In a recent discussion between language teachers, the following came up:

[I made] students today TELL ME how to say something in the past based on a series of examples before them. [I made] THEM figure it out.

This is excellent, outstanding teaching…if you’re teaching a content area subject. For language acquisition, not so much.

This is no different from (and maybe worse than, in terms of student anxiety) teaching grammar rules. Instead of at least having mercy on the student and letting him manipulate things based on a set of rules that he can see on the PowerPoint (of course there would be a PowerPoint, right?), the student is left to flounder. Well, probably flounder based on a different PowerPoint, since it says “a series of examples before them”. Why am I suspecting that not every student in the class is outputting past forms without that PowerPoint in front of them? And if they aren’t, what’s the use?

When are language teachers going to figure out that examples are not enough? An example is a jumping-off point. After a person hears a phrase or structure once in an example, they need to hear it hundreds more times in meaningful contexts before they will be able to output it naturally and correctly. Yes, you can “force” the output, just like a two-year-old can be trained to say “went” instead of “go-ed”. But forcing output, even if it produces impressive short video clips, isn’t long-lasting. It’s not permanent. It’s not acquisition. It’s like hanging a heavy mirror on the wall using a small nail in drywall, instead of using a heavy spike into a stud. The whole thing is going to come crashing down, and someone is going to have to clean up the mess later.

Language. Requires. Input.

A lot of it.

Before output happens.

Anything else is going to leave a big ragged spot in the drywall.