David’s Point #3 – ESL

David said: I am proposing the following categories for your blog. These are areas in which I have a huge interest. I will explain also my rationale for proposing these categories. [ed. note – text edited with permission of author for length]
1) ESL
This is the number one concern of mine….A lot more ESL teachers have heard of Krashen than foreign language teachers. First, I define ESL as teaching a language to students with whom you do not share another language….TPRS depends for the most part on making input comprehensible through translation. In a certain sense good ESL teachers are already teaching through comprehensible input methods because there is really no other way to teach a language if you do not share a common language with your students….The term “whole language” is not one that I have heard TPRS folks use. Krashen has written and said a lot about it. Aren’t we all in the whole language camp? Isn’t the main idea of “whole language” that language learning/acquisition is mostly implicit learning? There are some good accounts written about or by refugees who have come to the U.S. that have contrasted their very enriching whole language experiences with decontextualized grammar intensive nonsensical instruction. “My Trouble is My English” and “An Island of English: Teaching ESL in Chinatown” by Dangling Fu are practically whole language manifestos.
My response: I like the word “unconscious” instead of “implicit”. Krashen’s use of the term “whole language” is also a process that I personally think of as a term to describe the unconscious process of acquisition, in which we focus on the meaning and not the words . We were talking on the beach at the 2010 Los Alamitos iFLT Conference and he said, rather pointedly, referencing some blogs written here that year about how language acquisition is an unconscious process, “What don’t they understand about the term “unconscious”? When discussing ESL, therefore my position is simple – there is no difference at all between TPRS when used in second language acquisition and when used in ESL classes. This definition fits neatly with the one you gave above: “I define ESL as teaching a language to students with whom you do not share another language.” That’s our  situation in TPRS/CI classes – we never bring into any class any words or expressions that the kids haven’t already learned. Rather, in TPRS stories we only very rarely bring in new vocabulary. It follows that ESL can work in exactly the same way as stories work in TPRS/CI classes. It’s just that many of us forget that simple premise – the overiding and almost totally ignored premise that in TPRS we largely keep translational references to L1 out of the instructional process. As long as we don’t introduce anything new except the three structures, which in a TPRS-based ESL class can be explained via pictures or sign language or even via direct translation like we do in TPRS if there are few varied language groups in the room and someone is bilingual to do that establishing meaning piece at the start of a lesson. If we can just explain the three structures, then everything we say and discuss here about TPRS must apply to ESL instruction. It’s just a question of choosing and presenting the structures in a logical way from the start, taking the first 100 words – never more than 200 hand picked words – for beginners and judiciously choosing high frequency structures after that. Having said all that, I thus cannot agree with your statement: “TPRS depends for the most part on making input comprehensible through translation.” I don’t do that. I used but I don’t now. I will admit that I used to use Point and Pause quite a bit, but now I just use it if students absolutely insist on knowing how to say something. This, by the way, is a very good example of what I want to do with this blog – make points like this which are hard to convey even at conferences. I welcome any argument on this. I could easily be wrong but this is the way I see it. To conclude, we carefully choose new structures that have never been presented and present them in a story that only uses all of the other words already known by the class. So, except in the establishing of meaning, we don’t use translation in TPRS. Therefore, there is no reason not to use TPRS in teaching ESL.

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5 thoughts on “David’s Point #3 – ESL”

  1. ESL is teaching English as a second language. So to be quite brief…teaching a second language using best practices is the same for ANY second language. I’m not sure why the ESL folks don’t quite ‘get it’ or rather they don’t have any awareness of TCI beyond TPR. There are over 2,000 teachers of ELA (ESL) in the Denver Public Schools. And David, you are correct, all teachers who are licensed in ELA must have studied and read Krashen but of these teachers less than 1% have any idea of best teaching practices supported by his research. I’ve been trying for 7 years to get a “toe” into the DPS ELA department professional development. A few ELA teachers who are aware of what we do in world languages have asked for training, but so far no one of any authority (Denver has multi layers of administrators) has reached out to even ask me to provide a simple introductory workshop in TCI. Voila.
    In my opinion there does not need to be a discussion about whether TCI is applicable to ESL. It is. End of discussion. ELA somehow fails to recognize and implement Krashen’s work as we are now in world languages – one would think that they would just be a bit ‘curious’ as to why it is so successful. I just want them to stand up and take notice. Such failure may be because traditionally world languages teachers have failed to teach language acquisition. Our (their) reputation precedes us. No one has noticed that we, the TCI teachers in DPS, are doing business a bit differently than has been done before.

  2. The question of whether and/or when to use translation is one I have wrestled with over the past 5-6 years. For a while my goal was “total immersion,” that is, to present all vocabulary through pictures, gestures, synonyms and explanations in the target language, etc. Easier said than done, and I began to find that students became easily confused by all but the most simple nouns, and even then, e.g. once I held up a recycling bin to demonstrate the Latin word for “trashcan” and it took me a long time to sort that out. I began to suspect that using English once in a while might really help. When I got hold of Blaine’s books, I was shocked to find that translation was used quite a bit in a TPRS classroom. But the rationale made sense to me: keep the momentum going, even if you have to translate a word or phrase and then resume the CI. An ESL classroom full of students who do not share a common L1 has very specific challenges. For FL teachers, we have the “luxury” of falling back on L1, of translating, and this is a double edged sword: most teachers probably rely on it too much and fall way below 95% target language, but should we therefore eject this valuable tool from our toolboxes? For me, the answer to this problem lies in a correct understanding the phrase: “TPRS depends for the most part on making input comprehensible through translation.” If by “through translation” we mean frequent breaks to translate and therefore frequent departures from the TL, then it is not really CI class anymore (as far as I understand the concept). If however we understand “through translation” as providing a necessary foundation of comprehension of key terms and structures, hopefully mainly at the begininng of a new lesson, then this isn’t so much of a disagreeable statement to TPRS teachers (or wannabes like myself); however, this is still a very different thing than what many ESL teachers face in their classrooms, not having the common L1. Then there is the role of translation in teaching reading, but perhaps that should be a separate discussion.

  3. And please be clear that I was speaking in ideal terms. It takes many years of practice to get to where you can make it through a lesson without any pointing and pausing at new structures. Nobody really does it perfectly but the ideal of no new terms should be there. Otherwise we fall well below the 95% as you correctly say John. The number of people who fall below 50% is probably very high. There are some who go below 5%. Neither of them is doing CI, which requires that we be above 95% percent. Almost, and I said almost, rather do a grammar lesson for all the good it does when we are not somewhere well over 80% in the target language. We need at some point to have the discussion about whether this can even be done in school classrooms where motivation and discipline are issues. That is why the first 100 words are so key, and the branching out into stories that contain no new vocabulary after that. If we slip and add a word in, which I agree can’t be done in many ESL classrooms, we just go on. If the kids demand it, again, we can give them that vocabulary and then go on in our classes where it is not so easy in ESL classrooms. Still, as Diana once told me, language is language is language. Comprehensible input is the method du jour because it blows away all other approaches. It has such a bad reputation in large part on this one point of use of English by untrained teachers – how can the kids learn anything when the flowing unconscious focus on the meaning of the message and not the words used to deliver it isn’t there? John if the kids had not already acquired the word recycle bin and it wasn’t one of the structures then it should not have been introduced. Instead, your lesson should have had in it one of the three target structures – in every sentence. I can’t do that either but that is the idea of it. All we can do is keep trying to get to the ideal of no new translation after we establish meaning in Step One.

  4. I have benefited a great deal from the comments to my posting about ESL. A few clarifications. First of all for me there also is no discussion about whether TCI/TPRS is applicable to ESL. I agree with Diana, “End of Discussion”. I never meant to imply anything else. In ESL the only alternative that I see to TCI/TPRS is meaningless activities such as decodable digests, intensive phonics instruction and totally uncomprehensible and meaningless grammar instruction.
    With respect to the use of translation, I think that this is something that deserves more discussion. I believe that translation is used in TPRS more than most of us perhaps realize. In the Fluency Fast classes that I have attended it seems to me that all the pointing to words on a wall was basically translation or at least using the L1 to make the L2 comprehensible. Don’t we use translation as a check for comprehension? It seems to me countless times in Fluency Fast classes the instructor would stop and ask somebody or everybody to review in English what was just said in the L2.
    I would like to paint a more detailed picture of my ESL classes that I have taught and will teach again at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas. Perhaps this will help make it clearer my perspectives. Most of my students were refugees. Many literally spent their entire lives in the camps. So many pictures are so embedded with a cultural heritage that they can not relate to. Pictures of fire trucks, drug stores and banks are often a mystery to them. Basically I saw my job as a struggle to make input comprehensible by whatever means necessary. Using body movements in TPR also brings a potential for misunderstanding. Translation can establish meaning precisely and in an instant. I had Karenni (one of the groups out of Myanmar that are in the camps just across the border in Thailand) speakers in my class and there was not a single human being in the Kansas City area who could speak English and Karenni. There was a small dictionary that was sort of a glossary. Dictionaries are very unreliable to establish meaning. I had a student from Micronesia for whom there only existed a pathetic 96 page glossary of words between English and her language and of course nobody else around who was bilingual in the two languages. I had many students who suffered all kinds of trauma from the wars they had left in Somalia, Myanmar, etc. It was not easy (but very important) to try to figure out their background and some of their psychological needs.
    With my Spanish speakers, meaning could be established in an instant and comprehension could also be checked in an instant. These are no small things. The Spanish speakers, for the most part, had the burden of their legal status to deal with.
    There is also the issue of literacy. Many had no L1 literacy. This definitely affects L2 acquisition.
    Then of course there are the unrealistic expectations of the whole educational system. I benefited greatly from reading about what Krashen wrote regarding the whole debate about bilingual education. Students are expected to progress at an insane pace.
    I remember that in the Krashen video I have Krashen said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a foreign language class where you didn’t have to speak, where you only spoke when you were ready?” People who have immigrated to another county are, by the logic of their situation, forced to produce some language before what would otherwise be ideal.
    ESL brings up a whole host of sociolinguistic considerations which most foreign language instruction in the U.S. does not have to deal with. I also spent a lot of time devouring the cultural information about the refugee groups coming to the U.S. from around the world. Krashen’s model for language acquisition is what I consider a psycholinguistic approach. ESL and instruction to native and heritage speakers brings up so many sociolinguistic factors.
    Ben mentioned the need to focus on 3 structures at a time. I used the Beth Skelton book, “Putting it Together”. I think it was 3 structures at a time. I will have to check.
    I was not expecting many helpful comments but this has helped. ESL instruction is fundamentally similar to foreign language instruction but there are some important differences also. ESL needs the insights of the many talented instructors that base their instruction around comprehensible input

  5. …all the pointing to words on a wall was basically translation….
    Agreed, but my own process on that has been to severely limit the posting of things on walls. Over the years, I have pared down posters on walls to a fraction of what used to be up there. I find that, unless you refer to the posters every day, the kids don’t know what they are meant to convey*. The question words must be up there, of course, and it helps the kids when I put up articles and prepositions and what happens when they combine (they use those particular posters for reading a lot, I have noticed). But those two are the only posters I use, excepting the hugely important rules poster (this site, resources, poster page), but I even stop using that by November because they know the rules by then.
    …countless times in Fluency Fast classes the instructor would stop and ask somebody or everybody to review in English what was just said….
    Granted, but, failing that option in an ESL class, verbal translation by a student is not necessary for acquisition nor is it necessary for assessment. I can tell all I want form teaching to their eyes. I think it was Paul Kirschling in our Denver TCI (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) who said to me in a discussion about assessment, “This is ridiculous. All I have to do to know if they are acquiring anything is to look into their eyes.” I most strongly agree with that statement.
    …with my Spanish speakers, meaning could be established in an instant and comprehension could also be checked in an instant.These are no small things….
    I have only taught a few ESL classes (to Vietnamese kids) a long time ago, so I am not even qualified to speak about any of this. The lack of a common language may be a much bigger an obstacle than I realize in my possibly cavalier belief that TCI/TPRS and ESL can be discussed in the same breath. Such is my believe in CI, however, that I think that we can get somewhere here. Just to learn and think about it, if nothing else. Maybe we can get somewhere. Maybe we can figure out a way to make CI and ESL strong friends. I think David is particularly well positioned there in Kansas City** to do this work, and so we can look forward to excellent field reporting – the only kind that matters to me personally – during the coming year.
    …no L1 literacy…definitely affects L2 acquisition….
    This one I can’t fully agree with, but my position is almost purely theoretical and therefore most probably faulty. It just seems to me that, in theory, if we patiently present the most simple texts to them and they can read from the sound, which sound deciphering allows them to know meaning (like they do on Sesame Street), then they can read. I’ll send this question to Dr. Krashen and Diana Noonan.
    Maybe we can figure this out together as a group. It will take some time, but I really appreciate the stage lights being focused even this much on the things David brought up and lists so clearly above. Maybe we can figure out a way to make CI and ESL strong friends.
    *Bryce Hedstrom is the exception that comes to my mind – if you see him teach you see him use the walls all the time. He has some killer posters, by the way.
    **Colorado 9, Kansas City 0 last night at the fireworks show overlooking the Rocky Mountains at sunset.

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