The Numbers Game

Quick math quiz: when is 85% greater than 100%?

When the 85% is Chinese delivered through comprehensible input, and the 100% is Chinese that is just…delivered.

Every year, the comments from evaluators about TPRS are the same: “too much English!” “You didn’t stay in Chinese 90% of the time!” Now, aside from arguments of how much English there really was (there is no recording to refer to), it will be obvious that TPRS makes principled use of English (that is, we speak English on purpose, for specific reasons), and I don’t apologize for that.

The evaluators in question are looking at students who are in their sixth day of Chinese classes today. That means a total of six hours of TPRS, six hours of task-based language class (communicative), five hours of media lab (various Web sites and writing their first story today — are you listening evaluators? These kids wrote connected narratives after five days of class — wasn’t there some rumor that Novice level learners cannot create with the language?) and four hours of reading class.

Instead of saying, “Gee…these kids can really use the language they know,” and “Hmmm….they’re comprehending questions containing relative clauses already,” and “Did you hear that girl use a because…therefore construction on her own there?”, once more we’re getting “But you speak too much English in class!”

I have no doubt that we will be told all about the wonderful, amazing program that uses not a WORD of English. And I will once more bite my tongue and not allow myself to ask, “So what are their outcomes, exactly? What measures were used to evaluate them?” Because there aren’t any outcomes.

And I was told that I should have pointed to someone and said “She’s a girl” and at someone else and said “He’s a boy” and then asked if the kids understood. And they would have said yes. And some of them would have understood “he’s a man” and others “he’s a boy” and still others “he’s male”.

Given a choice between 100% of 80% and 50% of 100%, I can tell you which one will cause more acquisition.

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