Comprehensify-ing #authres

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This interview is incomprehensible for a Novice. There is just way too much language! The time and frustration that it would take them to sort through it all to find answers to pointed questions would completely off-set any value that the activity might bring.

This interview is incomprehensible but has potential. The questions and answers are pretty short, so the amount of text is not overwhelming. You could make it work. However, I would hesitate because the language is quite informal/colloquial and therefore more difficult for a novice to understand.

This interview will work. The questions and answers are short and to the point, and there isn’t much “white noise” (words that the interviewer or interviewee said but that don’t communicate any real information).

Alright, so we’ve got an interview with Fanny Lu. The interview is an #authres (authentic resource—written for a Spanish speaking audience by a Spanish speaker), and it is incomprehensible. Did you catch that? It is incomprehensible. Even though it’s short and to the point and Novices can make sense of it, it is NOT comprehensible input. If you have read the research and, like me, are convinced that comprehensible input is the central means by which adults learn languages, then we must conclude that our Novice students will not learn language simply by searching this interview for information or reading and re-reading it. Using this resource in class will not help our students to become more proficient in the language! The value in this #authres is that it gives us something to talk about and that a successful interaction with it will [usually] motivate students. However, if we want to use it to foster language acquisition…well, the #authres will have to be the side show, not the main event. So if this is the “side show”, what’s the main event?

Comprehensible Input!! No surprise there. If you want to use an authentic resource with novices and even intermediate language learners, YOU have to bring the comprehensible input. Or perhaps I should switch the emphasis: you HAVE TO bring the comprehensible input. YOU—the teacher—are responsible for creating the CI, and you HAVE TO create CI if you want the activity to be a wise use of your precious class time.

I’ve presented on how I work with #authres several times, and in a nutshell I follow a three-step process: (1) introduce the #authres (with comprehensible input), (2) students interact with the #authres (making the interaction as comprehensible as possible), and (3) we investigate the themes together (through comprehensible input). With this Fanny Lu interview (hey, it rhymes!), I am going to combine steps 1 and 2 (introduce and interact). In a nutshell, I wrote a comprehensible summary of the interview. That would usually serve as my “introduce” phase of an #authres lesson, but I embedded questions in the summary so that students would have to search the interview for answers while reading the summary (that’s the interact phase). So the two phases are both happening, but they’re happening at the same time. As long I give this summary to students that understand the language that it contains, then they are getting comprehensible input from the summary. They will need to read and re-read all of the sentences in the summary many times as they try to respond to the embedded questions. I used this same format in an extension activity for the song I Swear by Voz a Voz.

Click on image to access editable reading
Click on image to access editable reading

In the summary, I paraphrased what the reporter and Fanny Lu said, and I even took a few creative liberties in order to clarify and comprehrens-ify the summary. For example, I said that singers have to have energy and so Fanny Lu probably had to do exercise and eat lots of fruits and vegetables and not eat bad food. It didn’t say any of that in the interview, but it was a line of thought that helped clarify what was in the interview, which was that she occasionally broke her diet by eating Snickers® (why she chose Snickers® over Milky Way®, the world may never know!). Each set of parentheses includes a word that accurately completes the idea, based on the interview, and one that does not. Some of the words came directly from the interview, and others were different words used to express the same idea. Rephrasing the content from the interview not only helps to make it comprehensible, but in an activity like this it will also force students to focus on meaning and not just match words (hunt and peck).

I’d probably use this reading with my Spanish 2 students, even though the past tense verbs that it contains are verb high frequency and would be comprehensible to my students by the end of Spanish 1. (Some TCI teachers work with both tenses simultaneously by telling stories in the present tense and reading them in the past tense. My Level 1 focuses entirely on present tense and my Spanish 2 works with past tense. However, lots of past tense verbs appear naturally in readings and stories throughout Spanish 1 even as we specifically target present tense verbs.)

The key in all of this is COMPREHENSIBILITY. The major focus in this lesson would be the summary that I wrote of the interview. We would work through it together slowly, circling any structures that I wanted to target and personalizing the content. The #authres interview is the minor focus, serving only to provide the topic and motivate students (“Hooray! I understand an interview in Spanish!”…but actually students don’t understand the interview….they understand the summary…I’m just a good trickster!). Not all #authres can be made comprehensible to all learners. Choose the resources that you are going to work with in class wisely—at least at the Novice and Intermediate levels—because it will take work for you to make them comprehensible to students without sucking the lifeblood (all the fun) out of them. If you do your job well in lower-level classes and provide students with loads of comprehensible input, gently increasing the amount of vocabulary and complexity of the input, Advanced students will be able to successfully interact with many (but not all) authentic resources.

And please do us all a favor and work a song into this lesson, will you? The only Fanny Lu song that I’ve used in class is Tú no eres para mí, but it would probably make the most sense to use one of the two songs mentioned in the interview (No te pido flores and Un minuto más). Adding a (good) song to a lesson about a singer will infinitely increase how much students care.

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