TESOL France’s 32nd Colloquium Stephen Krashen

TPRS grew out of Blaine Ray’s desire to make his teaching more effective by applying Stephen Krashen’s principles to his everyday class activities. A lot of lip service is given to Krashen’s hypotheses in the foreign language community, but how many of the new methods actually apply his principles?

Recently I was following a discussion on the Internet concerning teacher-centered versus student-centered classrooms. I was interested because TPRS teachers are sometimes accused of being too present, of failing to develop student-centered classrooms. One of the suggestions made during the discussion was that the teacher train her students to accept autonomy by leaving the classroom for brief periods of time while the students get on with their job of learning the language.

I suggested that there was a third alternative, based on Krashen’s principles. With TPRS and other Comprehensible Input models, we try to establish an ongoing dialog between the teacher and students, in which the teacher furnishes high quality input concerning content that is determined by the students and their interests. I was told that Comprehensible Input is not a method.

Excuse me? If Stephen Krashen is right, and so far no one has come close to disproving his hypotheses, shouldn’t teachers be applying his principles to their methods?

Krashen says: “Language acquisition, first or second, occurs when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not ‘on the defensive’… Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.”

TPRS is the only method I know of that respects those principles. It seems to me that many modern “communicative” methods tend to force production, the earlier the better, and correcting production is often an overtly stated goal. Project Based Learning relegates the teacher to the role of coach from the sidelines. No one wants a return of the teacher/lecturer who handed out lists of vocabulary and grammar rules to memorize and assigned passages to translate, yet in a foreign language classroom the teacher is the only person who can furnish the students with high quality comprehensible input. Yes, they can listen to audio documents and films and read authentic texts, but in the early years such documents are not comprehensible. The well-trained teacher who “teaches to the eyes” sees when she is not being comprehensible and adapts her output accordingly. It’s a constant negotiation  in the target language between students and their teacher. The input is focused on the students whose interest determines the content.

By the way, I learned recently that Stephen Krashen is studying advanced/intermediate Spanish with Jason Fritz and Mandarin with Linda Li. Both of them are TPRS instructors. Obviously he finds their methodology respects his principles.

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