TPRS vs. Georgia 2

The Georgia FL Tenets as published in 2009 were in a kind of slide show or power point format. Here is one of the first panels from that Georgia document about what they want their foreign language teachers to be doing in Georgia classrooms:

AVOID using translation as a tool for clarifying meaning.

This is so counter to everything that we know about TPRS. A limited amount of VISUAL (not verbal) translation, used in the right moments of instruction in L2, is totally necessary for the students to stay on board with the lesson, to not be left in the dust in a cloud of L2.

We depend on HIGH INTEREST LEVELS for our students to stay in engaged in our TPRS lessons. That’s how we do it. It is most cavalier indeed to speak to someone in a language that they do not understand, and expect them to learn it.

Doing what is described above is a sure formula for boredom (due to disengaged students who just don’t understand what is going on, as the teacher goes all over the place in L2, explaining all manner of things during the largely incomprehensible and meaningless lesson), and the teacher looks like something of a fool speaking to a kid in a way that they don’t understand. Would you do this with someone on the street?

It might work if you have a ten hour class, and if your students were paying for the class, but not in reality, and not with kids, whose purpose in your class is not to get the best bang for their investment dollar, but to be noticed and to learn how to grow up.

Why? Because, when we stay uniquely 100% in the target language, we would have to digress from the content of our story lesson in L2 to explain – in L2! – what each and every new term is. That is absurd. It could take up to five minutes or more to explain each new term, which would then necessitate a plethora of explanations of even more new terms in an exponential spiral, during which whatever interest had been built up in the content of the lesson would have been lost.

You might be able to pull off staying entirely in L2 with really young kids, and you might impress a clueless administrator or two in the process, but, in fact, those little kids would be processing little of what you were saying. You would be exposed if you tried it above 7th grade or so, because the kids at that age would not tolerate being spoken to in a language they don’t understand.

Visual translation, about 3-5% of a TPRS story lesson, vastly speeds up L2 acquisition. Visual and on the board translation of L2 into L1 works. We know it works and we have the happy students and their parents, not to mention the test scores, to prove it. But what about verbal translation during a TPRS class?

It’s simple. We don’t do it. So if you are one of those people who think that “they speak English” in TPRS you really need to educate yourself on this point. Yes, we use a bit of English to speed things up when we establish meaning about the three target phrases at the beginning of a TPRS class, because it works, but only for the first 2 minutes of the class, for the most part.

What a thought – we teach in a way that our students understand us. That is why it is called comprehensible input. If 100% immersion methods worked, we could all just dispense with language teaching, start looking for other jobs, and tell the kids to go home and watch a bunch of DVDs in the target language and become fluent. It doesn’t work that way.

In TPRS classes, students spend the class period being almost fully aware of what is being said in L2, and we are constantly monitoring what they are getting. It really is a beautiful thing to teach an entire class in L2, except for those first two minutes and the visual pausing and pointing from L2 to L1 on the board from time to time.

It is more than a beautiful thing. It is the only way of teaching a language that, in my own experience, actually works. So to advise an entire state full of language teachers to “avoid using L1 as a tool for clarifying meaning” is not going to work for me, and for a lot of others who do TPRS, not to mention the students.

So far I am 0 and 1 as far as agreeing with Georgia.




9 thoughts on “TPRS vs. Georgia 2”

  1. This is going to be an interesting series of posts. My home state is Georgia! I studied Spanish in high school, not using TPRS of course. And, no, I am not fluent in Spanish and don’t remember much except trying to memorize a book of verb conjugations. 🙂

    I heard Mr. Ray say, maybe on his DVD, that there is no justification for incomprehensible input. I agree — I have never seen anyone provide any justification for it. When I study my second language, I hate incomprehensible input — it’s frustrating, useless, and discouraging. Quick translating unknown words is the only way to go.

  2. I still have questions about word lists. Ben, you have two kinds of word lists; one to satisfy your district where the words are listed with articles,etc. These words on red, green, blue lists are designed to placate the higher ups. The other lists have random words, not in any particular order where verbs are listed w/o il/elle and nouns are listed w/o articles. These lists are displayed w/o definition and are periodically discussed or chosen by design to spin a yarn? Would I have specific lists for each of the 4 levels I teach. Are these lists similar to Blaine’s 64 -65 most frequently used words? Ben has 6-7 pages listed. Is that complete for level one? Do you rotate the lists in and out? I think I have not been clear in my questions and I feel like I am missing something important! Thanks in advance.

  3. Yes, the random lists contain the same exact words as the district mandated list, but they are shuffled and mixed into a number of different posters (one is used each month) with random arrangements of verbs and nouns and other words so that they are effective in class. Those posters allow for spinning yarns, playing word chunk team games, building little images from single words, and the other activities I describe in the “handouts” link of this site.

    I also like to start classes by presenting five of those new words each class period, before beginning a story or a reading class. I just sneak them in right there in the first part of the class. It builds their vocabulary.

    Yes, you would need an entire set of both kinds of lists, district mandated (as on my site) and shuffled (as on the walls each month) for each level. I know that that is a lot of work. If I go to the high school level next year (a possibility), I will make them and slowly get them on this site, at least in French.

    The students take Blaine’s 64 words and extend them as per district thematic wishes to the end of the year. It is the same thing but with a lot more words. Yes, all the seven posters are complete for what my district mandates. I know what is mandated because I spent the past three years on the vertical writing team that came up with those lists, which are called pacing guides. It was a start in pulling district teachers away from their utter dependence on the book in our district. Now, they can’t rely on book chapters because they have to teach a certain concept at a certain time. I have made those district documents available on this site but can’t rememeber where. They are somewhere.

    Actually these are very clear questions to me because it is how I do things. Most people don’t do these lists, of cours, and it is hard to convey exactly how I use them through a single website like this. That is why that “handouts” link is so important. All I can say is that it works for me – I am able to satisfy district vocabulary requirements by requiring that my students learn all of those words at home, which totally frees me up for stories.

    If a kid feels like they aren’t being prepared for the next level because I don’t talk about green beans and student desks in stories, I just remind them to go to my site and learn the words there, unless they want to do a story about a student desk. They can’t say anything to that, and I can truthfully say that the 60% of kids who really work with these lists at home are probably the best prepared level one students I have ever taught in my career by far, because they are getting mega CI in class as per storytelling and the district vocabulary is being learned at home.

  4. Great! So I am assuming that most of the entries on the random list are w/o articles or subject pronouns is to get the student to focus on the word to identify as noun or verb? The lists – at least the first two pages – seem to have around 30 verbs, then mostly nouns with a few prepositions and adverbs. I am looking at Discovering French for my random word list since that is the book I use. Yours seems about the same. Need to get a laser pointer! It’s a weird time of the year to start all of this, but I am really going to concentrate on levels 1-2; my level 3 class are the high point of my life this year so I’d like tomove them in the TPRS direction and my French 4s are just getting back from Disney and have basically punched their tickets – all college bound, but TPRS might be a way to change things up before they leave for good. I am in a prep school, so I have a little more academic freedom than my public school counterparts, but you guys are really on the forefront of all this good stuff! Thanks again for all the pointers.
    PS Susie Gross was just in the area. I went to her workshop at Oakcrest HS. Jeff Forney and his colleagues are great TPRSers. Hope Susie will be back in August. She is an incredible resource and inspiration. You should come along!

  5. Just to weigh in on how I do Ben’s word list. I went through the book (the only time I’ve used it) that the school has and I made 5 lists of 42 words. Substantially less than most schools’ “required” vocab, but in the past the teachers used one book for Level 1 (Chap. 1-4) and Level 2 (Chap. 5-8). I could get away without doing the extra vocab at my school (yeah, lots of freedom), but I do not know how long I will be at this school.

    So, I went through the “end of chapter vocab lists” and picked random words and typed them up. Then I gave it to a student for some extra credit to write nice and neatly in Sharpie on a 3’X2′ colored posterboard with two columns. They only put the L2 on the posterboard. Then, I give students the same word list with translations so they have them to study at home. We spend about 3 minutes at the beginning of class like Ben, but we only do 3 words per day since we have less madated vocab.

    With regard to the articles and subject pronouns, I do include articles. Sometimes, if the plural version of the word is irregular, I will put the plural version on there too (ex. la luz [las luces]). I was displaying verbs in an arbitrary conjugated form, but I have switched to displaying the infinitive of the verb. I’m not sure which is better. It may be helpful to have irregular verbs like “ser” or “tener” in a conjugated form on the word list, unless you have them conjugated on the walls in your room somewhere anyway, which I now do.

    I would recommend not allowing students to have the vocab sheet out on their desks while you go over these at the beginning of class. They tend to just look at their list and not listen/participate as well in this short activity.

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