Volume 9, Number 2: October 30, 2002
by Terrence Mannetter, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin-River Falls
In the 20 years that I have taught Spanish language and literature courses at the undergraduate level in the University of Wisconsin System at the Madison, Oshkosh, and River Falls campuses, I have consistently attempted to use the newest technological innovations available to me in the classroom. Early in my career, beginning in the mid-1980's, I employed an eclectic, proficiency-oriented methodology of second language instruction. This included incorporating audio and video samples of the target language and culture with well-intentioned, though not always systematic, classroom planning strategies. I used these materials because I knew, both intuitively and through observation of classroom student performance, that they were in many ways "good" for students and that they substantially enhanced the overall classroom experience, especially at the early stages of second language acquisition.
As I began to reevaluate my teaching methodologies in the early 1990's, I started implementing Natural Approach methodology to second language instruction, as developed by Stephen Krashen, Tracy Terrell and many others. A cornerstone of the Natural Approach classroom is the desirability of a student-centered, low anxiety environment that provides the maximum amount of "comprehensible input." The methodology encourages frequent use of appropriate multimedia sources or materials, presented in a contextualized manner, to maximize the linguistic and cultural input received by the student. I learned that, to use this methodology successfully, I needed to incorporate multimedia elements into the classroom in a more systematic manner, always keeping with the basic tenets of Natural Approach theory, and always with a specific purpose.
Natural Approach theory developed
out of the limitations many second language instructors experienced
during the 20th century using traditional grammar-based methodologies.
Many students studied the grammatical and pronunciation rules of a language
for years, and yet were not 'fluent' in that language. Rather than concentrating
on consciously 'learning' the grammar and sounds of a language, the
Natural Approach insists on 'acquiring' the language through coming
into extensive contact with authentic examples of the target language,
always at a level of complexity at or slightly above the current level
of proficiency of the language learner. The theory suggests that we
learn a second language in a manner similar to a first language, and
one of the principal tasks of the second language instructor is to provide
such an atmosphere in the classroom situation.
I am convinced that the most significant increases in my students' second language proficiency are the combined result of enhanced technological input, presented in an environment where positive associations to the target language are abundant and negative associations are absent. Indeed, when the Affective Filter operates on a positive level, students tend to react in a more engaged manner with the input they perceive, whether delivered via the latest technological aids or not. As a consequence, I have dedicated many class hours to fostering a positive, nurturing classroom atmosphere, and to monitoring and mitigating any negative associations toward the target language. At the same time, I have refrained from increasing the amount of technologically-derived materials that lack a specific purpose in the curriculum.
A crucial element of a low Affective Filter is a strong sense of mutual trust between student and instructor. Indeed, in a Natural Approach classroom, the instructor himself of herself is the central multimedia entity, consistently providing a wealth of comprehensible linguistic, paralinguistic, and cultural input and signals. The instructor can supplement this input with a judicious portion of contextually relevant input from as many additional sources as possible. Clearly, multimedia input from external sources beyond the instructor can dramatically increase the amount and quality of comprehensible input in a Natural Approach second language class; however, any such input creates an additional entity in the classroom, inserted between instructor and students, that can potentially loosen and disrupt the affective bond.
A major challenge for the Natural Approach language program is to incorporate multimedia in ways that foster cohesion and a positive atmosphere rather than distract the students. The instructor must always strive to maintain a high level of positive motivation among second language learners who are receiving, acquiring, and evaluating this input.
Natural Approach Methodology Resources
Krashen, Stephen and Tracy Terrell. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. (New York: Pergamon Press Inc., 1983).
Approach." Interlink Language Center, Indiana State University. Internet