Can, or should?

On a teachers’ list, a hypothesis was recently posted:

The more compelling the input, the more listeners and readers can tolerate noise.

Maybe they can. But should they?

I believe that the goal of teaching a language class does not lie in engaging students. I believe it is to get them to acquire the language. Engagement should serve acquisition, not serve the presentation of things that do not serve acquisition. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how engaging a particular piece of language is if it contains a lot of noise, because the noise can’t be comprehended, and therefore it can’t be acquired. Acquisition would be better served by presenting language without noise. It’s difficult to think of a reason compelling enough to force the presentation of noise-ridden language in a class that aims for acquisition if all that noise cannot be acquired. If the content requires so much noise that the word “tolerate” is being used, it is better to simply do it in the native language, or delay it until the pool of acquired language is great enough to handle it.

I believe that the amount of noise you allow in is the amount of class time that is wasted at the TPRS level (prior to acquisition of the major structures of the language). It is the stones in your mashed potatoes. It is language that cannot be comprehended, and as TPRS teachers, we are not at all about non-comprehensible input. Making sure the language is comprehended is Job 1. It  cannot be compromised because the teacher wants to present some story or other.

I think that optimal techniques change after the TPRS level. There is room for much more noise, and room for rapid expansion of large amounts of vocabulary. This is because there is a solid base to build on. Without that base of acquired structure and high-frequency vocabulary, noise is more difficult to deal with (aside from not driving the rapid acquisition that is desirable at that level).

I am not aware of any research showing that people need special training or “experience” to deal with noise in situations where they have to. The best training to allow them to deal with noise, IMO, is input without noise, which is the most efficient driver of acquisition. Between practicing dealing with noise, and giving more acquired language, I would far prefer to use class time for the latter, because it is far more useful in actually dealing with noise in the real world.

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