jGA 2

Below is a repost of a recent article by James, with some additions by me. I would like to call the first article “James’ Great Argument Against the Modern Argument Against CI in Schools 1” or jGA 1 for short. This article I would like to call “James’ Great Argument Against the Modern Argument Against CI in Schools 2” or jGA 2 for short. I hope that is o.k. with the group. I know it’s weird. But I see these two jGA posts as potentially up there with jGR inimportance, and in my experience in this PLC, when really kick ass articles don’t have a simple catchy title, they get forgotten, and this is one set of ideas I don’t want to forget where I can find, hence “jGA”.)

1) They say: The mind doesn’t have a special capacity (LAD) for learning language. Thus, language needs to be taught like other skills. So lots of practice at “skill building” is fitting and even necessary. I say: The mind has a capacity to learn a language but the way it chooses to do it is unknown to us because it takes place in the unconscious and therefore we have no control over it. By focusing on the message and not the words, thus transferring the process of learning the language to the deeper mind, we learn the language in a way that we cannot consciously understand or even talk about and certainly in a way whose order we could predict. Therefore, in class we need only provide as much comprehensible input as possible – that is all we need to do.

2) Their point: The Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) – which states that we learn languages best and most naturally before a certain biological age – is accurate. The CPH “turns off” at a certain point in life. High school students are beyond the critical period and lack the LAD and so must be instructed in the language, instead of experiencing it. My point: Learning a language is and was meant to be a life long process. People can learn a language at any point in their life as long as they hear and read enough of it. It’s not like in history adults over the age of 30 who have immigrated to another country have never learned the language – they have. Now if you want to talk about accent, that is another thing.

3) Their point: Teenagers are more capable of making gains by thinking about language because their first language can act as a point of reference. High schoolers are more capable of learning by thinking and doing. They can hold on to the grammar and vocabulary and manipulate things and think about them and from those things fluency will eventually come. My point: When the conscious mind is involved in language, it can never be acquired – it can only be learned about. Again, it cannot be acquired. Moreover, those who can learn it are only a very small percent of the student population. (There is not much of a response a traditional teacher can make to refute this point – they are fully aware of their immense (and documented) failings in retention of students over what was intended by the school to be a contiguous four year program for ALL their students from ninth grade. All they need to do is look at the 8 white girls and 4 white boys in their level four classes to see the proof of their hypocrisy in favoring kids who have been trained in conscious analysis and are masters of that game through their privileged status in society.)

4) Their point: Authentic resources are the best possible vehicle to deliver input to students. Foreign language teachers need to expose their students to the culture and so the language encountered in class ideally will have written by a member of the “target culture.” So we need more magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. written by native French speakers from France, for example. My point: Students who have not acquired the language via comprehensible input cannot read those texts because authentic reading of authentic texts emerges from an extremely complex series of unconscious processes that occur in the deeper mind over years, processes that no human man could have designed that are connected to having heard the language in massive amounts first. By not providing enough auditory comprehensible input, the teacher who expects real measurable results in the reading of authentic texts is just wrong.

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4 thoughts on “jGA 2”

  1. This is astounding in its clarity and it is so useful to me in understanding the fundamental differences among methodologies, not to mention the visceral reactions people have about TPRS. In a conversation last week, I had an administrator say to me that TPRS is not good for students with “anxiety issues”. Then he halfheartedly followed up by saying of course, it depends on the teacher. But one thing from jGA1 that really struck me, or maybe it was in the subsequent conversation, was the idea that yes, we understand how analytically-oriented high schoolers can be, but does that mean we play to that tendency in language class? Or is this where we encourage the aspect of ourselves that learns through a unique kind of paying attention…not taking apart and analyzing, but rather opening to something huge and beautiful and just becoming a part of it? Becoming a part instead of taking apart?

    1. “…yes, we understand how analytically-oriented high schoolers can be, but does that mean we play to that tendency in language class?”

      I totally have the temptation all the time to play to the smart kids with grammar and all that. If I did, it would feel a lot more like school. And if it felt a lot more like school I could control the kids. It leads to a dark place, unfortunately where many teachers have permanent residence.

  2. Now I get why you had such a rough year. This is so beautifully expressed. You are like the flower who simply got planted in the wrong soil, that’s all. They had no idea what they had in that school! In a few days, a very important article will appear here that addresses what we need to do when we are in an environment with a toxic administration.

    I’m going to find places to use this quote by you Angie. I’m going to add it to my email signature right now. It pretty much says it all. It places our work firmly in the elective areas of art and music and makes it clear why language shouldn’t be considered a purely academic subject. What you write here is huge, and beautifully illustrates James’ points. We are not hacks. We are individual teaching artists:

    …yes, we understand how analytically-oriented high schoolers can be, but does that mean we play to that tendency in language class? Or is this where we encourage the aspect of ourselves that learns through a unique kind of paying attention…not taking apart and analyzing, but rather opening to something huge and beautiful and just becoming a part of it? Becoming a part instead of taking apart?…

    The mind’s job is to take apart. But language can’t be taken apart and learned any more than a rocket ship can be taken apart one day and be launched the next. Our language rocket ship is already built. Acquiring the language is, as you say, about “opening to something huge and beautiful and just becoming a part of it.”

    All we need to learn to do for our students is to load the rocket ship up with plenty of CI and launch.

  3. To no. 1. How on earth did people learn languages before grammar books had been thought up? If they hadn’t picked it up as small children, they would never have learnt it in their lifetime. Makes total sense!

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