This school year I am using Story Listening and Reading exclusively. No grammar drills. No vocabulary practice. No writing. No speaking exercises. In fact not once did I ask them to speak in German. Cue concerned feedback: "But how will they know how to speak?" - "But will they ever speak?" - "How can you speak if you don't practice it?"
The answer is always the same. They will speak when they are ready to. I don't discourage speaking, I just let them choose the timing. It emerges naturally.
Don't think that's true? Meet two of my students. The following videos were recorded at home in response to a voluntary challenge. The challenge was to watch a video from class and take some toys and stuffed animals, rebuild a scene from the story they chose and then take a photo of it. Notice: Again I did not ask for any speaking.
Here is a short description of the two students:
Age: 8yo/ 9yo
German: total beginner at start of school year with no prior German experience
School: International School in Germany, language: English
Outside German: no other German classes, little input from life in Germany as they are mostly surrounded by English and native language. Not involved in German teams, clubs, etc.
Home country: India
Here are the videos they recorded:
These videos show what these kids are able to produce after 21 hours of instructions that included 28 stories (535min). The stories the children are retelling can be found here:
*Das kleine Blau und das kleine Gelb continued for another 2 minutes that were sent separately and not shown here.
Friday was my first day with my class this year. As I am still completing my MA program, I am only teaching grade 4 beginners this school year. I have 14 students so far, which is great for class, but not so great for the up coming research. However, I was super excited about starting the school year and teaching kids again. This year I am starting the class of with Story Listening right away. Of course during the first class, we made sure the kids are in the right level and we spent some time getting to know each other. I learned that, for the first time ever, I have a beginner class in which ALL students speak English. I actually have a common language!
At the end of the class, I wanted to do one quick story, just to give them an idea of what's to come. So after talking a bit about what we will do in class and some expectations, I did Alvin Schwartz "In a dark, dark room".
This last year, I have posted once or twice about giving and receiving Story Listening lessons. At the end of last year Alice Ayel and I decided to do a tandem and teach each other German and Spanish respectively through Story Listening. It's a great opportunity to gain language and also use the lessons to work on your teaching skills. I have written more about this experience here.
Since the whole premise of the underlying Input Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen is that language acquisition is subconscious you wait and wonder if your language is improving. A good teacher doesn't let you struggle with comprehension, so the fact that I am comprehending is a mixture of great teaching and gains in language abilities. So how can I tell I am indeed improving?
Thank you to everyone who came to one or both of my sessions at the Agen workshop this last week. As promised you will find all the links I referred to in my presentation here. You can also see the video from my class below. The clips show the high level of student engagement during a Story Listening lesson. The students produce completely unforced and spontaneous German output (they started classes at the end of August and this lesson is from November or December) and are entranced by the drawings. You can hear the laughter we share and the connections we're building. More of my lessons are posted on YouTube and come August I will post more regularly so my students can watch them at home if they choose too or if they missed a class.
Thank you for all your nice feedback and attention and for staying conscious and attentive even in the 40C+ heat in the room. It was a pleasure. Feel free to write a comment, would be lovely to hear from you. <3
Ever wonder why every language teacher you ever had tells you NOT to use Google translate or other translation software? Why should we even learn another language when there is software for it? Well, maybe this translation from Google Translate gives you an idea why:
Just recently I became a student in two language classes again. I started a tandem Story Listening class with Alice Ayel, who is teaching me Spanish, while I teach her German. At the same time, I have started to take an online French class as part of my Masters of English Studies program. I am excited to take both because I believe that a teacher, who stops learning is like a cook who stops eating. So here is my taste test.
While both classes have a listening comprehension focus, they are fundamentally different in their approach and in how they effect me as a learner. Let's start with the attributes they have in common:
"Just listen and observe. Follow the story, don't focus on every single word.
Make sure your ears and eyes are with me. Relax and enjoy."
This is my set up to story listening. This powerful method to deliver CI, has been developed and tested out extensively by Beniko Mason. I first saw her demonstrate what she does in Agen, France last summer. I was really intrigued, but also confused about where to start and nervous about being able to make sure it's comprehensible AND enjoyable to my students. And then, I just leaped, searching and prepping stories to my students' level.
But before I talk about all the things I like about it, here is a simple description of what it is that I recently posted on Ben Slavic's PLC:
The method is rather simple. You simplify a story so that you know your students should be able to understand it. Then you tell the story to the students and as you’re telling it you draw on the board what is happening, some key words and figures. You also add writing so that they can see the words they need. They are written in L2, sometimes in L1 underneath, but then you wipe away L1 to not cause interference.
The student’s’ job is to follow the story as a whole. It is NOT to teach anything to mastery. The goal is to tell the story so the students can understand and follow the major events and details. You can follow this up with reading the story or activities but you don’t have to.
I have been very spoiled this year with two TPRS conferences within a few months. I am happy to have been invited to present in Amersfoort in the Netherlands. Three days for 2 hours each, I taught a small group of 4 students beginner German. After some beginning difficulties for the students to understand the translations (as I went into English, but the students were Dutch, not giving us a common language), we were off to create One Word Images together, which we later put into stories (á la Ben Slavic and his Invisibles).
After going to Agen, France this summer to participate in the week long TPRS workshop (can we rename this to thinkshop or something like that, because it certainly made me think, but it never felt like work) my head was buzzing for weeks, it still has not stopped. The post “I don’t hate French anymore” was the immediate result of this. Now, a few weeks later, I am back in school and once again, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned.
I have always taught using TPRS (asides from about 2 frustrated weeks in my first year and another couple weeks in my first ES year). The methodology spoke to me like nothing else did, simply because it created a classroom environment that I would have loved as a student. My mentor, Eva Kaufmann, who introduced me to TPRS during my student observations had such engaged kids, it amazed me. I mean, these German threes came into class, immediately switching to German and reading Harry Potter in German in their spare time. Whaaat? That’s how I improved my English AFTER school (Disney movies in English and YA books is where it’s at!) and here these 15/16 year olds have it all figured out. She also had a student, who was in the lifeskill program, who loved her class and had learned, excuse me, ACQUIRED so much! So yes, I knew right away, this was for me and I just jumped in. I never had any training asides from observing Eva and reading the “green bible.” I bought Michael Miller’s Sabine und Michael curriculum and off I was.
I don’t hate French anymore
If anyone would have asked me a week ago if I would like to learn French, I would have said: “Thank you, but no thank you.” Why? Because I was a self-proclaimed French language hater. I didn’t enjoy the way the language sounded and had no interest in learning it. Spanish, Swedish, yes, but French? No, thank you. Then I came to Agen, France for the CI/TPRS conference. I was set on observing Spanish lessons all week, because just as much as I had no interest in learning French, I really wanted to learn Spanish. I love the sound of it and I liked my Spanish class in College. I had Spanish for about 4 months and I felt successful in those 4 months. I had French for two years in grade 7 & 8 and I absolutely hated it. I barely passed the class and was thrilled to abandon it when I could. I don’t remember much from my French class. I remember long vocabulary list, flashcards, that are still somewhere in my mom’s house catching dust and freaking out over the accents that accompanied some of the French letters. What I felt when I thought of French is a certain level of anxiety that I couldn’t really explain, but that made me say for the past 20 years: I hate French.