The Brain Can Learn By Itself

Teaching a language without using comprehensible input is insulting to the magnificence of the human brain, which can process and decode and implement thousands of rules of language without even needing to use its conscious side – it’s all automatic. All that the brain needs to acquire a language is to hear the language spoken correctly in a way that the learner can understand and everything then falls into place for eventual fluency.
Making learning languages a conscious thing is just insulting to the unconscious elegant flow that characterizes the way we really learn languages. How can we honor this process, which is so beautiful, when we do our jobs in a way that is in opposition to this elegance? This hubris, this failure to implement a natural way of teaching languages that is in line with what is so natural and powerful and perfect, is not, has never been, and can never be, successful.
We who teach languages owe it to our students to teach them in a way that honors what lies unconscious in the human mind, latent but for our mastery of this new way of teaching. Are we, who have come to understand and implement the power of the process of CI in our classrooms, not totally relieved to learn that there really was a way to teach that worked?
Are we not relieved to know that there really was a way to teach that produces real fluency, that is much less labor intensive, that is much more emotionally satisfying, and, enfin, et puis, alors, not so gnarly?
Yes, the brain can learn a language by itself. That changes the equation, if ever anything did.



11 thoughts on “The Brain Can Learn By Itself”

  1. We are relieved but it takes bravery to actually practice what we believe. The longer I attempt to use CI to teach I am amazed by the beauty of the human brain.

  2. We who are not Artists of CI like Blaine and Joe and Susie and Jason have fear. We don’t think that we are good enough. Then, on top of that, we go into our classes and some of our students put out the vibe that they would rather learn the old way, and some of our colleagues judge and condemn our efforts, and we feel small. So yes, bravery is needed.
    I will never teach the old way again, however. All I have to do is look at my current French 4 class to see the mangling that the old way does. Even now in March, some of them can’t get what the rest of us are doing. On top of that, they actually know very very little French, amazingly little for three years of work(sheets).
    No matter. I will do CI and that’s it, and for the same reason that Kay states above – the human brain is an amazing thing, and it cannot learn a language via conscious analysis – it must be left alone to just hear the CI. Why would we screw that up?

  3. I don’t have to look any further than into the eyes of my 2 month old son to see those wheels turning. My husband and I speak Spanish to him at home. Raising our LO bilingual will be the ultimate CI experiment. 🙂 No formal schooling necessary… Ah…the human brain is an amazing piece of equipment.

  4. Maybe the Golden Rule would be a good place to start when looking at how we teach kids languages. Would LO, as he grows, want to be told rules about the language in English or would he just rather hear and decode and relax and learn the language that way, just listening to his parents hour after hour, day after day, just absorbing it that way?
    Indeed, where is the research that shows that LO would be better off if Inga and her husband did not talk to him in Spanish, but rather told him language rules in English, or mixed the two? And here is a really good question – where is the research that proves that what applies to infants in language acquisition does not apply to other human beings?
    Wouldn’t it be nice to experience no language learning pressure at all and all you have to do is pay attention and try to understand and inform the instructor in those moments when you are confused? Isn’t it wonderful that LO is not losing points now because he can’t produce certain features of language right now? Isn’t it great that his parents acknowledge him for where he is now with both languages and don’t judge him for what he cannot do?
    I ask again – where is the research that proves that what applies to infants does not apply to other human beings?
    Do unto others….

  5. It is so comforting to have all of you here. I’m sure LO’s brain will work at twice the speed with two languages around him. How lucky you are!
    I am reeling with shock, having read a front page “scholarly” response to an article I wrote for the national Russian teachers’ journal. It is by a textbook author who claims to use TPRS in her classroom, and she says that we should never teach Russian with just TPRS, that the students will never learn the grammar, and that a textbook is what will support us and the students. There is more, openly opposing everything I said.
    Here’s a part of a paragraph: “I am a huge supporter of systematic [sic] approach to any teaching. If there is no system, there is no teaching. I respect textbooks. Even a poor textbook is better than a bunch of good but disorganized materials because any textbook presents a system, a tool, a systematized set of rules and exercises based on a certain type of curriculum. As of today, there is not a TPRS textbook for the Russian language, which means that there is no system of rules and exercises. This is the main reason why any Russian language teacher should not be using TPRS as a stand-alone method.”
    I told my husband that I’d love to write her and offer to correct her English before she sends articles off–I suspect that the editor, who is an esteemed and supportive colleague, actually left her mistakes in so as to make some sort of point–but I know that wouldn’t help anything.
    There is no point in arguing with her–she is speaking to the choir, but also hurling a huge weapon in my face, because I went out on a limb to describe my teaching process for one story leading up to a reading, and I was clear about not only my defection from textbooks but also about the obvious improvements in my students’ language abilities. Then another Russian teacher followed up by submitting her final language methodology paper to the same journal, giving all possible research findings about the strength of TPRS at all levels.
    In this third article, the author has tried to rip apart the foundation we have established, claiming that there is lots of division even in the TPRS ranks, and that no one has demonstrated any success. I guess that the fact that my students’ names are in the same journal as national Russian essay contest gold medalists and as the school whose students won the highest percentage of spoken Russian contest medals in the state doesn’t demonstrate anything. (Quite honestly…these results do NOT come from my personal teaching, but from the fact that I changed to using TPRS.)
    I do use an organized system (although it is hard to describe): we speak comprehensible Russian in my room. We move toward reading texts for comprehension. You all know that part.
    There’s no forum for writing letters of frustration to this journal unless I do a fourth TPRS article, and I don’t believe it would help. Luckily there are all of you who can commiserate.
    The worst part is that that author and I just had a conversation three weeks ago in which she told me she was going to quit teaching to write for the profession, and I excitedly asked her to expand on the wonderful stories she wrote in her textbook–I told her we need a line of novels like those available to the other languages. She must have been snickering at me on the other end of the phone, knowing that she had already written something that would put me in my place.

  6. Michele when I think about this, only one of thousands if not tens of thousands of such disputes between colleagues going on right now, I think of that old expression that the best defense is a good offense – such is what your colleague is doing.
    When we CI purists model in our teaching a scrapping of the system entirely and just talking to the students in the TL, while doing some mojo league reading, that is a cage rattler. She needs to defend that hard, or accept it. There is no safe middle ground for such people anymore -we are too strong.
    People who are up for having their cages rattled, like Susan Gross rattled mine, because they are fed up with “systems”, because they know that they don’t work, because many would rather quit the profession than embrace the old, embrace the new and don’t look back.
    But how many teachers, Michele, enjoy having their cages rattled? We are talking about their professional egos here, and comfort zones vary widely. Obviously, deconstructing your position (without fully understanding it!) allows her to keep her professional (and personal, in fact) ego in tact and not get her cage rattled. It’s easier for her to say that you are wrong rather than look authentically at what you do.
    Easier. Cage not rattled. What I admire most about you, Michele, is that from the very start of hearing about TPRS you have been like a cage inhabitant who could not take those cage walls down fast enough yourself! You have been ferocious in the speed and intensity of embracing these new and far superior ideas that Krashen discovered.
    She can’t do what you are doing. Let’s let her go and keep concentrating on each other, working together, not sweating those people. Her ego is doing the best it can with the information it has.
    Just today, I was thinking how nice it would be to work with a group of committed CI people in the same building. Running out in the hallway in between classes to compare notes with someone as into it for real as we are, someone who has authentically left the cage of their isolation and are rattling at the foundations of the old way. How cool would that be to work in the same building with people who didn’t ooze negativity every time we saw them?
    Just having your Jennie around last week here in Denver was a powerful learning experience for me. She’s the real deal. Sadly, in my opinion, traditional teachers are all isolated from each other even when in the same building, united by nothing except, very often, a mistrust of the new, and their boredom.
    I know, I’m full of advice. But, seriously, let this one go. As long as Vera is in Russia, I’m not worried.

  7. Michele wrote: “It is by a textbook author . . .”
    That’s all you need to know. She is trying to preserve her income and knows that if TPRS/Comprehensible Input Methods are adopted, she will have to find another line of work. I hope the other readers of the journal put that together.
    Some time ago someone on one of the lists posted a link to an article by a (former) textbook author who revealed the sordid underbelly of the business. This writer was asked to write a lesson on a particular grammar point and received three previously published books as reference. The instruction was clear: don’t come up with anything new, just write “better” than the other publishers. The irony: the other lessons were the person’s own writing. Here’s the quote:
    A few years ago, I got an assignment from a development house to write a lesson on a particular reading skill. The freelance editor sent me the corresponding lessons from our client’s three major competitors. “Here’s what the other companies are doing,” she told me. “Cover everything they do, only better.” I had to laugh: I had written (for other development houses) all three of the lessons I was competing with.
    Here’s the URL:

  8. Thanks guys…I really do know that I have to let this go, but I also needed to complain to folks who get it, and you do (as I knew you would), and I appreciate it.
    Ben, I feel very lucky to have Jennie in the state (even if she is a six-hour drive away, she still drops in from time to time). And I am lucky that next door is a new French teacher, Nick Rothman, who has adopted TPRS and not looked back. He’s awesome.
    I love the story of the textbook writer. With that, I can drop my rant!

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