Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Krashen Revolution

By Peter McKenzie-Brown

About 25 years ago, a psychologist named Stephen Krashen transformed language teaching. He had been developing his ideas over a number of years, but several books he published in the 1980s received widespread acceptance. They quickly became the most widely accepted way to explain the twin processes of language teaching and learning. Also, with Tracey Terrell, he developed the natural approach to language teaching. One of his books is available on the web.

Much has been made of Krashen's theory of second language acquisition, which consists of five main hypotheses: The acquisition-learning hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, the input hypothesis, and the affective filter hypothesis. Before we turn to these ideas, though, it is worth noting that by no means do they pertain exclusively to second language acquisition. As you read the following explanation of Krashen's five hypotheses, ask yourself whether his ideas are not equally applicable to an individual who has only one language. It seems to me that Krashen's ideas work equally well to describe how an adult native-speaker would improve her English, say, as they do to describe the process for the second language learner.

The Natural Order Hypothesis. Based on a powerful analysis of research results, Krashen’s natural order hypothesis suggests that the acquisition of language, especially the rules of language, follows a predictable natural order. For any given language, some grammatical structures tend to be acquired earlier than others. This idea reflects Noam Chomsky’s revolutionary notion that we all have a built-in Language Acquisition Device (LAD), which within the first year of our lives begins to enable us to understand and acquire language.

Because of the nature of the LAD, we tend to learn different structures at different levels as young children. Researchers have found that the same pattern occurs for older learners – not a surprise to seasoned language teachers! This is the “predictable natural order” of this hypothesis.

The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis. The distinction between acquisition and learning is the most fundamental of all the hypotheses in Krashen's theory, since it suggests that language comes to us in two rather different ways. Acquisition is one. You acquire language by using it for real communication. Learning, which he describes as “knowing about” language, is quite a different thing.

Acquisition is the product of a subconscious process very similar to the process children undergo when they acquire their first language. It requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers concentrate not on the form of their utterances, but in the communicative act. Learning, on the other hand, provides conscious knowledge “about” the target language. It is therefore less important than acquisition for basic communication, but it still plays an important role in language learning. To oversimplify a bit, learning is likely to occur in the “study” segment of an English lesson, while acquisition takes places during language activation.

The Monitor Hypothesis. The fundamental distinction between acquisition and learning leads directly to the next hypothesis. The monitor hypothesis relegates language learning (that is, a student’s responses to what the teacher teaches) to a secondary place in the scheme of language learning.

The monitor hypothesis is the idea that conscious learning – that is, the outcome of grammar instruction and other activities that were the traditional stock in trade of the language teacher – serve only as a monitor or an editor for the language student. Real acquisition takes place as “meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”

The Input Hypothesis. The input hypothesis suggests that people acquire language in only one way: by understanding messages, or by receiving ‘comprehensible input’. According to the input hypothesis, learner’s progress by receiving second language input that is one step beyond their current stage of linguistic competence. Acquisition for learners with language knowledge “i” can only take place if they are exposed to comprehensible input at a slightly higher level, which Krashen describes as level “i + 1”.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis. Finally, the Affective Filter Hypothesis proposes that a mental block caused by affective or emotional factors can prevent input from reaching the student’s language acquisition device. The affective filter hypothesis says that affective variables like self-confidence and anxiety play a role in language acquisition. When the filter is up – that is, when negative emotional factors are in play – language acquisition suffers. When the filter is down, it benefits.

Taken together, these hypotheses offer a practical, elegant and appealing theory of language acquisition and learning.

Putting Krashen’s Ideas to Use.
Tracy Terrell worked with Krashen to create the nuts-and-bolts practical applications of the natural approach. He borrowed widely from many methods, adapting them to meet the requirements of natural approach theory. “What characterizes the Natural Approach is the use of familiar techniques within the framework of a method that focuses on providing comprehensible input and a classroom environment that uses comprehension of input, minimizes learner anxiety, and maximizes learner self-confidence.”

He held students to a high level of accountability. They must be clear about their goals, take active roles in ensuring that input is comprehensible, make decisions about when to start producing speech, and even contribute to choices about the amount of time to be spent on grammar, for example. The teacher is a central figure in the natural approach classroom, however – the primary source of comprehensible input, and responsible for creating a friendly and encouraging class atmosphere. Also, of course, the teacher must find and introduce a rich mix of classroom activities to make the approach work.

The focus is always on introducing a little more English usage to what the students already have – i + 1, in Krashen’s formulation, – and to do so in a warm and receptive classroom. The method makes wide use of realia, props and visuals (typically magazine pictures) to introduce new vocabulary and practice comprehensible input.
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Anonymous said...

Nice summary, but Tracy Terrell was a man! :-)

Anonymous said...

thanks for these invaluable notes I will use them in my research

Anonymous said...

thanks for these invaluable notes I will use them in my research

jean said...

I really need the summary I just read,i was enlightened on the five theories by Krashen. It will help me i my thesis writing. Thanks nad more power

Anonymous said...

Thanks. it is very helpful to understand of concept!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary,it help me in writing my thesis about nature approach method

Anonymous said...

very nice to see this was awesome..beautiful summary and the article would really help me throughout in my research on humanistic vs communicative approach in language teaching

Anonymous said...

I came across this when looking up SLA researchers and find it interesting that you're sharing Krashen's understanding of learning in 2006 without explaining how much MORE has been learned since Krashen's beliefs came out in the 80s- SLA today has expanded far beyond this, both in ways that show how some of Krashen's understandings are on-the-mark, and others not so much!

English Corridor said...

Please log on to the link to see how a comprehensive language pedagogy has been worked out deriving insights from Chomsky,Krashen and Vygotsky.This pedagogy is in practice in the whole state of Kerala(India)

Frodo Baggins said...

It must also not be forgotten that Staphen Krashen has been criticized by many Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers and language teachers. One can even ironically state that every "self-respecting" SLA author or book must devote some time for the criticism of Krashen ;) However, the very fact that he is being constantly criticized and talked about for a few decades shows that Krashen's ideas are relevant and important, even though some of them may be debatable. In general, I think that even though some of Krashen's claims (especially in their most categorical form) may not be quite correct, there is more truth in what he says than in many other SLA researchers' books, who often write volumes and volumes and do not say much of practical value to language learners. While Krashen, on the other hand, is of enormous use. He is clear, to-the-point and enormopusly motivating to many learners. The clear guidance his ideas provide is very inspiring, even though critics may split airs what exactly "comprehensible input" means or how to empirically define "i+1" formula. Who cares as long as this helps me to make sense of my SLA efforts! I think that that is why Krashen is so popular. Input is desperately indeed as the most important factor in acquiring another language. One should start picking up another language by by listening listening and more listening, not studying boring textbooks and trying to understand diffcult grammar rules and linguistic descriptions of SL. These things may be important but they will come later in the SLA process in a natural way. Another important idea is that listening comes first, speaking - second. Many teachers do not understand this and force their studenst to speak from lesson one, which makes students frustrated and uncomfortable. How can students possible force themselves to speak if they do not know how to speak? How can you be forced to speak Spanish by your Spanish teacher if you only know a dozen of words??? Only receiving lots of input first, enables one to start producing native-like utterances little-by-little. Not vice-versa. Many teachers do not realize this very simple thing. Also, I guess the reason that many people so fiercely criticize Krashen is the perceived threat they feel. If language acquisition is largely an autonomous process, i.e. students pick up a language largley by themselves, then the need of teachers, classes, textbooks and the whole multi-million-dollar English language teaching industry. This is deeply threatening and therefore unacceptable to many people deeply involved in all this language teaching industry. That's why they feel so opposed to anything Krashen says. However, on closer inspection Krashen does not deny the value of a teacher or a language course. On the contrary, he encourages language classes as the best means to help studenst get a headstart in a language: begin to understand a language and be able to continue to acquire late on one's own. This is the biggest value of language classes: serve a sthe best starting point to help learners make sense of the input they will receive in real life. However, what Krashen denies is useless and boring grammar-based language instruction which usually is forgotten after the language course is over. How many continue and acquire the foreign language after they school-based language instruction is over? Not many. The only way to make use of language classes is to use them as a headstart for further independent acquisition. And independent acquisition will take place only when the learner is interested and motivated to continue acquiring a language and when he feels its practical value. I think we would all agree that traditional grammar and test-based language teaching approaches do very little to help learners to achieve this motivation!

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