Being In Diapers & Staying In The Target Language

I talked with my students about diapers during our last session of the school year.

I switched into using L1 so that I could debrief with them about why I teach L2 the way I do.  Here’s what I told them:

“You guys do a great job!  I’m very proud of what you do every time you walk into my class.  You’re learning a lot.  AND you are learning in a very special way.  You are learning like you’re in diapers.”

(I paused to let the awkwardness of the statement take its effect.)

“Yes.  You are learning like you’re in diapers.  Here’s what I mean.  I try to teach you L2 like I’m your mom and like you’re in diapers.  You see, when you were a baby and still crawling around the floor, you were learning your first words.  Maybe you didn’t even realize that you were learning how to talk, but you were.  You said things like, “Dada,” “Mama,” “potty,” and “drink.”  To help you learn them, your mom didn’t use flashcards.  Your mom didn’t give you homework.  When you were in diapers she didn’t have you repeat your words 5 times each.  She didn’t have you write them 10 times on a piece of paper.

You learned your first words without trying to learn them.  You learned them without realizing you were learning them.  You could almost say that you learned your first words by accident.

That’s how I’m trying to teach you L2.  Some of you might feel like L2 class with Sr. Howard is just fun.  We don’t copy spelling words.  We don’t have lots of homework.  We don’t stare at each other and repeat vocabulary words 7 times.  Your hand doesn’t get tired from copying lists of words.  That makes some of you feel like we don’t do “learning kinds of things” in here.  But that’s not true.  Everything I do with you is on purpose.  Every single thing we do, from the moment you walk down the hall towards my room, is on purpose.  I’m always trying to help you learn L2 words the way you learned your first words when you were in diapers.  If you watch me…if you stare at me whenever you’re in here…if you realize that everything I’m doing is on purpose, you’ll have hundreds of chances to learn L2 EVERY TIME you see me.  And you don’t have to copy, you don’t have to do packets of worksheets, you don’t have to do lots of memorizing.  L2 class is like T.V.: all you have to do is watch.  Next year, if you keep doing these same things, you’ll have hundreds of chances to keep learning L2 every time you walk through these doors.

Some of you know what I’m talking about because you’re surprised that you’ve said so much in L2 this year.  You’ve said things like _________”  (Then I recall some of the amazing things that students have started to say in L2 this year.)  “You’ve learned all of these things without even trying.  Keep watching me and you’ll learn L2 the way you learned when you were in diapers.”

That was my motivational speech and it’s based on their ability to pay attention and my ability to meaningfully and repeatedly *pair comprehensible input with incomprehensible L2 input.  It’s fun.  It’s natural.  It’s easy for the students.  It’s producing exciting results.

*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.

 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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4 thoughts on “Being In Diapers & Staying In The Target Language

    • Yes. Rule #1 – Watch. Rule #2 – Quiet. I should write more about this topic…because it is so important. But in short: UNENFORCED RULES MAKE CLASSROOM RULES A TEACHER’S WORST ENEMY. So if you’re going to have rules…don’t have too many. …and make sure they are simple rules and rules that you are willing to reinforce EVERY time. The rules I chose to have are rules that help focus my students attention on every instance of PAIRING. My rules essentially eliminate competing forms of input…so that there is space in my students’ fields of attention to process each time I pair the forms of extralinguistic input with the incomprehensible pieces of the target language. Thanks for your question…and for inspiring me to write more about this topic.

      • I also have a huge question wall devoted to printouts of the most commonly asked questions students have.

        Rule: To maximize learning, ask questions IN L2. At first this will always rely on guidance from the teacher, but by November, students are asking Can I have a tissue, or can I go to the bathroom, go to the office, sharpen my pencil, throw this away, etc, in the target language from memory!

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