The Natural Approach:
- Focus of instruction is on communication rather than its form (no drilling verbs or grammar rules)
- Speech production comes slowly and is never forced.
- Early speech goes through natural stages (yes or no response, one- word answers, lists of words, short phrases, complete sentences.)
- Input must be comprehensible and compelling
Dr. Stephen Krashen and me at the Nashville Story Listening workshop in June 2019
The Natural Approach
"We acquire language when we understand messages, when we understand what people tell us and when we understand what we read." Stephen Krashen, linguist, educational researcher
I started learning French in high school the hard way.
When I was a student in high school learning French, I had to memorize long lists of vocabulary and learn verb conjugations. Then I would have to piece together all those separate parts when I had to write or speak. It was very difficult. But I loved learning French, and I persevered.
In France, I couldn't understand anything.
I studied abroad during my junior year of college, and I discovered quickly that, even though I had all these lists of vocabulary in my head and I could conjugate verbs in all 14 tenses, I couldn't understand simple conversations. I was very frustrated that I wasn't prepared for French conversations. After 4 months in France, my comprehension and conversation abilities improved because I was completely immersed in the language.
I started teaching and used the same, old methods.
I became a French teacher, and despite my experience in France, I continued teaching the way I was taught - using long lists of vocabulary, worksheets, and verb conjugation drills to give students the pieces of the language they needed to put together in conversations. Needless to say, this approach wasn't very successful. The boredom of grammar frustrated students, and they had difficulty stringing together words and phrases for conversation.
I discovered The Natural Approach by Drs. Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell.
During my graduate studies at Saint Louis University, I took a class on Second Language Acquisition. The research that I studied showed that we learn second languages in the same way we acquire our first language as children. In other words, we learn the language by listening and reading (and being read to). Then we take that input of conversations, songs, stories and produce the language. We don't need grammar drills at all!
I attended a workshop with the Natural Approach methods.
In the TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) workshop, the teacher utilized practices inspired by the Natural Approach. As we worked on stories and songs in German, the teacher emphasized the methods that are most successful to acquire a second language.
The classroom environment was also very different from the classrooms I was used to.
Learning German with this approach seemed effortless and fun. We laughed a lot, did brain breaks, and heard German most of the time. But I never felt anxious or stressed. By the end of the two-day workshop, I could understand a lot of German and could even write a short paragraph in the language! I also preferred the low-anxiety class environment. I definitely had to bring these methods back to my own classroom.
My students are having fun, listening to compelling stories, engaging in real-life conversations, and enjoying class.
I'm excited to see the results from my students as I experienced in the German workshop. Their interests, activities, and situations lead our conversations in Spanish, and we work together creating characters and stories so that they can acquire Spanish naturally, just like they acquired their first language -- in a low-anxiety environment free from dull grammar drills and vocabulary lists.
The Natural Approach works.
I will continue attending workshops and professional development to learn more about it so that my students can be successful in acquiring Spanish.