Rookie Mistake

Friday I made a rookie mistake. It had to do with the reading I typed up for the class. It was too difficult. There were at least 2 words that nobody recognized at all. Then there were at least 3 more words that the majority did not know well enough to recognize without contextual support.

We have little tolerance for "noise" in text. And given that Hu and Nation (2000) suggest that 98% of the words in a text should be known in order for unassisted comprehension of fictional text to happen, this low tolerance is with good effect.

I suspect I'm not the only one who throws in a quick new rejoinder or other unknown lexical item into my spoken exchanges with students, then look at them and throw out an "Olvídalo" while waving my hand. These incomprehensible yet slightly-comprehensible-due-to-context utterances are easily heard and forgotten. Unless we plan to bring that vocabulary into the shelter and establish its meaning, they won't hear it again. And nobody will worry too much about it.

This same thing doesn't really happen when we're reading a story together as a class or with the intent to answer comprehension questions. Incomprehensibility raises the affective filter too much and causes us to dwell on what we don't know; even moreso if we're being graded/judged. The words don't fade away as easily because they're right there, kind of creeping on the ones we do know and putting a downer on the comprehension party. Serious flow interruptors.

So what did I do. I first apologized. Then I went through and for some I just plugged in some synonyms they do know well (e.g. "le gusta mucho" for the incomprehensible "le encanta"). And for a couple others I decided I was in it half-way with them, bringing them into the shelter, working them into the conversation and story, meanwhile lamenting that I may not see this language come back into our class dynamics in the foreseeable future due to low frequency and potential thematic irrelevance.

A shame to lower a sense of success and comprehension because I thought I'd go ahead and try to teach more words.


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