Why I Don’t Teach For Acquisition

I don’t teach with the intent that students acquire a language. Surprising? It’s true. Lest you think I’ve lost my mind…

Even though I don’t teach expecting students to acquire a language, they just, well…will!

That’s it.

Nothing fancy or controversial, here. Acquisition is not really a goal, but it will happen anyway. That is, as long as students are breathing, and certainly or possibly even remotely attending to meaning, they will acquire the target language. Conveniently, this applies to all students except for those seldom in the classroom for various reasons (legitimate or not), but even they acquire some target language! It’s magical, actually. Humans are hardwired for this, even ones with learning disabilities (because those are not communication disabilities, and even then, comprehension can be seen in learners with the most extreme of disabilities).

This concept is not unlike how I approach speaking. I have no expectations that students will ever speak the target language. However, they always do, and eventually with ease. This isn’t just a Latin thing, either. I’d have the same approach teaching a modern language. The lack of expectation is liberating, in fact, allowing me to provide input and opportunities for interaction that cause speaking proficiency to develop over time, not to mention avoid unnecessary time-consuming testing. Give it a try! Still, what do I teach for, then?

I teach for a positive language experience.

That is, I teach for a positive experience felt by all students, not just the best, or fastest, or particularly motivated. It just so happens that a result of all this is acquisition. Acquisition occurs because I base my teaching on a) what has been shown to lead to it, and b) what’s enjoyable.

The latter is important. Yes, I do base my teaching on what leads to acquisition, despite that not being a goal, but a positive experience comes first and foremost. In other words, if researchers were to suddenly determine that the most effective way to acquire language included practices and processes that would contribute to a negative language experience for nearly all students, I wouldn’t do it. For example, there are those who might suggest full immersion, massive vocab frontloading, or “natural” native-only examples (that is, instead of employing certain best practice teaching strategies for the beginner). Good luck with that for anyone other than highly-motivated learners! Thankfully, though, all of the research and principles upon which I base my teaching allow students to enjoy class through input and interaction, resulting in a positive experience.

Why the declaration?
Over the past few years, I’ve observed research and theory taken to the extreme, with some forgetting hoi polloi in the process. That is, with most research based on self-selecting motivated adults, there’s a lot to consider beyond that research when teaching K-12 public school learners. These are normal kids with little to no interest in what makes the target language tick, who have few target language-specific goals, and who typically choose one language class over the other for social, or random reasons, if there’s even a choice at all. These are not kids who get giddy over conjugating, have their college study abroad plans all mapped out already—are even going to college for that matter—or who rush into the classroom wanting to speak a new language without much purpose (i.e. drills).


One thought on “Why I Don’t Teach For Acquisition

  1. Pingback: Learner-Centered Texts vs. “Authentic” & “Natural” | Magister P.

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