Language Myths and Truths

One of my favourite parts of TPRS is that it is a teaching method that is based on what actually works in the foreign language classroom. Jack Taylor at TPRS Japan has written a wonderful blog post that sums up the most important theories behind why TPRS works so well.
In this post, he talks about nine language myths that are prevalent in schools today. I have summarized his ideas below and added nine equivalent language truths in order to remind myself the key points that I need to know in order to help students acquire a language.

Myths

  1. If students don’t know grammar, they won’t be able to speak.
  2. Correcting students’ errors improves their language skills.
  3. Students improve by speaking the language.
  4. If students don’t study hard, they won’t learn the language.
  5. Writing new words many times is the best way to remember new vocabulary.
  6. Students need a lot of time to practice writing before they can form correct sentences.
  7. The best way to teach reading is to do it in class.
  8. Teachers should save difficult grammar rules until students have mastered the easier ones.
  9. Total immersion in the language is the fastest way to become fluent.

Truths

  1. Real speech is subconscious and is immune to the effects of direct instruction.
  2. Grammar correction not only does not help students to improve, but causes them to focus more on grammar and lowers their motivation, resulting in a decrease in fluency.
  3. Input, not output, is the key to fluency. Speaking should not be the main focus of language-learning.
  4. Studying grammar rules does not help with real communication.
  5. Learning words in context and in different ways (ie. written, spoken) helps students learn vocabulary better than memorizing lists.
  6. Real writing ability is subconscious and comes from having lots of reading input.
  7. Free voluntary reading (which can be done outside of class) is the method that produces the best gains in vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and writing.
  8. Subconscious grammar rules are learned in roughly the same order by everyone and this order is based on how much the rule affects meaning. Therefore, give students a wide range of comprehensible input and don’t try to shelter students from “hard” grammar.
  9. Immersion is not necessarily the best way for beginners to learn because it is not comprehensible and can pressure students to speak before they are ready.


Discovering TPRS

I first came across the TPRS method at the end of my final teaching practicum. I had only been teaching high school Italian and Spanish for about seven weeks, and I was already exhausted and stressed out beyond belief. During my practicum, I taught using a textbook, and my method was simply to plod along through the pages and pages of grammar explanations and related activities. Every once in awhile, I had the students do some sort of a project (ie. designing a birthday invitation, drawing their ideal house, presenting their favourite foods to the class, putting on a skit, etc.) I also tried to integrate communicative activities that I had been taught in my methods class, such as information gaps, interviews, role play, games, and pair work. Each unit would then be followed up by a test in which the students were expected to know and use all the vocabulary and grammar they had been taught. This was the way which I was taught in high school, and at first I didn’t consider doing anything differently. Continue reading