What’s necessary and how do we know?

As the 400+ posts exchange seems to be starting up again (perhaps stillborn due to the end of the school year), Terry keeps making the point that in the initial phase = 3 years at least at h.s. level, learners need to hear/see L2 with total comprehension in order for the acquisition to take place. No hit or miss, no pizza thrown against the wall to see how many peperoni stick, just a one-on-one item to comprehension ratio. Meaning must be in the learner’s mind when the input is there, otherwise the connection doesn’t happen, the connection that leads to acquisition.
Others keep saying that’s not necessary, as long as the learners do X, whatever the teacher believes IS necessary (engagement, relating the story, acting out the story, writing their own stories, and many other activities). These latter teachers tell us that X does result in acquisition.
While I admit to a bias in favor of Terry’s arguments for both extraneous and intrinsic reasons, my major reason for cleaving to Terry is that she is talking about procedures that we all – if I am not mistaken – have seen to result in acquisition, i.e. classic tprs.
Tina has made the point that too rigid adherence to procedures may lose some potential recruits. That’s possible. But here is my caveat:
as we have experienced, veteran, dedicated tprs teachers like Tina and others on this list branching away from classic tprs, the discussion revolves more and more around these non-classic techniques (to go back to Anthony’s approach, method, technique distinctions), a dilution or looseness of structure gets baked in (to use a current phrase from politics), something some teachers might handle but others might find setting them back into a less-than-satisfactory outcome in their classes.
And we then are confronted with the same dilemma: how do we know what the results are?

Next day, May 27, in response to Tina, esp where she says: ”

“That’s all I got Terry.
No studies.
No data except their writing. Cause I’m first year they don’t hafta speak.
Just intuition developed over twelve years of middle school teaching.
Just Spidey Sense.
Just my own life experiences.
Why don’t I have more data?  Cause I’m busy teaching and having a good time. “
I will have to say that this response from Tina reminds me of the responses I always got from legacy teachers, e.g. responding to a simple question: how do you know the standardized tests from the textbook company you give your students reflects acquired language? “I’m too busy for all this theory. I’ve been teaching for 25 years and know my students. My intuition as a veteran tells me my students are learning. And finally, why don’t you just get out of my face.”
Tina, you may very well be getting great results, but when you tell people on a tprs listserv that you got really great results when you shifted away from some of the “procedures”, as I call them, of classic tprs, it should not be seen as deserving such an arrogant and snarky response. Terry takes this s*** on b/c she understands language acquisition, cares a great deal about it, and has the academic background to discuss these issues, much better than I or many others can. It’d be great if more of us could take this on and let Terry have more time to deal with her life, but she knows where to go to get to the essence of all this.
For my part, my responses to people who repeat over and over that they get great results from using bubble gum wrappers is, “Good for you. Now let’s move on.” Attempts to engage simply result in umbrage and complaints about tone.


  1. Terry Waltz says:

    Just to clarify, I’m not claiming that 100% comprehension is necessary for acquisition to happen at all. But I am saying that anything less than 100% comprehension for beginners (2-3 years high school equivalent) will hobble acquisition to the degree that there is incomprehensible language in there — and will also negatively affect classroom management in many cases, as students who cannot understand tend to “check out” and engage in other, undesirable behaviors. At a minimum, they are not acquiring the language that’s being input.

    In my experience, kids can get lost in the blink of an eye, and if we do not address that situation then and there, they just get “loster”.

    1. Pat Barrett says:

      We all recognize in the hurly-burly of the classroom and the exigencies of professional demands, some wiggle-room must be allowed, but this emphasis on shiny new objects may mislead some to believe that all of that horsing around leads to acquisition. It might. But if the essentials are neglected, we may find ourselves right back in the position of our legacy colleagues are, claiming our students are learning the language only to hear them say, “Oh, Hi, Madame. Loved your class but never could speak a word of French.”
      BTW, I’m glad to see in “loster” that the comparativus absolutus has not been lost.

    2. Strangely my management got easier with the shift to NT. That’s just my experience but there it is.

      1. Pat Barrett says:

        That is a personal statement and perfectly valid. That is different from a concerted effort to show that getting away from tprs essentials works just fine…… not works for me but just plain works. That invites the obvious follow-up, oh yeah? In other posts, Tina, I think – not sure – that you have laid out what you think verifies your students are achieving acquisition. But in these recent posts we are again confronted with claims that we only ask to be verified, confirmed in some way.
        So, if you do not do so, then it only makes sense that list members who have doubts about the efficacy of what you are claiming would raise those doubts in this forum and for some people, this is somehow rude or unkind. We’re reaching 500 posts on this one theme and it seems we need a device for responding since we cannot reach a resolution. My device will be to remind everyone of tprs essentials as written up by Brian Barabe and send them in every month and let people match what is being suggested with the essentials. If that starts another brouhaha, then I’ll just keep sending the essentials every month.
        Despite any unpleasantness that has arisen, I wish you a good summer.

      2. Jeanette Borich says:

        Mine class management did as well. No doubt about it. I have research that demonstrates that a non-targeted approach by having students listen to stories while I illustrate them works–they acquired Spanish because they were engaged. Check out the 2017 Spring/Summer issue of Learning Languages Journal published by the National Network for Early Language Learning–it documents the growth of my students over a 5 month period of time.


        1. Pat Barrett says:

          It is encouraging that this conversation was going on a year ago and Jeanette found the entry and responded to it. I see on my stats that quite a few people do view my posts but very few respond. Thanks, Jeanette.
          I am starting soon a program with my granddaughter in French. Her high school Spanish instruction is execrable but I noted the teacher does use tprs story books and I told her to try to get a set for French from the school for use this summer. otherwise, I’ll order them I’ll be reporting on my progress with her.

  2. Wes Groleau says:

    I have long had a strong leaning toward TPRS but have never thought it is the “only way.” I’ve had ten (only) TPRS sessions for Chinese, and I’m not “acquiring” as fast as I expected—but faster than either of my two semesters with other methods. One of my favorite quotes, something like: “if the principles and assumptions behind method A are correct, then method B cannot possibly work, and vice versa. Yet one colleague is getting excellent results with A, while another is doing equally well with B. How is this possible?” (Earl W. Stevick, in “What’s At Stake?”)

    1. Pat Barrett says:

      I’ve been meaning to tell you that I get no more spam. Thanks.
      Now, where are you getting this tprs is the only way thing? Being on the moretprs listserv and having just gone through a 500 post exchange over just this topic, I see no evidence that the tprs people say that. There are individuals I’ve read/heard say that, but some individuals also believe Texas should be a separate country. They don’t count.
      Re Stevick’s quote: my first reaction to that is to say that the first part is simply wrong. B might work and A might have flaws and so exclusionist statements like “cannot possibly work” don’t apply. In fact, they seldom do. At first blush – and it takes a lot to make me blush – I’d say that the method B teacher is a really good teacher and method A teacher is lousy, so no matter his method, it won’t work with him. Refer to the entry Why Not Just Read the Backs of Cereal Boxes? If you don’t conduct a lesson or an experiment properly, the results are junk.

      1. Wes Groleau says:

        I don’t know that anyone says it is the only way. But you appeared to refer to people opposing any variation. I think Stevick was referring to methods which are promoted by claiming that they comply in some way with some alleged universal psychological principle which would render ineffective a method that does not do the alleged necessary thing. How can you say one of the two teachers is lousy if both are getting excellent results?

        I think his point is a hint that maybe those “principle and assumption” aren’t always the real reason for the method’s successes. In that book, he discusses three methods and the claims of their originators. He then speculates (based on those claims) what each might think is good and bad about the other two.

        1. Pat Barrett says:

          BTW, Wes, what were those 3 methods, do you recall? I let my ASU library card lapse or I’d check Stevick’s book out. You may have sent me stuff earlier on it but it’d be good to have the methods to think about.

          1. Wes Groleau says:

            The closest library copy to you is in El Paso. But your city library should be able to do inter library loan. http://www.worldcat.org/title/working-with-teaching-methods-whats-at-stake/oclc/299044846
            He looked at Community Language Learning, the Silent Way, and Suggestopedia.

      2. Wes Groleau says:

        What Stevick was saying is that A says B’s method won’t work and B says A’s method won’t work. Yet both are working quite well.

        1. Pat Barrett says:

          I believe I’ve mentioned this in the distant past [some language varieties have a remote past, incl. Black English where I would say, “I believe I DONE mentioned this” with sentence stress on DONE], but, again:
          this reminds me of studies done by the Neuro-linguistic Programming people where they observed psychotherapists of various persuasions (Gestalt, Rogerian, Behaviorist, Psychoanalysis, etc.) and found the successful ones all had certain behaviors in common. So with Stevick’s comment, I would want to #1 assure that they do indeed work and #2 what they have in common.
          Here’s an example outside the methods he studied: university programs lean heavily toward a grammar approach the first two years plus another year of Conversation & Composition and by that third year are assigning lots of reading in the TL. The wearying arguments on flteach have the grammar folks arguing that without first learning the “mechanics”, the students would be lost reading while the non-interventionists would argue that the reading, as ponderous as it is at that level, would have provided the input necessary for acquisition.

          1. Wes Groleau says:

            I’ve mentioned my experience before that after years of “mechanics,” I was still lost when first arriving in Mexico. And yet, I think that those mechanics made the input comprehensible (partly), allowing faster acquisition.

  3. Pat Barrett says:

    Help me out with the “referred to people opposing any variation”. I’ve reread my post and comments and don’t see that.
    Re Stevick’s view on claims based on universal psychological principles: in the century before last there was the idea of “faculties” that had to be cultivated and that was when grammar instruction came in, to cultivate the mind’s faculties. In mid-20th century, Behaviorism and Cognitive Code, both schools in psychology, became the basis for learning theory (in fact it was just Skinner’s attempt to explain language on a Behaviorist model that led Chomsky to take down the whole school of Behaviorism). In any of these three, the phrase “entre dicho y hecho hay un gran estrecho” fits: between the grand theory and classroom practice, a lot can go missing.
    Krashen’s hypotheses are based on – correct me if I am wrong – Chomsky’s LAD theory. No one has found an LAD in the brain, but, as in so many of these cases, we infer activity from the results. Chomsky saw children producing sentences they had never heard – the poverty of stimulus argument or poverty of input, as we would say – and posited the LAD. Krashen looked at how people acquired language in the natural environment (something almost never addressed by legacy teachers or denied by denigrating the acquired L2) and unraveled the elements of that and laid them out as his 5 hypotheses of language acquisition – in the word acquisition embodying one of the hypotheses, the learning/acquisition dichotomy.
    I really wish I had more knowledge of all these matters, but this is my understanding.
    My assumption is that tprs works, regardless of the underlying theory. Krashen’s hypotheses have not been found wrong despite the arguments of major SLA figures, e.g. you can’t know where i + 1 is, you can’t show what is learned and what is acquired, etc. And when I have looked at critics of Krashen, I’ve found limp, weasel phrases like “it just makes sense”, “it stands to reason”, “it’s not realistic that”, “how can we throw over centuries of language pedagogy” (it’s only a hundred years), “we can assume that”, and on and on. But somehow Krashen is supposed to nail down his hypotheses to an extent they don’t even approach. Has anyone noticed that most of these people refer to just one study done decades ago, the Higgs & Clifford, 1982 paper? To me, it’s like they are grasping at straws: their arguments against Krashen rest on 2 pillars, that one article and the inability of the field, SLA, to falsify Krashen’s hypotheses, i.e. they claim Krashen’s hypotheses are stated such that they cannot be falsified, e.g. the learning/acquisition dichotomy. Fair enough, but they haven’t shown other methods work and my personal efforts since about 1958 have never revealed any evidence that legacy methods work AT ALL. Every classroom instructed person I’ve encountered who has the least bit of proficiency had a teacher who used at least communicative if not CI methods.

  4. Pat Barrett says:

    Re Wes’ comment this date, April 30, 2018:
    That is always the issue if there is any exposure at all to the TL, whether that be classroom instruction, reading an introductory textbook, watching TV programs in the TL, or just trying to read through text. I remember as a high schooler running into some spelunkers who told us they read Czech b/c the Czechs were the world’s foremost spelunkers at that time. They just used a Czech-English dictionary. So that was some exposure that could have been cited as the reason they could learn the language later, by whatever method.
    As my readers (all one of them) know, I am reading Harry Potter in ten languages, starting with English and going in order of descending competence. Spanish, Russian, French and Latin are in the top group, followed by Italian, Urdu, Dutch, Norwegian and Greek. After five chapters, I definitely see a difference. To provide some sort of measurement, I’ve taken the first page of each chapter as I start it, count the total number of words and then the number of words new to me. Over time, the latter number should diminish some. We’ll see. But I am reading the Greek and Norwegian a lot faster than before. I am beginning to think I might do better in my regular reading by first reading an English translation of the text, e.g. War and Peace, and then reading in the TL. It provide input that is comprehensible based on earlier reading of totally comprehensible language.
    what think ye?

  5. Head Geek says:

    Makes sense to me. Having grown up with bible stories, I find it easy to find an audio bible in whatever language and listen to it. Knowing what the story is, I find myself thinking “That word must be ____” etc.

    But I also read other things where I DON’t know the plot. The words/sentences that I do understand help me guess what others are. And the ones I can’t guess don’t frustrate me at all if I am getting enough to enjoy the plot. (Or to answer my question if it is something I am researching.)

    I also wonder if your acquisition would be better or worse with the non-Indo-European language last.

  6. Pat Barrett says:

    I wish I could find a non-Indo-European language to work with but my motivation has so far not led me there. Chinese and Japanese are closed due to the writing system. Yoruba is a possibility but its literature is scant and not of much interest. The only one I’m working with, Kweyol, has a preponderance of vocabulary from French but I do have text of some interest to me (lyrics to songs in the Vodou cycle) and some good novels have been written in it. Nothing, however to compare with the Greek poets and novelists like Kazantzakis or the Russian novelists or the Norwegian mystery writers, etc. Dutch I like b/c it’s so close to English (Norwegian, too).
    There’s just so much here, esp when you consider how many Harry Potter books have been translated into these languages.
    So this is a kind of experiment; if by the end of this first volume of H.P. I can’t begin to tackle Greek or even Norwegian (languages at the bottom of my list of Less-Well-Known-Languages LWKL), then I’ll go back to the textbooks. However, when I go back to the Urdu grammar, which I do now and then, I find the explanations nudge me rather than enlighten me, i.e. I already have a good grasp on it. Of course, this is no real basis for a conclusion since I’ve studied Urdu forever. That’s the problem with my H.P. project: I’ve studied all of these languages to some extent in the past.
    Lord, Harry hasn’t even got to Hogwarts yet.

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