My granddaughter is taking first year Spanish in high school. Nothing but verb sheets and memorized phrases and testing. No Spanish spoken by the teacher in communication. Nothing has changed except for the entry of tprs. Having said that, we see that tprs itself has changed over the years (I think I was in on the beginning with Valerie Marsh and Christine Anderson – the Coyote people). Now people are coming into tprs in various ways and some just part ways. I do notice some people who see tprs as just one more thing to do while others dive into it whole hog.
Part of the latter is entering into a tradition – yea! even onto a movement. We learn about Krashen and Comprehensible Input. Yet I wonder how many tprs-using teachers understand not how it works but why it works – or even care. Everyone using tprs should be able to use it on their own terms.
But this Comprehensible Input hypothesis of Krashen’s underlies the ‘how’ of tprs. And thus we get discussions like Mike Coxon’s query: how many teachers use CI methodology, which raises the question, do they necessarily use tprs as a vehicle? And thus we get lots more discussion. So why does the discussion get heated?
First, the aforementioned passionate involvement with tprs as a movement. The flip side is people for whom tprs is one arrow in their quiver who feel squeezed out for just that reason.
Second, in the dynamics of all that, personality enters in. Have we seen that? I believe so. I do get a bit sensitive myself. At those time, I spit on the monitor screen but not the keyboard, and when the spittle dries, I write my response. I can still keep myself awake at night remembering a bitter exchange on moretprs many years ago resolved by a kiss-and-make-up thingy at ACTFL. Just look at the range of responses to the issues and then the range of responses to the responses. “Arguing and posturing” I think it’s called.
Third, both the theory and the application deal with perhaps the most complex organ in the universe: the human brain and the vehicle of its thought: language. If linguists have fist-fights in the academic halls of great universities (cf. The Linguistics Wars by Harris), we must see ourselves as pretty tame.
Fourth, and related to the third, the terminology gets very confused and convoluted. Remember “define your terms”? One person’s “success” is another person’s dubious claim; one person’s CI is another person’s pretty darn close to CI; and so on.
Fifth, the demands and exigencies of our individual situations impinge on our ability to approach issues unburdened by practicality.
I will offer MY operational definition of CI: Robert Harrell’s recent description here of “picking up” Swiss German. No instruction, just what Krashen describes as “Speak and CI will be there”, kind of mystical, like “build it and they will come.” A close look at Robert’s experience will reveal that it is not paralleled by what goes on in our classes. Enter tprs or any other method that delivers CI with an emphasis on the Comprehensible. To me, that is the key to classroom CI: we are not in an atmosphere where we get so much input the Comprehensible stuff pops up routinely and we ignore the rest (is this “noise”? – another technical term). Via CI methods like tprs, we maximize the C of CI.
And that seems to be where we diverge among ourselves on this listserv. Once and for all, there is no proof in the absolute sense that ANY method works OTHER THAN the natural method of living in an environment where you get CI, have a reason to communicate, and are socialized into the language community. (a lot to unpack there but I’ll restrain myself). I won’t cite any untoward comments, but some list members got upset and felt attacked, sometimes only because they had misunderstood a comment or the intention. So spit at the monitor and get some chamomile tea and reread the offending post – OK, you might get even madder but you will be more articulate in your response.
An example of where I see a need for clarification or perhaps just letting other people do their own thing is story-asking and story-telling. Others have presented the cases very well. Each teacher has to be as honest as possible, gauging their students’ progress as honestly and accurately as possible. That’s called professionalism. The axiom that CI must be present for SLA to occur would be argued against by top figures in the SLA field. So what? This is tprs and we base our approach and method on Krashen’s hypotheses; the results speak for themselves. Right?
The biggie for me is when teachers who do not do tprs consistently, mixing it with grammar-driven material on which tests are based, call themselves tprs teachers. If we are right on this listserv, they will not get the results that consistent application of tprs and/or a valid (what’s valid?) CI approach gets, and so the other teachers will say, “We have a tprs teacher on our staff and he doesn’t seem to get any better results than we do.”
One thing to avoid, just as a general principle, is the appeal to authority, citing Krashen or Ray or any of the great stalwarts of the tprs movement. That’s not logical and is not professional, in my oh so humble opinion.
To end this with a couple of personal observations and thoughts:
I always took a structure IN TPRS to mean a brief phrase – verb phrase, prepositional phrase, noun phrase – that could fit into a narrative. Terry asked me for some in Russian and I had a devil of a time coming up with them because I have never done tprs (I attended a great workshop by Carol Gaab and Susie Gross – quite a team, huh?). As has been said, tprs done well attests to lots of effort, practice, creativity, and energy. Cutting back on part of it may just be adapting it to one’s personal situation and style.
Re style = personality. I’ve seen the advice often on this listserv: keep your techniques and method within the bounds of your personality. Some people are out-going and goofy, others staid and pensive. IMHO, any personality can adapt to good tprs.
But some will want to do something other than tprs or pure tprs. Branching out in terms of either your personality or your techniques can and should be done but always with one foot firmly planted in tprs principles – any you tweak or outright abandon must be given full respect and weight and given up only with a solid rationale. Otherwise………. drift!
Re scripts other than Latin: a quick anecdote illustrating respect for individuals’ characterisitcs. My friend is very, very bright. He took Russian. On occasion I would jot down a word in Russian for someone and would write in Latin letters, not Cyrillic (Russian alphabet). My friend couldn’t read it! A simple word, When I wrote it in Cyrillic, he could “read” it. Very puzzling to me until many years later we were talking about reading and discovered I subvocalize and he takes the word right off the page into his brain. So that’s why he could not read the word in Latin letters but only in Cyrillic – he took it off the page in Cyrillic in learning it, not in Latin letters.
One more: I read Urdu, which uses the Arabic alphabet. Nothing like the Sino-Japanese kanji system but a real pain for me. What helped me immensely was getting a decent vocabulary via Latin letters (roma-ji), so I could “sound out” the letters in Urdu (nastalyq) and then recognize the word. I am not no sure this isn’t paralleled in even the Romance and Germanic languages because the values of the letters are different between, say, English and Spanish, so if the learner has heard ‘galleta’ over and over, he can sound out ‘galeta’ and reach ‘galleta’. French, of course, is difficult……. Smile
I will post this to my blog and look for typos later.