Some methods are more equal

On a language teaching group, a comment was recently posted:

My end conclusion:  The success of a method depends a lot on the personality of the teacher and how well it fits the method of choice and allows the teacher to reach the most students.  In other words, whether or not students learn has a lot to do with the teacher’s ability to create meaningful relationships within the method of choice.

This, to me, is drift. It’s the effort to believe that everything is good, all methods are good no matter what they’re based on, everyone gets a participation ribbon, and it doesn’t matter what you do as long as everyone gets along. I don’t have the right to tell you how to teach in your own classroom. I have no problem with that. But I do have the logical obligation to believe that if I accept that language is acquired through CI, and your method of choice isn’t providing CI, it isn’t going to be as good as a CI-based method. All methods are not equal, no matter how good a “fit” they are for a teacher’s personality. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t see hugely different results with TPRS/CI compared to other methods. And if language were acquired through having meaningful relationships in the classroom, I’d be monolingual.  (And yet I’m not.)

I hear this more and more these days: the emphasis on teaching “values” (whose, please?), working on feelings, building relationships, teaching teamwork. That’s great for many people. It’s not great for everyone. And it is not how language is acquired. It seems to me that this is rising out of a great frustration in our schools with how teachers are no longer permitted to teach information or get kids to acquire languages in effective ways, or from the necessity to provide bull$hit “documentation” about everything you do in the classroom. It’s easier to focus on things that make most teachers feel good and which mesh better with Internet memes.

I think the important thing to keep in mind is that TPRS is a method, yes, but CI is what makes it work. CI is not a method in and of itself. But if your method doesn’t provide CI, it will not work for the vast majority of people. Providing CI through other, non-TPRS means will also promote acquisition, though IMO the effectiveness of this varies based on a) how well that method interacts with classroom management, for school settings, since getting kids to listen to that CI is crucial; and  b) how high the degree of comprehensibility is in the “CI” that is being furnished. TPRS happens to be convenient and effective for the K-12 environment in the US, by and large, and I’ve found it to work for the vast majority of the non-school-based learners I’ve worked with as well. But there’s no question that the underlying mechanism (CI) **does** reach every student because that’s how they all got their first language.

Providing “seat time” without good-quality CI will not promote acquisition as much (not even close), no matter how good the relationships with the students are. Providing really fun, everybody-loves-’em activities where the kids feel cherished and everyone loves each other still won’t leave language in the heads after class if there isn’t CI. To me believing that isn’t being black-and-white except in the sense that believing that our solar system is centered around the Sun is being black-and-white. It doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t build relationships and include that sort of thing in the classroom, only that IMO it’s important to remember where the acquisition is coming from.
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