Our youngest daughter likes to tell stories about a character that she has created; a horse named Cowboy Bozo. Earlier this year, she told me a new Cowboy Bozo story:

“Once upon a time, Cowboy Bozo went to the beach with a girl. She was riding on his back. He went into the water. All of a sudden, the girl ran away! Then, a little while after, she came back to where Cowboy Bozo was… “… but there he wasn’t was.”

“There he wasn’t was.” Was this a mistake? Had my precious, articulate 3.5 year old princess just made A LINGUISTIC ERROR?

I would argue not. Instead of thinking of learning a language like learning math or science, try thinking about it like learning to walk. Just as we go through various developmental stages when learning to walk, so do we move through various developmental stages as we acquire language. 

Crawling isn’t bad walking; it’s just a developmental stage. When a baby rolls over, sits up, pulls themself up, and crawls, we don’t try to correct the child for not walking properly. We acknowledge that their new movement is evidence of a new developmental stage– we get a glimpse of the growth and development that is happening inside their little bodies! We should view language acquisition the same way. 

When a learner forms an “irregular” verb pattern improperly, or a student overextends the use of one verb into the territory of another (think ser vs. estar if you are a Spanish teacher), this should be viewed as evidence of the developmental stage of language acquisition that the learner is in. It is EXCITING to get a glimpse into what is happening in the learner’s mind. And, furthermore, just as the strategy to help a baby move from one developmental stage to the next is time, so is the strategy to move from one developmental stage of language acquisition to the next time… time spent listening to and reading processable input: linguistic input that the learner can understand.

Try it– and I think you’ll find that linguistic errors, just like Cowboy Bozo, there they aren’t are.

The content of this blog post was originally posted on Instagram in March of 2021. Click here to see the original post, and follow @comprehensibleclassroom for to fill your feed with ideas related to language teaching.

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11 replies on “Crawling isn’t bad walking

  1. I really appreciate this perspective- I will share this with my colleagues, and try to remember this as I go through the year, “taking a glimpse” of what is happening and developing in their minds.

  2. Thank you for this. I think I may share the stages of learning to walk with my students on the first day. They always have such high anxiety about making mistakes. A language isn’t the same as other classes where 1+1 always =2 and we signed the Declaration of Independence from England in 1776, no other year. It takes awhile for them to understand that mistakes are okay in my class. I think this may help them understand what is expected of them and help them to celebrate each step they make.

    1. I know of at least one teacher that shared this with her students after I originally published it on Instagram this past spring and it REALLY resonated with them!

  3. Thank you, Martina, for sharing this story and this great phrase/analogy. I am always telling my students how proud of them I am for their growth and for their “mistakes”. Their “miscues” help them learn, show me their willingness to take risks, their creativity, and ability to make connections. Like you and the reader above, I will absolutely share “crawling is not bad walking” with my students…it makes what I’ve been telling them much more concrete and I can’t wait to see it lower their affective filter from day 1! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  4. This is AMAZING!! I remember when my toddler turned to me and said, “Mommy, you buyed this!” I did not correct her. She never made that mistake again because of comprehensible input. She heard it’s being set correctly numerous times and eventually read it in books. I am so grateful to read this blog this morning because it really is an amazing perspective.

    1. I’m so glad it was encouraging! And isn’t it so wild how we literally would never even think to correct a child for something like that or to feel annoyed that they said it wrong. Celebration every time!

  5. Thanks for this post! When I was getting my M.Ed, we had an assignment where we had to analyze the English of toddlers or preschoolers and their interactions with their parents. It was so enlightening to see how language acquisition naturally works. My niece is the same age as your daughter, and I love seeing her acquire language and over-apply rules. My first year teaching, I taught in an elementary school with a lot of Spanish heritage speakers. My first graders would often say, “Yo no sabo” instead of “No sé.” Also, I currently have a crawling baby, and she gets where she needs to go and quickly, so crawling is not bad!

    1. That sounds like a super valuable assignment, kudos to your prof for having you think about language acquisition like that!

  6. Martina, with your permission, I’ll print your poster with baby and phrase to post in front of my classroom (credits included). Thank you for sharing!

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