The famous “input” in foreign language learning

Last Saturday I decided to attend a language workshop that was sponsored by the Texas Language Center here at UT.  Next semester I will help out as the Acting Director of the TLC, while the current director, Tom Garza, will be away on leave.  I also wanted to attend because Wen Hua Teng, a colleague that I admire here at UT, was going to present the workshop.  What I didn’t know, before arriving, was that the workshop was going to be presented in Chinese.  Lucky me, I got to spend 4 hours, along with around 40 other teachers of Chinese, listening to Prof. Teng’s presentation about how to use technology in the teaching of foreign languages, specifically for Chinese.

Anyone who has ever studied language acquisition at all will be familiar with Krashen’s theories, and specifically with the concept of “comprehensible input.”  The basic premise is that in order to acquire a language, we need to be exposed to input from that language.  More importantly, if the context surrounding the input makes it “comprehensible” we will then be able to understand the gist of what is going on, and acquisition will increase.

Bingo!  So here I was, exposed to 4 hours of 100% Chinese, listening to a lecture about a topic that I already knew a lot about (the use of technology in language learning), and receiving visual cues from the powerpoint presentation (which also had a number of things written in English).  As a result, I found myself understanding probably 70% – 80% of what was being said, including the questions and comments from the audience.  I left the workshop feeling super motivated that maybe there is hope for me and my poor Chinese after all.

If any of you have every studied a foreign language, you will relate to the general sense of disappointment when after tons of study, you still find yourself not understanding most of what people are saying to you. I relate to your pain!  The good news, however, is that there really is something to this whole “comprehensible input”.  So thanks to Prof. Teng and the TLC.  Your workshop gave me a new shot of energy and confidence in my efforts to learn another language.

PS.  I should explain the photo.  Prof. Teng’s family lives in Taiwan and all of her gracious relatives spent the day hanging out with me when I was there.  Here’s a shot of her family showing off the “Texas” gifts that I had given to them.

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2 Responses to “The famous “input” in foreign language learning”

  1. Wen-Hua Teng Says:

    Thanks very much for coming to my workshop. We (language learners as well as instructors) can all learn a great deal from your experiences of learning (acquiring) Chinese. You have obviously attained quite a high level of proficiency. I am going to share this with my family in Taiwan. It will be a wonderful surprise for them to see their picture on your blog. (我的家人看了一定都会很高兴,谢谢。)

  2. Learn English Says:

    Thanks for this post, it’s really interesting! I give English lessons and it’s always really interesting to consider different theories of language acquisition as you help your students progress. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future : )

    Monica

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