Ci & tprs


I'm more annoyed with guys who have 20+ years teaching, training and researching the old approach and still refuse to change.

Has there been a head-to-head test of TPRS vs a standard communicative approach class yet?


You can't do it with a defensible research design.

TPRS vs communicative (or input vs. output, more accurately stated) is such an emotionally charged issue that I don't believe you could even defend the idea of having the same teacher teach both methods to two groups and comparing at the end. The other question is -- where is the end? For output-based teaching, the "end" comes frequently in small chunks: now they know the present tense, let's test it -- while in TPRS, there isn't really a distinct "end" and no clear "units". We expect incremental growth and we expect different students to acquire at different rates. We can assess whether they have acquired, say, the language from the past week of class, but then there's nothing to compare that to head-to-head with output-based teaching.

With regard to "newbies" not being open to CI, remember that even if they are new to Taiwan, they have been thinking about language teaching, may have taken classes about it, and have probably learned (or failed to learn!) languages themselves. All of those probably used output-based methods, since that's the majority of what's going on just now. So it doesn't surprise me that they would be resistant when one woman walks in and says "Everything you ever heard about language teaching is wrong. Trust me." Especially when they're in an environment that doesn't really support CI and where assessments are outright anti-CI.


This is fair enough. However, wouldn't it really strengthen the input driven argument if, say, a rather "good" output driven teacher tried a head-to-head test using pretty bad input driven skills with a bunch of low level uni students? The standard university tests would have to suffice as a rather ridiculous benchmark of achievement, although they could easily be accompanied by recorded oral questions. Video recordings of lessons could also be made. As an attempt to reduce the emotion and increase the objectivity it could help. On the other hand, do you think that people would just dismiss the results and continue to believe what they believe?


Uni tests are not testing proficiency. TPRS isn't concerned with discrete-point tests; the point is proficiency and fluency. Plus, "bad input" means the effect would probably not work well -- even new input-based teachers who are trying their best to do good input often end up giving bad input, so I can only imagine what kind of input would result for a teacher who didn't really have his heart in it.

Switching to input-based instruction isn't easy on the teacher. It's a whole new skillset backing up a totally new mindset.

There was an interesting study at Georgetown University recently -- neurological, not linguistic, too! -- that compared people who'd learned languages via immersion to those who learned via rules-and-output, and showed that the brains of the immersion people showed patterns more like those of native speakers. I believe that if TPRS had been added as a condition, the TPRS-taught brains would have shown more native-like features in the same period of time (since the input is more comprehensible than random immersion), but this was not focused on methodology or philosophies of language teaching. The results do support CI-based instruction, though, since long-term retention and native-like skills are what we're aiming for.


OK, fair enough. I'm not sure how you guys are going to sell TPRS to those who work in academia, though. They don't teach English anymore and probably haven't for 10+ years. Unfortunately they make the rules, write the textbooks and set the agenda. How's it working out telling them that their tests are wrong :slight_smile: ? Seriously, I agree that they are but at some point you have to beat them at their own game, as it were.


Perhaps the best way might be to argue about return on investment. If someone "learnt" piano for fourteen years (which is how long kids here have to study English if they complete university), even if they only had one lesson per week and never practised at home, and they could only just stumble their way through Chopsticks at the end of it, we'd call that a complete failure. If someone invested $1,000, and after fourteen years, only had $1,010 (adjusted for inflation, if you like), we'd call that a complete failure. These are things that don't even come naturally to people. Language comes naturally to people, so it should be that much easier for someone to get to a reasonable level in it. It's almost like the present way of doing things, particularly here in Taiwan, has been deliberately designed to produce failure. It's mind-boggling that it could be so useless and ineffective. This isn't just the elephant in the room. It's the brontosaurus in the room, with everyone squashed up against the walls, hardly able to breathe, claiming everything is fine.


I read a short research study/report in Krashen's online journal which states if I recall correctly that TPRS and the communicative approach delivered the same ability on speaking and listening but TPRS was better for reading and writing. Not what I expected. I'll post a link if ayone wants it.
I do think that long term, the key is comprehensible input, and that it is possible with an adjusted communicative approach. There are many things to learn from TPRS though. Staying in bounds for one. Not teaching the names of countries and the languages spoken there in one lesson, but rather over a longer period where it is acquired better. Not teaching questions and question words as a unit or two but rather have it acquired over a period of time.
Also do note that TPRS is effective only up to a point and then it needs to be replaced with another CI method that involves extended listening and reading. Creating readers is in my opinion even more important than selecting the classroom method. Once you are able to read, you should be reading. I know Krashen has research that indicates that it doesn't matter if you read easier or more dificult books but my general approach to it is that if you have students at or preparing for CEFR A2, then any book written at A1 should be readable and comprehensible to them without teachers having to teach it. The same for B1 reading up to A2 etc. That doesn't mean I don't lay out a few books that are more difficult, it is just a guideline and I consistently allow students to change a book they either dislike or find to difficult. I am amazed by how shit libraries are in both public and private schools as well as buxibans. I have more than 500 books (probably close to 1000) that cost me a fortune, but it is well worth it.


I know you have read Slavic's book and remember that he says to have a barometer student or two. In the beginning it was hell for me when it looked lke two or three kids were F789ing around, but you will be surprised (or at least I was) how they eventually do come around (granted not all of them). I am also in the position where I let my kids choose. Want a story? YES. Fuck around and it's textbook and writing. Got it? YES. By the time they have figured out we are doing less and less textbook it's a lot easier.
Peer pressure works like a charm.


Read Krashen's papers with the critical eye of a mainstream academic toward research design. That's all I'm going to say about that.

As for reading being more important than CI, I don't agree. during the climb to initial fluency -- prior to full unconscious control of all grammar patterns -- reading is most effective when sheltered, IMO. Krashen is fond of promoting reading as THE way to fluency, but IMO the sort of read-anything approach he is promoting is not what will most efficiently get students to initial fluency. For going from initial to final fluency (expansion of vocab and collocations) yes, any sort of reading or listening. But IMO they must have the structure first to be able to read extebsively.


I never said reading is more important than CI. You must have misread my post.
What I did say is that it is more important to create readers than selecting a classroom method. Unfortunately, it is also something that can not be measured in a test or in a research study because the point really is that readers will continue to learn and improve while those who don't will not.
Teachers are not measured on how effective they are in creating readers. Teachers are also often not given enough time to create readers in the class. It takes my students up to a year of paging through books and maybe reading a sentence here and there while looking at the pictures before they start reading. My son has been doing that for 18 months and I'm sure he will continue to do so until he is ready to read. Creating a reader is a process. That's what I said and/or meant.


No, I was talking about Krashen's views, not your post. Sorry, wasn't clear.
Reading IS (or should be) CI, but unless your reader turns out to be written TPRS (highly repetitive, patterned questions, etc.) I don't believe you'll get the requisite density of repetition on structure to make people initially fluent just through reading. Certainly not if you want the reading material to even vaguely tell a story. It is HARD to write stories at the 100-word level that are actually stories -- and that assumes they have those 100 words already. So I get a bit whatever when I hear Krashen championing reading only. Lots of reading, yes -- but after the student has some basic tools to be able to read, aka the grammar of the language is in his head. Before that, I'd put my money on purpose-written texts that aggressively support the language the student is acquiring orally in class.

If you're teaching intermediates or above, this may be a meaningless argument, because the focus is on the move from basic fluency to academic competence -- which means expansion of vocabulary and collocations, not really acquisition of the basic structure (no matter how much that may still be needed, depending on how they got to be "intermediates" and whether they truly are or not).


I completely agree. I also think that if you are doing TPRS or anything else (which might not be as effective), you need to be
letting your kids explore books. After a few months or a year, you could be at a point where they can start reading. With adults it is a bit more difficult but I have had some success with it. They are a lot keener to start reading but they are also a lot keener to take a book that is too difficult and then "dictionary" it instead of read it. I mentioned Krashen's study because in my experience the book HAS to be below their level, but that's just me. It is difficult to say anything about Krashen without the entire teaching population jumping on you. :smiley:


Currently I'm strictly working according to Ben's TPRS in a Year! book.

My only concern, as he uses French to explain what he's doing, is what are the sentence patterns in English that a learner should be acquiring? I can't seem to find anything remotely like that online as you either get a list of all the basic English grammar patterns (tenses) as I posted before, or the 6/7/9/10 (depending on which site you go to) that English is apparently made up of (S+V+O etc...). It's a tad frustrating trying to figure this out.


Bismarck: Well, that's the thing though. It's a bit like asking how long a piece of string is.

Perhaps one approach might be to work out what you want the end point to be at a certain point in time and work backwards from there. Perhaps this is the wrong approach, but imagine that you had to give us a two minute autobiography of yourself now. What would you say about yourself? Your name, your age, where you're from, what your job is, what your hobbies are, who your family members are, etc. Or imagine you had to describe everything you did last Saturday from when you woke up until when you went to sleep. What sorts of things would you need to be able to describe in order to do that? That kind of stuff is probably what anyone would want to be able to do with a language by the end of a beginner course, because ultimately, people love to talk about themselves. If they can tell someone they have three kids or they got a dinosaur for their birthday, they're pretty happy with that. Find out what they're interested in to start off with (perhaps by giving them a survey or by asking them to write an essay or two in Chinese), and kind of reverse engineer that to get your fundamental sentence patterns. That might get bums on seats and keep them there.

You wouldn't cover all of those things just once off as a topic lesson, and you wouldn't approach them via substitution drills, but you'd gradually cover them all, making sure you covered each one a lot of different times in novel situations, making sure you randomly brought some of them in from previous lessons with each new lesson and so on.

You could probably save yourself a lot of work by simply looking through some textbooks and picking out the basic sentence patterns they teach (you know that there will be huge overlap there) and just approach teaching those sentence patterns from a TPRS angle instead of how they're handled in the textbooks.

Maybe I'm way off base with this though.


I've just wasted most of a weekend in Taipei reading through this thread, damn you all! :smiley:

It has been very interesting, but since it is soooo long, how about a summary of the main (3 or 4) points? Ironlady, perhaps?


Oops! I said "wasted", but really I meant "spent".


Comprehensible Input: the brain acquires language by hearing language it can understand.

It takes many repetitions for the brain to acquire new words, and many more repetitions for it to master and internalize a new structure ("grammar pattern") so it can use (comprehend or produce) either unconsciously and correctly.

Acquisition takes time, and everyone's acquisition goes at a slightly different pace.

Output will happen when the brain has sufficiently grasped a certain word or piece of structure. Until then, output is forced and most often will be incorrect as the brain seeks to use rules and logic to consciously construct language based on its knowledge of the native and any other languages it knows well or in part.

Most programs these days teach some variation of the "communicative approach", which holds that the brain learns language through memorization of patterns and vocabulary items which are plugged into the patterns. Under this view, output must be forced so that the student can "practice" the new material by speaking and writing it, in order to master it.

CI and the communicative approach are diametrically opposed to one another because of the basic difference in the beliefs underpinning each about how language is acquired/learned.


I went to a (non-CI) workshop yesterday. Amongst other things advocated by the (foreign) teacher involved: teaching reading for recognition and pronunciation of words (i.e. being able to read out loud), whilst also explicitly stating that comprehension of said words is not the goal of the exercise. I raised several objections but was answered with a lack of logic and/or not even really answered. Almost everyone else nodded along, praised the teaching methods, etc. I left thoroughly demoralised about the state of English teaching in this country. I will press on with what I'm doing, but this industry is so messed up. I feel like I have to lock myself away in a closet somewhere and never talk to other English teachers here again.


I know what you mean. The last two weeks I've been involved in several incidents that almost had my (almost) 37 year old ass in tears of frustration. It's like banging your head against a wall of stupidity. Is no one able to recognise that what we've been doing here for decades hasn't worked, that adding stupid "spaceboards" to schools to baffle parents with "Look!! We have technology!!" isn't the answer? I used CI for a year with one class from the beginning of their first course to the middle of their second level with huge success. I was moved to another branch and everyone is stunned at their progress, but no one is willing to acknowledge the methods I used to achieve this.

I truly feel that branching out on our own really is the only sane move for the future. :2cents:


bismarck: The level of irrationality in this industry drives me to despair at times. It's not just the Taiwanese either. The majority of foreigners are either going along with it, or even really believe in all the nonsense too. There's just such an abject lack of critical thinking, even when it's possible to engage in that. Yet, such people seem to be much happier in the profession than I am. Does it really come down to being a satisfied moron? I was thinking about this yesterday. The person hosting the workshop was described as "a passionate teacher". I think I am passionate too, but more in the old, Latin origin of the word passion, to suffer.

I think that the entire industry is full of hocus pocus and pseudo-science. It's all based upon what people "feel" is right or "feel" is successful. I sometimes wonder if I started teaching English based upon the principles of phrenology, if anyone would figure out I was taking the piss.

Me: "Leo is very good at English because he has a huge lump on the side of his head."
Other English teacher: "No, that's a scar from a scooter accident when he wasn't wearing a helmet."
Me: "Well, intelligence obviously runs in that family, so that explains why he's so good at English."
Other English teacher: "That's interesting. You're obviously a very passionate teacher. Maybe you should run a workshop."

I have other irons in the fire. For me, the only way forward is out of the industry. Maybe other people, such as you, could carve out a niche, but I live in a very small place, so if only 2% (or even 5%) of people would be interested, it simply wouldn't be enough.

By the way, did you get that email from me last week?