Ci & tprs


THIS. Everywhere.
We did an hour-long presentation on CI-based reading instruction, including video clips of kids reading Chinese out loud from a paper they'd never seen before, and answering comprehension questions correctly, and at the end, the response was "Oh, yeah, my daughter used to pretend she could read, too, when she was 4" and "I need a copy of the storybook you were using!" They didn't GET it that it wasn't the book we used for reading instruction -- it was the fact that we had them acquire the language in the book before teaching them to read it.

I've come to the conclusion that the right thing to do is just relax and sell books. :smiley:


How would you lot suggest using CI principles to once-a-week adult business English students who are interested in specific business communication skills as well as just improving their English?


That's a tough sell.

I would probably start by incorporating "circling" (patterned questions) into the regular lessons. The problem with CI for false intermediates (which these people probably are, I'm guessing -- they "know" all the grammar but they haven't acquired it) is that they don't have the patience for it (and you, as a teacher, end up feeling really awkward, at least I do, even though you know in your head that the student really does need the repetition).

Just de-emphasizing writing as output would help a lot. Maybe try to sneak in the idea that the more you read good, well-written business documents, the better you will write them, and then see how far you can get with the more you listen to good, well-spoken people talking about business, the better your own spoken communication will be...

But false intermediates...the bane of my existence. Give me total beginners any day, even if I'm talking about "What would you like to eat?" for the fifty millionth time.


Well, I somehow managed to read the entirety of this thread as well as the preceding thread with a link at the top of the thread. Wowsa. Just wanted to chime in and say this stuff looks very promising.

I suspect most people who have become fluent in a second language would find CI to be intuitively appealing. Anyone who achieves unconscious second language fluency must also suspect that they are picking things up all the time just by constantly hearing input. There are so many language nuances and usages that are not covered in the beginning textbooks. So if you've acquired something through immersion, then that's like acquisition through CI (just not as controlled).

I also suspect that most people who have kids would find CI to be intuitively appealing. Engaging a toddler in conversation is very CI-like, in my mind. A parent has to narrow their vocabulary to nouns and verbs they know the child understands or could understand soon. Syntax and filler words (for lack of a better term) are harder to control, so without knowing it, they are exposing the child to "unlimited grammar". In practice, parents probably subconsciously restrict their grammar to less complex patterns or conjugations, but at the same time I'm sure they also subconsciously loosen up their grammar as the child shows competency. Watching for signs of comprehension-- parents do this all the time. A parent is constantly hoping to see the child comprehend and respond appropriately.

Finally, particularly earlier in the thread, there seems to be a lot of questions on the very viability of an approach where no grammar rules are taught. How can one learn grammar without ever learning the rules of it? I don't have a linguistics background and haven't read the TPRS / CI books, so I don't know if it's laid out there, but TPRS / CI reminds me of syntactic priming or structural priming. The idea is that as one hears grammar patterns over and over, one unconsciously picks up those patterns and produces sentences that match those patterns. So I don't know if this is explicitly the language acquisition concept / theory that underpins the TPRS / CI methods, but at first glance, it would seem so.

Great stuff all. I'm no longer a language teacher, but I'm following this thread because it'll help me pick language schools / classes / teachers for my kids going forward. To the extent that my kids will unconsciously learn from me, I'd like to know what is useful and what isn't when learning two languages simultaneously. For example, after reading this thread, I now know that it's not as important for them to pick up a big vocab of nouns and that it's more important to expose them to all varieties of grammar. Another key point I learned is not to overly correct the child, since they have either acquired the pattern or they haven't based upon how much input they've gotten. Rather, if they're making mistakes, it's better to just keep exposing them to the correct pattern with different meanings in different contexts and one day they'll just produce it on their own effortlessly. Now I also know not to try to get them to consciously understand an error they are making; it's better just to expose them to lots of correct input.


You'd think so, yet I don't think that's the case. Here in Taiwan, teaching is actually one of the few professions that is friendly to having kids (just like government/teaching jobs everywhere). So, plenty of teachers here are parents. I always ask them when they sat down with their kids and drilled and killed phonics or when they cracked out the whiteboard and said to their two year old that today they were going to learn the past tense by doing a whole lot of substitution drills. They usually see how ridiculous those kind of things would be...then go on to ask how they should teach their fourth grade students phonics, or their seventh grade students the past tense through substitution drills.


As Ironlady noted, I basically rely on circling with my adult students, from beginner to "advanced" (probably just false intermediates). We have a book, divided into topic units with a grammar component and vocab germane to the unit topic. I just don't run through the unit (four pages and a short movie clip divided into 3 lessons of two hours each = 6 hours) the way they outline it for us. I start with the vocab and make sure they all have the Chinese for that (either I have them write it on the board or they say it so I can check if they really know the meaning, and I check that with everyone throughout the unit) and then I'll write the sentence pattern (grammar) for the unit on the board and have a student write the Chinese translation under it. I keep that on the board with the question words for the duration of the unit.
Once I've established meaning and written the sentence pattern on the board I move on to the work in the unit, but not the traditional way. I don't let them sit in pairs and small groups and "practice" conversation by reinforcing incorrect English on each other for a start. I take the lead in these parts and practice the conversation with the class as a whole by circling using the sentence pattern. If something new comes up, that also gets written on the board and translated into Chinese.
Then as we go through the work in the unit I do everything with circling and checking comprehension. If a student wished to speak more I let him/her, and just repeat in correct English if they make an error. As most just answer short yes or no answers, I just repeat the long form in each case.

I also try to learn as much about my students as possible and make sentences on the board about them and circle using that during the lessons.

It's not perfect, but we have to get through the units as a course, so I try my best with what I have available to me.


Nope -- probably because there is a cultural idea on what it means to "learn English", and that means a formal classroom setting and lots of written homework. And grammar. How could you possibly learn English without memorizing grammar and doing exercises? So there's this strong expectation, bolstered by discrete-item testing usually focused on rules rather than meaning of language.

I don't know from syntactic priming. TPRS is based on Krashen's theory of comprehensible input, which is the same thing. It attempts to explain how people acquire a first OR subsequent language.

If you are having your kids acquire one of your native or fluent languages, don't worry about all this stuff. We're talking about classroom situations -- where you have very little time and often little authority to go along with it for managing behavior -- and it's necessary to really optimize practice and present only the most crucial language in such situations. If you're talking about raising a child, and you have plenty of time with the child, just speak whatever language it is with him or her and say whatever needs to be said. Don't worry about picking words, picking patterns, or whatever. Just interact with the child. If we're talking a kid 5 or younger, say, that's going to be just fine (there are some situations where the kids may comprehend but not wish to answer in that language -- various social factors at work, or just plain "I'm three and I'm going to do what I want now", which my friend is finding now with her bilingual adopted daughter in the US).

Once you start picking structures and vocabulary and worrying about what you're saying, you're teaching, not just providing input. Some of us have to do that, but if you don't, just rely on what's been working just fine for thousands of years without any analysis or intervention at all.


Well, there's also a wide range of parenting styles, so maybe CI appeals to my personal experience as a parent because of what seemed intuitively right to us, but maybe what we did is not representative of other parents' experiences. I'm definitely more conscious of the whole process, having taught English before.

Sounds like CI is "macro" linguistics and tries to explain language acquisition as a whole. The priming stuff I think is one of a number of potential explanations at the micro level for what is happening. Somewhere you referred to study rigor earlier in this thread, and I'm guessing it's hard to do anything randomized controlled etc etc studies except at the micro level. So how it all adds up together at the macro level is more of an educated guess based on what you believe is happening at the micro level.

Yes, I've also heard there are a lot of second language failures (children who speak a 2nd language at home somewhat and then at some point stop and lose it). A number of Chinese families have warned us of this phenomenon and that when they start school, that's when they really realize that the second language is secondary and there's no need to speak it.


Exactly. The ability to speak a language and the willingness to speak it are two different things.
People choose what language to use for an interaction based generally on the principle of practicality -- what code is going to make the transaction (whatever it is) go most smoothly. That code is going to be the language both parties are the most fluent in, in most cases. For a kid living in an L1 environment, it's hard to sell the idea that it's necessary to speak L2. Parents could theoretically refuse to "understand" unless the child speaks the desired language, but few parents have the time and patience to do this. Grandparents are different -- in many heritage speaker cases, the grandparents honestly do not understand the majority L1, so the kids have to use L2 to communicate with them.

Let's face it -- I love Chinese. I love speaking it. I'm reasonably fluent in it. But when I'm with another native English speaker, we're going to speak English. Even if we start out with all good intentions to speak Chinese. I can only think of one native English speaker I regularly speak Chinese with, and even so we speak English about half the time anyway, and most of our Chinese speaking is related to issues involving translation or interpretation. I can't imagine the frustration of someone who great up speaking a tribal language and learned a majority language at school, and then never had an opportunity to use the native language again, even maybe with his/her spouse and children.


Come on. You know that the parents are prepping their little loves for the university entrance exams that are as far away from language acquisition as it's possible to get. They are not looking to "learn English" as such, although that may be an additional benefit. They are looking for discrete item testing because that is what's required to get into the best public unis. I don't think that it is "cultural", but it definitely is practical.


Was thinking more about "proving" CI works. You know what would be really convincing to EFL teachers and/or parents in Taiwan is to show before and after video of classes of students receiving purely CI instruction that are learning L2 despite living in an L1 environment (so there are no immersion hours outside of class).

Ironlady you said there's no way to rigorously prove the CI method over rules-and-output, but I have a feeling there are people who are even doubtful whether any progress at all can be made without teaching grammar rules. Are there any before and after class videos made by experienced/famous CI teachers? Would be interesting to see before and after videos of a class of students after, say, their first year of CI instruction (= X class hours). I'm sure most EFL teachers could detect if they were showing some basic competency gains after a year.

If this is the case, it seems just plain ignorant. Anyone with half a brain knows a native speaker will trounce a non-native speaker, so anything that produces native-like abilities would also result in better test performance, as long as your timeframe is sufficiently long term.

Yeah, sad but true. I think one of the only ways is to join a social group that is mostly native speakers of your child's L2 language, so that the default for participating in this group is L2.


One has to wonder why the bother with the Laowais (and the additional expense) then. Taiwanese teachers teaching the traditional way in Chinese would be more effective for this IMO.

"Happy learning", perhaps? :ponder:


Teddoman: I believe bismarck recently told a story of how he's moved to a new branch and everyone has commented on his old students. Yet people always have ways to explain it away. The most obvious one is that the teacher is very passionate. I have all sorts of delusions about running mini-experiments with my schools because I teach mainly at a junior high school and there are four elementary schools that act as a feeder to this one, one of which I currently teach at, so that could be the experimental group and the other three could be control groups. Yet there are all sorts of other variables involved, so if I really tried to draw any conclusions, people would (rightly) point out those other variables.

What is going to happen here is that change will just suddenly happen in a very short period of time at some point. It will be because someone new becomes the head bureaucrat and something about the system itself (and testing) changes. There may be other factors, but that's probably the most likely source of change. Parents themselves don't want to rock the boat and turn their kid into a social experiment. Those who can afford to do so send their kids abroad or to an international school. Everyone knows what the score is. There are, of course, entrenched interests in maintaining the status quo other than those of the parents, but those people will get swept along one day.

bismarck: That's a very good point, and it's why I advised my wife's cousin to send her kids to a test-preparation buxiban rather than use me. If the parents want the kids to pass exams in a short period of time, foreign teachers are the last people they should send them to. It's flawed at its core, but it's rational given the constraints they are working within. So, why do people send their kids to foreign teachers? There are probably a whole lot of social factors, most of them irrational. Never underestimate people's irrationality though.


Once their kids get to JHS the majority of parents don't bother with paying extra for a Laowai. A few of the middle class parents continue sending their kids to a teens class once a week, but I would guess that they are very much in the minority.

@ Teddoman: Taiwanese parents don't have a monopoly on ignorance when it comes to language acquisition :slight_smile: . The approach taken by the vast majority of teachers on this forum is wrong, including me for my exam prep classes. And the adult "conversation" classes, for that matter. In fact, every lesson where I give the adult students what they want I'm doing it wrong.


You guys shouldn't let this get you down. There was never a good idea that didn't have its detractors. How many nay sayers do you think Steve Jobs had to overcome to get his ideas implemented. The vast majority of the world is made of followers who plod the safe route and do not think independently. Independent thinkers have always been thrust into the role of having to overcome the intransigence of the status quo by any available means. Don't take it personally. They don't know any better. They are who they are. Make your success impossible to ignore. Make your results enviable. You can't argue with results. At the very least, results may get you guys promoted to higher positions of authority where you actually will have the authority to make the changes you want to make.

GIT, you don't have to have an academically rigorous study to make your case. Academic studies will convince academics. That's a much higher bar. You only have to convince some ignorant parents and your school administration. That's a lower bar. Stop thinking like teachers and start thinking like the marketing department of a cram school. I'm imagining a Youtube ad right now. First there's a cram school student stuttering out terrible grammatically incorrect English under the harsh light of his lamp. He's a zit faced, bookworm. His mom comes into his bedroom and berates him for not getting a good grade on his English exam. "Why don't you study harder?!!" The clock next to them says 4 am. Then camera fades to a shy girl at a school in the countryside, say Taidong? :slight_smile: , and she's quietly speaking fluent English in to the camera. After class ends, she goes outside to happily play with her friends. Ad then shows the girl getting the top score on the college entrance exam, with the narrator saying, "Millions of taiwanese can't speak a word of English after years studying at traditional cram schools. Try something innovative." At the end of the day, you just need some results that you can showcase in combo with some good marketing.

It's one thing if you're still learning CI and perfecting your methods. But if you feel competent in CI, and it is actually getting better results than traditional methods, I can't see why it is rational to still go to cram schools. The only exam that truly matters is the college entrance exams. And chances are after 10-18 years of essentially native speaker exposure (but even better because it was all comprehensible), your college score in English should not only be better but should be better by a lot. If CI is truly better at developing native speaker intuitions on grammar, there is no way after 10-18 years of study that a traditional student could still do better. Am I wrong?


Teddoman: You're broadly right and I appreciate your optimism and support.

Just a couple of things though. Firstly, there's little to no room for advancement within this career. For example, my end of contract bonus is supposedly based upon performance reviews (though they just give me the full score without even observing me). The people who make the observations are my co-teachers. Since I have taught in government schools, I have had several co-teachers with less experience than me. Last semester, one of my co-teachers (who, incidentally, never stepped foot into my classroom) was a substitute teacher covering for one of my other colleagues who has since returned. The substitute teacher not passed the exam necessary to become a teacher. I'm not sure if you know how that works, but after graduating from university, they still need to pass an exam before they can become a proper teacher. Because of the limited number of positions available (something like only 100 new positions every year), it can take years in some cases. Anyway, the point is that in theory, she could have been observing me, despite the fact that she wasn't even a teacher yet (and despite the fact that I have several years of experience within the Taiwanese system, not to mention abroad). Likewise, the pay scale has not been revised in almost seven years. It currently moves approximately with inflation. In this job, ten years from now, I will effectively be earning the same amount and I will still be lower than the lowest Taiwanese teacher. This is the ultimate dead-end career (which is part of why I have an exit strategy). I will never be in any position of authority or influence.

The other thing is the time pressure and the total amount of input time. Most teachers in this programme teach elementary school (I have a grade five class I taught last year, when they were in grade four, and I will probably teach them all the way through to the end of junior high school, but this is very unusual). Most teachers also only see the same class once per week (I only see my elementary school students once per week, but I see my junior high school students twice per week, plus I also have two club activities that are not-specifically English related -- a music club and a martial arts club). There are forty school weeks in the entire year, but some of those get missed for various reasons. In all, an elementary school teacher in this programme will get something in the vicinity of 4 years x 1 period/week x 0.75 hours x 34 weeks = 102 hours with each class. Even in my case, where I teach the junior high school kids twice per week (actually, only once per week for the first and last two weeks of each semester), it might be 60 lessons per year, so 180 lessons x 0.75 hours = 135 hours at junior high school. Those kids I end up teaching from grades 4 to 9 will get approximately 240 hours. I can certainly see results with some of my classes. However, all of that occurs against a backdrop of many parents at my school who don't even want their kids doing P.E., music or art because they consider those things to detract from exam preparation. Can I make enough difference in 240 hours (and there are all sorts of issues such as kids being sent late to my classes by other teachers, a complete lack of disciplinary support from my colleagues, etc. that make that an ideal, not a reality) to really impact their exams? I am not sure. It's a very messy situation.

My ideal situation would be to spend more time with fewer kids so I could really get them up to scratch, rather than being spread too thinly. Whether than would involve teaching a group or a couple of groups for more hours at both elementary and junior high school, or even following them on to senior high school (no one in this programme teaches at senior high school), I don't know. The problem is always going to be sequencing though. My current grade five students are going to be miles ahead of the kids who come from the other three elementary schools that act as feeder schools by the time they hit my junior high school in a year and a bit, but unless they start streaming classes (which is supposedly on the cards), it's going to be a problem. Likewise, at the other end, my current ninth grade students are going to several different senior high schools next year, so the sequencing would be all mixed up there too. Anyway, last year, I actually discussed with the administration at my elementary school about not spreading me thinly, but for reasons of fairness, they didn't want to have me teaching some kids twice and other kids not at all. It's all a huge, convoluted mess. Supposedly, in a month or so, I'm going to have the conversation again with that and other elementary schools, but I'm not expecting much.

It's not just that I'm coming up against the status quo. It's that I often feel like all of this is being made up completely as people go along. My junior high school actually does give me a fair bit of latitude, but it's still exceptionally disorganised and there are still all sorts of deep issues to do with discipline and the general ethos at the school.


I'm not certain your approach is wrong in terms of exam prep.
If the ultimate goal is native-like fluency (even with a smaller pool of vocabulary in play), then CI is the proper tool.
But if the goal is to be able to label bits of grammar and write things in blanks, CI is not the most effective tool to achieve high scores in at least some people in the least amount of time. There's a reason why the buxiban "English" teachers (at the really big buxis in Taipei near the train station -- the famous test review places) earn the big bucks. They really know how to teach to that test.
As the test becomes more proficiency-oriented (relatively speaking) the importance and effect of CI will increase, but I don't see it hitting a really substantial proportion anytime soon. Same thing with the marketing video mentioned -- I can picture the commercial, all right, but how many parents in Taiwan will have a clue that there is a difference between halting English and the second student -- or feel that playing instead of studying is a good thing?


GiT, that's a pretty tough set of specific circumstances, not sure what the play is. Do you have time for private classes? I know you've talked about exit strategies and maybe even setting up a business on the side. Maybe it's not an exit strategy so much as leveraging your current situation to make it more worthwhile financially. I was reading that some of the expat cram school entrepreneurs cultivate relationships with the public schools that feed into their cram schools. In this case, you ARE the public school teacher so that part is already done. And while you have less control over your public school classes, you can feed them into your private classes where you actually would have full control. And I imagine the private students might then get the input hours they need to make real headway, plus you could have some continuity, no matter where they go for junior and high school. Also, I imagine all your private kids would perform the best amongst your kids, which would just further feed demand for your private classes.

Do Taiwan's college exams require actual formal knowledge of grammar classifications, or is more like American style standard exams like the SAT where you're only required to be able to pick out the grammatically correct sentence?

If you actually have to know all the formal grammar classifications, then yeah, I guess they're training to be linguists rather than learning fluent English. I didn't even learn formal grammar until junior high.


Hmmm, good question.

CI-taught students should be good at choosing the correct answer for a blank, because they simply pick the option that "sounds right" to them. The problem would be that sometimes the answers are not........what "sounds right" to a person who learned English naturally from a native speaker.

The other question is how long would it take to get CI-taught English students to acquire all the grammar bits that will be on the exam. A stuff-the-goose approach where the teacher knows what will be on the exam allows more targeting, though no long-term gain for most people. But it's not about long-term gain, it's about getting into a good college.


Is there a way to get copies of the exams and the "correct" answers? The EFL industry in Taiwan should make a point of publicizing errors every year, if the exams really are that bad. Maybe they'll be forced to hire GiT or ironlady to select test questions that aren't embarassingly wrong :slight_smile:

Yes, that's the real question. How many hours of CI are needed to achieve enough competency to be able to take the college entrance exam? Unconscious learning must require more hours than conscious learning. Is there a realistic way to get these hours, perhaps school hours combined with after school CI cram school?