how we acquire language: compelling (not just interesting) input

We know that the study of grammatical rules and vocabulary memorization can be so boring. That’s why many teachers nowadays are trying to make their teaching a bit more fun by adding some game activities in their lesson, and use fresh graphics in their presentation slides.

This (gamification and fresh graphics) approach is exactly what many language learning apps are trying to do as well (e.g. Duolingo and Babbel). They want to make language learning less boring by using some gamified learning processes and interesting graphics in their applications.

Indeed, gamification can add some fun, and cute graphics can seem interesting. But the problem of this approach is basically sugar-coating. It coats the boring content of the language learning (meaningless grammatical rules a nd vocabulary memorization) with the some games and graphics, so that the students would want to consume it.

Instead of focusing on making the language content intrinsically interesting in itself, this approach depends on the extrinsic to make the content less boring.

A fundamentally new approach to language education: acquisition

Instead of using some extrinsic tricks, coating and rewards, we want to help students completely engaged and stay motivated by using the intrinsic power of the language itself, that is by using great stories, meaningful conversations and language-rich activities around it.

So, the story we select has to be interesting, or better: it has to be compelling.

Compelling story/conversation/activity is one that is so meaningful and so powerful, that it can engage us completely into it. Imagine the moment when we were lost in a compelling story, our sense of self and sense of time was diminished: Only the story existed. The language faded into the background, and we temporarily forgot that it was in another language!

Compelling story/conversation/activity is one that can help establish “flow state,” which is a mental state in which students are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process.

This flow state is the optimal state for our brain to acquire language and knowledge. The more engaged we are, the greater the input we can subconsciously acquire.

Vice versa: if our students are not engaged, their brain won’t acquire the language. They feel bored, disengaged and thus wander to find another thing that can hook their attention. And if such disengagement happens perpetually, they might filter out and eventually dislike the language entirely (and perhaps get labeled as inattentive, unmotivated, talkative, etc.).

The Compelling (not just interesting) Input Hypothesis, Stephen Krashen

is error correction helpful for developing fluency?

“The major, who had been the great fencer, did not believe in bravery, and spent much time while we sat in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed like such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. “Ah yes,” the major said, “Why then, do you not take up the use of grammar?” So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind.”

(E. Hemmingway, In Another Country)

Some research shows that when we focus on rules when speaking, we produce less information, and we slow down. This can seriously disrupt conversation. Some people “over-monitor” and are so concerned with grammar and accuracy that speech is slow and even painful to produce as well as to listen to.

So if we want to speak fluently, then over-actively checking everything for grammar before it gets out of our mouth is going to be a hindrance rather than a help. It makes us anxious and it slows down our language production.

One of the primary functions of student output is to let the teacher know where students are in terms of their acquisition. If the teacher notices students having difficulty in speaking with fluency, then the first thing to consider might be to provide them more input so they may acquire and develop greater intuition of the language. Once they begin to feel click with language, they will be able to tap for fluent self-expression.

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