• Mindset and language learning

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 2/18/2020 10:00:00 AM

    I used to work with a gentleman who would tell his students, “European kids are not smarter than you, they just see multiple languages as a lifestyle and prioritize learning them.” This is a version of the mindset phenomenon, the idea that what we think about our abilities and the likelihood of improving them guides our chances of success. Today’s blog post comes from a re-reading the book Mindset: The new psychology of success, by Carol Dweck. I read the book when it was first published and decided to pick it up again a few days ago. And I am so glad I did. You see, I don’t necessarily believe in a language gene, an inherent trait that makes us good or bad language learners. Although I admit that the research on learner characteristics is quite interesting, I really think that anyone who is determined and motivated can learn a new language. 

    Carol Dweck tells us, “You don’t have to think you’re already great at something to want to do it and to enjoy doing it” (p. 53). This is the starting point, isn’t it? We first have to believe that learning a language is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. This belief will help us to persevere when we come across difficult material, like the subjunctive. The idea that I am in learning mode, and that learning comes from making mistakes, helps us to avoid the need to be perfect at the first attempt. If we view learning a language as an enjoyable journey, we will accept feedback - even the corrective kind - as tips on how to improve. In other words, a glass-half-full approach is more likely to result in actual learning than the half-empty outlook. 

    The glass-half-empty view seeps into our subconscious and tells us that this is too hard, that other people have natural gifts that we do not possess, that we have always struggled with learning a language, and that no matter how hard we try, we will never be fluent. But Dweck believes that the growth mindset “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (p. 7). The word ‘cultivate’ is used quite intentionally, I believe, because it implies that success takes time and grit, trial and error, feedback and reinforcement. 

    One of my favorite quotes from Mindset is, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset” (p. 7). This is because learning a language is not about being perfect and making no mistakes. It’s about meeting a linguistic benchmark and then immediately reaching out to the next one. And when we trip and fall linguistically, it’s about dusting ourselves off and trying again until we succeed. There is no end goal, no final destination in language learning. The growth-mindset learners understand this. Everyone has a different definition and measuring stick for what it means to be fluent in another language. Growth-mindsetters accept this, they keep learning, making mistakes, learning again, exploring, getting lost, getting back on the learning journey. This is what makes them great, not a language-learning gene, but rather a language-learning mindset, just like the students my former colleague knew very well. He made his comments to me many years ago, even before Mindset was published. He was on to something.  


    14 February 2020

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  • Take advantage: gifts and talents

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 8/26/2019 8:00:00 AM

    I wonder when the children of famous people actually realize that their parents are indeed famous. Take a superstar athlete, for example. When do his or her children understand that mom or dad has adoring fans, that they can accomplish on the field of competition what not many people are able to do? Perhaps these children have a sense of this early on, when fans come over for an autograph or when complete strangers want to take a selfie with his or her parent. But maybe for most of early childhood they think this is normal. It is, after all, what they grew up observing, it is what they know. So, it may not be until age six or seven, maybe, that the children of famous people begin to understand the unique talents and gifts that their parents have. 

    In the language classroom, a similar phenomenon takes place. It takes our students a little while to understand the gifts they have in front of them on a daily basis. Most teachers will not be interrupted by his or her fans while out to dinner, so they can autograph a book. The work of teachers is indeed admirable, but perhaps not many educators are stopped at the mall by adoring fans, asking for a picture on a cell phone. Teachers should get this kind of celebrity treatment, but most of them know and accept that their impact is much deeper than a freethrow at the end of a game or a last-second field goal. And they are very much aware that their influence is everlasting and life-changing, and that it lives on within each student long after they have left their classroom or even graduated. Perhaps teachers are not at the level of celebrity as famous athletes or movie stars, but they have indeed unique gifts and talents that have an impact on students every single day. 

    My hope for this year is for our students to understand and take advantage of the gifts and talents that each of their teachers bring to the classroom. Learning a language is a process that requires interaction with the subject area. It’s not enough just to learn about the language. Students actually have to interact in the language in order for deep learning to take place. Classmates are a great resource for this, but teachers are indeed the best of resources. The unfortunate situation is that, just like the child of a famous person, many students don’t realize the gifts and talents that are in front of the classroom every day. Teachers not only know the language inside-and-out, they know how to teach it. They know what you need, when you need it, and when it’s time to add to what you already know. They have faith in you, they build you up, and they understand where you are in the learning process. 

    Perhaps it’s hard to recognize that teachers do all these things because, just like the child of a celebrity, it’s what we have grown up with, it’s what we know. But when we stop and put the pieces together, our outlook changes. When we see what is in front of us - a highly educated expert who cares about us individually and about our learning - we start to realize that they are autograph-worthy, that their gifts and talents are available to us, and that we should take advantage. Yes, take advantage of all your language teacher knows. They are indeed experts in the language and its pedagogy. Just like the child of a celebrity, it’s a pretty cool realization when you come to understand the unique gifts and talents that have been there all along. Now, it’s time to learn from these gifts and talents. 

    -C. Torres

    26 August 2019

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  • Why learn a language?

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 8/14/2019 8:00:00 AM

    It is a fair question - why learn a language? When so many people are trying to learn English, when so frequently the language of business and science is English, when the de facto language of the internet is English. Why learn a language when online translators are getting better and better, when chances are that someone we meet from another country will already speak English, when a translation of important foreign books is just a few computer clicks away? It is a fair question - why learn a language in the 21st century? 

    A few years ago I may have found the question insensitive in nature. I would have pointed at the growth of the population of the target language or explained how reading literature in the original language is a much richer experience than reading someone else’s translation. I would have reminded the person that they are likely to receive better treatment abroad when they show respect for the locale by speaking in the local language. I would have even talked about my own experience and how I feel like prose should be read in one language and poetry should be read in another. But that’s more of a personal preference, than a real justification for learning a language. So, what is my current answer to the question - why learn a language?

    When you learn a language, you learn to be comfortable speaking in public. As you progress through a language program, your teachers will ask for more speaking in the target language as you move along. The tasks will go from simple presentations early in the process to more elaborate discussion-style conversations with others in your class. And this will allow you to develop and improve your public-speaking skills, which will come in handy when you have to pitch a project to your boss, when you have to convince a client to purchase your product, or when you are arguing a case in front of a jury. Even if you are doing these actions in English, your foreign-language class will have helped you with your fluency and fluidity, and your overall language-producing skills. 

    Learning a foreign language will also help you develop your collaborative skills. Because learning a language is inherently a social endeavor, oftentimes accompanied by group work and consensus building, you will sharpen your abilities to work with others. Reaching a compromise, delegating tasks, holding yourself and others accountable for their contributions to the group will all have a place in the language classroom, as well as your future employment. Whether you will be leading a group or collaborating in a group context, you will achieve better outcomes because of your practice and experience with these skills in the language classroom. 

    Comprehension skills are also sharpened when you take a foreign language. It adds up that we become better readers and can comprehend more complicated texts when we read more extensively. In other words, you don’t become a better reader by reading less. This makes foreign language classes valuable for those who will need high levels of comprehension in their future professions. If you envision a career in which interpreting difficult material, complicated instructions, or differing points of view are part of your daily work, foreign language classes can help you with these skills. In the language classroom you will encounter linguistic and cultural points of view that may be different than your own, and this in turn will help you to see how others construct their arguments, how they make comparisons, or how they present information. Of course, this applies to listening comprehension skills, too, which you will work on in a language class.  

    Experience with a foreign language will also enhance your awareness of the different roles that different words play in a sentence. This is a crucial skill to have if you will use any language in your future profession. Many contracts have been voided because of technicalities, legal cases overturned because of loopholes, and business deals collapsed because someone didn’t understand or overlooked the role of a word in a sentence - a verb tense, for example. Foreign language classes reinforce and even highlight the skill of word-role awareness, making you more acutely aware of language in general, not just the particular foreign language of study.  

    Pattern detection is another skill that foreign languages help you sharpen. Regular verbs and irregular verbs are just patterns and breaks of patterns, respectively. Language classes will help you to discern when there is predictability and when there are anomalies, when rules are being followed and when there are exceptions to the rules. Many fields of study outside of languages place a high value on pattern detection: computing, law enforcement, engineering, etc. With additional practice of these skills in the language classroom, you become better in those fields and hundreds of others. 

    I have honestly not received the question of why study a foreign language in a long time, at least not directly. Perhaps the question manifests itself in other ways, like enrollment in language courses beyond the graduation requirement. Nevertheless, I would like to think that most people understand the inherent value of learning another language. But it feels like there are more reasons today to learn a new language than there used to be. In addition to the cultural and intellectual reasons I used to provide, there are now professional and practical reasons added to my catalog of answers. Learning a foreign language will help you beyond the language classroom, beyond the trip abroad, and beyond meeting someone from another country. Learning a foreign language will help you in virtually every aspect of your professional career, regardless of which language you use most to communicate. 

    -C. Torres

    14 August 2019

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  • A new language is like a new friend

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 8/7/2019 8:00:00 AM

    Learning a new language is like making a new friend. You normally start by discovering how many things you have in common, you learn about the connections you share, and it seems like you go on an adventure every time you get together. Gradually, you start thinking a little like your friend, you start accepting that there may be other perspectives out there, and you even start repeating some of the funny things they say. Even if you don’t always agree, you start to know what your friend is thinking, even before they say things aloud. You are friends, you embrace each other’s similarities and accept each other’s differences. There is enough mutual respect and appreciation for one another to know that you don’t always have to see eye to eye, but that despite the differences, you are still friends, always there for each other. You support one another, learn from each other, and are better because you exist together. 

    When you make a friend, just like when you learn a new language, things may seem easy at the beginning. Perhaps you struck that first conversation because there was something you liked: what the other person said or the cool t-shirt they were wearing. That first conversation lead to another, and then to another, while you discovered that you actually enjoyed each other’s company along the way. But at some point, inevitably, there will be a disagreement, or at least a difference of opinion, and it will have to be dealt with. One of you will take the lead and start to work towards understanding the other. The goal will not be to change the other person, but rather to understand them, their point of view, their actions, and to see if there is a way to reach a compromise. When these friendships work out, when they last for a long time, it is because both parties understand that there will always be similarities and differences, and that the key is to keep working on the friendship, to keep working things out, to remember what they enjoyed about the other person in the first place. 

    Learning a new language is very exciting because there are many things in common at the beginning of the learning journey. You start by discovering the things your language shares with the target language, you are encouraged by the things you learn. You even start thinking in that new language and will intuitively begin repeating some of its sayings. The new language will show you that there are other perspectives out there, and you will start noticing that despite the few differences, there are still many more similarities. But at some juncture, inevitably, just like with an actual friend, there will be disagreements along the way. In this case, the disagreements will be linguistic in nature. Luckily, the nature of solving them will be the same as with a friend. The issues will be solved by accepting the particular differences and moving on with mutual respect and appreciation. Once we understand that linguistic differences are just different ways of tackling communication problems, it is up to us to accept them and move on, to work them out and keep the relationship going. If we are able to do that, our relationship with friends and languages will, simply, last a lifetime. This year, if you see your target language as a new friend, you will have a lifelong companion, because the world is a better place because you exist together. 

    -C. Torres

    7 August 2019

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  • Say hello, watch movies, stop a leak, and more

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 11/30/2018 3:00:00 PM

    The second trimester is here and for some of you, this is your first experience in a language course this year. But for others, for those taking the B portion of their language course, we may not see you for a while after the final exams in March. I want to talk to the latter group, those students who are in the B portion of the class. Here are five opportunities to stay in touch with your language, when you are not in a language class. 

    First, keep in mind that your B-portion teacher will probably still be in the building during the third trimester. Stop by, say hello, stay in touch with them. They will say hello to you in the target language, they will ask you questions, they will be excited that you dropped by. They may not be teaching the same class that you took with them, but they are a great source for practicing the language until next year. 

    Second, when you are busy with your third trimester classes, try to connect the vocabulary you learn there with the vocabulary you learned in your language class. Say you are taking Astronomy, and you are discussing the planet Mars. You can wonder what the name for Mars is in Spanish, do a quick Google search on your phone (with your teacher's permission, of course) and find out that Mars is "Marte" in Spanish. This will lead to the following thought process: Mars is "Marte" in Spanish, and the word for Tuesday is "martes." And before you know it, you have a set of language connections a mile long. 

    Third, watch movies, even in English. When you watch a movie, bring up the subtitles in your target language. You don't have to "read" the whole movie, but take a peek at the text at the bottom of the screen every once in a while, see if you notice something new. Or better yet, see if you notice the same things that your teacher taught you. See if the rules for the French passé composé appear just like your teacher explained them. When you do this, it may lead you to wonder about why the English and the French don't always match up word-for-word, and in turn, this may lead you to wonder about the difference between translation and interpretation. 

    Fourth, when browsing online stores, see if the company ships overseas. If they do, maybe they have a version of the website in your target language. You can take a look at the product descriptions and see if there are differences in how the products are described. Is there a connection between how customers are addressed (formally or informally) and their target audience? The answer to this question may lead you to wonder if they are consistent throughout the website or if different products are presented under different linguistic registers, depending on who they think will buy that product. What a great cultural lesson!

    Fifth, become a linguistic plumber. Know that some of the language you learn in the second trimester will try to leak out. Language attrition is a fancy term for saying that we forget some of the language that we learned in class. Find the right tools in your linguistic toolbox, and stop that leak by any means necessary. Hint: you already have the four tools above to begin this process. But find out which tools (i.e., strategies) work best for you. Just like not all plumbers buy the same brand of equipment, you don't have to use the same tools that other people use. This advice will lead you to discover yourself as a learner, to figure out what works for you. And this will take you to the kind of learning that is personal, individual, and meaningful. In other words, permanent and leak-resistant learning. 

    The third trimester will be here soon and summer will not be far behind. But if you keep these five ideas in mind after this term, you will more than likely have an easier time come next fall, when you start your new language course next school year. Go ahead, chat with your teacher, wonder about new words, watch some movies with subtitles, check out online stores, and do some linguistic plumbing. It may all lead to some great connections and to permanent language learning. 

    -C. Torres

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  • Staffing changes and parent/teacher conferences

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 10/10/2018 3:00:00 PM

    Seaholm is a special place. We have eager learners, supportive parents, and a staff that is more like a family than co-workers. We support one another, we encourage each other, and we do so because it’s our nature. Our students see that chemistry and they can’t help but to see that we do all of this for them. It is for the students that we plan dynamic lessons, look into the latest research and pedagogical trends, discuss best practices, talk about climate and culture. Because we want our students to be successful in school and in whatever they tackle after graduation, we collaborate more like a family than like co-workers. We genuinely care for our students and for one another. This is why it is so hard to say goodbye when someone leaves us.

    If you have visited the World Language Department website the last couple of months, you may have noticed a handful of staffing changes. Over the course of the last few weeks, we have welcomed Mr. Finn, Ms. Palizzi, and Ms. Russo. We are thrilled and excited that they have joined our little family. They all bring great energy and enthusiasm to the classroom. They are compassionate, dedicated, and driven educators. In addition, they are extremely knowledgeable of their content area, and are fantastic at communicating that knowledge to the students. I am proud to call them Seaholm teachers.

    In a few days you will have an opportunity to meet your student's language teacher, if you did not have a chance to do so at Curriculum Night. Next week we will be having Parent/Teacher Conferences, where you will have a 1-on-1 chance to discuss your student's progress, to hear details about the class, and to really get to know the person who spends around to 6 hours per week with your student (not counting X-Block). Of course, just like any family, we all bring our own personalities to the table. But I am positive that your takeaway from Conferences will be a sense of care, professionalism, and knowledge. I am sure that you will sense that family atmosphere that we are so proud of in the World Language Department, and that your student is in good hands. Our new teachers have fit right in!

    See you on Wednesday.

    -C. Torres

    10 October 2018

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  • New language students

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 8/3/2017 3:00:00 PM

    I would like to welcome all our new students to Seaholm. Whether you will be a 9th grader in September or you are joining us from another high school, our hope is that Seaholm feels like home right away. With that hope in mind, I would like to share some non-language specific tips and ideas for how to hit the ground running when your language course starts in a few weeks. 

    Tip #1 - Take a look at your teacher's web site. Once you receive your class schedule, it should have your teacher's name. Go to his or her web page and take a look around. Maybe they already have information for your course, perhaps the courses they taught last spring are still on the site. Either way, you can start to learn about materials, expectations, and pacing. Also, you get a sense of the teacher's learning philosophy (and how fun they are!) as you navigate their page. 

    Tip #2 - Take a look at the department's web site. There you can double-check on the graduation requirements, learning tips, opportunities outside the classroom, etc. This is a great opportunity to see the benefits of learning a language and the places it can take you. Hint: there will be some trips coming up. 

    Tip #3 - Have the confidence that you will be a successful language learner. There is an old debate: experiencing success gives you confidence vs. starting with confidence sets you up for success. I personally believe that you should begin with a confident mindset, believing in yourself, which will lead you to success. I have confidence in all the teachers in the department, and they will set you up for success. If you have a confident approach from Day 1, you will be in a great place. 

    Tip #4 - Learn your teacher. This means that you should spend time thinking about how your teacher is running his or her classroom. For example, some teachers allow cell phones in their classrooms, but some do not. Some allow for assignments to be turned in late (perhaps with a deduction in points), but some teachers accept only work that is on time. Chances are that it won't take you long to learn how your teacher will be running their classroom, so be alert and give yourself the best chance to perform at that particular teacher's expectations. 

    Tip #5 - Make organization a top priority. In high school, your teacher will announce activities, assessments, projects, etc. with a fair amount of time for completion/preparation. But they will also have several things going on simultaneously in the classroom. For example, you may be working on a project that's due next week, while also studying for a quiz that's taking place in two days. Your teacher will expect you to be able to multitask in his or her classroom, so your best bet is to stay organized and keep an updated calendar. 

    Tip #6 - If you are having any sort of difficulty in class, please be proactive and see your teacher as soon as possible. Your teacher knows exactly what he or she wants you to learn. They have also seen your work, so they are the best person to give you suggestions. Please don't wait until the day before an exam or the end of the trimester to seek help from your teacher. They are here to help you. 

    The information above is for everyone, but especially for our new students. Most of our returning students have experience with the teachers in the department. But as you enter Seaholm, please know that we are here to help and to take care of you. For language specific tips and ideas, your teacher will be your best resource. Have a great year and welcome to Seaholm. 

    -C. Torres

    3 August 2017

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  • What to do during summer

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 6/19/2017 3:00:00 PM

    Today is the first day of summer vacation. Some of our students just finished their language finals last week, while other students finished the B portion of their language course back in the second trimester. So, the question is, what should they be doing during the summer months to keep up with the language? The answer is simple: seek language input.

    Language input comes in many shapes and forms. Students can re-visit their teachers’ websites, take a look at old handouts, analyze their graded/returned exams, etc. But that’s not the language input we are suggesting. Instead of reviewing previous materials, students should take a look at web sites in the target language, especially sites that are of personal interest. There, learners can connect with the language, as well as with the material. They will certainly encounter new vocabulary and grammar, but that’s where the magic takes place.

    First, let’s agree that we are more likely to learn when we read about things we like, than when the reading contains information that is not too interesting for us. Let’s say that I am really interested in retail and merchandising, or perhaps I am an avid soccer fan. I could visit the website of the Spanish department store El Corte Inglés or the Atlético de Madrid soccer team page. Depending on my interests, I can locate target-language sites that can provide language input during the summer months.

    Second, let’s acknowledge that we will not understand every single word on the website, and that there will be unfamiliar grammar in the text. That’s okay! Because what you are reading is of interest to you, you are more likely to go the extra mile, to go find a dictionary, and to find out what that new word or grammar construction means in the context of the reading. (Perhaps this step doesn’t happen that often when the reading is not as interesting to us.) That desire to make sense of the input, because the input is of individual interest to us, is the key ingredient. We are mixing what we like (merchandising or soccer) with what we want to learn (the target language).

    Third, notice that in this particular case, we did not suggest to look in a grammar book for unfamiliar constructions. This is because in individualized readings, the learner is more likely to infer grammar from context than from direct instruction (plus, the teacher is not present to clarify the grammar point). Again, because these are readings that are inherently interesting for the students, their mind is working on another affective level, inferring from context more easily, filling in the gaps with less effort. And when students fill in the gaps themselves, the learning is more likely to be permanent, the connections more likely to be stronger. Later in class we can give names to what we have learned through experiencing the language through personal input. Your teacher can clarify later, but you will come to class better prepared to receive the clarification, than when you encounter new grammar constructions for the first time in the context of the classroom.

    Of course, we would never discourage you from practicing verb conjugations, refreshing your memory on the differences between the preterite and the imperfect, reviewing your notes on the verbs of doubt as they relate to the subjunctive mood. But with extended readings on topics of interest in the target language, you get to see those concepts in action, you get to see them interacting with one another, you get to experience the magic of classroom learning transforming into personal enjoyment. Go ahead, spend the summer seeking language input, you may surprise yourself with how much you know, and how much you will learn, both on your own and when you come back in the fall.

    -C. Torres

    19 June 2017

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  • Back from winter break

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 1/5/2017 3:00:00 PM

    Welcome back from the winter hiatus. You may not be surprised to learn that one of my favorite things to do while on these short breaks is to revisit my old language textbooks. Sometimes I dive into an old second language acquisition book, but other times I go back to the basics and re-open my old general linguistics books. (Summer is usually reserved for new books, new learning.) So, it is quite common for me, then, to come back with an idea or two for class. Considering that we are learning the subjunctive in my Spanish 3 class, I found the following quote extremely relevant. It comes from the book The Study of Language by George Yule:

    “In many languages, what appear to be single forms actually turn out to contain a large number of ‘word-like’ elements. For example, in Swahili (spoken throughout East Africa), the form nitakupenda conveys what, in English, would have to be represented as something like I will love you. Now, is the Swahili form a single word? If it is a ‘word’, then it seems to consist of a number of elements which, in English, turn up as separate ‘words’. A rough correspondence can be presented in the following way: ni (I) ta (will) ku (you) penda (love).

    “It would seem that this Swahili ‘word’ is rather different from what we think of as an English ‘word’. Yet, there clearly is some similarity between the languages, in that similar elements of the whole message can be found in both. Perhaps a better way of looking at linguistic forms in different languages would be to use this notion of ‘elements’ in the message, rather than depend on identifying only ‘words’.” (The Study of Language, by George Yule, p. 62)

    Prof. Yule mentions elements of the whole message, and how these messages - depending on the language - can be communicated either with multiple words or embedded into single words. When our students tackle the Romance Languages, they certainly experience this word-element phenomenon. Learners of French and Spanish, for example, see this phenomenon with the subjunctive mood. Let’s use the verb ‘to dance’ as an example:

    English - I doubt that you will dance with me.

    French - Je doute que tu danses avec moi.

    Spanish - Yo dudo que tú bailes conmigo.

    In French and Spanish, the verb ‘to dance’ is used by simply conjugating the verbs in the subjunctive (danses and bailes, respectively). But in the context of the message, the English equivalent will require two words to communicate the same idea: will dance. This is similar to what happens in the Swahili-to-English translation: Nitakupenda - I will love you. In other words, whereas language A will need only one word to communicate a message, language B will need multiple words to express the same thought.

    This winter’s quick visit to the morphology section in Prof. Yule’s book serves as a reminder that our students do come from a context in which learning a language is not just about learning new words. Despite the many similarities between English and the Romance Languages, there are many nuances that make learning French and Spanish quite challenging. Thankfully, our students are in good hands. They are in the hands of experts; experts in the pedagogy of language learning as well as experts in the languages themselves. I am confident that Prof. Yule would be proud of the work we are doing, of connecting elements, words and messages, and helping students make these connections on their own.


    -C. Torres

    5 January 2017

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  • Closing in input triangle

    Posted by Carlos Torres on 9/28/2016 3:00:00 PM

    The last couple of blog posts have talked about input and intake, and i + 1. Today’s post will close the conceptual triangle. We will talk about recasts in this post. Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada define recasts as “paraphrases of a learner’s incorrect utterance that involve replacing one or more of the incorrect components with correct form while maintaining the meaning” (p. 163).

    Imagine the following scenario. The teacher is asking students what kind of foods they like. She asks, “Victoria, ¿te gusta la pizza? (Victoria, do you like pizza?)” The student understands the question, but has a little trouble with answering with accurate grammar. She says, “Sí, yo gusto pizza.” (The correct answer is: Sí, me gusta la pizza.) Instead of the teacher stopping the Q&A portion the lesson, and explaining Victoria’s errors, she restates Victoria’s answer with the corrections already made:

    TEACHER: Victoria, ¿te gusta la pizza?

    VICTORIA: Sí, yo gusto pizza.

    TEACHER: A mí me gusta la pizza con pepperoni. ¿A ti?

    The teacher has noticed the student’s errors (yo gusto, missing la) and instead of giving a grammar explanation in front of the whole class, she has paraphrased Victoria’s sentence with the correct grammar, while keeping the student’s meaning intact. She says, “I like pizza with pepperoni. You?” She has corrected the mistakes, without explaining the mistakes. She has paraphrased with the correct grammar.

    The conceptual triangle we are closing today is the input/intake, i + 1, and retake triangle. Input is what the teacher gives to the student. Intake what the student gets out of the input. I + 1 is input from the teacher that is a little more advanced than the student’s current proficiency level, and recasts are corrections to student errors via paraphrasing.

    When students are aware that what they hear from the teacher is intentionally a little more advanced than their current level of proficiency, they avoid the frustration of feeling like they need to understand every word they hear. This lowered frustration allows them to hear, process, and assimilate new vocabulary or detect new grammatical patterns they will learn subsequently. When recasts are added to the equation, the student is then able to receive feedback in a subtle, non-threatening or embarrassing way. Of course, this relies on the student converting the input into intake.

    Recasts are a form of input. More specifically, recasts are corrective feedback. Students receive correction by the teacher re-stating answers with the correct forms. But the student’s intake mechanism has to be active in order for the correction to take effect and become permanent. In other words, the student has to be alert to the input, notice the correction, and make the necessary adjustments. Input, then, has to become intake for learning to take place. When necessary, teachers will use the first language to explain the grammar errors, but more often than not, the explanation will come in the form of a recast, thus closing the input and intake, i + 1, and recast triangle of input.


    -C. Torres

    28 September 2016

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