Brandon Brown Veut un Chien

At the ACTFL convention in Boston this past November, I bought about 20 books from TPRS Books and Fluency Matters. One of the books was a simple reader intended for novice speakers of French called Brandon Brown Veut un Chien (Fluency Matters has this book in French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and Chinese and I think Russian as well) by Carol Gaab. On a lark, my nine-year-old son and I started reading it together. Before opening this book, the only French my son knew were numbers up to ten thanks to my continual playing of the Hamilton soundtrack and how to say “Bonjour” from the many times his sister forced him watch Beauty and the Beast. But other than that, he knew no French.

We’ve been reading the book a little bit each night and just finished Chapter Two. It is really amazing how much French he has picked up in such a short period of time. We went out to dinner with my parents and he spoke to them in French in relatively complete sentences for about three minutes. Everyone at the table was really impressed. What’s more, he is really enjoying reading the book and it doesn’t feel like work to him. And he is so proud of being able to speak in French and understand me when I speak to him. I’ve started speaking to him in French at least once a day in addition to the reading.

This little anecdote to me illustrates the incredible power of using comprehensible input to acquire language. To quote the Monkees, I’m a believer!

Next up – I’m going to try to read the same book translated into Italian to brush up on my own language skills. My Italian is sooooo rusty.

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Comprehensible Input 

If you look at the “About” page of my blog, you will see that I have abandoned traditional teaching methods in favor of teaching using comprehensible input (CI) strategies. However, I don’t really explain what comprehensible input is.

Before I explain about CI, I must first say that I am in no way an expert in this field. Stephen Krashen is an expert in this field. So is Bill Van Patten. So are many other distinguished scholars too numerous to mention here. I am only a measly amateur. I do not have a background in SLA and will not be insulted if you decide to leave this blog to read about what the experts have to say on this subject. But for those of you that decide to stick around, here is my understanding of CI as it relates to language acquisition.

According to Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition, being exposed to language (input) that is comprehensible is how people acquire language. The input can be either written or spoken and must be at an appropriate level for the language acquirer to understand. Furthermore, people acquire more language when exposed to a level of language that is only slightly higher than their current level. Krashen refers to this as “i + 1,” where the i stands for the current level of acquisition.

An example of the power of comprehensible input can be found in this publication. In it, Krashen talks about meeting a Mexican immigrant named Armando. At the time of their meeting, Armando had been living in California for 12 years. During almost the entire time that Armando had been living in the US, he had been working in an Israeli restaurant, where he learned to speak Hebrew so well that, upon hearing a recording of him speaking the language, two Israelis thought he was a native speaker. Keep in mind that the man had never taken a course in Hebrew! This is a prime example of the power of comprehensible input and why it is so essential in acquiring  language.

My professional goal as a teacher is that using CI strategies in my classroom will lead to positive outcomes for my students. While I don’t expect them to have as much success as Armando learning Hebrew, my hope is that they will progress as they acquire language and will be as successful, if not more so, in my classroom than in a traditional grammar and vocabulary based classroom. I’ll let you all know how it goes.