Skip to main content

Help! Comprehensible input is not working for me!

I don't get it.

I've watched two series of The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen and Follow the Money (all Danish or Swedish/Danish series with English subtitles). I understood what people said and everything that happened. That's many hours of comprehensible input. Great TV too.

And yet... I cannot understand any Danish (apart from the the odd swear word). I occasionally repeat things to amuse myself and my wife, but I can barely say a word. Comprehensible input failed miserably.

This is not really to dismiss CI, of course, but just a reminder that understanding language with the aid of subtitles is an inefficient way of learning a language. It's also a reminder to teachers that showing a film in the target language to near beginners or low intermediate pupils does little to directly further acquisition. It may serve other very useful purposes, such as giving an insight into culture and contributing to general motivation, but it's a very inefficient way to teach a language to inexperienced learners.

If you want to use film with new linguists you might have a look at Sara-E Cottrell's blog post about scaffolding Spanish film for 'Novice-Mid' students (the ACTFL's term).

http://musicuentos.com/2016/04/places-to-plans/

She describes her approach thus:

"It is a bridge between the aural input and the oral output, a middle piece in that continuum where on one end they’re passively listening to comprehensible input and on the other end they’re accomplishing a performance task in the target language."

You can read her blog for more detail.

If you want whole films to seriously help with acquisition it generally makes sense to begin with high intermediate students who have acquired enough language to be able to begin to decipher the rapid stream of language they hear. Even then, I would choose films in which characters speak clearly and relatively slowly, preferably with pauses which allow students to process what they have heard. This is when comprehensible input can have its effect.

So with subtitles input can be comprehensible, but not usefully comprehensible. As strong proponents of CI rightly say, input needs to be at the student's level, or just above it. This is common sense.

For lots of ideas on how to exploit film with advanced students you might find this useful:

http://www.frenchteacher.net/teachers-guide/teaching-film/





Comments

  1. Great point, Steve, even if somewhat cheekily made :)

    I don't know of anyone--theorist, researcher, or teacher--who would consider TL language that is synchronously translated via subtitles to constitute comprehensible input. If you couldn't understand without subtitles, then, by definition, it wasn't comprehensible input for you. (There's also the practical fact that, even with two languages one knows quite well, it's extremely hard simultaneously to attend to audio in one and subtitles in the other.)

    The actual point of your post, "that understanding language with the aid of subtitles is an inefficient way of learning a language," is quite true, and I agree that consumption of media intended for a native-speaker audience is unlikely to be efficient for Novice or even many Intermediate learners.

    The more general implication--if you want something to provide the benefits of comprehensible input, then you'll need to actually comprehend it--is worth repeating!

    By the way, a number of teachers in the USA have begun using the Spanish show El Internado with 1st year students, and have thought through the issues involved (issues that apply for other languages, too) quite thoroughly. I have mixed feelings about this myself, but you might be interested in Dustin Williamson's collection of his own and others' relevant posts: https://williamsonci.com/el-internado-resources/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting. Those El Internado resources look interesting. A lot of work by a number of teachers has gone into those. I suppose that, even if the language is inherently too fast, the back-up work and motivational aspects make it very worthwhile. We used to use an old BBC French series called Le Café des Rêves, but that was written specifically for learners and would a good semi-authentic resource. I can't imagine ever using a real TV series myself.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…