Views and examples of acquisition of a FL via CI

Today is the final day of IFLT, and it has been such a great conference. Yesterday morning, I got the chance to observe Linda Li teach Mandarin, and if you remember, I took a 20-hour Fluency Fast Mandarin class from Linda back in 2017. Even though it had been two years since I had done any Mandarin and I did not remember much, I still wanted to watch Linda perform her CI magic with her students. However, after just watching Linda interact with her students for 5 minutes in Mandarin, I was ABSOLUTELY FLOORED at how much Mandarin suddenly came back to me.  Suddenly, I was completely understanding what Linda was saying, even though it had been two years since I had interacted with the language.  Linda even asked me to participate in a game in Mandarin with her students, and I was able to take part in it fully.

To be honest, I have absolutely NO IDEA how that language got there in my mind so deeply, especially since it had been two years since I had even thought about Mandarin. I cannot tell you how I was able to recall all that Mandarin after two years. All I can say is that the Mandarin must have gotten there subconsciously two years ago, because I certainly have made no active effort over the past two years to learn any Mandarin. If you read my post about learning Mandarin from Linda in that 20-hour class in 2017, you will learn that we never did any oral practice drills or used flashcards. All that Linda required from us was that we listen to her, pay attention, and interact with the language in a comprehensible manner in so many different ways. Seeing Linda teach Mandarin yesterday suddenly re-activated that part of my brain where Mandarin had been stored away subconsciously, and it all came back in a POWERFUL way.

That is the difference between learning and acquisition. Learning is active in nature, and in a language class it involves conscious, explicit learning, such as memorization, flashcards, grammar drills, oral repetition practice, and forced dialogues. That is not to say that material is not learned this way, but it is stored in a different part of the brain which holds temporary memory. Acquisition, however, is different, because it is subconscious,”passive,” and implicit. This is not to say that a learner in a CI classroom is not learning or engaged in the material; the material is just delivered differently in a way so that it does not mirror explicit learning. Learning becomes subconscious, and as a result, it is stored in a completely different of the brain. Based on my own personal experience from yesterday, I can say that this is true.

So do I think that CI works? Since I have experienced it truly myself first hand as a student and realize now that Mandarin is so deeply inside of me in a way that I am unable to explain after yesterday’s experience, all I can say is H*LL YEAH IT DOES! 

This was posted on a blog titled Todally Comprehensible Latin written by Keith Toda.

Here is my lesson of today with my granddaughter. She did not have these sentences to read (that’s for later) and responded only to the spoken sentence by selecting the picture it referred to and answering it if there was a question. There were 40 pictures:

Regardez les images.

Qui a oublie quelquechose, la femme ou l’aigle?

Est-ce que la femme a mal de tete ou a oublie quelque chose?

Qu’est-ce que c’est que la femme a oublie? Quelque chose dans le sac ou quelque chose dans la rue?

Qui change de vetements, l’homme ou la femme?

Avec quoi la femme se cache le visage?

Ou l’homme donne un Starbucks a la femme, c’est ou on nage ou ou on ski?

Ou on ski, il y a beaucoup de neige ou beaucoup de sable? Ou se trouve beaucoup de sable?

L’aigle c’est un oiseau ou un serpent?

L’aigle vole ou nage?

L’aigle a attrape un poisson ou une bouteille?

Combien de femmes sont venues a la porte de l’homme gros? L’homme ouvre la porte pour parler avec les trois femmes. Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’elles veulent?

La femme sourit alors qu’elle donne les cadeaux a l’homme. Pourquoi, croyez-vous? Elle est sa copine ou elle veut etre sa copine?

Quel temps de l’annee c’est qu’on voit dans l’image: le noel ou le quatre juillet?

Qu’est-ce que c’est que quelqu’un donne a quelqu’un d’autre, de l’argent ou des clefs?

L’artiste fait un dessin. De quoi? C’est a dire, qu’elle dessine?

Ou sont les petits garcons, sous la mer ou sous la table? Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’ils font la, ils pechent ou ils dessinent?

She had trouble with neige and sable but la plage brought sable back. Her recall on these is extremely high because many of these words have not been used often or recently. These are only the first page and a half of five pages. Today, Aug. 13, we will finish the picture work and the next day begin reading the written form of the questions. When we finished I went over several grammar points with her like why I used les cadeaux instead of de cadeaux. She is fixated on verbs so we did a simple drill with a couple of the -er verbs we used, taking them through their present tense paces. Additionally, I was surprised that she brought up ‘tu’ as we have used only ‘vous’, but in the spoken form, there are only 2 forms of the present tense in -er verbs: the -ez and then the rest as all sound the same. I try not to use ‘nous’ because on her trip to France, ‘on’ would be proper in speaking and it reduces the number of endings to two. Soon we will move to the 2 past tenses and then eventually move on to the other conjugations. Part of tprs wisdom is to give students a sop to their expectations, such as conjugating verbs, direct object pronouns, etc. It doesn’t hurt to address such issues of form as long as not much time is spent.

BTW, pardon my French, as they say; it is far from idiomatic or even correct in some instances. I’m learning as much French as my granddaughter.

Then a list serve manager sends out this advisory periodically. In part it lists the following prohibited topics, prohibited because people just spin their wheels arguing over them. I’ll take one at a time to say why they arouse such unreasonable passion:

Oral Latin: despite Latin having been spoken with some facility as late as the 1600s (see Samuel Pepys’ several references to using Latin with people whose language he did not speak; he also corresponding with his brother in Latin), a tradition arose in England at least of pronouncing Latin words as if they were English and focusing entirely on grammar with little attention paid to meaning. My recent experience with a Latin teacher showed this tradition to be strong with many teachers regarding anything but grammar instruction as a waste of time. What better or more efficient way to learn the language than to read stories and then discuss them in the TL?

Whole language: this has been a bone of contention in education for decades and it conveniently falls along political lines with conservatives favoring direct instruction and explicit grammar instruction and liberals favoring whole language. Dispensing with definitions for now (google it), we can say that whole language approaches fit CI and trps quite well while the atomizing of a language results in isolated chunks being learned but not acquired (see the first quote at the beginning of this entry where the writer was able to bring up material in Chinese he had acquired two years prior to hearing more Chinese with no intervening exposure to the language).

Multiple intelligences: another basic concept that was elaborated into a huge theory and approach to teaching that seemingly cannot bear the weight of so much attention. That in no way detracts from the concept that people learn differently, have different learning “styles” or “channels”, and so the teacher needs to employ a variegated approach. Authoritarians insist on the naval model of every man to his post with total competence at his assigned job (can you tell I’m reading the Patrick O’Brian sea stories?). Our charges have much more complex tasks to learn than splicing and hoisting and so forth; while the latter are crucial to survival, the former are life-long and an amassed amount of learning is required for making one’s way through life. With so much attention being paid now to autism, more and more teachers are becoming aware that just because a student does not fit neatly into a seating chart mentality, it doesn’t mean ‘they’ are stupid.

Differentiated instruction: it fits in with concepts like multiple intellegences.

Comprehensible input: the heart of the method I use with my granddaughter but ‘method’ is an improper term, it is an approach, an approach based on a theory of learning, specifically of language learning, and, in our case, of foreign language learning. The method I use is tprs, which I will not address here. Under ‘tprs’ as a category you can see what we are doing. CI, as it is affectionately called, has resulted in a 17 year old being able to respond to all that French up above with less than an academic year’s worth of instruction. As in all things, there is theory and there are results. No one can say how humans learn language; there are even people whose definition of language runs to formal written forms of a few major world languages, so discussing all that is pointless, which is the point of the publication of this list of prohibited topics on that particular listserv (Latin Best Practices). If you want to see results, you can read this blog, esp once I’ve caught up with transcribing all our lessons, you can go to Latin Best Practices, or you can just google comprehensible input; there’s tons of material, videos, etc. which will provide evidence of the success of CI.

Latin as a ‘dead’ or a ‘living’ language: this is the least productive issue of all because it is based on a misunderstanding of the word ‘dead’. A dead language is one which is no longer acquired as a first language. A refinement of that definition might include ‘spoken by a community’ because in India there are around three hundred families which struggle manfully to bring their children up in Sanskrit, another dead language. But those children learn the language of their community and really have no one to communicate with (the essence of language) except other family members dragooned into this linguistic experiment. There were in earlier times families in Europe where children were raised in Latin long after it had disappeared as a language of genuine communication, although even then it was still a dead language because no one had it as their first language in a community of Latin speakers. Some, in their helpless rage, even insist that the Romance languages like Italian and French are really Latin, thus making Latin a “living” language. Not so’s you’d notice.

One item I would add to the list offered by Bob Patrick on Latin Best Practices is the origin of language. We should follow the declaration of the Linguistic Society of Paris that no further discussion on that topic would be tolerated or accepted……… and that was in the 1866!

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