During my time teaching in foreign language classrooms, I have come to love teaching through comprehensible input and TPRS. In fact, as soon as I first learned about the two methods, I was hooked! I started reading every teaching blog I could find about the subject (www.martinabex.com is one of my very favorites!) Soon, I was quizzing all of the languages teachers I knew about comprehensible input and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), trying to make sense of how to integrate both practices into my own classroom.
You see, I was not taught through the comprehensible input method. As a student at a public school in Oregon, I was largely taught through textbooks and the Skill-Building Hypothesis. While I was extremely passionate about languages, even from a young age, I found my Spanish classes to be very frustrating. My teachers seemed to speak mostly in English in the classroom, and my textbooks focused on grammar specifics rather than teaching for fluency. I achieved Spanish fluency over years of travel through Cuba, Mexico and Spain, and especially while living in Madrid for two years. I found that while the background in Spanish that I had from classes helped a bit while I was living abroad, I could feel the limitations of my education in my daily efforts to communicate.
So- back to comprehensible input. When I arrived at my first university teaching post, I was quite disappointed to see that the curriculum was based on an expensive textbook that focused heavily on grammar rather than focusing on student fluency, as I had for the last six years in my own classroom.
Not only are the cost of the Panorama textbook and online component a barrier to entry for students, but the traditional grammar-based instructional method promoted by the Panorama textbook is also serves as a barrier to entry. So I started doing some research of my own, to back up my reasoning for why the comprehensible input approach works so well for students learning foreign languages.
I found so many resources that supported the use of comprehensible input in the classroom over the traditional grammar based method, that I started to wonder why our school was still teaching through the textbook and grammar based method. In the Hispania article “Approaches to Grammar Instruction in Teaching Materials: A Study in Current L2 Beginning-level Spanish Textbooks”, Claudia Fernández states:
“techniques for grammar instruction that include the provision of comprehensible input… and that provide opportunities to use the [second language] in meaningful, communicative ways are seen as the most effective ways to help learners acquire the grammar of the target language” (Fernández 156).
It might help to provide some background of the two teaching methods that I am comparing. At my university, we are currently using a “Skill-Building Hypothesis” model (or grammar-based model) in our Spanish language courses that are based on the PANORAMA: Introducción a la lengua española (5th Edition) textbook. I strongly feel that these instructional methods should be updated to match current best practice research, which is exemplified in the “Comprehension Hypothesis” model (a model which supports the case for the comprehensible input instructional method).
The “Comprehension Hypothesis” model was first published in 1977 by Dr. Stephen Krashen, an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of California, and the Comprehensible Input method which developed from the model has been in use in foreign language classrooms for the last forty years. At one time, the field of language education was based on the Skill-Building Hypothesis. However, evidence shows that Skill-Building cannot be the means by which humans acquire language, and there is doubt that Skill-Building plays more than a minor peripheral role in language use (Krashen 2011). Nevertheless, Skill-Building remains an assumption for many language classes and materials (Krashen 2011).
According to Dr. Stephen Krashen, the traditional “Skill-Building Hypothesis” says that we learn language by first “learning grammar rules and memorizing vocabulary” and that we “make these rules of new words automatic by producing them in speech or writing, and we fine-tune our (conscious) knowledge of grammar and vocabulary by getting our errors corrected” (Krashen 2017).
On the other hand, the “Comprehension Hypothesis” says that we acquire language when we understand what we hear or read. Our mastery of the individual components of language ("skills") is the result of getting comprensible input (Krashen 2017). This method has been proven to be highly successful with university level students in the United States, and is the method that I have proposed that the Spanish 101 – 103 sequence evolve to in order to reduce the barrier to entry for first year students at our school.
In the study “The effectiveness of two comprehensible-input approaches to foreign language instruction at the intermediate level”, fourth semester students of Spanish as a foreign language at the university level in the United States participated in two kinds of comprehensible-input based instruction, an extensive reading class that combined assigned and self-selected reading, and a ”Reading-Discussion” class that consisted of assigned reading, debates and discussions. Students in both classes outperformed those in a traditionally taught class on a checklist vocabulary test and on a grammar test. The results “confirm the efficacy of comprehensible-input based pedagogy at the intermediate level” (Rodrigo, et al).
I hope that this post has given you a bit more information about why the comprehensible input method is a great choice for teaching in foreign language classrooms. If you'd like to read more about my proposal for the revised Spanish sequence at my university, check out my last blog post here.
Thanks for reading, and happy Wednesday!
Aski, Janice M. (2003). Foreign Language Textbook Activities: Keeping Pace with Second Language Acquisition Research. Foreign Language Annals, 36(1), 57-65.
Bragger, Jeannette, and Donald Rice. (2000). “Foreign Language Materials: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Agents of Change in a Changing Age. Ed. Robert Terry. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company. 107–40. Print.
Dorwick, T., & Glass, W. (2003). Language Education Policies: One Publisher's Perspective. The Modern Language Journal, 87(4), 592-594.
Fernandez, Claudia. (2011). Approaches to Grammar Instruction in Teaching Materials: A Study in Current L2 Beginning-Level Spanish Textbooks. Hispania, 94(1), 155-170.
Krashen, Stephen. (2011). “Seeking a Justification for Skill-Building”. KOTESOL Proceedings 2011. 13 – 20.
Krashen, S. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. New York: Prentice Hall.
Larsen-Freeman, Diane. (2003). Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammarian. Boston: Thomson Heinle. Print.
Rodrigo, Victoria, Krashen, Stephen, & Gribbons, Barry. (2004). The Effectiveness of Two Comprehensible-Input Approaches to Foreign Language Instruction at the Intermediate Level. System: An International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, 32(1), 53-60.