¿Te gusta ________?
Sí, me gusta ________. Or: No, no me gusta ________.
How does this go against the precepts of Teaching through Comprehensible Input (TCI)? Let me count the ways.
First, there seems to have been little focus on input at all. The teacher maybe pronounced the words for them once or twice each, maybe using them in context a little bit, but the focus was to get the students making up sentences with each other as soon as possible. But TCI maintains, through long-established and well-tested theory, that we acquire a language by hearing it (input) and understanding what we hear (comprehensible). Now, if the teacher was giving them good examples of these bits of language, and the students were paying attention, then that was CI. If the kids in the class were making sentences up for their partners, and their partners were understanding what they heard, then that is CI. The problem lies with the quality of the input. A seventh-grader on her first day of Spanish class will not be able to pronounce Spanish words or sentences very well at all. When she speaks a sentence for her partner to understand, it will not be excellent quality Spanish. The partner will acquire far-from-perfect Spanish. He will in turn provide her, and his other classmates, with bad input. This will result in a vicious circle, the end results of which are what is sometimes referred to as “classroom pidgin.” If we have novice students teach each other the language, they will acquire a novice language.
Second, the pattern was a poor choice for the particular language involved. This structure was chosen because it could be made into a simple plug-in exercise for repetition of the “basic” verb form. (All the blanks above can be filled in by the infinitives of the verbs in the list.) Now, asking about likes and dislikes is certainly a basic function of language, and one that is inherently interesting; however, in Spanish, the “me gusta, te gusta” sentence pattern is not normal for simple declarative sentences. It is not the English “I like, you like” but rather “to me (it) is pleasing, to you (it) is pleasing.” A teacher wanting to get her students to acquire basic Spanish patterns is setting herself up for some serious headaches by focusing on this oddball right away. Students will naturally start using it for different kinds of sentences, producing things like, “Me esta en la casa” or “Te bebe agua.” It seems to me that it would be far better to start with “Do you watch TV? Do you play football?” and so on, more basic and inherently interesting questions that use a far more common grammatical structure. Introduce “me gusta” later, gradually, so it can fit in “on top” of more common structures.
Third, why give students huge lists of words to memorize? They won’t use most of them very much. They will remember enough of them to get a good grade on the quiz next Wednesday, but the rest will go spinning off into the stratosphere, never to be heard again. We TCI teachers feel it is much more important to focus on a few words at a time, chosen by the students because they are interesting to the students, and to use these words constantly to make up lots of different sentences (see point four below), the teacher using his expert knowledge of the language to provide input that is high quality.
Finally – and I surely could think up more things to say, but you’re getting impatient with me – what’s so fun about using and re-using the same pattern, with no real connection to one’s feelings or to natural meaning in the world? I can see the students in their class, sitting next to their partners (or across from each other, because the teacher will get brownie points from her supervisor for rearranging the chairs), paper in hand, having this kind of dialog:
Student 1: “Te gusta comer” (flat, monotonic voice)
Student 2: “Wait, what’s kow-mair?”
Student 1: (points to word on list) “It means eat.”
Student 2: “Oh, yeah. Um … me gusta … si, me gusta comer. Um … te gusta Bieber”
Student 1: “it’s not ‘Bieber’ like Justin Bieber, dummy. Bay-BARE.”
Student 2: “Whatever. I heard Hayley and Josh are going out now.”
A TCI class would be more like this:
Teacher: Hey everybody, does Erin like to drink coffee?
Class: Yes! No! No! Yes!
Teacher: Some of you said that Erin likes to drink coffee, some of you said that Erin doesn’t like to drink coffee. Well, she doesn’t like to drink coffee. She told me she doesn’t like to drink coffee. What does Erin like to drink?
Brave student: Whiskey!
Teacher: Yes, that’s true! Erin likes to drink whiskey. Erin drinks whiskey every day. Does Erin drink whiskey on Thursday?
Class: Of course!
Another brave student: How do you say, “A lot?”
Where would you rather be?