We are all well aware of the supreme importance of the natural process that we call the Silent Period in language acquisition. But we teach in schools. There is always an expectation that speech output occur before the rose is not yet fully formed within l’abri de sa chambre verte*.
We are told by people who know little of language acquisition to get kids speaking after a few hundred hours of auditory and reading input when a few thousand hours don’t suffice to even begin to form the aperture/neurological pathways in the mouth that alone lead to speech mastery.
So we know what Krashen says, and we know what our bosses and often our customers and their parents expect, and those two things are light years apart, so what do we do?
As I see it, we need to answer three questions, not about how fluency is attained, which Krashen and others have already shown, but how students get to fluency in schools, with all the ignorance and time limitations that come within that setting.
I personally have three questions on this topic, expressed below. Please comment on any one of them. If enough people comment, we might be able to draw some kind of conclusions, anything, about what we should actually do in response to this perplexing Catch-22 we’re in, trying to teach for fluency within the formidable constraints, I should say strait jackets, that schools require that we teach within.
Question 1: What do we do about administrators who ask for speech output too early? How, exactly, do we respond when someone without knowledge or credentials (administrators, parents, students) challenges us to get our students speaking far sooner than they possibly can? I think Diane’s direct comments to the kid’s parents in that meeting last week about the Silent Period, and her refusal to go against the research in that meeting, is the way to go on that one, but I want to hear from others on this. We can get into some nasty fights just by quoting the research on this one.
Question 2: We have all had some kid tell us that they want to “repeat it after the teacher” so they can “learn to speak” when they are still thousands of hours from being ready to do even begin to do so. What to do about that? Do we reject the request and just tell them that they will be doing only listening for at least two years before being allowed to speak? Or do we let them babble a bit? After all, babies babble, don’t they? Should we be allowing, even inviting, our students to babble a little and get it out of their system?
There is big criticism of Krashen on this point throughout our field. Some, I would say most, teachers in our field think that by not forcing output in early level classes we are suppressing output, which is false. And it feels like a put down to the kid. And it increases their sense of being trapped in a one way conversation, which I can agree is no fun for them, and it probably increases the blurting of English in our classrooms as well. What do we do about this?
Question 3. What about the self imposed forced output kids do in order to go for the higher grade on the jGR or the dGR? That discussion took place here last week. Did we come to any conclusions to it? What were they?
Please weigh in on this topic. Just say which question you are addressing and write a few sentences out. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. We can’t rely on research on this topic because I don’t think there is any. There are places in this work where we cannot rely on research any more. In response to many of my questions to Krashen, he told me that he only does the research and that we are the ones who need to answer the questions generated by it in the field. So what do we say about forced speech in schools?
*…la fleur n’en finissait pas de se préparer à être belle, à l’abri de sa chambre verte. Elle choisissait avec soin ses couleurs. Elle s’habillait lentement, elle ajustait un à un ses pétales. Elle ne voulait pas sortir toute fripée comme les coquelicots. Elle ne voulait apparaître que dans le plein rayonnement de sa beauté. Eh! oui. Elle était très coquette ! Sa toilette mystérieuse avait donc duré des jours et des jours….
…the flower was not satisfied to complete the preparations for her beauty in the shelter of her green chamber. She chose her colours with the greatest care. She adjusted her petals one by one. She did not wish to go out into the world all rumpled, like field poppies. It was only in the full radiance of her beauty that she wished to appear. Oh, yes! She was a coquettish creature! And her mysterious adornment lasted for days and days….
Le Petit Prince – Ch. 8. This is how speech emerges, how anything of value emerges. Very slowly and naturally.