Immersion and the Older Beginner

What exactly is Comprehensible Input? Does it mean “just getting the student to understand pretty much what’s going on, enough to get the point of what’s being said”? That is not the type of CI that is most effective in language acquisition — because if it were, immersion programs would work.

The ACTFL Position Statement on the use of the target language in the classroom recommends “that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom.” 

In immersion programs, English is not an option. How do teachers help students learn content from all subject areas while developing students’ use of the target language? [Presenter] identifies what works in creating comprehensible input, emphasizing learning the content of other disciplines through a second language. With a focus on younger learners, the presenter will identify ways to adapt those strategies for beginning language learners at any age.

I like this just fine — until we start equating beginning language learners with younger learners in an immersion setting. (Let’s not debate the benefits or drawbacks of immersion just now. I’m running low on pixels for the month.)

Once more, comprehensible input seems to be equated with immersion and no-English-in-the-classroom. Just because EFL learners aren’t able to use their native languages to acquire English more quickly, and kids stuck in immersion aren’t allowed (artificially) to use their native language to acquire the target language more quickly — that’s no reason why teachers with a shared common native or fluent language at their disposal should not use it in the classroom. And again I emphasize, use English. Not abuse. Not throw around “just because”. Use based on well-reasoned professional considerations that assist in acquisition by establishing meaning as quickly and accurately as possible.

This sounds very much like rules-and-output trying to get that percentage of target language use higher, but not truly going to CI that will jumpstart acquisition. There are just too many “maybe that’s what it means” involved in immersion-type activities.

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