Letter to my students

You are about to study a foreign language with a teacher who believes in and practices Comprehensible Input.*  Her task is to make everything comprehensible to you. You have only one thing to do: let the teacher know when she is not comprehensible. If you do your job, you will progress and acquire fluency faster than you imagined possible.

Sometimes students who come from more traditional classes bring with them attitudes which can make acquisition much more difficult than it should be. Let us look at some false ideas that may keep you from enjoying your lessons and progressing.

False idea number one: I need to remember everything and memorize the vocabulary.

Relax. You are going to hear the words many times, so many times that you will remember what they mean without even trying.  No one expects you to remember them until you’ve heard them at least 70 times.

False idea number two: I need to understand how sentences are constructed and memorize conjugations.

No, you shouldn’t worry about grammar. Your job is not to construct sentences. Your job is to understand the meaning and let the teacher know when you don’t understand. One day you will start recognizing what is good grammar and what is not because you will have heard enough good grammar that things start to “sound right”. If you’re not sure, it simply means you haven’t heard it often enough.

False idea number three: I need to review my notes and study.

Studying and reviewing can only put things in your short term memory. Good for a test in a traditional class but not helpful for acquisition. Listening to or reading an interesting story will help store the words in your long term memory. It is not necessary to take notes in a CI class.

False idea number four: I need to speak with complete sentences.

Speaking is output. It does not help you acquire. Simple, one word replies are enough to show understanding. One day you will spontaneously begin speaking with longer and more complex sentences and the longer you wait, the more correct your sentences will be. If you force output, you risk developing bad habits that become fossilized errors.

False idea number five: I need to be corrected.

Corrections are for the conscious mind, the part that is thinking about what to say before you say it. Our goal is to train your unconscious mind so that you will speak spontaneously and fluently. Corrections are a brake that hinders unconscious acquisition. If you are being understood, no one should correct you. If they don’t understand you, then you need to try to find a different way to express yourself by negotiating the meaning.

False idea number six: I shouldn’t make mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes. They are a normal part of acquisition. Native speakers will be impressed that you are making an effort to speak their language and will not hold mistakes against you. Often they find them charming. As you progress you will make fewer mistakes and different mistakes. There is a natural order of acquisition that cannot be denied. The type of mistakes you make show where you are at in your journey to fluency.

False idea number seven: I need a dictionary.

If you understand the meaning of a text, you do not need a dictionary. If you don’t understand, you should try to find a text that is easier to understand. Reading for pleasure is the best way to acquire the vocabulary and grammatical structures of a second language. If you have to look up too many words, you will not enjoy reading.

False idea number eight: Learning a language is hard work.

Acquiring a language should be enjoyable as you focus on stories and topics that interest you. If you use the language to talk about something compelling, you will progress. If you laugh and have fun, you will progress even more. Compelling, comprehensible input is the key to mastery.

*Comprehensible Input is a hypothesis about how human beings acquire language that was proposed in the 1970’s by Stephen Krashen. Since then there have been many studies and a great deal of research which seem to support his theory. http://www.sdkrashen.com  Any new theory would have to account for the differences with Krashen’s theory before it could be taken seriously.


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