In a recent online chat, the following was offered:

Ss have to be ‘taught’ to be curious in TL and in first L!

Whaaaat??? I just have no words.

What child have you ever met who wasn’t naturally curious? What 3-year-old’s most frequent, and endlessly repeated question, wasn’t “Why?” What kid isn’t constantly asking about the who, what, where, when and how — often to the parent’s embarrassment in public?

So how is it that teachers have come to the idea that children need to be taught to be curious?

Obviously this curiosity is being beaten out of them (hopefully figuratively) somewhere in the school process. And if we look at the typical foreign language class, it’s pretty obvious where that’s happening.

“Okay, let’s read the paragraph about Wang Peng and Li Min. Wang Peng goes to Li Min’s house and they drink tea.”

Who. Cares?

Seriously, who cares? These two textbook characters are only barely two-dimensional, let alone being something that kids care about. And in many classrooms, having a story in text is about as good as it gets. Many, many teachers are still giving sets of example sentences and having kids do pairwork. So that kids, you know, can talk about each other in the target language that they don’t know how to speak. Learning from each other, you know, the ones who can’t speak the target language.

As a TPRS teacher, it took me a couple of minutes to even think about why anyone would ever say kids needed to be trained to be curious in the target language or any other language. TPRS-taught kids start out talking about things that concern them vitally — themselves, or things they contribute to talk about. Even readings that are already set, and cannot be personalized or customized as a result, are delivered in the classroom with interactive questioning that uses parallel comparisons to the actual class, students, and topics discussed already in that class — the particular, unique classroom culture that has developed.

TPRS is all about details. TPRS is all about higher level thinking — about the content being discussed, not about the language itself. Thinking about language is called linguistics. It doesn’t belong in the novice level classroom, and has only a very limited role in higher levels. Those who are going to become language teachers will go and do their graduate work on their own, thank you (and even as a very motivated learner, I found my seminar on Structure of Japanese rather, um, boring, in fact. And I have a doctorate in Linguistics.)

Who? What? Where? When? How long? What color? Why? Why? Why? With whom? Using what? How long?   Staples of TPRS. Anyone who thinks kids need to be pushed to be curious just isn’t giving them anything worthwhile to be curious about in class. And it’s a certainty that person isn’t teaching TPRS.