Reblog: Why I choose acquisition (but want you to make up your own mind).

In light of many recent discussions on Twitter, I found myself coming back to this post from last year. We are ALL teachers trying to be the best we can be. We are trying to make our students love and speak a foreign language. For that, we’re noble. How we get to that end result is our own style and we are all entitled to believe what we want to believe based on research IN OUR OWN ROOMS. Why do I NOT blend CI and textbook/output? Because I taught 13 years from a textbook and was very unsatisfied with the results, I taught two years in a blend of CI and text and I was more impressed by the engagement/retention from the CI parts than the text. So as a flashback post, here is why I chose acquisition vs memorization in my classroom. If you ever want to come visit, my doors are wide open. Everyone has to do what is best for his/her own students so I ask that you remember that my kids make mistakes, your kids make mistakes, every language learner makes mistakes…. it isn’t about creating 100% error free Spanish for me… for me it is about creating the maximum number of learners who stay in the class for four years and who leave with real fluency (with or without errors.)

From March, 2013
There aren’t enough characters on Twitter to tell you why I choose Aquisition, I need a whole blog post! So I, Carrie Toth, former grammarian, will share the 5 things that caused me to shift my thinking.

5. When I taught grammar explicitly, I had to do it in English. This meant a lot of class time was spent in English. When I spoke Spanish to them, they were not always receptive. They thought they needed the English. Now I start Spanish 1, day 1 all in comprehensible Spanish. They learn that Spanish is the language of the classroom and love it!

4. They still learn grammar but they don’t realize it. In my old classroom, they made grammar errors, even after 4 years. They still forgot the name of grammar concepts after 4 years. That hasn’t changed! I don’t teach formal grammar lessons yet they make less errors, not more. I’m not talking about my top 10. They would do well with grammar however I taught them. I’m talking about the rest of the kids. I clarify for those who need it, I point out patterns, they get all the same grammar… It’s just hidden like the zucchini in my meatloaf!

3. The kids love Spanish. Now that I’m free from the chains of Realidades, I can design lessons around whatever structures will benefit them most. The perk is that I can design cultural units that engage the kids. They are becoming speakers of the language sooner and are seeing many more ways that they will be able to use Spanish after high school.

2. Through Comprehensible input… Especially the content based comprehensible input (CBCI) that Kristy Placido and I are using, I get the opportunity to personalize lessons to the students in my class. It has built an environment of trust where I think we have some very low affective filters and a lot of attempts to use language without fear! I love that we have “insiders” that vary from class to class… For example, 1st hour has a character, Jengo Fairlax, who is the hero of every story. Jengo died but it turns out it wasn’t the real Jengo, there is a factory that makes Jengo clones. The real Jengo is safe in hiding. Only the clones are ever in danger!!

1. No child left behind… I used to give Fs. Not a lot but especially in Spanish 1 where I told myself “some kids just aren’t cut out for learning languages.” When I attended my first TPRS workshop and heard “everyone learned their first language and so they all CAN learn languages” it was a wake up call. I went back to class with a new attitude! You know what? Susie Gross was right! Some pick up language fast and some slow, but they ALL get something. From “Boricua” my star student who is better than some of my low Spanish 4s to my two “Héctor” who are weak in both English AND Spanish, everyone is learning at his or her own pace and no one is failing. Well there’s one but he has chosen that path no matter what I’ve tried! The Hectors cant spell so their writing is atrocious but they can read with the class and can understand and participate in class discussions/stories. In a traditional class they would have been left behind in week 1! 🙁

So really I can never go back. That enthusiasm kids have coming into day 1 of Spanish 1 doesn’t get squelched. We have a great time all year. And a side perk is that I rarely and I mean RARELY have a discipline issue because I don’t have kids who are frustrated by the material now!

I’m not saying its for everyone, this is just why it’s for me! We aren’t enemies because we choose different methods! We all want what’s best for our students and do what shows the greatest result in our own room!


  1. Fantastic analysis! I think that the only student who “can’t learn” a language is the student who is consistently absent or who despises being in the class no matter what unique approach we use. Does it “really” matter that they learn the grammar concept names beyond Adjective, Noun, and Verb in high school? Let’s focus our energy on their expression and communication skills.

  2. Thanks for blogging this, Carrie – and I hope you would classify yourself (and TPRS) as “communicative” as I would! Just want to clarify that the original disagreement(s) can be boiled down to a few questions:

    Which works for novices – a focus on CI or a focus on CI leading to novice-level output?

    What is “comprehensible” – are only materials that are 90% comprehensible appropriate for novices under any circumstance? (My opinion is, no – high comprehensibility is very important for the majority of input in a novice class; that is, you can’t base a novice curriculum off of authentic resources but they can be comprehensible and motivating are are necessary to prepare novices to navigate them.)

    Are authentic resources ever appropriate input for novices? (I say, yes!)

    Can a discussion about proficiency levels (ACTFL standards) also include CI and TPRS? (I say, absolutely!)


    • I think all CI/TPRS is meant to lead to output. But the output isn’t forced or rushed. Kids acquire the language first, output second.

      I love level appropriate authres w novices! I think they can learn a lot from them but like you, I think it’s hard to build a curriculum around them without getting out of bounds. (Far out)

      I think TPRS/CI students fall outside of the traditional ACTFL standards (which are based on thematic units), our kids don’t really list things bc we are using the language in context and that is not typical conversation. “My house has a bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen…” So our kids are more apt to skip the lower novice levels because they can create stories so soon. It isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing! Being outside the norm for the better is awesome!

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