The Input Hypothesis in the Classroom
Teaching Receptive Skills in the Foreign Language Classroom There are two reasons for including training in the receptive skills in the foreign language class. One is specific: to enable the student to understand oral and written texts in the target language. These texts may be speech directed to the student, a target language film, or the reading of news stories from a target language newspaper. The second reason for the inclusion of receptive skills is general. We assume that input which is comprehended by the student is the primary source of the acquisition of the lexicon and grammar of the target language. In this case a central goal of instruction, especially in initial stages, must be to provide the correct kind and amount of input. Thus there are two different (but mutually supportive) purposes in the teaching of listening and reading comprehension. The distinguishing characteristic of the two purposes of activities oriented toward the teaching of the receptive skills is the different levels of comprehension. Input may be understood by students in different ways and in different amounts. For example, a very low level student may understand the topic of conversation but be unable to pick out more than very few of the details of the information exchanged. On the other hand, advanced students understand not only the main ideas but also supporting details, and some students are able to recognize and process practically every word (although, of course, even native speakers normally do not attend to every word in the input). The necessary degree of comprehension, and therefore "attention" paid to the text, is usually determined by the context of the text and the desires, needs, and abilities of the students attending to it. The characteristics of input, which is to serve as a basis for language acquisition, are more closely defined. Comprehensible Input for acquisition is input at the "i + 1" level. That is, input to stimulate acquisition must by definition contain some structures and vocabulary that are only slightly beyond the students level. As we noted, students are capable of far greater comprehension than simply i + 1, especially if the contextual cues are increased and if they concentrate on global comprehension of main ideas with little or no supporting detail. The teaching of receptive comprehension strategies in which students learn to comprehend main ideas from "advanced" or "authentic" oral and written texts is important, since it allows them to interact with native speakers in situations far beyond their present acquired competence. In addition there is a certain amount of satisfaction in the use of authentic texts. However, theory predicts that this sort of interaction with texts, at perhaps an i + 20 level, is not greatly helpful for acquisition. The use of authentic texts in the foreign language classroom is not new. Authentic written texts have been used (and abused) from the beginning of foreign language instruction in the United States. Indeed, for many foreign language instructors, only the use of authentic texts is acceptable. Authentic oral texts have not been as popular, perhaps because of the relative difficulty in obtaining them as well as technical problems using them in the classroom. Authentic oral texts can be brought to the class via audiotape recordings or videotape or recordings. (Live broadcasts, while appropriate in some circumstances, are difficult to work with in terms of planning and follow-up.) Written authentic texts can be in the form of pictures of signs and other written materials, newspapers, magazines, books, realia such as money, tickets, advertisements, and so forth. Our conclusion is that we must provide for both sorts of activities with receptive texts, i.e. texts at i + 1 primarily for acquisition purposes and texts at higher levels (authentic texts) for the development of "coping" skills. In the following sections specific suggestions are made for appropriate activities for the development of these skills.
To illustrate the sorts of classroom activities proposed, we will describe activities for input for acquisition and the use of authentic texts at three levels: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Beginning Level A. Comprehensible Input for Acquisition In the foreign language classroom there are six possible sources of comprehensible input for acquisition: teacher-talk, student-talk (interlanguage input),2 audiotape recordings/radio and videotape recordings/television, and textbook materials (texts and readers). By far the most important source of comprehensible input for acquisition is aural "teacher-talk." Written input plays a secondary but important role for beginners and will be discussed briefly at the end of this section. Teacher-talk is one of a group of "simple codes" which includes "caretaker speech" and "foreigner talk." Each of these codes has been studied by researchers, and the characteristics of each are fairly well known. They include, for example, a slower rate of speech, more careful articulation, use of more frequent lexical items, attempts to insure comprehension, and so forth. There are three possible problems with the use of instructor-generated input in the foreign language classroom:
1) the instructor is not proficient enough in the foreign language to produce good
comprehensible input at i + 1, 2) so much time is spent on learning activities (grammar explanation, drills, and exercises), that the quantity of comprehensible input is extremely low, and 3) the instructor does not know how to produce comprehensible input for low-level students. We are concerned here with problems 2) and 3). The solution to the second problem is to achieve a better balance of acquisition and learning skills in the classroom. The reliance on learning activities is in many cases related to the belief that learning "becomes" acquisition, or at least plays a major role in acquisition. Whether true or not, the overwhelming reliance on learning activities in foreign classrooms results in low listening comprehension levels; for whether learning aids speaking skills or not, it certainly plays a minor role in the development of listening comprehension skills. Many of the techniques described in the following sections are found in Terrell (33, 34) and Krashen and Terrell (18). Teacher-Talk in Stage I: Comprehension The most important strategy for a beginner who wants or needs to understand messages in the target language is to concentrate on global meaning, i.e. getting the main idea. Indeed one of the goals of listening comprehension training for beginners must be to develop a tolerance for hearing words and utterances in the target language which are not understood. They need to learn to focus on key words in the input and by using these key vocabulary items (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and sometimes adverbs) along with contextual cues, understand messages. (This is true of course whether the input is at i + 1 for acquisition or at any other i, say i + n.) Methodologies in which students focus first on the production of a limited number of structures and vocabulary items, often encourage "bad" listening habits, since the students only hear what they can produce and only hear words they know. In effect they "understand" utterances because they "understand" all of the components of the utterance, i.e. they hear only i. In several recent approaches and methodologies (such as Natural Approach, and Total Physical Response [TPR]) students are explicitly given a "prespeech" period in which they concentrate on developing listening strategies. During this "Comprehension" period (Stage I),
which may last from one to twenty hours (depending on target language and background of the students), the input contains enough lexical items in context to demonstrate to the students that they will be successful with language acquisition. Indeed students should not be encouraged to attempt more than minimum levels of speech until they are relatively comfortable in comprehending the instructors speech in the target language. The techniques for providing input at i + 1 during Stage I include: 1) Total Physical Response activities, 2) descriptions of students and classroom objects, and 3) descriptions of pictures (cut from ordinary magazines). Also important is a teacher-talk mode in which narrative is interspersed with questions. The most obvious basis for content is the students themselves. In order to avoid requiring speech production during initial input of new vocabulary items, questions may be phrased so that only the name of the student or a simple yes/no is required in the answer. The following is an example of teacher-talk input (at i + 1) during the first hour of class.
What is your name? (Lisa.) Look at Lisa, class. Lisa has blond hair. (Point or touch hair.) Hair, blond hair. Look at my hair. Is my hair blond? (No.) No, my hair is brown. Look at my eyes. (Touch eyes.) Are my eyes brown? (No.) Are they blue? (Yes.) Yes, I have blue eyes. Does Lisa have blue eyes? Look at Lisa's eyes. Are they blue? (No.) Are they brown? (Yes.) OK, what is the name then of the student in this class who has blond hair and brown eyes? (Lisa.)
Such a sequence, although not really "natural" in the sense that it does not correspond to a real conversation between native speakers, can "seem" like natural conversation to the students who are beginning the acquisition of listening comprehension skills. However, even oral input which is based on the students and classroom objects is limited. Listening comprehension for beginners is heavily dependent on context, and in order to expand possible messages in the input we are forced to use visuals. Our suggestion is to use pictures cut from magazines, since they are readily accessible and inexpensive. The following is an example of comprehensible input based on a picture.
Look at this picture, class. Is there a man in this picture? (Yes.) Does the man have brown hair? (No.) Does he have black hair? (Yes.) Is there a woman in this picture? (Yes.) So, there is a man and a woman in the picture. What is the man doing? Is he running? (No.) Is he walking? (No.) Is he skiing? (Yes.) Is the woman skiing too? (Yes.) So, there is a man and a woman, and they are both skiing. Is it cold? (Yes.) What is this called in English? (Pointing to the snow....) Snow. This is snow. We ski on the snow.
Using these input techniques, it is relatively simple for the students to develop basic listening comprehension skills, especially if little or no speech is required. Indeed, one can recognize the meaning of many more words in context, if speech is not required. In addition the variety of syntax and morphology can be much greater since neither syntax nor morphology is much used by beginners to comprehend but both are required for speech. Teacher-Talk in Stage Two: Early Speech Speech begins to emerge as acquisition takes place through comprehensible input at i + 1. This happens most naturally in the form of a single word or short phrases as responses to comments or questions. The words the students produce are of course those they have heard often enough in the input to acquire. During the initial period of speech production, the instructor continues to concentrate on listening comprehension skills by focusing on the acquisition of more and more key lexical items. The input must produce a sort of spiralling effect in which
some of the lexical items introduced today in the input are those we expect the students to begin using several days from now, while those they actually produce today are those they have already heard in past input. This implies a rejection of cognitive techniques in which the students are given a new form, i.e. explanation, required to practice that form, i.e. drill, and then asked to use the form immediately in communication. The following is an example of teachertalk after about 5 hours of instruction. The example is based on a picture.
What do you see in this picture, class? (woman) Yes, there's a woman. Can you describe her? (dress) Yes, she's wearing a dress. What colour is the dress? (blue) That's right, its blue. Is there anyone else in the picture? (man) Yes, there's also a man. What is he wearing? (suit) Yes, he's wearing a suit. Is it a blue suit or a grey suit? (grey) Yes, it’s a grey suit. What are they doing? (walk) Yes, they're walking. Where are they walking? (?) On the beach. This is a beach. Do you know what a beach is? (Point to sand and water.) A beach has sand and water. What is the name of a beach you know?
The new words in this sequence are beach, sand, and water. They will be available for production in some later class period. Many sorts of activities lend themselves for teacher-generated input during the early speech stage. They include questions about charts, maps, and tables, especially tables of personal information about the students themselves, for example, a chart of the classes the students are taking in addition to the language class, or a list of the jobs of the students in the class (Krashen and Terrell, 18). Teacher-Talk in Stage Three: Speech Emerges As the i + 1 increases in the input, so does the ability of beginning students to put words together coherently and generate sentences and even discourse. Most instructors have little trouble giving i + 1 input to students who are advanced beginners or intermediates, and most recent textbooks do a relatively good job suggesting acquisition/communication activities for students who can produce complete sentences. There are essentially four types of activities for this stage which will result in good i + 1 level input: 1) games, 2) content activities (culture, geography, history, music, art, etc.), 3) problem-solving activities (i.e. maps, graphs, timetables, situations), and 4) affectivehumanistic activities (opinions, discussions, panels, oral presentations, skits, etc.). B. Authentic Texts for Beginners Beginners cannot, of course, understand much of recorded conversations between native speakers, but they can deal in limited ways with broadcast media, i.e. radio and television. For example, one can record short segments of different types of radio broadcasts, such as news, commercials, announcements, introductions of pop songs, call-ins, or contests. During the playback in class students may be asked to identify only the type of broadcast, i.e. this is a news broadcast. Other requests can include telling anything at all they understand including isolated words. Videotape recordings of foreign language television program segments offer the advantage of strong visual cues. Beginning level students can be asked to talk about what they see and comment on anything they understood in the target language. Beginners can work quite extensively with authentic written texts. Especially useful are scanning activities in which the students look for specific information in such items as a TV log, a menu, a page from a telephone book, advertisements, train and airline timetables, and so forth. The central goal of these activities is that the students learn not to be overwhelmed by the amount of target language they do not understand, but rather to work with what they can understand using contextual cues and the knowledge they do have of the target language.
It should be noted that while acquisition is not a primary part of the authentic text as input, the teacher-talk preparation and follow-up should indeed be at the i + 1 level and should serve for acquisition purposes. In addition, exposure to authentic texts may lay the ground for future acquisition of such parameters as intonation, rhythm, and phonology in general. In the following example, students are looking at an advertisement for various movies. Although unable to read the entire text, as the following interaction shows, they can utilize the text searching out the requested information.
Suppose we want to see a movie. What time does the earliest movie start? (3:30 p.m.) Do we want to go that early? (No.) So lets choose another one. Is there a film which starts at about 7:30? (Yes.) Which one? (Students try to pronounce name.) Yes, Breaking Away. What is the latest hour we can see Breaking Away? etc.
Intermediate The "intermediate" student can profitably take subject matter classes in the target language. Classroom activities for intermediates should, to a large extent, be "content" activities in which the students are focused on learning new content through the medium of the target language. Traditionally this content has been the literature, history, culture, art, and music of the target language, but grammar, phonetics, and other areas of linguistics are also legitimate areas of study. In addition one could take courses in other content areas such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, mathematics, and so forth, as a way of increasing proficiency in the target language. Receptive skills at the intermediate level, while usually good, are far from native levels. Students normally understand the instructor and other students during the oral activities in class and also can at least "cope with" conversations with native speakers. The input from the instructor is usually at i + 1 and serves to further acquisition, while the input from a native speaker may still be at a much higher level where the student is forced to use global comprehension strategies that entail missing much of the detail. Thus the classroom continues to be a good source for acquisitional input, but interactions with native speakers play an increasingly important role whenever they are available. Extra sources of oral input can be made available to the students via audio and video recordings of authentic texts from native radio and television broadcasts. Even at this level, authentic audio and video texts are still somewhat above the students i + 1, and therefore the task must still focus on global understanding with perhaps some accompanying detail. These sorts of activities constitute "pleasure listening," i.e. trying to understand as much as possible without becoming frustrated at what is not comprehended. Written input at this level should consist of all levels of difficulty from the students current i (i.e. reading in which almost every word is recognized) to authentic texts which are read for global comprehension with little supporting detail. Easy readings at the students current i level are also useful to improve reading techniques, i.e. improved speed, reading in larger chunks, focus on content. Most of the reading will be done at i + 1 since this fosters acquisition. Reading activities at i + 1 also provide opportunities for using context to induce the meaning of new words, a key skill to be developed at this level. Finally, authentic texts which support the content areas, for example, literature and history, can be read by the student provided the instructor does not demand attention to detail. Advanced Advanced students are comfortable interacting in the target language but have not yet reached native speaker levels of proficiency. Normally language training for advanced students falls under certain specializations depending on what the student will do with the target language. Students who will work for the U.S. Government monitoring radio broadcasts in Russian, for example, have different training needs than a general foreign language major who will teach first- and second-year language at the secondary level or the same major who plans to do doctoral level research in the literature of the target language. In any case, advanced
training in the receptive skills, both listening and reading by the definition given here of "advanced level," must make almost exclusive use of authentic texts. Thus the materials for advanced students are approximately the same as those for intermediates, but both the proportion of authentic texts and the expected level of comprehension are higher. Video recordings of television broadcasts (news programs, comedy and variety shows, movies) are especially helpful in broadening the students receptive skills to areas not normally encountered in the classroom. In addition, one of the most difficult comprehension tasks even for advanced students is comprehension of native speakers when they converse with each other. The students ability to comprehend in such situations is greatly improved through experiences watching television dramas, soap operas, situation comedies, and films. The advantage of videotaped materials is that visual and contextual cues are present to support comprehension. Reading at the advanced stages should be used as an important source of comprehensible input for acquisition. Much has been written about the different kinds of reading skills necessary for advanced students in a literate society. What is important to keep in mind is that even at an advanced level we read different sorts of materials for different purposes and therefore use somewhat different reading strategies. One should at least distinguish: extensive reading, intensive reading, scanning, and skimming skills. Conclusions There is indeed a great deal we can do to improve the teaching of receptive skills in the foreign language classroom. The important point is that the teaching of the receptive skills is motivated in two ways: 1) students must be given the means to work with oral and written authentic texts that are beyond their current level of competence, and 2) the receptive skills are the basis for the acquisition process itself. My comments on Teacher Talk: What is important is to realize that everything a teacher does and says in the classroom is done with a purpose in mind, that is why it has to be planned in advance. Teachers speak to be understood. Teachers have a special way of speaking. Some of the strategies used in regular teacher talk are exaggeration of pronunciation and facial expression, decreasing speech rate and increasing volume, frequent use of pause, gestures, graphic illustrations, questions, and dramatization, sentence expansion and rephrasing. As opposed to direct correction, the teacher in interaction uses modelling or indirect correction in the form of restatements. Here are ten special strategies (sometimes called “problem-reducing strategies”) that teachers adopt when speaking to their classes: 1. Make regular checks Watch the students carefully to check that they understand. Check by looking at the students' faces. You can see whether they follow your meaning or not. (Do not keep asking 'Do you understand?' because this makes students feel that they should be understanding more and consequently makes them feel insecure.) Remember students also adopt strategies. They may say 'yes' when they don't understand anything! 2. Use familiar words Use mainly words which the students already know, or cognates - words which have a similar sound and meaning in their mother tongue. 3. Use familiar topics Refer to topics which are familiar to the students from their everyday lives, from earlier lessons, or from lessons in other subjects. 4. Lower the cognition level Avoid topics or concepts which students would find difficult to understand even in their mother tongue!
5. Recycle information Repeat yourself using the same words as before, or paraphrase, to give the students a second chance to understand. 6. Alter your style of speech Speak slightly slower pace than normal (as if you were speaking to a very large group of people) and exaggerate your intonation and stress on important words. Pause frequently to allow 'slow listeners' to catch up. (Regular pauses after sentence groups are more important than slow speech!) 7. Simplify the language structure Slightly simplify your range of structures when speaking and make sure you repeat the structures you use. 8. Use a range of sensory focus Support what you say with pictures, words or phrases on the blackboard, gestures, actions and facial expressions. Make sure that the students can see your face and mouth whenever you speak! (Don't speak to the board!) 9. Use clear discourse markers Use regular signalling language to show what you are doing: 'Now', 'First of all', 'Good', 'We have done…' and 'Now we are going to do…'. Indicate clearly what the students should do: 'Now, listen carefully', 'Now, watch carefully' and so on. 10. Follow a routine Follow regular routines and patterns in your lessons so that students know what is happening and what is going to happen. These regular patterns help comprehension and provide security.
Characterization of Teacher Talk
Typical uses or Context of Teacher Talk 1. Explaining lexis or structure 2. Correcting 3. Eliciting response 4. Modelling (giving verbal models for Ss to use in their own communication) 5. Explaining or clarifying tasks 6. Summarising 7. Repairing break-downs in communication 8. Story-telling and oral presentation of written material 9. Questioning Verbal characteristics of Teacher Talk 1. Fully grammatical 2. Preserves "natural" stress & intonation 3. Broken into sense groups 4. Simplified but not unnatural 5. At least 80 % comprehensible (ideally, it is between 95% and 85% comprehensible) 6. Broken into short paragraph segments to encourage or invite Ss to interrupt, comment and ask questions. 7. When new vocabulary is taught, typical examples of use and usage are given whenever possible 8. Teacher gets regular feedback through Qs, especially 'open questions' or 'two-step questions' (closed question + follow-up as below:
T: Do you like English food? S: No. T: Oh? Why? T: Do you ever get angry? S: Yes. T: When was the last time you got angry? And why did you get angry?
and other devices, such as physical response (“Touch your left ear”) and using parallels to get examples from the class (“I don't like overcooked vegetables. And I never eat
rare meat. Tell the person next to you about a kind of food you don't like or never eat.”) 9. Teacher gives Ss chances to interact with each other as well as with teacher. 10. Teacher gives models for Ss to use with each other in pair or group work. 11. Variety of elicitation & explanation techniques including: use of context, enactment (i.e. acting out, miming), and illustration. 12. Covert/overt correction techniques Non- or Para-Verbal characteristics of Teacher Talk 1. Teacher maintains eye-contact when talking with as many students as possible. 2. Uses eye contact & body movement to give emphasis/invite participation (prolonged gaze to invite comment & gestures to help explain language. 3. When a student speaks the teacher looks at the speaker but also around class to judge reactions and to see if other students are indicating that they want to speak. 4. Walking away from the student speaking to make the student speak more loudly & engage in eye-contact with the class. 5. The Teacher uses facial expression to indicate interest, doubt, approval and occasionally disapproval.
OBSERVATION TASK 1:
THE TEACHER´S LANGUAGE