Recently, a university professor posted to the ACTFL Teacher Development SIG discussion board*, expressing concern about whether TPRS materials “provide authentic language / culture” and whether “the approach is able to address all five Cs.” I enjoyed reading the comments on the board and appreciated the thoughtful responses. (Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Mike Coxon, Laurie Clarcq, Jan Kittok, Lynda Fine, Karen Lichtman, Jeena Canche, etc.) There are a few topics that were brought to light, the original of which was a question about two unique aspects to teaching languages: “TPRS approach and curriculum.” First, in terms of “approach,” Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell pointed out that meeting ACTFL’s World Readiness Standards (5 Cs) is “entirely up to the design and choice of the teacher.” An approach provides a set of strategies to teach; it does not dictate WHAT is taught.
Curriculum is another topic entirely. The question is ‘Are there ANY materials suitable/comprehensible to a novice learner that address World Readiness Standards?’ In terms of CI-centered/TPRS materials, there are a wide range comprehensible readers (also known as TPRS novels) available in all genres. Many are based on true stories, actual events, history, culture, modern-day issues and other real-life topics. There are also mysteries, science-fiction adventures, suspenseful stories, dramas, etc. which provide the teacher with an almost limitless number of connections to be made to culture, real-life, content, etc. A skilled teacher’s instruction can encompass all 5 Cs regardless of the material/curriculum used. Obviously, some materials provide more support than others, and it’s up to each practitioner to determine what materials, if any, s/he needs to help him/her teach effectively.
Another topic mentioned is “authentic” materials (known on Twitter as #authres), written by a native for a native. I enjoyed reading Eckhard Kuhn-Osius‘ post, in which he says “the language that parents use would rarely be classified as authentic.” In L1, caregivers provide youngsters with specific simplified input, geared to their cognitive level, their age, their interests and their state of readiness. Humans’ beginning stages of communication generally revolve around things that are relevant to the learner and based on the learner’s experience/ background knowledge. With that in mind, I have never known a mother to read Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway to her baby. Rather, she reads Eric Carle, Joy Cowley and Shel Silverstein.
SLA research indicates that most L2 learners rarely, if ever, achieve native-like competence. If that’s the case, it could be argued that the output provided by completely proficient bilingual individuals with less-than-native-like competence is not “authentic.” When Mark Zuckerberg spoke Chinese to an audience in Beijing, his less-than-native-like speech prompted laughter and a bit of ‘sympathetic’ listening by native speakers. Were his words any less “authentic” because he could not produce like a native speaker? When asked how he learned Chinese, he said, “My wife is Chinese.” Do you think that the Chinese he acquired was through his wife’s/ in-laws’ insistence on exposing him to “authentic materials” or through a great deal of simplified input (caregiver speech) and sympathetic listening? (NOTE: I am NOT opposed to using ‘bits’ of authentic materials in meaningful purposeful ways, but I am opposed to contrived/forced use of #authres just because some may have an opinion that authentic is best.)**
These topics, although interesting, are a bit distracting to the fundamental purpose of language teaching: to facilitate acquisition / help students develop proficiency in the target language. There is one key element found among every single successful language learner, and that is Comprehensible Input. The question then should be: How can teachers provide CI in relevant, communicative ways that will facilitate acquisition and lead to proficiency? And what materials and/or resources are available to assist with this endeavor?
*If you are not a member of the Teacher Development SIG (Special Interest Group), consider joining. It’s just an additional $5 to your ACTFL membership. http://community.actfl.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer?GroupId=259&UserKey=04ec98d5-292b-40a7-afa8-726090967263&sKey=9E8636E9446C4C4CA752
**I use scads of #authres in my ESL classroom, and my colleagues, Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth, and Martina Bex share great strategies for incorporating #authres in comprehensible and meaningful ways into their Spanish instruction/curriculum. Visit their blogs: