Hearing, with understanding – the key!

Our school recently dedicated an afternoon of professional development TO teacher-led workshops.  As soon as I read the call for volunteers, I knew I needed to offer a taste of second language acquisition through CI or comprehensible input to those colleagues who might want to know more. The other WL teachers are primarily grammar-focused, although they include varying degrees of conversational language in their daily classes, which I’m assuming is comprehensible.

I follow two WL CI Facebook groups and one focuses on Story Listening.  The concept is simple.  We acquire language over time through hearing with understanding.  If you’re familiar with your Bible, you’ll recognize something similar that Paul teaches in Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Just as hearing (or reading) and grasping what Jesus has done for us strengthens our faith, so too reading or hearing some communication AND understanding the message is the way language gets wired into our brains naturally.

What did I do with the 45 minutes of time allotted to me?   I spent the first 10 minutes sharing my journey from textbook, grammar-focused French and German teacher to CI practitioner over the past 26 years.  In my experience, America’s Education Schools train World Language teachers the same way as they did 50 years ago.  And textbook companies are complicit.  Grammar reigns.

Since I reckoned that no one knew much German, I planned and practiced a demo in German.  First I wrote out a simple German version of a fairytale, Romeo and Juliette.  I practiced my stick figures and found images for objects I knew I couldn’t draw – like a dagger and the well-known symbol for poison.

Then I found some research summarizing the differences between learning about a second language and acquiring another language.

I practiced twice, bought a clip for my iPhone, borrowed a microphone stand from my husband and took some deep breaths.  It’s one thing to teach kids and quite another level of stress when presenting to colleagues.

My goal and hope was to present accurately a GOOD sample of CI, done well.  I wanted to showcase the power of acquiring through understanding.

What pleased me was that 2 attendees came who had no connection with us world language teachers.  And a very kind middle school colleague offered to provide a friendly, reassuring face.

What did I learn?

  • I DO speak slow enough for students new to a language I’m presenting. (that was a relief)
  • Always set up the iPhone horizontally and not vertically (I knew better!)
  • Not everyone will be convinced that teaching with CI, as opposed to introducing and practicing a rule with subsequent testing of the rule, is the most effective way to help learners acquire language and feel confident in speaking.

I’m pleased that I advocated for what both best practices AND my experience have shown to be effective AND enjoyable in helping others acquire a second language.


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