Bryan Whitney on SL

I consider what Bryan wrote below to be of immense importance. Why? Because real language teaching is about some noise, and not making language instruction as transparent as we all have insisted on over the years. We really lost our way over the years with the focus on transparent instruction to teach specific linguistic elements that we see in the TPRS world. It is one reason Tina and I have had to break with the TPRS people. They don’t get Beniko’s research. Noise is good. It’s not noise at all to the unconscious mind.

Bryan shares:

One thing I’ve noticed when experimenting with Story Listening and NT is that because I am trying to use more synonyms and rephrasing, as well as using drawing, actions, my voice, etc. I am more free to speak more naturally than I feel like I have otherwise. Because I’m not worrying about being 100% comprehensible I don’t have to edit myself and the words I use quite as much. This alone is a huge weight off of my back, and I can see how students get a richer “net” of words to draw from. They may not understand every little bit, but surely something will stick with them, and they are able to get much more input that way.

Conclusions: SL = richer language in class = greater gains = lower affective filters = easier for the teacher = easier for the students

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12 thoughts on “Bryan Whitney on SL”

  1. The challenge for the next year is somehow to find the middle ground between immersion and transparency. Don’t let the pendulum swing so far back the other way, Ben, that students start hating our classes because they are confused.

    1. James also I would say that in a loving, non-judgmental classroom, students thrive, and that is what SL creates when done like Kathrin and others who have mastered the technique do it. Just listen to the kids’ elation during the second half of the story. It shows the potentional. All those little kids understanding a story when most TPRS teachers would freak at the amount of words.

      They don’t have to understand every word. That’s not how language acquisition works and I think one of the areas TPRS has gone off the tracks, as they tie their instruction to targets and curricular demands, thematic units, etc. always trying to be in control of what the kids are learning. It was messed up and I never once felt comfortable with TPRS. I am glad it works for so many people. That is great. But it never worked for me, not really, not in total smoothness.

      The goal in SL as I understand it is that we monitor our instruction and teach to the eyes so effectively that the students never become confused, but are immersed in a much deeper ocean of more captivating language than when they are with TPRS and the boring stories that most of us ended up telling using targets.

      That one video with Kathrin (search Super Example in the search bar) shows kids who are 100% understanding and yet not at all aware of the language. That is what we want.

  2. James we have to all develop this SL thing together so that we find the sweet spot between too much transparency and too much confusion that you speak of above. But I am fascinated by the idea that the kids can understand more noise than we had any idea. So I think in a year or so we will have taken Beniko’s work a lot further down the road. Each teacher, of course, has their own degree of theatricality, and that factors in. Also their own degree of drawing ability. The best thing I have yet seen on this is:

    https://benslavic.com/blog/46862-2/

    Of course we don’t want to go from too much transparency to confusing the kids. But my position is that confusion is a result not of methodology but of individual eye contact in a classroom setting of good will and humor. When we teach to the eyes in the proper way we will never get into points of confusion with our students. This is true in any relationship in which love plays a factor.

    Thus, there will be no right way to do SL. In the same way that all moms are different, because they tell their kids bedtime stories with different qualities of voice and emotion each nite, but they still love their kids.

    So I am saying that if we love our kids enough while we are teaching them, they will never become confused. (I guess I won’t say that on the morelist. Waltz would have me for lunch.)

  3. Ben you wrote, “Thus, there will be no right way to do SL. In the same way that all moms are different, because they tell their kids bedtime stories with different qualities of voice and emotion each nite, but they still love their kids.

    So I am saying that if we love our kids enough while we are teaching them, they will never become confused.”

    You write this so nonchalantly but it is so powerful Ben. As long as we align with the human experience (see: love) we will be aligning with the first true language acquisition research. It is based on the relationships that we develop and maintain with students.

    I needed this at a time when a student has openly reported boredom TWICE in front of the whole class today. Later, she admitted being bored since the first month… we try as teachers just the same with these students. I forgive that student because who knows what they are going through.

  4. “I forgive that student because who knows what they are going through.”

    And I would wager that it is ten times, at least, more than we have any idea, to make her defy a teacher in front of others. That’s a lot of pain.

  5. Since Tina and I have recalibrated our instruction around student artwork and images, we have found that our classes flow more naturally, and that students are more likely to be swept up in the stream of language. We have found that our students are more willing to tolerate a higher percentage of unknown elements of language, which provides a richer diet of language from which students can build their emerging linguistic system. The optimal way for the students to build this system is unconsciously. In fact the input is processed most efficiently as students sleep, after having heard a story that they were genuinely interested in the day before.

  6. Perhaps “noise” allows us to hear the sound as sound when it is devoid of meaning. So even though there is no CI to become acquired language, there may be a role it plays to acquire the music of the language.

  7. Now you’re going all Proust on us, Nathaniel. My belief however is that noise is experienced as noise, say during a Story Listening session, only by the conscious mind. But the unconscious LAD process is quite aware of what the new sound means, independently of all conscious thought. That’s the way I see noise. I would conclude as I always have that the capacities of the human brain are limitless.

    How do I know that? Because, precisely, the capacities of the human brain are limitless.

    1. … noise is experienced as noise … only by the conscious mind. But the unconscious LAD process is quite aware of what the new sound means …

      I can’t fully agree with this, Ben, bc if I carry this to its extreme, I could go to any other country to just immerse myself in the language and I would aquire it unconsciously although I wouldn’t know what they were saying.

      Let’s say, I’m reading a book in English, my L2. In my experience, if I come across a new word, I can either guess its meaning from the context right away or I get a kind of vague feeing/idea of what it means or there is just a blank.
      Also I can understand sth without being able to translate it into my L1.

      Just my thoughts.

  8. While I have only been trying for the past couple of months in my non-heritage Spanish classes to extend my L2 speech and reduce the amount of circling or checking-for-comprehension questions, I find myself very hesitant to use too much new, unfamiliar language. I think this is something I really need to work on letting go of. I need to excuse myself to use more new, unfamiliar language as I’m storytelling. I need to experience how that feels and let my intuition guide me to help students understand new language when it comes up. As of yet, my intuition in those moments has been to mime, draw visuals on the board, TPR it, or translate on the board.

    But it seem very clear to me that the more I allow myself to talk to the students (as I understand StoryListening to be about) the more students fall into the fold of the dialogue, the more they escape into the story.

  9. …the more I allow myself to talk to the students (as I understand Story Listening to be about) the more students fall into the fold of the dialogue, the more they escape into the story….

    This is the best description I’ve yet read on how SL works. May I quote you in any new publications/Bite Size Books that Tina and I do on this subject? The phrases “fall into the fold of the dialogue” and “escape into the story” really describe what happens. But for that we need to go slowly, teach to the eyes, bring a sense of mystery to it in the tradition of the great storytellers, and illustrate and write words down.

    I want to say it again – this work is about plenty of noise and it’s all good as long as they are following what is happening. This is new ground for a lot of TPRS people.

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