Todd & A Series On CI (Part 10): Forms Of Input – Using L2 To Make Sense Of L2

This week I showed students some music videos of Ecuadorian pan flutist, Leo Rojas.

leo rojas

Since they had never seen or heard anything like it, they were intrigued!

After playing the video for 90 seconds (or so):

  • I paused the video.
  • I pointed to the musician and his instruments on the video screen.
  • Shaking my head I said (in the target language), “The music…The music…The music is NOT…The music is NOT…”
  • (Then, I started walking towards the Puerto Rican flag while shaking my head.)
  • “…the music is NOT from Puerto Rico.” (I pointed to the Puerto Rican flag.)
  • I continued, “The music is NOT from Mexico.” (I pointed to the Mexican flag.)
  • “The music is NOT from Cuba.”  (I pointed to the Cuban flag.)
  • I continued shaking my head, “no,” while walking to the white board.
  • When I got to the white board, I started shaking my head, YES and saying/writing the following TL phrase, “The music is from…Ecuador.”

Immediately after writing the sentence on the board I said, “Look class,” and proceeded to open Google Earth to show them Ecuador’s location on the globe.

They loved it!  I even showed some pictures of Ecuadorian landscape (available on Google Earth) while another Leo Rojas song was playing.

I didn’t speak any L1, yet every student was engaged, attentive, and understanding everything that was happening.

How did this happen?  How did I make it comprehensible?

1- The incomprehensible L2 words were written on the board:

“The music is NOT from Puerto Rico.”

“The music is from Ecuador.”

2- I made the L2 words for, “the music,” comprehensible by pointing to an image of Leo Rojas and his flutes.  (Pairing* L2 with representational input*.)

3- I made the L2 words for, “Puerto Rico/Mexico/Cuba,” comprehensible by pointing to the flags as well as their locations on Google Earth.  (Pairing* L2 with representational input*.)

4- I made the L2 word for, “NOT,” comprehensible by shaking my head, “no.”  (Pairing* L2 with gesticulated input*.)

5- That leaves two unpaired words.  The L2 words for, “is,” and, “from,” really didn’t need to be paired* in order for my students to infer meaning.  Why not?  My guess is that the incomprehensible words became sufficiently meaningful at the moment when enough of the surrounding L2 words had obvious meaning.

Which leads me to the simple point that I’d like to make in this post.  (Even though it’s an obvious point, I include it here because in this blog series I’ve been trying to delineate a comprehensive list of ways that students can find meaning in an L2 immersion environment.)

Another way that students can find meaning is by inferring meaning from surrounding, comprehensible L2 words.  (aka “context clues”)

I’m aware of 3 specific ways (although I’m guessing there’s more):

1-  Synonyms.  A student may, initially, be confused by an unfamiliar L2 word.  However once a comprehensible L2 synonym is paired* with it, the student easily finds the necessary meaning.

2-  Context.  A student may not know all of the words in an L2 sentence.  However, if he knows enough of them, he can infer sufficient meaning in order to “get by.”

3-  Simple Definitions.  (Or “Using L2 To Make Sense Of L2.”)  I picked the term “Simple Definitions” although I’m unsure of what term to use for this third point.  It’s not ‘circumlocution’ is it???  I need some of you to help me out with this concept by writing in the comments section below.  I think circumlocution is when a person intentionally uses more/extra words instead of using fewer, more precise words.  I guess the obvious foreign language classroom application of this would be an L2 student learning to use lots of extra words to try to describe something he/she can’t find the precise word(s) for.  (BTW I just found this neat archived #langchat summary posted by Calico Spanish on this topic.)

If that’s what circumlocution means, that’s not what I’m looking for.

I’m looking for a term to describe how a teacher will use familiar, simpler words (which aren’t synonyms) to help students find the meaning of a more complex word.  Sort of like a dictionary definition, except using very informal language instead of formal language.  I’m thinking of how I help my daughters learn new L1 words.  When there’s a word they don’t know, I don’t pull out dictionary definitions.  However I DO use simple L1 words to explain unfamiliar L1 words/concepts.  The other day my daughter asked, “Daddy what does, “getting carried away,” mean?”  I said, “It means when a person doesn’t know when to stop.  Like if two friends are wrestling, they get, “carried away” when they wrestle so much, and so ROUGH, that they start knocking down all the things in the living room and wrestle so much that one of them get’s hurt.”

Anyway.  That’s enough rambling.  I think the simple point of the post is clear:

L2 teachers can help students find meaning in an L2 immersion by using familiar L2 words to make sense of unfamiliar L2 words.

*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.

The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
  • …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
  • …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.


 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

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