Ci & tprs


Interesting. Correct me if I’m wrong in my thinking here, but there’s a large pool of adults who would like to be able to speak English, but have never gained any degree of fluency, and who have been failed by traditional approaches. Not exactly like selling ice to the Eskimos, eh?


Tempo: You’d think not, and yet here we are. My understanding of the issue (based upon the conversations I’ve had with such students) is that when they admit that they have a problem with English they think the solution lies in more of the same (i.e. memorising even more vocabulary) or a proper application of the same (i.e. their teachers can’t/couldn’t teach grammar). The idea that the method might be completely wrong just simply doesn’t cut it with many people here.


The problem is they don’t believe us. Or won’t, based on past experience. Yes, the methods they have used so far have not worked well, but ingrained in them from childhood is that you teach this way, that this is the correct way. (And that white people are morons, sometimes.)
I’ve had parents who never went to high school and couldn’t speak a word of English criticize the way I taught. I agree they could have a perfectly valid objection, but the objections were usually along the lines of “but you’re not doing what the Taiwanese teacher does.” I once taught an elementary-age girl who, after 2 years of English classes for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, knew essentially nothing. She couldn’t count to ten, she couldn’t say the alphabet, she couldn’t use simple greetings, she didn’t know a word of English. When she moved to our school her mother insisted the child should be in an intermediate class (reasonable, given the money and time already spent; completely unrealistic, given what the child knew). After a few classes, where the child actually did learn something, the mother removed her from the school - the loss of face was too much.


Indeed, except it wouldn’t be an easy sell. The Taiwanese aren’t going to buy into this kind of language acquisition easily. I showed my wife a video of that guy teaching French pronouns with a story about a fish and she though I was crazy. At the moment, the only way that I can sell TPRS is to say that it feels intuitively right and a lot of teachers say that it works. That’s not going to be a strong enough story to sell it to the Taiwanese.

On the other hand, selling it as a guaranteed way to eliminate fossilized errors or your money back could well be a goer. Of course, as Loretta pointed out a while ago, this assumes that Taiwanese students actually see fossilized errors as a genuine problem that they want to get rid of.


I think that it would be very dangerous to market TPRS as a guaranteed way to remove fossilized errors.

TPRS is a tool designed for a specific purpose (and with a specific group of learners in mind). The creator of TPRS was a high school teacher in California, teaching adolescents Spanish. That was his target group. Keep in mind that when he started working with all this, he was on the verge of getting fired from his teaching job for gross incompetence and failure to keep the kids in line. He had to do something, so he started looking at the research and experimenting to find something that would work in that situation.

People since then have substantially altered what TPRS is (including its name!) and the groups it will work with. I myself have done a lot of work on expanding TPRS or incorporating it as part of a larger system, so that it will meet the needs of those learning Mandarin, which it does not “out of the box” (IMO). But to my knowledge (probably because of lack of commercial opportunity) no one has really applied TPRS on a large scale in a culturally Chinese environment. Most of the (very few) teachers using TPRS (some or most of the time) in a Chinese cultural environment AFAIK are in international schools, which are by definition outside the norm for that area.

I think the idea about educating the pineapple farmers is a very sound one. The aim of TPRS is to find a method that will get most of the people fluent most of the time. Traditional teaching gets a few of the people fluent some of the time. TPRS doesn’t claim to get all of the people fluent all of the time – (we wish, but it doesn’t do that) and even the creator of the method says all the time that if someone shows him something that works better, he’ll switch on the spot.

TPRS was never intended to deal with fossilized errors specifically. I’m not sure it would be very effective in so doing within the periods of time usually available for classes or tutoring. Think about it – if a child takes 10,000 hours of input by age 3 or so to acquire the definite and indefinite articles in English, how many additional hours of input would it probably take to undo problems with that and overlay it with correct acquisition of that feature? (Although to be fair, “the” usually wasn’t incorrectly taught, it was just taught, which is the core problem – every student has a different degree of error with “the” usage, usually depending on how much they have to rely on rules and on support from other languages they speak in the absence of an immediate ability to apply the rules for using “the” in speech.)

Where TPRS really shines is with true (or false) beginners; with disadvantaged language learners (people who are “not academically inclined” in the first place, or are handicapped in some way – all my special ed kids did great with TPRS and it gave them something they could truly achieve in on an equal footing with the other kids) and for learners who have an environment of some sort that includes the TL, so that they “notice” their progress day to day. TPRS tends to be more difficult to accept for students who traditionally do well in school (since memorization is no longer rewarded over just paying attention), students who are very analytically-minded (these are the 4% who can learn languages through textbooks alone, as I acquired Spanish and can’t really explain how I got fluent) and students who are preparing for a specific test or wrestling with a specific glaring error(s).

To me, what this means is that in an ideal world, we would have pure TPRS (CI) classes for beginners through the point where they have acquired all the structure of the language – probably four or five years for English assuming you start in middle or high school – more if the start were earlier in elementary school because you can’t cover as much structure with the little ones. Then a switch to supported extensive reading, writing improvement (=“how to edit yourself” in the linguistic sense) and test prep.

If I were living in Taiwan and had work rights, I’d set up some kind of program called “English for Everyone” or something like that, and target housewives and pineapple farmers. But I’m not sure it would work because I don’t look Chinese. If I had a Chinese face, I could become a millionaire in Taiwan doing that, but as a foreign face, it’s “well only foreigners can teach that way because they’re native speakers and anyway you don’t want to take a class with a foreigner because XYZ and the other foreign teacher I know says that method doesn’t work at all and…”

I still think we should set up a CI organization for the ROC and think about holding an annual conference – I’d do it the same weekend as ETA, or one day of ETA at first, maybe Sunday when ETA runs out of steam anyway – and get some people in to train teachers how to use CI. Strands in going all-CI and also in “sneaking” CI into your classroom practice. Get the whole thing to be reliably bilingual from the start, get the materials translated so that Chinese teachers can really understand them (professional development in English is not always a good idea if the aim is really professional development rather than “I went to see a foreign speaker lecture in English”) and offer classes to groups like associations for the handicapped, disadvantaged schools in rural areas, or other “non-achievers”. Oh, and we’d also need to produce a set of materials for teaching English to Taiwanese using CI, because the existing materials would perhaps not be optimal for them.

Tired yet?


Be careful here – with TPRS, it is not the case that the class doesn’t move along until whatever language point is being taught is acquired. We stick on the same set of new items (these are usually short phrases or collocations, not individual words, so an “item” might be something like “a 7-11 that sells cold Pepsi” or “wearing a shirt with short sleeves” or “eats six hot dogs” – they should include structure, not just words to learn) until the items are mastered (ideally within the same class period, if we are doing enough reps and teaching few enough items). We assess frequently on the items that have been presented as new items. The faster processors will also have acquired many other things that were casually written on the board (to make them comprehensible) and used in class for their meaning, but not stressed and repeated as a main item for the day, but the assessments are on the items (from the curriculum) presented as main items. The slower processors WILL take longer to acquire the structure than those more apt with language. We provide additional content to keep the fast processors “happy” while continuing to pound away on the basics with the slower processors.

Structure is acquired over the course of many items. “A 7-11 that sells cold Pepsi” is a fairly advanced example of the subordinate clause in Chinese (I used this yesterday to a student learning Mandarin), but I’ve been pounding on subordinate clauses with that student for four weeks already (he has 1 class per week, 1 hour each time) but not as main items. So I’ll probably just keep “slipping in” more subordinate clauses than usual in questions and as descriptions within our stories for a few more weeks, but not make a big deal out of them. I’ll make sure that the student translates them as subordinate clauses, though, and I’ll associate a gesture with the subordinating particle “de*” in Mandarin to help him notice it.

That way the student has extensive experience recognizing the meaning of that structure with different vocabulary “pasted on” it. When I finally decide to offer a similar phrase as the main item of a lesson (slated for mega-repetitions within that lesson) I will hope that he will be able to output THAT particular item accurately by the end of the lesson. Then more main items containing subordinate clauses for awhile longer, until one day – pop! – the student “gets it” and can suddenly use subordinate clauses anywhere he pleases, with any vocabulary he wants. There will sometimes be an occasional error, and it will take longer to get some of the finer points down (like, answering questions about resultative verb phrases in past time in Chinese can be weird sometimes) but the student won’t be grappling with that and I won’t mention it per se, just model.

The whole time, I’m officially focusing on the main item for the day, which contains one or more structure points from the language, plus some vocabulary, plus other components I’m working on with him [both in the main item and in all our interaction for the class] (tonal accuracy, use of “mei you” to indicate negation in the past tense, topicalization and inferred information, etc. right now are the big ones with the student I’m thinking of). I’m offering other “items” as needed, but not worrying about repeating them enough to have them be acquired, and keeping those at a minimum.

This is the argument against sheltering structure with beginners. We shelter vocabulary, so that students can comprehend, but we don’t shelter structure, and we use (and make comprehensible by translation/writing on the board) any language that is needed. (The definition of “needed” in TPRS is narrower than usual – teachers need to stay in bounds and not go crazy with the extra stuff because it has a huge impact on how comprehensible the class as a whole is if too much is added.) But a TPRS Spanish student doesn’t go until third year without ever hearing the subjunctive, then suddenly has to get his head around a) the idea that there is something called the subjunctive, b) that it is a mood not a tense, c) that it’s formed using a whole different set of verb endings, and d) it can’t always be translated directly from English. He’s been hearing subjunctive phrases used, and understanding them on his own or with help, for some time before he’s asked to produce them after more intensive exposure.

I think TPRS would be a hard sell as a dedicated error correction tool unless the person had a lot of time and believed s/he was learning other things in English instead. So corrections would be an added bonus, rather than a guaranteed item as a selling point.


Do you get paid to type so much?
I can understand why someone would want to make certain claims about CI and TPRS just to get people on board, but they are unfortunately so set in their ways that it taks a very long time to change.
I have a student that quit my school recently because her mother felt that she would be better equipped at a “Wen Li” buxiban, than our school. This despite the fact that her and her classmates score 90+ in their school tests. Most of them are in Junior high, she is in elementary school. She just finished PET and passed with merit. Her mother felt that the time we spent reading could be better used learning grammar an vocabulary.
How am I supposed to go all TPRS with these fools…but it is coming and I am working on it even if it takes me another 3 years to completely change my curriculum. First I need to get really good at it…


[quote=“heimuoshu”]Do you get paid to type so much?
:slight_smile: [/quote]

I wish…I’ve always been paid by the word (outside of forum posts, I mean…) I started out doing verbatim transcription for the US Supreme Court out of college, and I got paid by the page, so I had to type fast to pay the rent. I type out my own translations today, and I still get paid by the word (and actually make more that way than accepting a “reasonable” per-hour rate). So I’m still at around 120 wpm. My problem is being concise, rather than having time to type out a long answer. :blush:


[quote=“ironlady”][quote=“heimuoshu”]Do you get paid to type so much?
:slight_smile: [/quote]

I wish…I’ve always been paid by the word (outside of forum posts, I mean…) I started out doing verbatim transcription for the US Supreme Court out of college, and I got paid by the page, so I had to type fast to pay the rent. I type out my own translations today, and I still get paid by the word (and actually make more that way than accepting a “reasonable” per-hour rate). So I’m still at around 120 wpm. My problem is being concise, rather than having time to type out a long answer. :blush:[/quote]

Concise version: On Forumosa, no. But in my professional life, yes. :laughing:


Simple answer. Yes.
TPRS methodology could be incorporated into a curriculum in part whilst still adhering to the test driven model that exists here.

Specialists in this field exist in the UK and travel from school to school. You could approach the MOE with this idea.


I am not aware of any TPRS specialists who would support this idea, and I believe that I know most of them. Are you sure the people you are thinking of are TPRS and CI specialists, or are they into something else?

I do try to introduce CI-based methods into “standard” situations, for any benefit that could accrue. Most TPRS presenters might recommend incorporating circling into an existing program. But I am not aware of ANY presenters who would realistically recommend using a full-on TPRS program in a place with a highly test-driven model. And I don’t know of any who recommend using TPRS “part of the time”, as the basic philosophical underpinnings of the method are just completely opposite to “traditional” teaching so that it is not a good fit.


It seems (correct me if I am wrong) one of the biggest challenges you’re replying to by several people tends to be what is natural in human nature–to take what we are learning and try to make sense of it in what we already know.

I’m no expert on this by any stretch of the imagination. To really get a concept of TPRS/CI, I had to accept that it might not be like ANYTHING I have experienced. What you’re saying often sounds a lot like Montessori ideals, so I sat here from time to time nodding in agreement. Then I had to stop and say, “Wait! Re-read it and stop trying to fit it into anything else.” So I’m double reading posts at times, which is slow when there area 10 pages. (By the way, did many posts repeat? It seems I read a post, skipped ahead a few pages, then saw the same thread. Maybe I’m just too tired and clicking wrong).

So I guess my advice to everyone is to take all your previous experience learning or teaching Chinese/Spanish/German, put it on hold, and read the thread like you never heard about learning another language in your life. It might clear up some of the confusion.


[quote=“Puppet”] (By the way, did many posts repeat? It seems I read a post, skipped ahead a few pages, then saw the same thread. Maybe I’m just too tired and clicking wrong).

I was just merging a few threads into this one. You were probably reading it in the middle of that process.


I can still remember most of it. :smiley:

I’m there like a bear! :thumbsup:


It seems (correct me if I am wrong) one of the biggest challenges you’re replying to by several people tends to be what is natural in human nature–to take what we are learning and try to make sense of it in what we already know.[/quote]

There’s probably considerable truth in that. When most presenters do TPRS training workshops, they demo first – right after the “hi, I’m so-and-so” and a very, very basic outline of what TPRS is (or often, what traditional teaching is failing to do). Then they hit the attendees with a 30 minute lesson in a language (hopefully unknown to them). When the attendees realize that they can understand and use the language that was presented in that lesson after the 30 minutes, they are generally willing to continue listening. If the demo falls short, the attendees will not buy in (and who can blame them? It’s like saying ‘everything you ever learned about teaching was completely wrong’, pretty much. So without evidence – and really up-close and personal evidence – who would switch?)

People do tend to want to relate new stuff to old stuff in their minds. At the outset, folks thought that all CI was the way to go. No explanations whatsoever. The problem with that was just this – that people are analytical when they’re older than 2 or 3. Some are more analytical than others. Some who are analytical can still be encouraged to let down their analysis for a time to acquire directly. But there are always students (about 4%, I’ve heard it said – and most of them grow up to be language geeks or teachers!) who have a very hard time letting down that analytical side of their nature. These are the ones who feel “they’re not learning anything” and want to go back to the textbook with its comforting exercises and blanks to fill in – visual evidence of progress.

So over the years, the people developing TPRS did a lot of action research, testing what proportion of overt explanations (grammar lessons, basically) was optimal to get fast acquisition, narrow and deep teaching, and still satisfy the cravings of these students for analysis (and if those students “wanted” analysis, there is probably some benefit to it for everyone, in the right proportion). The final conclusion was no more than 5-10% “explanations” total.

What TPRS does, however, is to break up these explanations into tiny pieces to make them more effective. In the course of giving CI, the teacher periodically does comprehension checks and pop-ups. A pop-up is a 5 second “digression” given in the shared language (there are ways around this if you absolutely don’t speak it) highlighting some grammatical or other feature of the language that has just been uttered by someone. It’s NOT error correction. It’s underlining the correct features. But the main point is that it is very, very fast – literally not more than 5 seconds. And then you just go on with what you were doing before. The next time you encounter an “interesting” grammar thing – by which I mean both relevant to the students’ current level and what they’re in the course of acquiring, and something that is high-frequency enough to matter – you do another pop-up. So the total amount of time in a 30 minute class spent on pop-ups should be kept to 3 minutes or less. At 5 seconds per, that obviously gives you quite a few “structurtunities”, as I call them, even within a single class.

So it’s not completely accurate to say that TPRS doesn’t allow analysis or grammar teaching. However, the focus is always kept on the connection between language and meaning, and the driving idea is to allow the brain to use that linkage to construct its own mental model of the structure of the language, and store the vocabulary long-term. That is very distinct from other philosophies of language teaching currently in use, which mostly hold that teaching rules and having students “plug in” vocabulary is the way to go.


I got the Ben Slavic DVDs today, so I’m going to start watching them. Hopefully, I’ll offer a review some time next week, perhaps the week after.


For anyone actually waiting for the review, I’m on the second DVD, and these puppies are good. Aside from getting generally distracted by things such as Forumosa, I’m doing some side reading about TPRS.


Looking forward to it!


Here’s an awesome article I saw on moreTPRS: Multistory Construction
It reminded me a great deal of Ironlady’s Kaohsioung demo last year and I think it explains the basic concept quite well.


Carol Gaab (the author of that article) specializes in children (though of course she knows the method well and can teach all ages). So some of what she has to say in that article or on her own Web site or in presentations might be useful for those working with younger kids, in particular. She and I will be the invited presenters at the Alaska state language conference in September – me aiming more at CI/TPRS Chinese and literacy.