The Staying Power of Comprehensible Input

Today I was walking down the hall at school with a cup of coffee in my hand (my third of the day and it was not yet noon. It had been a late night). One of my former students of French walked by and said, in near perfect French: 

“Bonjour Madame ! Oh, j’adore le cafe ! Je suis triste parce que je n’ai pas de cafe. Tu as de la chance !” (Hi Madame ! Oh, I love coffee! I’m sad because I don’t have coffee. You are lucky!)

Now this particular student is not taking French this year. He took it last year with another teacher who teaches explicitly and had me for two years in classes where I taught with comprehensible input (CI). These sentences in French that he shared with me are pretty simple, but they still impressed me greatly. Here’s why:

1. He remembered that in French one has to use a definite article when talking about things we hate, love, like, or prefer, even though  in English the article is omitted.

2. He remembered that indefinite articles become de in a negative sentence.

3. He remembered that being lucky in French is an idiomatic expression where we say that one has luck.

Now to be precise, he should have addressed me formally with vous instead of tu but that is a pretty common mistake with all my students. As they would say, “No big.” I was absolutely floored by his spontaneous speech and how correct it was, and since I know that he did very little speaking in his French class with the traditional teacher last year, I am going to take most of, if not all of, the credit for his language production. I believe that the reason this student was able to produce those sentences is because they were lodged in his long-term memory after two years of stories in my class where we talked about people who loved certain things but were sad because they did not have them. Moreover, I do not believe for a second that this student was consciously thinking about those three rules of grammar when he spoke to me in the hallway. His language was 100% spontaneous.

At a TPRS workshop I attended, Blaine Ray referenced research saying that the average language student needs to hear things in the target language anywhere between 50-70 times before s/he can add it to his or her mental representation of language. It’s all about the reps, or repetitions. The goal of those of us who teach with CI is to repeat high frequency words and expressions as many times as possible, which greatly increases the likelihood that students wil be able to retain them. In this case, I was especially impressed that his student was able to come up with these sentences after not being in a French classroom since last June, and not in a CI classroom for almost two years. That language is still there and the student can access it!

It’s times like this that I am just floored by the power of CI. CI helps students acquire and retain language more efficiently than any other approach out there. In short, it works! 

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