Go slow then slow down some more
There’s slow, slower, really slow, and then there’s comprehensible
As a cross country running and Nordic Ski Coach, I always teach my athletes techniques that make them go faster. In the language classroom, it is completely the opposite. Slow and steady wins the comprehensible input race. This is probably the second most important thing to do while teaching. Being comprehensible is THE most important. There are many ways to speak slow and to slow down and there are many websites that have tips and daily I am reminded to slow down. When the class get chatty, I’m going too fast. When the class looses interest, I am going too fast. When the entire class doesn’t answer, I’m going too fast.
This post also reminds me to slow down while teaching. It is okay to not “cover all the material.” It is okay to not finish a novel. Acquisition is the main goal; finishing a novel, curriculum, or chapter is not my goal. Having my students become more and more proficient in the language is far more powerful than finishing a novel/curriculum. There have been several years where we have not finished a novel or completed a unit.
I remember at my first NTPRS conference there was a session with Bryce Hedstrom and Linda Li about going slow. Linda Li did a demo in Chinese and thanks to her incredible teaching, compelling comprehensible input, and super slow talking, I understood all of the Chinese and really enjoyed it. Then they had another teacher of Chinese practice teaching. This teacher went way too fast. I lost interest immediately (I wanted to goof off and do something else). I understood nothing and did not feel very good. I thought that I would never be able to learn Chinese.
Well….turns out that it was all planned out. The teacher went too fast on purpose. This was a super powerful experience. I now knew what my students feel like when they don’t understand. It completely changed my teaching and from that moment I vowed to myself to go super slow.
So as a competitive athlete and a coach, I strive for quickness and efficiency. The fastest will win. But as a language teacher, I go as slow as I need to go. The slower I speak, the more proficient my students will become.