Grammar Out, Immersion In?

From Grant Boulanger:


Here’s an interesting article. This guy is a friend of a friend and RIGHTLY attacks the grammar-centric curriculum. He is an ally in that regard.

However, he suggests appropriating from the language immersion model the idea of content as driving the curriculum. Teach them age appropriate stuff about math in French and they’ll learn French.

I think he overlooks the fact that immersion education works primarily because kids are given 2-3 years (from Kinder-grade 2) in which they are not expected to output at all in the TL. This is what sets them up for success.

Here is the link to the article:

Martel 2013



6 thoughts on “Grammar Out, Immersion In?”

  1. On page 1125 Fred Genesee offers an open view of what the “content” in CBI should/could be. CI+P would fall under that definition. Is TPRS /TCI where personalization reigns as a guiding principle fall under the CBI monicker?

  2. It’s good that he is philosophically in tune with what we say. And he was published in a “scholarly” journal–that lends credence to our ideas.

    I think one other place he missed the boat is his belief that teachers will be given proper training and time to create their own curricula and/or materials. That is not about to happen. So teachers fall back on using the textbook they are given.

    A real need that I see is that the materials we have available to us (and thank goodness for them) are not yet enough for teachers who need more support to implement the changes.

    Another issue, is the articulation from high school programs into college programs. The old guard is not about to give up the “academic” approach to language learning–grammar, grammar and more grammar, followed by incomprehensible literature. And those academicians are then surprised that their students cannot achieve high levels on the OPI. It must be those lazy students’ fault for not being prepared.

    Change is slow. And it gets frustrating.


  3. Tell me about the academics being slow. One of our local institutions of higher learning has welcomed Michelle M. and I to come and see the student teachers.

    The head of teacher development at the other not only refused us but flat-out lied to us about why we couldn’t come, telling us that “we do not allow presenters with specific instructional agendas” in to see student teachers. I don’t see how TPRS/CI is an agenda. I have a friend at this same institution who teaches a methods class (not in languages) who said that (a) this rule does not exist and (b) they can– and do– regularly bring in any classroom teacher they want if they want the teacher candidates to see cool new stuff.

    Indeed, this methods prof said that the most interesting– and effective– stuff is generally developed by teachers, because we are the ones who put the academic rubber to the school-reality road, much as Blaine Ray did when taking Krashen and Van Patten’s ideas and turning them into a functional method.

    This, while I am getting emails from recent graduates of that program saying “why did we not learn about this during our teaching practicae?”

  4. Also on p 1125, Lyster is quoted as saying, “so while they are learning curriculum content they are also learning an additional language.”

    First, it seems that it is common to not distinguish between learning and acquisition. We would be more likely to say, “so while they are learning curriculum content they are also ‘acquiring’ an additional language.” That is, the conscious work of learning “math or social studies” proceeds simultaneously with the unconscious business of language acquisition.

    Second, it is this very phenomenon that continues to amaze me. If students are having difficulty with something, the key is change the focus so that we are no longer talking about something. We are rather using that something to talk about something else.

    Traditionally, days of the week, months, telling time, numbers, locations etc. are the focus of learning. When Blaine began putting these facts into stories they were simply incidentals that added variety and interest to “he jumped.” So we have the focus, a chosen structure like “he jumped”, and shoot for repetitions and kids start picking up details that started out as excuses to get reps out of our focus.


  5. Content and Language Integration (CLI) sounds a lot like immersion. In fact, the author refers to the superior proficiency levels obtained by immersion students vs. traditional FL students, as support for CLI. He admits that he is not suggesting we just adapt an immersion approach, but that when we look at these programs “there is something interesting going on and that we ought to see what we can learn from what goes on in them.” Time plays the the largest role in this comparison.

    The problem with doing this is how to make yourself comprehensible, compelling, and how to give the 2,000 repetitions when teaching in the foreign language setting. FL students do not have the language to survive in a CLI classroom. This is where theory and practice don’t match. Martel has a great argument against the grammar approach and makes some great points for why change is hard, but CLI is not the solution. As Martel says, any change is going to require a change in teacher education programs and more professional development. I agree with his example of the U. of Minnesota program in which FL teachers are prepared alongside ESL teachers. In my experiences, ESL teachers know a lot more language acquisition theory than FL teachers, but ESL teachers are also flawed in that they usu. only know 1 language. How are they going to make sense of contradictory findings in the language acquisition/learning literature? FL and ESL teachers need both the theory and the experience of successfully acquiring a second language!

    Of course, Common Core advocates would probably eat CLI up, because then we can teach the other academic subjects in our FL class, since FL taught for FL-sake is ludicrous, right? And when Martel starts talking about UbD and essential questions, then he confuses learning content with the acquisition of a language.

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