A riff on Terry’s posts

Perhaps there’s something missing in my reading of the many posts Terry is responding to. Maybe the posters have a good grasp of CI principles and they are just branching out, exploring, experimenting, OR satisfying insane demands from admins and state legislators.
BUT, my sense is something else: it is that deep down THEY are missing something. The essential part of CI is that language acquisition is an organic, instinctual process, a process that the organism cannot help but undergo.
First, what leads me to think some of the posters do not quite grasp the acquisition model? What I see is a load of gimmicks, most of which I have tried in my now defunct career. These gimmicks seem designed to keep the students’ attention and to almost trick them into insights into how the language works. What is the problem with this?
The brain processes input. It becomes uptake, being loaded into the brain, when the person, the language-acquiring organism with its LAD, senses a need to take up the message. If the need is not felt, uptake does not occur. Trying to trick learners into being interested will not work b/c it does not produce a genuine need. Without a genuine need there is not genuine attention. The input may be there, but if uptake does not occur, it is like feeding information into a computer that does not read that language: input, yes, uptake, no. The computer does not read the input, the learners does not take the input up into the LAD.
Supposedly, a short-cut is available, insight into how the language works. This is similar to Focus on Form: if we can just get the learner to look at this neat way the language expresses subjective vs objective genitive, that information will be stored in the brain as a process. It should then be available upon demand. When the learner demands the information, it can be retrieved but only by a conscious effort (Krashen’s monitor), which will produce the form but at a price: the learner must pay attention to the form rather than to what he is saying or is being said. So the short-cut, conscious learning of rules, can appear useful b/c it will result in output or comprehension, but at too great a cost. The appearance of that in a classroom is the pregnant pause as the students cogitate and then comprehend or provide output, usually with a high percentage doing nothing at all. Those students “getting it” then go on to become fl teachers.
Due to the heritage of learning in the West, it is very difficult for teachers to forgo the insight process; it feeds into our self-image as intellectuals as learners. We must use our intelligence rather than relying on automatic processes we have not scientifically validated even though the evidence that they exist is strong.
Second, what evidence do we have for this instinctual, automatic, organic process of language acquisition? And here we get into teacher education. How many teachers take linguistic courses or methodology courses? More than in the past, I am sure. Nevertheless, it will not hurt to offer a few tidbits that confirm the notion that language acquisition, incl second language acquisition, is organic and ineluctable.
In Nicaragua, deaf children were neglected under the Somoza regime. In that time, deaf children living in villages instinctively worked out rudimentary signs with their families in order to maintain basic communication. This happened all over the country with no coordination, so that each child and each village had developed a simple system. When the Sandinistas took over they established a central school for the deaf. Deaf children from all over were brought to this center where no assistance was available: no deaf people having sign language, no educators of the deaf, no foreign assistance, nothing. Amazingly, the children began sharing among themselves the sign systems they had worked out at home and began smoothing out “dialectal” differences to create a basic sign system, a kind of pidgin sign language. Visitors noticed this and eventually, linguists began investigating. They found that after the initial contingent had worked out a system, later arrivals took that system and elaborated it into a full-fledged sign language to be further refined by the next generation. At last, the deaf in Nicaragua had a sign language equivalent to what the rest of the world had, not derived from any other but an emblem of the inherent need of humans to create language and to communicate.
Further evidence is found in the many Creole and Pidgin languages created around the world, but esp those created in the Atlantic slave trade.
Right now I am reading a third book on Creoles by John McWhorter and I’ve read earlier ones, so most of my information about the process comes from him, and since he is a controversial figure, I will try to present this without the theoretical thorns abundant in the field called Creolistics. What happened was that slaves came to the plantation colonies from Africa where they often had picked up the pidgin spoken along the coast of West Africa. Expecting to be eaten by their captors after a harrowing journey by sea, the slaves were greeted by a strange language. Using a variety of resources and often doing so unconsciously (aka acquisition), they formed a language that went beyond pidgin and could be used to express all human thought, even becoming in many cases vehicles of literature. These are the Creole languages, testimony to the indomitable human need to communicate even in the worst of circumstances.
You can perform your own investigations: watch little children, listen to them, and see this miracle of communication. Then try to shut them up.
BTW, in none of these scenarios were conjugation charts put up on the wall.

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