Is CI a method?


I have a strong opinion about calling CI a teaching method. It has become common place for language teachers to use the term TCI (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) and to call CI a method.  I have done the same and I see a problem with it. Nowadays, information spreads so quickly via social media and there is an increasing distortion of SLA principals related to optimizing Comprehensible Input. Misinformation about how we acquire language is being promoted by “CI teachers.” This can happen because CI is in fact NOT a method!

There is no clear definition as to what CI teaching means. Flashcards are a form of input that could be comprehensible. Listen and Repeat practices are input could be comprehensible. Story lecturing or Story listening is a form of input that could also be considered comprehensible. It is a slippery slope when teachers don’t TRY and use terms found in the field of SLA.

In terms that academics would use, TCI is not taken seriously to mean much at all. The implication to most language teachers is obvious (or at least to me).  The term TCI most likely means that a teacher is attempting to OPTIMIZE comprehensibility of a language in a classroom setting. Here is the problem… simply attempting to optimize comprehension does not necessarily lead to acquisition. In fact, I am arguing that the term TCI or CI as a method HURTS the progress being made in many Professional Learning Communities.

In order to have a method in place, Approach, Design, and Procedures must be accounted for (Richards and Rodgers 2001). TCI does not have any of this and TCI seems to borrow much of what informs its teaching from TPRS.  Which I am sure is fine except when a “CI idea” strays away from the underpinnings of the theories that guide the techniques in the first place. This is why we need CI police. If we are in fact, in what SLA people call a post-methods era, than perhaps it makes no difference at all.  However, I see many teachers trying to figure out effective strategies and techniques for building language in the minds of their students. Methods matter and so do definitions!

I continue to read and reread certain books.  I often reread The Natural Approach. Krashen has argued for some 40 years that second and foreign language acquisition — the development of real language skills — occurs through comprehensible input, not through “learning.”

He particularly opposes the use of repetition, the learning of grammar rules (with few exceptions), extreme correction of students and forced speech beyond the acquisition level of the student. He says, “Real language production happens only after the acquirer has built up competence via input.” (1983: 298) Krashen’s ideas are laid out quite fully in The Natural Approach (Krashen and Terrell, 1983: 5-62), a book which advocates the use of a method of the same name which was developed chiefly by Tracy Terrell (1977).

Where TPRS differs from the Natural Approach, broadly speaking, is in the use of techniques that foster efficient acquisition. More specifically, the major differences are in the deep ingraining of vocabulary aurally through a variety of techniques like TPR, direct translation, gestures, etc. (Ray and Seely 1997).

Despite the fact that Krashen co-authored The Natural Approach, TPR Storytelling seems to adhere more closely to Krashen’s guidelines for acquiring a language in school courses than does the Natural Approach, at least as it is practiced in most circumstances. (Ray and Seely 1997).

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  • Thanks, Mike! I also find it interesting to note that Krashen often writes and comments in interviews that he likes TPRS better than his own Natural Approach.

    JJ Epperson 2 months ago Reply

    • Hi JJ. Great observation. I think that is an important point you bring up. I think the popularity of “Comprehensible Input” is so great to see. The talk of CI in so many circles is a sign of progress. I am not sure that people pay attention enough to the evolution of CI strategies and specifically how TPRS plays into it all. A lot of teachers are finding great excitement in the discovery of optimizing CI with their students. Some ideas in the evolution of TPRS and CI have been left behind because they didn’t yield the desired results.

      I hope my post helps others to critically think about what they do and why they do it. Labeling everything with a “CI sticker” doesn’t automatically put in a category of effective teaching strategies.

      Michael Coxon 2 months ago Reply

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