What is ci? What is CI?

ci:

  1. Comprehensible Input.
  2. The kind of language learners need to promote acquisition. This is the language that teachers use in the classroom that students can understand and use to create a linguistic framework in their minds.

The term ci was coined in the early 1980s by Stephen Krashen and it describes the kind of language that teachers should use in the classroom in order to promote acquisition. Learning in the world language classroom has always been a factor and will likely always be, but Learning isn’t the same as acquisition. Learning is what you do with rules: see or hear the rule, memorize the rule, apply the rule where necessary. Acquisition is what you do when you internalize a language through exposure to language that is comprehensible and consistent: hear or read language in a way that is comprehensible and begin to slowly internalize it.

In her book, Beyond Year One, Tina Hargaden writes:

Like flakes of snow freezing together, accumulating over time into a glacier, each exposure to meaning extracted from the language gently lays another flake onto the pile, and over time these flakes fuse into a coherent, deeply-internalized system of acquired competence in the language.

Hargaden, Tina. Beyond Year One. Copyright 2019

With the use of comprehensible input as the backbone of such methods as TPRS, the Natural Approach, Project Based Learning, and many other methods and techniques, learning is put in the backseat and acquisition is brought to the front.

My guess is that this is pretty common knowledge in the world of CI teachers. Most of us likely have a basic understanding that teaching for learning (whether it is drilling grammar or memorizing vocabulary) is not the optimum way to get students to acquire language. Is it great for getting them to learn the rules and exceptions? Sure. Is it a great way to get them to ace grammar tests? Of course. Is it an effective way to get them acquiring the language, that is, internalizing the language in order to be able to use it in a real life context?

Um…Not really.

So if you probably already knew that, why write it down now, 4 years into writing this blog? What is this all about, anyway?

Well…

This post isn’t about ci. It’s about CI.

ci is what I described above. CI, on the other hand, is something far more significant.

CI (sometimes referred to as TCI):

  1. An umbrella term for teaching methods, techniques, and activities that use ci as their base in order to promote a more natural type of acquisition of a second (or beyond) language (TPRS, MovieTalk, PBL, OWI, etc)
  2. A name for a movement of teachers teachers using modern, research-based methods to promote acquisition rather than skill-building

CI Movement

ci might have started as an abbreviation of the term “comprehensible input,” but it has grown to encompass so much more. CI has evolved to become a term that describes like-minded teachers who are looking for a better way to promote language acquisition in their students’ minds. For those reading this that may be at the beginning of their careers or who have taught for a long time but feel like language classes could be more than just grammar and drill-and-kill activities, you’re right. Language classes can be so much more than grammar and vocabulary memorization.

At its core, the CI Movement is based on the rejection of outdated teaching methods that use grammar as the starting point for instruction and the acceptance of methods and techniques of language teaching that are based on current Second Language Acquisition research. CI Teachers try and move beyond the outdated curriculum models based on mass market textbooks. These methods are great for school districts and language departments because they are so easily standardized – every textbook comes with tests and the quizzes and the day to day activities and even the day to day lesson plans. It’s a tantalizing model: It’s all there. All a language department or school district have to do is hand it all out to the teachers and voila! every kid gets the same instruction and assessment. But it’s not what language acquisition looks like. Acquisition isn’t slick and uniform. It’s messy and doesn’t fit within a pacing guide. Every student is different and will acquire at a different pace.

I taught with textbook methods for years, teaching and testing grammar, then reteaching and reteaching the next time it came up in the book. All the while, I knew that as soon as those rules were regurgitated and applied on a test, they would be forgotten. I knew from studying SLA in my teacher training program that ci is necessary for acquisition and that there was a better way than following the grammar curriculum set out in the textbook, but I didn’t know how to implement it. Being the lone language teacher in my school didn’t help either. I had no PLC. I had no people to share ideas with.

Cue my entry into the world of CI teachers.

The world of CI (in the form of the #langchat community on Twitter, Countless Facebook groups [see below], and blogs like PBLintheTL, The Comprehensible Classroom, My Generation of Polyglots, and Musicuentos to name the few that I found first, take a look at the list of blogs on the side of my page for more that I have found since then) opened up my eyes to the world beyond the textbook. I jumped in headfirst. TPRS! OWI! Persona Especial! PQA! It was all so much more interesting for the students and for me.

The kids are now on the path to acquisition rather than the cycle of memorizing and forgetting. I have not thought about quitting teaching in a long time (it used to be a pretty common occurrence). And most importantly for my own mental health and ability to continue in the profession of language teaching, I have found a community of like-minded teachers who are generous with time and advice. CI teachers are some of the best teachers and some of the best humans on this planet and I am humbled and honored to be a part of this community.

Make your voice heard

I recently was asked to write a guest post for a colleague’s CI blog. In it, I talked about “My CI Journey.” This being a blog all about the “journey into the world of comprehensible input,” I was happy to oblige. As I wrote, I came to the realization that inspired this post: CI has changed my entire life.

If not for CI, I wouldn’t have a blog, I would not be a presenter at conferences like ACTFL, SCOLT, and the Spanish Teacher Success Academy (and hopefully FFLA 2019!), I would not be leading a webinar for NNELL, and I might not even be a teacher anymore. The burnout that comes with being the only world language teacher with no outlet or community to come to with problems or successes would be too much.

Most importantly, though, if not for CI, my students would not be able to do what they can do now. They would not be on the path to acquisition and eventually to proficiency in Spanish. Without CI, I would not have learned the strategies, activities, techniques, and methods to incorporate ci into my instruction. I would have continued using traditional/grammar-based textbook methods and my kids would be really good at filling in grammar worksheets and filling in the blanks in vocabulary worksheets.

The term CI isn’t just a term in the world of SLA or language teaching methods textbooks anymore. It is a movement. It’s a community. It’s a gamechanger.

The “CI Teacher” label announces to the world they are not interested in using the same skill-building/grammar-based methods that have been used for the last 40 years. For evidence of the size and widespread appeal of the CI Movement, just look at the number of CI groups on Facebook: CI Liftoff, CI Fight Club, iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching, TPRS-Deskless Classrooms, and so many more – here is a list of CI Facebook groups by state. On top of that, if you’re interested in talking to a teacher who is on their own CI journey, teacher blogger and vlogger Sarah Breckley recently put together a Google Map of CI teachers around the country.

The CI Movement is growing. If you haven’t already, join us and bring your voice to our conversation.

3 thoughts on “What is ci? What is CI?

  1. Great post! I am curious about the inclusion of Project-Based Learning as a CI approach, though. From what I have seen most use of projects in WL classes has seemed to be output-driven, relied on English for instructions and group or partner work, led to Google Translate use when students wanted to say things they didn’t know how to say, provided poor quality input to other students when presented, and taken up a lot of class time that could be used for input activities leading to acquisition. Is there some way people are addressing these pitfalls that I just haven’t seen yet?

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am not the best person to ask about PBL, but one thing I do feel qualified to say is that when I use that term, I don’t mean that the students are doing traditional projects that we’re used to seeing (family trees, biographies, cultural research projects, etc). I used these kinds of projects for years and had the same outcomes you mention-to the point of having kids ask me what their presentations mean in English because they didn’t know-they used translators and then forgot what they wrote!

      Laura Sexton, a teacher and presenter from North Carolina states that PBL “means students are using their new language to accomplish something meaningful while they develop language proficiency.” She has a blog called http://www.pblinthetl.com. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in Project-Based Learning in the World Language classroom.

      I hope this helps you in your teaching journey and if you have any other questions, I’ll be happy to talk with you about them!

      Like

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