How bout these apples?

Tell me what is wrong with this theory/plan/idea (besides the fact that it could get boring after awhile).

Most second language learners never get to the point where they actually think in the L2. In conversation then they: 1) Listen to L2. 2) Translate what they hear to L1. 3) Formulate a response in L1. 4) Translate response from L1 to L2 in their heads - this involves searching for a lot of vocabulary and considering the odd grammatical/phonological problem. 5) Respond. That’s a lot of steps. No wonder conversation is so slow.

So what if you had a list of common, useful expressions taken either from experiences you know they have had in the past or from material that you know they will cover in the future, and you asked them to translate that list either from Chinese to English or from English to Chinese. Chinese to English is similar to talking for them (aside from the fact that they are not actually expressing their own ideas). And English to Chinese is similar to listening for them.

The number of steps is cut in half by doing this. And I can see how it would be fun to take a translations of expressions with words like take or get and ask them to translate back to English.

I have been doing this quite a bit recently and it “seems” to be working quite well i.e, they are learning a lot of expressions( and it is doing wonders for my Chinese no doubt). Am I missing something or is this a simple, effective exercise?

OK for an occasional activity, but it sounds to me like it is reinforcing translating from L1 to L2, rather than encouraging them to try to understand, think and respond in English without reference to Chinese.

Yes I thought that too but then I wondered whether it may not tend to just speed up the whole process. Lately I have been teaching a lot of older students who are at quite a low level. I wonder if many of these people will ever be able to really think in English.

I hope that Ironlady will wade in on this one. I am definitely in over my head.

TESL books often suggest to try to use English first, but when you don’t have a lot of time or it’s hard to do any other way, you should ask them to say it in Chinese to check if they’re understanding.

IMO, Taiwanese adults really love translating back and forth. They’ve also probably been doing it for years. They have goals. One goal may not be to ever think in English, but rather to improve their English for work or self.

TPR guru James J. Asher once wrote that translation like this is just like taking a swim in a cold lake. You’re better off having no Chinese in the classroom from the teacher or the students.

On the other hand, the work of someone I have heard announced as the King of TESL, Dr. Steven Krashen, seems to support the effectiveness of this type of learning. If you can keep the lessons comprehensible, then the students are understanding and thus learning. Check out his website, it’s quite informative. He’ll be in Taipei again this November.

Thanks for responding twocs. For quite awhile I set a rule for myself that I would: 1) Say it in English. 2) Say it again in English but slower and perhaps with simplified grammar. 3) Draw a picture. 4) Act it out in body language etc. before resorting to Chinese. I still think that is a pretty good general principal but sometimes you really just want to communicate something and sometimes you just want to do a quick review. Anyway it seems like translation is naturally becoming a bigger and bigger part of what I do and in fact I wonder if in fact translation might not eventually replace a lot of grammatical explanations. If for example a person sees “Ta bi wo gao,” written in Chinese across the bottom of his television screen and then hears Tom Cruise say “He is taller than me,” and I draw attention to the details of that utterance by asking the student to mimick Tom, then do I really need to say “The comparative in English is formed blah blah…”? Lately I have been resorting to translation and body language much more than I used to and everybody is having more fun and learning more.

[quote=“bob”]…translation might not eventually replace a lot of grammatical explanations. If for example a person sees “Ta bi wo gao,” written in Chinese across the bottom of his television screen and then hears Tom Cruise say “He is taller than me,” and I draw attention to the details of that utterance by asking the student to mimick Tom, then do I really need to say “The comparative in English is formed blah blah…”? Lately I have been resorting to translation and body language much more than I used to and everybody is having more fun and learning more.[/quote]Translation and grammar explanations are only two options. There is a third way, which really represents the mainstream of TEFL for the last twenty years. This is to present the language in such a way that the meaning is unmistakable, without resorting to the students’ native language or languages. This may be where your ‘body language’ comes in.

By the way, twocs, while Asher and Krashen have been enormously influential, their theories in their pure forms are out on a limb and do not represent the mainstream of TEFL opinion these days. Nevertheless they agree with the mainstream on the issue of the limitations of grammar translation.

Bob, I highly recommend that you check out the link that twocs provided. In particular, take the time to read through this online book: … index.html
You may feel in the end that the theory is flawed. It is, however, extremely thought-provoking.

Can you provide a reference or quotation?

I think that from the point of view of Krashen, exercises such as the ones that Bob mentioned in his first post (students performing C-E or E-C translations) could be used to improve the conscious monitor function, but would not play a part in language acquisition.

Asher might be a little more flexible on the issue – perhaps the exercises could be used to rapidly switch to left-brain use after the vocab. or phrases had been internalised with the right brain using TPR or similar. This “brainswitching” is supposed to keep students fresh and prevent burnout as a result of only using TPR. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that he might prefer even the left-brain exercises to be a bit more creative – maybe something like writing a short skit using the new phrases.

I love the idea of creating a situation, or presenting language in such a way that the English is just “understood” from the context. For example it is good fun to walk into a room full of beginners with a bag of balls and saying Catch!.. O.K. now Throw! me the ball (doing Micheal Jordan impersonation now) but I have been frustrated (that’s an understatement) by how difficult it seems to be for a lot of students to look at a situation and guess the meaning, even when a word or phrase really could only mean one thing. This seems to be where the really intelligent and or natural language learners are distinguished. Or perhaps it is where I am distinguished for being too stupid to provide enough clues. It’s up in the air at this point. Catch!

I have a problem with the idea that explicit grammar instruction is not helpful. In my experience it is, as long as it is kept reasonably simple. Take for example a situation where you say to a student “Do you want to study today or would you rather go bowling?” to which you get the response “Yes.” So you say it again more slowly and pause before and after “OR” and this time you get the response “No.” Doesn’t it make sense to explain that the answer to an “or” question is generally to be found before or after the word “or,” and then to explain the concepts of “both” and “neither.” Finally you could top it off with a few simple questions designed to demonstrate whether or not they comprehend these concepts. This is the kind of thing I have been doing for years and it seems to work pretty well. Krashen surely doesn’t disagree with this sort of thing does he?

[quote=“bob”]Krashen surely doesn’t disagree with this sort of thing does he?[/quote]Not easy to sum up briefly. Better you read that book at least once, taking notes if possible. As I said, very thought-provoking and a very good aid to reflection on your own teaching practice, whatever your eventual conclusions on the theory are.

Let’s leave aside Krashen and his theory for the moment. You were talking about implicit v.s. explicit grammar teaching. (For Krashen, both of these really belong in the realm of conscious learning and the monitor function.) Below are a couple of ideas I have about implicit presentation of grammar points.

It is difficult, sometimes frustrating. The more abstract the word or phrase, the more difficult it is. And you’re right, sometimes when you think you’ve made a concept so clear that even a three-year old could understand, you get a room of blank faces.

It’s certainly worth persisting though. And you and the students feel great because they can understand something in English they didn’t know before.

I think a key thing is getting the right level. The language should ‘piggyback’ on stuff the Ss know already. Too much new language at one go is demotivating.

I’m sure you have loads of routines and techniques that you use for these kinds of ‘implicit’ grammar presentations. Still, you mentioned comparatives so I thought I’d write the kind of thing I do to present those.

You could draw a tall person. Ask; “Is he short?” Ss will say; “No, he’s tall!” Acknowledge that. Then draw a taller person next to the other one. Make sure all the Ss accept that both people are tall. Then ask; “Which one is taller?” If Ss say the wrong one say “No, no – that one’s shorter. Which one’s taller?” When they pick the correct one you say; “Yes, this one’s even taller than that one.” Obviously make the drawings interesting by giving the people names, or just by drawing really badly.

It would be even better – more ‘brain-friendly’ and memorable – if you could use a tall student and yourself, or two tall students. This is as long as the Ss get on well and nobody’s going to feel belittled because he or she is shorter than someone else.

Then you can get the class up on their feet and maybe mark off their heights on the whiteboard. Find a student in the middle of the height range then ask the class to find a few students who are shorter and a few who are taller. Again be sensitive to feelings.

Then you can expand to include other comparatives, using students, classroom objects or drawings to illustrate, and always trying to get the class to the point where some of the Ss will start to provide the language for you. You have two thick books. You point first to the thinner of the two; say “This one’s thick…”, point to the other, “…but this one’s…”, pause with a puzzled look on face, whereupon somebody will jump in and say “Thicker!”

In a later lesson you can easily ‘piggyback’ on this concept to teach superlatives; “the tallest” etc.

I’m sorry if I come across as patronising. I know you’ve been teaching a fair while longer than I have, and I’m sure there’s a lot I could learn from you. But I think practical examples like these are a clear way of getting across what I mean.

No worries. My question was pretty silly actually, it is just that I am reading, writing and watching TV at the same time so I didn’t make it far through Krashen’s stuff. It’s true though I have been teaching for quite awhile, but it has been “really” small groups that have always given me a lot of room to experiment. These days the thing that really twists my pickle is DVD. It gives loads of context, relates to all the senses, the emotions, allows for inumerable repititions, translations, English subtitles etc. Krashen suggests that our goal is to make independant learner’s out of our students. DVD has to be one of the best tools we can give them. I realize that it provides way too much vocab but it seems there may be ways to deal with that problem.

Bob wrote: [quote]DVD has to be one of the best tools we can give them.[/quote]
One of the laziest I would say. Watching movies is passive crap. Telling students to watch TV/movies is an insult to the students.

Oh brother. You think it’s a passive experience if they are sent home with a DVD and asked to return with a list of the most interesting, funny, perplexing or potentially useful lines from that DVD. And if that list is then used in game which both reviews the material and connects it to other aspects of the language. Or how about these apples for a passive experience: They are asked to return with a description of characters, a basic plot outline, and a statement of theme. Or how about this: We choose a really dramatic scene and reenact it with an effort to be accurate in every detail, facial expression, tone of voice, body language…
Of course there is all of the spontaneous reactions that go along with all of this: I dis/liked this film because… It reminded me of an experience… I don’t think it was realistic because…
Passive my ass. It absolutely astounds me that more teachers haven’t clued into the potential of DVD.
By the way I spend “at most” 10% of class time actually watching television. They do that on their own.

For many years, the student’s native language (L1) was banned from the classroom. However, recent books and articles are starting to show how the student’s native language can be used to help them learn a second language.

There’s a new book of activities, called Using the Mother Tongue (a friend of mine calls it Using My Mother’s Tongue…) which has some very clever ideas along these lines. Go here for a few sample activities:

One of the laziest I would say. Watching movies is passive crap. Telling students to watch TV/movies is an insult to the students.[/quote]

I agree 100%. People who can’t teach teach from DVDs.

Far be it from me to join this teachers bun fight…BUT

I think he has a point. Maybe it goes against your “ideology” but what I know for a fact is that watching British DVD’s that I hoist upon my missus has certainly helped her understanding of “English” English, far more than our conversations could have ever done. Conversations about what “talk of the devil” means prove this to me more every day.

It may be passive learning, but once past the rudimentary I’m certain it helps to understand the more “illogical” parts of the language.

…and now I’m out of here before I upset anybody… :rainbow:

Wha’happened - Thanks I will check that out. By the way I like to say that my mother’s tongue is mostly densly packed muscle and nerve tissue wrapped in taste sensitive pink flesh…or something like that.

TongAng - Don’t confuse them with the facts. They are old people and any threat to their well established view of the world might throw them into some sort of fit. DVD provides an astounding learning opportunity for reasons that those knuckleheads haven’t even begun to consider. At least you and I know it works because we have seen it work, evn if we can’t explain how “yet”.

Dare I step into this? I do.

IMHO, there are two distinct stages in the evolution of an English speaker: Learners and Users.

This island is filled with learners and very few users.

I believe that anything that promotes a discussion, is interactive and well thought out is of tremendous value to a wannabe user of an L2. I have yet to use DVD’s as a teaching material, but I don’t wholly discount it either. The way bob has laid it out can achieve every aspect of a lesson plan designed to encourage and develop language use.
Good on ya bob…

My question is, do you break up viewing into manageable bites for in-class viewing or show a whole episode/movie/video? Or is viewing done entirely on the students own time?

Good question. The answer is a bit vague though as it is dependant upon so many different factors. In class we are talking small bites - no more that 2-3 minutes. Nobody wants to pay a tecaher his salary while he sits there watching a flick, and anyway 2-3 minutes of film can contain a suprising amount of material. I think that people can decide for themselves how to proceed at home depending on their mood, personal study habits, contents of the film etc. This is not a simple process we are talking about here and anyone looking for a set procedure that is going to work for every film and every student is going to be disapointed. Generally I hope that they watch it once with the Chinese subtitle purely for enjoyment before settling down to the scenes that they want to really study. Aside from that there isn’t much that seems to be “always” true aside from the fact that it makes sense to use the English subtitle and make notes concerning the vocabulary that interests you. Oh yeah, the reapeat function is a mighty handy function in practically all cases.

I will now disagree with you. If one is facilitating a group that are users (as opposed to learners), then IMHO, one must do all they can to discourage translation. I would suggest that they not use subtitles at all…but it totally depends on the individual in question.

The goal is to THINK in L2…If you speak another language, you will know that you really didn’t become bilingual or at least proficient, until you could have your brain speak to you in your L2. French was that way for me. Studied it all my life, then moved to Calgary and never used it. When I returned to La Belle Province some 10 years later, I immersed myself in the language and discovered a noticable improvement once I heard myself thinking in French.

Translation deters and delays this goal.

Likewise, I never recommend the use of a Chinese -English dictionary…

Cracking contraptions! I am dying to use some of these in a class.