“School isn’t even close to an L1 environment:” Why reading is KEY

I’ve heard the argument that “it’s impossible to replicate a native language (L1) environment, so why bother with all this CI stuff in the classroom?” I used to counter this with “we’re trying to get as close to that environment as possible while lowering expectations to a realistic level given how little time (~400 hours) students have with a language in high school.” Sure, that’s all true, but we can do better.

Grant Boulanger posted a great mantra when it comes to second language acquisition. The progression involves 1) learning to listen, 2) learning to read (what we’ve heard) before 3) writing (what we’ve heard, and read), and finally 4) speaking (what we’ve heard, read, and written). This is embraced by the CI community, and often associated with a more natural approach to language learning. I never really looked into how “natural” that progress was until recently when a linguaphile friend reminded me that this isn’t how we learned our native language at all; we learned to speak well before we began to read and write.

Uh oh?

Nope, we’re still good. For native languages, speaking follows listening because our brains haven’t developed the ability to read ANYTHING. Listening was the only Input, and it was comprehensible, compelling, and delivered to us over thousands of hours. Chris Stolz has similar things to say regarding the “silent period.” Fast forward to target language (L2), and realize we have a powerful tool at our disposal; READING. We can cast a two-fold net including another Input modality by reading massive amounts of language in addition to speaking in the classroom.

So, those of us who Teach with CI aren’t actually trying to replicate that L1 environment, we’re just recognizing that the processes differ when it comes to L2. As such, we can’t come close to the thousands of hours (~10, 000?) of language we were exposed to since birth, but we MUST capitalize on language learners’ ability to read as a way to offer additional Input that’s comprehensible, and compelling.
ps – perhaps you don’t speak Latin that well, if at all, and have been avoiding Teaching with CI. No problem. You can start with “READ READ READ” (not translate) in class, and you’re almost there. The reason you eventually want to speak is due to its malleability. You won’t be able to edit something in print quickly on the fly, but you certainly can react to a detail a student just offered and really personalize learning if you’re speaking (for asynchronous personalization, see CI Online: Personalized Readings). Krashen revised his Input hypothesis in 2011 to state that Input not only must be interesting, but compelling. At the time of this post, there is a paucity of such compelling reading materials, if at all, available for Latin. Thus, be sure you’re aiming towards speaking the target language in class, since it’s the fastest way to make Latin compelling.

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One thought on ““School isn’t even close to an L1 environment:” Why reading is KEY

  1. Pingback: CI Program Checklist: 9 of 13 | Magister P.

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