Friday, November 9, 2007

Comprehensible Output ~ Swain

Comprehensible Output ~ Swain 20 July 2007 11:20 PM
I’m am just in the middle of the first reading, and I want to say a big “Hooray” to Swain 1985, as cited in Hadley 2001), for proposing the comprehensible output hypothesis. All through the last subject (principles in language learning), I was reading and wondering about Krashen and his focus on comprehensible input, to the exclusion of a focus on production. Now I have to be careful, as I didn’t choose Krashen to investigate last subject, but to a novice like myself, I feel the need to encourage more outward production of language. Especially being here in Japan, where output is at a premium, and no matter what I do, it is difficult to encourage students to practice with others, and make use of the range of functions needed in whatever we are studying (Hypothesis 2).
One of my colleagues likened Krashen’s input hypothesis to a glass being filled (I’m sure he read it somewhere?!). Only when the glass is filled, will it start overflowing. I understand the logic behind this, but many of our students in the college where I work, tend to stay quiet for pretty much the whole time they are with us (maybe a little bit of an overgeneralization ;-). Why can’t they be encouraged to produce language, at least at levels relative to the student’s abilities? This is rather a big question that would incorporate not only affective variables, but social ones, too. I believe, that essentially students want to start producing in the TL as soon as possible as they wish to communicate, it’s just that they are unable to because they don’t have the communicative competence.
Having said that, I have had times when I gave students the opportunity to contribute, but they have not been ready to respond (think of the glass half full). And it ends up that they give up, or other students decide to respond, cause it takes and aggravatingly long time for the student to answer (I do try to discourage this king of situation, though). This has the potential of raising anxiety, and lifting that affective filter we learned about last semester. But, it’s up to the classroom teacher to read the class and give out opportunities to students to respond at various times in their particular development. Students need opportunities to test the structures they have learned, and the hypotheses they are making about language and the target culture.
So, Output, I say yes…we need to encourage a certain amount of risk taking and foster within students the courage to take chances in the TL.
Steven Mondy

Hadley, A.O. (2001), Teaching language in context 3rd Ed., Heinle and Heinle.

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