Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales and we are on episode 9! Today we are talking about giving our students comprehensible input. What is CI? How does it increase proficiency? And how can we incorporate it even when we’re required to follow a set curriculum? Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
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Every episode, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students’ achieve proficiency. In this episode we are getting an introduction to Comprehensible Input. It’s not just having students “listen” to the target language, it’s providing them with input that is specialized and conducive for language acquisition. What does the research have to say the importance of comprehensible input? What are the benefits of maintaining a comprehensible classroom? How can we transition into using CI if our school has a prescribed curriculum and set of assessments?
Let’s first look at what the research says about second language acquisition and comprehensible input, and then I’ll interview Tina Hargaden, an engaging Spanish and French teacher with an outstanding comprehensible classroom. Tina shares why she is textbook free and uses CI in conjunction with her curriculum, plus her best CI tips for teachers who shy away from being the bubbly, entertainer in front of the class, and how she shares with her students their language growth and progress. If you go to KidWorldCitizen.org, and click on podcasts in the upper right corner, you will find the show notes for this episodes. This particular one is packed with links of resources, and videos. I highly recommend you save it for when you have some time to look through everything.
Back in the early 1800s, Von Humboldt, a philosopher of languages argued that we cannot really teach language, we can only create the right conditions for it to develop. So what are these paramount conditions where language proficiency flourishes?
Focusing on communication, and communicative competence, was an idea presented by Dr Sandra Savignon in 1976. She advocated for teachers have goals of real communication first, before language forms- which meant throwing out the grammar drills and long vocabulary lists. Dr Savignon asserted that students shouldn’t be tested for accuracy, but instead should use language for their own, real purposes.
Let’s take a look at the work of Dr Stephen Krashen, a master.. authority and expert in the field of linguistics, especially in the area of language acquisition and development. According to his second language acquisition theories, our acquisition of second languages follow a similar process that children follow when acquiring their first language. In order to succeed, speakers need meaningful interaction- and natural communication- in the target language. THIS is the comprehensible input we are talking about today.
His input hypothesis posits that the learner improves and progresses along a natural order- the same predictable order of grammatical structures that kids acquire in their L1. According to his hypothesis, the L2 learners only can progress through this if they are getting L2 input that is one small step beyond their current stage. If students can’t understand anything you are saying, it’s just input, right? It’s not comprehensible input if it is too difficult. Let me say that another way. The input the teacher provides must be at i+1; that is, input that is just a step beyond the students’ current level of proficiency.
At the same time that the teacher is providing this natural communicative input, or Comprehensible Input, they are also making sure anxiety is low. Krashen speaks about the affective filter, which can impede students from being able to take in our input when they are too stressed, embarrassed, or anxious in class.
So in a nutshell, Dr Krashen explains a successful teacher like this:
“The effective language teacher is someone who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low anxiety situation.”
Comprehensible Input offers teachers the chance to stay in the target language- even at lower levels- because you are providing such specialized input for the class. How can teachers reach students at different levels? Adapting the conversation to your class, repeating words and concepts, and using scaffolding, which is breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk. You can modify your comprehensible input to meet your students where they are. You can alter the topic of conversation according to your students’ interests. You can include the students in the input to keep them engaged, so they want to pay attention.
Basically, comprehensible input is a message that the hearer understands. It’s not a strategy, or a method, but a thing. Comprehensible input is “meaningful interaction in the target language and it is the KEY to acquisition. It’s the way language gets language into our students’ heads, and stays there so that eventually the students acquire it and use it to communicate.
Now, this is part one in our series on CI. In the episode that is coming out in a few weeks we are going to go over some of the most popular input-based activities for class. Examples of comprehensible input activities ranging from storytelling to reading, OWI, Movie Talks, PQA and more. We also share a lot of phenomenal ideas and activities to introduce CI into any language classroom in our Language Latte facebook group. We have teachers from literally every continent, teaching a huge variety of languages, who get in our group to ask questions, share their expertise, upload activities and research articles, and provide support to one another. Join the conversation in our Language Latte facebook group or by tweeting me @kidworldcitizen.
Now that we established WHAT Comprehensible Input is, and why it is important for our language learners, I’d like to introduce our guest.
Interview with Tina Hargaden: What is Comprehensible Input?
Tina Hargaden is a French and Spanish teacher in a public middle school in Portland, OR. Her first book is “A Natural Approach to Stories.” She just co-wrote her second book on language teaching called “A Natural Approach to the Year” with her business partner Ben Slavic, on a year of proficiency-based language teaching. Tina moderates a Facebook group called CI Liftoff which has 3400 members and she also does workshops, institutes, and presentations all over, focused on proficiency- based teaching and assessment.I am switching my voice into italics, and Tina’s into regular print.
1) Can you tell our listeners a little about yourself: how you got interested in languages, and language teaching?
2) Like I said in her introduction, Tina is the genius behind CI-Liftoff, with her colleague Ben Slavic, and also runs tons of workshops for teachers all about CI. We have quite the global and quite the diverse audience, so for people who aren’t familiar with non-targeted comprehensible input, can you explain what it means, and give some specific examples of how you provide it to your students?
3) What do teachers need to take into consideration before choosing to sort of switch over to a comprehensible classroom?
4) So one thing that might scare teachers away from using CI is maybe because they don’t feel they have the right personality- they are bubbly enough, or they don’t feel like they have that much energy to be turned on all the time… or even that they don’t think their class would behave. How can teachers get over these obstacles, and perhaps build trust with their students so that they can help them become proficient?
5) I think part of the reason why teachers might shy away from CI is that they vaguely remember a workshop of a spirited TPRS story-telling session… and maybe they think that this has to be their daily gig. Actually comprehensible classrooms have so many different activities, from reading, to writing, to storytelling, to games. What does a typical week look like in your class?
(I am planning an upcoming show that will showcase many of these different techniques, so stay tuned for it to be released!)
6) You’ve written a book-“A Natural Approach to the Year“- how is this book different than other language teaching PD books out there? And why should language teachers put it on their summer reading list?
The distributor told us that this book is much needed in the field and we are so pleased to offer it to teachers! It literally takes the reader by the hand and after a 100 page intro part that tells about the rationale, some foundational skills, and management tips, it then walks you through the entire year, all the way to final exams, with activities that build on each other AND that help you build your skills. We literally laid out the book in such a way as to coach you through common pitfalls at each part of the school year and to give you pep talks when you need them. I absolutely cannot imagine a more comprehensive guidebook to a year of CI instruction. I am so in love with this book. Right now it is only available as a PDF that you can print out and bind.
7) Tina, where can our listeners find you, if they want to learn more?
Comprehensible Input Research
Krashen, S. D. (1982). “Principles and practice in second language acquisition.” Oxford, UK: Pergamon.
Krashen, S. D., Terrell, Tracy D. (1983). “The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom.”
Savignon, Sandra J. (2009). “Communicative language teaching.” Theory Into Practice. v 26, issue 4, 235-242. (originally published 1987)
Where to Learn More about Comprehensible Input
Fluency Matters: training and materials designed to help educators sustain interaction in the target language and as a result, facilitate acquisition.