-accepting of Krashen here.

          3. Checked it out. The 2 pages I read agree with Krashen. The ER Foundation’s website has tons more resources, info, and an extensive annotated bibliography. Extensive Reading itself aligns with Krashen, but many who would use ER do not solely teach with CI. So, the term ER has begun to be associated with another tool, along with grammar instruction. My understanding. For instance, Akio Furukawa, who was linked in Diane’s posted article, I have heard has said that Krashen is wrong. His program has two, 80 minute blocks – 1 for ER, 1 for grammar and conversation.

          4. By the way, there are definitely not enough graded readers for languages other than English, and even in the case of English, there aren’t enough easy level 1 graded readers. The easiest I found was Foundations Reading Library (co-authored by member of ER Foundation, Rob Waring) with headword count of 75 words. In other words, students need to know 73.5 different words if they want to read it independently and ensure comprehension. And there are only 6 stories at each level and each story does not necessarily use the same 75 words. I tackled this problem over the summer working on an FVR program for EFL. I’d love to find time to try and write easy easy graded readers for Spanish FL students – the best published material we have now is probably Blaine Ray’s LICT 1 Student Text.

  4. You’d think after her experience, she would have seen the error of her ways in teaching the traditional way and looked to make a better experience for her own students.

  5. When I was in college, I had a professor of French tell us about her wonderful trip to France, and she kept talking about their interpreter who accompanied them everywhere. I asked her why she needed an interpreter, and she said that it was because the French talked too fast. I was going to switch my major to German, but they brought in a new teacher who was able to speak French the following year.

  6. Ummm….I still don’t speak a ton of Spanish or French, and my students can pass the AP tests…..

    I am totally fine with it — I’ll never be where I need to be with the two languages that help me earn my bread and butter…. going to another country is completely out of the question and I can only learn so much at a time….

    What can I do? Well, I just get up and teach every day, hoping to get closer to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours….

    Hahahahahahaha :)))))

    1. Maybe some of us did not get into languages because we were the awesome 4%s. Maybe it was just in us and we got through it somehow, even close to tears, in spite of the traditional programs that were all we knew. Perhaps for some of us, circling does has done as much for us as for our students.

      1. Indeed! After just one year of my teaching with TPRS, my Russian friends started asking me whether I’d been in-country and hadn’t told them. I reminded them that they’d been correcting all my write ups, but they wanted to know how my speaking had improved so much.

        1. So, was it the auto-CI? or practicing speaking?

          In my own experience, I felt practicing speaking can reinforce vocabulary acquisition. And since it really is a blurrier line between “grammar” and “vocabulary,” speaking could lead to acquisition of an inflected verb form, albeit as a vocabulary item. For instance, repeatedly conjugating a verb to say “I have” (while focusing on meaningful interaction, not a drill) requires me to process in the mind the word (I can see the word in my head) and I hear myself say it and if it’s high frequency, then I get a lot of mental reading and spoken reps. Again, I don’t know how you tease out auto-input from speech practice.

          It has been found in Processing Instruction studies that meaningful output, in which meaning depends on form, did lead to acquisition. Again, same problem: auto-CI or speech? That’s a theoretical discussion – most important to us is what works and what doesn’t.

          1. I had never asked that question! I like to think that it was the meaningful correction of errors (every time I sent a text in the beginning, it would be completely re-written; by the end of the year, I was mostly correct) and the amount of time I spent reading articles and texts to be able to make them comprehensible to my kids. Since I had taught for 23 years at that point, it’s pretty clear that just teaching wasn’t what did it! I’m not sure what my percentage of spoken Russian in the classroom was up until then.

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