How We Got Started
On a Sunday afternoon in May, six of us were having tea at the kitchen table: the parents of my "German family", my German "brother", a visiting couple, and me. While we were talking, the phone rang, and the youngest boy in the family answered it. He came to tell his mother that a friend was calling. She told him to find out what the friend wanted and if it was all right for her to return the call later. After "Andri" had reported back, the visiting couple asked what the exchange had been about. I responded, "What? You mean you didn't understand that?" Everyone at the table turned to look at me, and the universal reaction was, "And you did!!??"
You see, I was living in Stuttgart, Germany, at the time. The pater familias had grown up in the greater Stuttgart area, but the mother came from Switzerland, near Zurich. For about a year I had lived with the family and listened to the mother speak Schwyzerdutsch (Swiss German) with her children. Without trying to do so, I had acquired an understanding of this dialect of German. The visiting couple was also from greater Stuttgart, so these native speakers were unable to understand a conversation that I, the foreigner, followed with ease. It surprised us all.
Many years later, that event helped to shape how I approach language instruction. Second Language Acquisition research has shown us time and again that we acquire a language by understanding spoken and written messages in that language. Those research findings explain what happened to me on that Sunday afternoon and show me that I need to expose my students to comprehensible language, not just information about the language.
Fast forward a number of years. I am now a German teacher, but in the meantime I have worked as a pastoral intern, an adjunct instructor at Talbot Theological Seminary, an airline employee, and a performer at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. I have also gotten Masters degrees in Music, Divinity, Theology, German, and Spanish. My methods training has been in a variety of methods and approaches, and I have learned languages through Grammar-Translation, Audio-Lingual Method, and the Communicative Approach. Then, when I was in Madrid working on that MA in Spanish, I met a fellow student who talked to me at length about a method he was using: TPRS. After watching him teach German to a group of Spanish speakers with this method, I decided it was worth investigating.
Several workshops, conferences, and books later, I knew that this method provided me with a flexible but sturdy and durable skeleton on which to hang the language and make it comprehensible and enjoyable. Gradually I incorporated the method into my teaching until I was basing my entire curriculum on providing Comprehensible Input to my students. When that happened, I experienced several results: classes became enjoyable for me as well as my students; I quit agonizing over how to get my students to learn the language; my students began using the language outside the classroom; my enrollment started growing at all levels. Enrollment in German classes went from about 50-60 to 180 in just a couple of years. My school had to close the intra-district German transfer program, which had bolstered the program for years, because classes were bulging with students just from our two feeder middle schools. Students were staying in the program.
As a result, I now have two full (40 students each) sections of German 1, two full sections (mid 30s) of German 2, and a full section (37 students) of combined 3-4-AP (Advanced Placement). I needed a curriculum that would continue to provide students with Comprehensible Input over the course of two years on a rotating basis. History, and especially the Middle Ages, is one of my passions, and I wanted something that would introduce students to the time period in a comprehensible way while providing "hooks" for exploring authentic texts, culture, and themes. There was nothing out there, so I wrote it myself. The result was the book Ritter von heute. (There's a Spanish version, Caballero de hoy, awaiting illustrations so I can get it printed.) When I shared my book with colleagues, they encouraged me to make it widely available. Thus, Compelling Input Productions was born.
It wasn't always called Compelling Input Productions, and there were plenty of false starts and missteps. But now the business is to the point that I have a website, present at language conferences, and work with a group of dedicated language teachers to provide professional development at workshops.
I'm still teaching, so I'm still looking to improve my instruction and materials for my classes. That means continuing to read the research into acquisition, learn new strategies and procedures, take refresher courses on methods, and write. While doing research on German history, I came across the legend of Klaus Stoertebeker and found it fascinating. Telling the story of the pirate captain who was beheaded yet stood to walk past his men in an attempt to save their lives, the legend is unique to the pirate tradition. As a pirate in the North Sea area, Stoertebeker is also different from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" stereotype. The result was my second book, Nordseepirat (available in Spanish as Pirate del Norte and in French as Pirate de la Mer du Nord). I also have other teaching materials available and am working to expand my contribution to the teaching profession.
I hope you enjoy the site and find some of the products valuable. Thanks for visiting!