But isn't this the standard communicative approach aim of creating a tick by numbers Naiman style good learner. The point is about the TPRS/CI approach that the teacher takes control of this so that all input is rich input. The only input outside the classroom is reading, plus absolutely zero non native speaker input
Well that is the rub, or one of them at least Your fresh off the boat newbie? I doubt it highly.
That's very interesting. How are you trying to do that, and how are they reacting, negatively are they? What kind of students?
I only teach adults - mainly conversational, business, or exam prep. I can't honestly see how anyone could sell TPRS to a group of Taiwanese adults. However, I would love to see it done. What do you do when within the first ten minutes of a lesson a student asks you for a grammar explanation? And then ten minutes later another.
Hmmm....I think this depends largely on the quality of the CI the student gets, and what the student's goals are.
With someone new to CI-based instruction, the "C" is usually missing or incomplete. The student gets lots of input -- but input alone isn't sufficient (or else immersion would work more often and more quickly -- for many, it doesn't work at all.) The new CI-based instructor is also usually hesitant about giving grammar popups, because they're not CI. He won't repeat enough. He'll speed up without realizing it. It takes a heck of a long time to train yourself to stay slow enough for a beginner or a false beginner with really poor mastery of vocabulary (which describes many Taiwanese learners at the adult level). (Mastery, not knowledge.) The new CI teacher (if he's using TPRS) is hesitant about going into class without a script, so opportunities for things to just go the way they will go are missed. He will not notice chances to spend an hour expanding on a single phrase that came up and which could have led to all sorts of details and offshoots in the story (which means more CI, broader structure presented, and more repetitions of the key items). You don't get the slow development of the class culture over time, peopled with all sorts of characters that are the product of the collective mind of you and the students and won't be duplicated with any other group (and don't try, it doesn't work.)
And a big piece of the puzzle is the student's goals in studying English with a tutor. If it's test-driven, most likely a traditional teacher will serve the student's needs better (especially if he has experience with the test in question) since tests are by and large written by traditional teachers and aimed at students taught traditionally. Proficiency tests are the exception, IF they are really proficiency-based and not just labeled "proficiency".
I would prefer for my language teacher -- assuming I'm doing a language to become fluent, not for a test:
1. Someone experienced with CI (=reliable 100% comprehensible input). Luxury. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
2. Someone trying hard to improve his/her CI teaching (=attempt at 100% comprehensible input; I can help by signaling when I don't understand. Some frustration potential but I can coach or cue as needed.)
3. A really lazy teacher doing traditional teaching, preferably without preparation (=I can get him off track and force CI from him without his knowledge). He won't be solid on his grammar knowledge, so he won't overwhelm me with it, but he'll probably be able to tell me what the verb ending is for one form or another when I think I've noticed something, or how to say this or that.
4. A "good" traditional teacher (this will be an unbearable experience from my perspective, and indeed I had to walk out of the last such class I had. I just sat there thinking, "I just want to hear some simple language and understand it. is that so much to ask? You're a native speaker!")
I'm coaching a reformed grammar Nazi teacher right now who really wants to make CI work teaching a native American language. Every once in awhile, we're just off to the races with a long grammar digression. There's just no stopping it. But at the end of the session, he'll think about what he did and say, "Oh, that was too much talking about grammar." The disconnect in the class experience (I'm learning the language along the way) is huge for the students-- the other day I had the lovely feeling of "I'm understanding this! I can get this! I feel like I can even answer in [language]!" and then bam...grammar digression.
If a student asks for a grammar explanation, you provide it -- in five seconds. You should be doing lots of these on your own anyway, any time some interesting feature comes up that you want to highlight in that stage of the student's learning. I think that to "sell" TPRS to a group of Taiwanese adults, you would need to explain (briefly and persuasively, of course) what the idea was, probably in Chinese, first, and then get them to try it. There are some good demonstrations that can be used to let people really feel what it is to be dysfluent in a language even though you "know" it. Maybe we should get together and think hard about CI marketing, and produce something like a short DVD or a pamphlet or something for this sort of thing.
The main thing with TPRS is that people have to admit they have a problem. (This is starting to sound like a 12-step program!) Hi, I'm Mrs. Chang, and I'm not fluent after 15 years of English classes. Then they have to surrender to the higher power of the Brain (not the teacher, the Brain) which will do its job if it's given what it craves -- meaning it can link to sounds over and over.
Those things are usually just Input, not Comprehensible Input. What the teacher needs to do is provide what the student needs to be able to comprehend more language on his own, which is what expands his acquisition. There are plenty of students with all the desire in the world to watch and listen, but sitting in a room all day with a Japanese radio station playing won't make you fluent in Japanese even if you pay attention -- unless you have enough ability to understand what's being said even if you cannot yet produce it yourself. And even then, that is a very low-efficiency way to acquire -- but sometimes the only one available.
I usually use the food analogy when I'm presenting. Straight grammar lectures are like candy. It won't kill you. It's kind of good in limited quantities, but if you stuff yourself with it, you'll just get fat and slow. Input is more nutritious, but it's not complete protein. You can live on it -- it's better for you than the McDonald's diet of steady grammar lessons and pairwork -- but the really healthy food is that plate with the right proportions of comprehensible input and just a little sugary cranberry sauce, er, I mean grammar popups, on the side. It delivers the most nutrients per unit of volume (time) and delivers the best long-term health. The kid who stuffs in three Hershey bars may win the sprint with all that sugar energy, but he won't do very well over the course of the whole day.
I totally agree.
What I was trying to say,badly, was that you shouldn't value your worth as a teacher only based on whether you are a CI expert or not. There is no way a newbie can provide proper CI teaching and Tom will be better even if he doesn't,... and just sticks to what he knows.
Why can't a newbie provide the best CI teaching he is capable of providing?
And where exactly is the balance point where non-optimal CI becomes better than good rules-and-output?
(Rhetorical questions, both...still...)
I think if Tom believes that CI does what he wants, and will be congruent with his student's ultimate goals (i.e., not for a short-term test cramming situation), he should move ahead with it. He can get DVDs and books, and he can come to workshops in the fall (I know I'll be doing ROC ETA in Taipei and we're working on something in Taitung as well, and who knows what else will get set up?) where he can get coaching and feedback.
I jumped into CI with both feet (the year was going that badly!) at Thanksgiving break one year, based on a videotape. I got to a workshop as quickly as I could after that, but I kept going. My CI wasn't perfect, of course, but my kids did well with it, the behavior problems pretty much vanished, and they actually outscored the grammar-taught kids on a grammar-based exam (multiple choice) at the end of the year. Could I teach that year better today? Definitely. But in five years (hopefully) I'd be able to teach the lesson I taught last night better than I did last night, too.
Let's put it this way -- suboptimal CI won't be any less beneficial to long-term acquisition than good rules-and-output teaching.
I think that I was just navel gazing a bit too much last night. I'd finished an adult reading class where I had adapted an authentic text from the internet about prophesies. I used this text because a guy called Teacher Wang had predicted an earthquake in Taiwan yesterday. I removed pretty much all new vocabulary and changed the sentence patterns so there was maximised repetition of conditional sentences. I then repeated conditional sentences as much as I could during the lesson.
At the end of the lesson three students complained, very gently, to me that it had been too easy. They basically wanted more new vocabulary presented to them; written up on the whiteboard with collocations, part of speech and so on. Basically the way they always study. You all know how rarely Taiwanese adults complain, so to have three doing it is pretty exceptional. I'm not sure whether I just made a hash of trying to teach conditionals CI stylee, or if the students just aren't willing to run with this style of teaching. I tried to explain that they would forget 80% of new vocab within 24 hours and how acquiring the sentence structure in a natural way would make them more like native speakers, but they just weren't biting.
Ho hum. I have my beloved IELTS preparation tonight and tomorrow, so that'll cheer me up. My students nail that exam - as ironlady says, probably because someone like me wrote it !
When I studied Chinese at TLI I had this kind of teacher. Her plan clearly was to follow our textbook and just explain everything, but she always got sidetracked into just chatting - to the point that one time a fellow student went away for a vacation for three weeks, and when she came back she pointed out to me that we were still on the same page of the textbook.
But she chatted in Chinese, and we could always understand her. Of course, we all chatted too - in particular the two students from North America.
So was the teacher inadvertently doing the right thing? That is, she wanted to teach us traditionally (and I mean really traditionally, not even pair work), but ended up giving us CI instead, which was actually better for us. I know some of the students didn't like it - a few transferred to another class because our teacher was too slow, and some others thought we were wasting time but didn't really care. The teacher even said once that going slow was OK because the students were all (at that point, all except me) Japanese housewives who had no pressing need to learn Chinese anyway.
Tom: I think it's hard not to be in Taiwan for a few years and go through however many thousands (or tens of thousands) of hours we teach and just realise that something obviously isn't working. People always ask my wife how she can speak English (and she's by no means perfect, of course). I don't sit down with her and teach her grammar or anything. We just spend time together and I talk and she listens and talks or requests clarification whenever necessary. I don't know, isn't anyone else looking around and thinking about all the time and money going into this and thinking it's not really working?
Then, you get the situation where a fictional teacher, let's call him Joe, in Zhanghua County, decides he's going to take the bull by the horns and organise some professional development, both for his sake and the sake of the teachers around him and the students. He pitches a proposal to his superiors in Zhanghua County with costs and so on for bringing out someone from abroad, let's call her Jenny, and they're really impressed by Jenny's resume but balk at the cost. Because Jenny will also happen to be in Taiwan at the time and because she's really passionate about what she does, she's willing to do it at a considerably lower cost than usual. Yet Jenny will only be in Taiwan for a month and only in Zhanghua County for a couple of days. So what happens in Zhanghua County for the other three hundred and sixty something days of the year until Jenny possibly comes back to Zhanghua County the following year? Well, Joe has to kind of push ahead as best he can even though he realises that he will hardly be an expert.
Anyway, in this instance, Joe and Jenny might organise their own things for CI, both for English and Chinese, and a third fictional teacher who is struggling with this issue, let's call him John, might want to come along. Oh yeah, and Joe has ordered some DVDs and would be willing to lend them to John, but only after he's lent them to another fictional teacher, let's call him Eddy, whom John has met before.
Maybe John will get something from the workshop(s) and DVDs and he can try his best from there.
A question for everyone else - are there any teachers in Taiwan who are using the TPRS approach to adults? Has anyone managed to sell the idea to the punters?
I don't mean gently adapting your teaching so that there is more input, less vocabulary, no explicit explanations, less pairwork etc, I mean the full bells and whistles 100% CI immersion? The students are so attached to detailed bottom-up processing that I'd be really interested to hear from anyone (if there is anyone) who has managed to successfully sell it, and more importantly how they sold it.
tomthorne: One thing I have considered doing is trying to get to a reasonable level with TPRS/CI and then offering to teach an adult class hosted by my school at a very low cost (though not free, as people would value it more that way) for people in our town (few of whom would actually speak English very well at all, so they might even be better students, or at least more open to the idea, than the average English student here). The primary condition would have to be that I would have complete freedom over how the entire thing were conducted. We would go into the whole exercise outlining what we were going to do and what we were not going to do, so everyone would be quite clear from the start that it wasn't going to be anything like anything they think they know about English learning and if they couldn't get their head around that, then they'd better go and find someone else who will give them what they want. I have all sorts of ideas about all sorts of things I could, or would like to, do here, but it's a matter of sorting out the basic conditions in my (paid) job first.
That's a nice idea, Guy. I'm not sure if I'd want to work on the cheap, though .
One thing I thought about trying was to identify a very simple error a class of higher level students are making and then get their agreement to nail it with CI. Record them before the CI lessons all making the mistake without realising it, then record them again afterwards. Obviously I'm no good at teaching CI, but it might show that even a bad CI teacher is better than a good traditional teacher. It's getting agreement that's the problem.
tom: Well, of course, though it could lead to privates. If you could get a group of half a dozen students and charge them 100NTD/hour, that would be cheap for them, especially around where I live where people are generally quite poor (though one might actually ask what a pineapple farmer would need to speak English for, which would be a very good question). Okay, so you wouldn't make a fortune, but I don't think it would be about that.
It would allow you to develop your chops and it would also allow others to see this alternative system in action. The huge problem right now is that there's a massive amount of momentum behind the other systems. You have to be able to get your foot in the door. Price is a massive issue here and if people are going to pay (what they consider to be) a lot of money for English lessons, they're going to want what they consider to be "the system" for getting high high marks on all the tests and so on.
I'm almost inclined to believe that we need to simply forget about the grammar Nazis and vocabulary monsters and just grab the pineapple farmers out of the fields or the blue truck drivers from their blue trucks and other people who speak little to no English, not even Chinglish, produce this magic crop of English speakers and then wave them in the faces of the grammar Nazis and vocabulary monsters and shock the shit out of them. Maybe we really do need to take English away from all the boneheads (both local and foreign) in this country before anyone will figure out that they've been learning English for twenty years and still can't be understood or understand, and then cut to the news clip of A-Huang standing in his pineapple field alternately spitting binlang and talking to a foreign reporter without a translator.
But how long does CI typically take to get that kind of results? It may be a better way to teach, but I'm guessing it is not quick.
I've no idea - I'm not a TPRS teacher. I guess that the students acquire fantastic levels of accuracy, but move forward quite slowly.
Another question, how about density of time, for want of a better word? Hours per week or month that is? Relevant over the long term, or no? In other words will there be a difference after 4 hours a week for 3 years, or 12 hours a week for 1 year?
Good question. I also assume that the teacher doesn't move forward until whatever language point is being taught has been acquired, so it's kind of dependent upon the slowest student in the class how fast the class moves. Optimum lesson time would also help. In Taiwan we can't do 30-40 minute lessons every day to students, it's more likely to be a 2 or 3 hour chunk once or twice a week.
What would also be interesting would be a ball park figure for how long different language points are acquired using TPRS. For example, how many hours of TPRS instruction would it take to eliminate 3rd person s errors in a class of 12 upper intermediate adult learners. Or, on average how many hours of instruction are needed to get an average sized class to conjugate verbs into the simple past without thinking? I think it would really help if I could show a class of adults that in x number of lessons they could permanently eliminate simple errors. That way we could put a cost-benefit value on TPRS.
tom: Imagine if you were to apply that cost/benefit analysis to traditional teaching! Here they start in the third grade and go all the way through to the end of university. That's fourteen years. As per my 30 to 35 minutes of real learning example here or in another thread, no let's be generous and say they get the full 45 minutes, three times per week (I think they do at least two periods per week with the Taiwanese teachers and once with me), 35 weeks per year, they'd get 14 x 45/60 x 3 x 35 = 1,102.5 hours. That excludes buxibans and all the rest of it. How many of them emerge at the age of 22 with anything even remotely beyond low-intermediate level English?
ALG in Thailand claim to be able to produce completely fluent speakers of Thai in something like 800 hours, if I remember correctly. Doesn't the U.S. State department say something like 1,000 or fewer hours for people to learn Chinese? I don't know if it's approximately the same in the other direction, but it can't be far off.
So, what's the cost/benefit looking like for English in this country with the traditional approach? Atrocious or merely pretty crap? For a country that is so good at mathematics and a culture that is generally very cost-conscious and business savvy, they're really screwing themselves here.
Look at the English Villages, for instance. They cost 18 million NTD to set up and between 2 and 3 million NTD per year to run. In the first five years, each English Village costs about 30 million NTD. Multiply that by -- how many of them are there now? Ten? At least? -- ten and you're talking about 300 million NTD on these bloody English Villages. When I worked at one, there were three. They sent a team of university professors to check out what we were doing. One of the main things they did was grab a bunch of ten or eleven year olds (who, of course, would have been cherry-picked by their teachers as being the "good", i.e. compliant, students) and asked them if they thought their English had improved that day. I shit you not. No pre- or post-testing. No control groups. No longitudinal study. Shit, what do you expect, these were only people with PhDs in the social sciences, for Christ's sake! No, let's ask a bunch of ten or eleven year olds if they think their English has improved. Christ, could a bunch of ten or eleven year olds even tell you what they ate for breakfast that morning? When I asked them if they would go and invest 18 million NTD in a company, for example, Coca Cola, because of what a ten or eleven year old said, they didn't have an answer. Yet here we are, struggling to get any kind of sensibility in measuring what's currently being done and sensible alternatives, including (as if it takes a rocket scientist to figure this out) teacher training. Meanwhile, these damned English Villages are spreading like a cancer. 300 million NTD in the first five years for not even a dozen of them! Yet you want to do a cost/benefit of CI/TPRS! Surely you are extracting urine from me my good man!
I'm thinking more about how to sell it to adults. Something along the lines of: for the price of x lessons I guarantee that I can permanently eliminate error y from your English, or your money back. I think there could be gold in them thar hills if it really does work as well as its proponents claim.