All you people who’ve had a couple of Chinese lessons — please, please — and I am not saying this to be mean — stop generalizing your experience with Chinese to the broader field of language acquisition and particularly to teaching Chinese. Immediate output is not the most efficient way to acquire good Chinese. Most of you have not bothered with Chinese literacy. The literacy piece completely changes how we approach introducing a learner to Chinese. It is not Spanish and it shouldn’t be taught “just like” Spanish, even if there’s no literacy involved. (I speak and teach both, so I think I can say this with confidence.) Most of you “don’t worry” about tones because you’re not in it for the long haul. Even some people who are in-country will say they “don’t want to be corrected” because, well, that’s not how it’s done when teaching Spanish. But I’m pretty sure that if a student was consistently saying “terro” for “perro” in Spanish, the teacher would correct using an appropriate means, because that is simply not understandable to even a sympathetic native speaker. Correction isn’t just repeating the sound over and over — it’s helping the student to “get” the idea that saying it that way either carries no meaning or carries an unintended meaning. No one gets a special rabbit stamp for not ever being corrected — what they get is a longer route to worse language as they reinforce their own mistakes through premature output.

Oh, Chinese people always tell you “You speak such good Chinese?” You do realize that in Chinese culture, that’s code for “I can actually make out some of what you’re saying”, right? When you really do speak good Chinese, people stop commenting on it and just talk with you. Sometimes they go quite a ways into the conversation before realizing you’re actually speaking Chinese.

Fortunately, we do a number of things in Comprehended Input-based teaching of Chinese that both provide the advantages of “don’t correct me immersion” and give targeted support to the aspects of Chinese that new learners need support on. Particularly in an L1 environment, encouraging premature bad output is a recipe for disaster — and I have yet to see a learner of Chinese whose output, no matter how scaffolded, is good until the language is really acquired with sufficient input. This sort of belief gives results that make people consider Chinese a “hard” language and it’s why the attrition rates are so high.

Chinese is such a “sexy” demo language, and everybody wants to use the 15 words they learned from another demo, but I have yet to see a demo by a teacher who doesn’t actually teach Chinese that really addresses what we need to address in a real Chinese class — tones and literacy. And most of the Chinese spoken by these “demo” folks is nails-on-chalkboard bad. Literacy and tones CAN be addressed in a demo, but it requires knowing the language well and knowing how to teach it. Not addressing these is giving a very false impression. Or maybe I should start demoing in Spanish and just “not worrying” about conjugation?

Demos are wonderful. But please — take some thought for what you’re really saying about CI when you demo in a language you have little or no control over, and a language for which there will be teachers actually teaching that language watching — who take your demo as “how it’s done”.