Dr. Stephen Krashen on Language Acquisition

Posted by | October 25, 2012 | Uncategorized

Dr. Stephen Krashen on language acquisition. His talks are brilliant and entertaining and this presentation is no different. If you’ve seen him before then you’ll definitely see more than a few things repeated from previous videos but it’s like watching one of your favorite movies over and over and never tiring of it. Certainly you’ll remember and be amused/informed by his trademark German language lesson in which you get bombarded with what might as well be gobbledygook and then lesson 2 which is fabulously full of comprehensible input.

He always starts with some humor which makes everyone feel comfortable. Here he jokes about catching up to Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga on Twitter and Facebook. Let’s help him out a bit and follow him @skrashen and add Stephen Krashen as a friend.

Getting to the talk he defines acquisition as the natural way or picking up a language and learning as conscious or dealing with grammar rules but more on that later. While you’re acquiring you don’t know you’re acquiring because it’s subconscious. Also, you aren’t aware you’ve acquired the new knowledge like a language. The great news is that the ability to pick up a language never goes away. It is with us our entire lives and doesn’t disappear because our Language Acquisition Device (LAD) never shuts down.

Get ready to be shocked some of you and in particular your students who are striving to make every utterance perfect and want you to make sure that any wayward word or missed preposition is caught. Krashen talks about what we think error correction is suppose to do as far as getting students to learn the rules but if you’ve read him before you’ll know that his research and that of others as he cites suggest that error-correction has no or little effect upon learner’s competence.
stephen krashen language acquisition
Another fun joke is Dr. Krashen stating that he has a PhD in grammar and yet he cannon always tell what rule of English has been broken an ESL or EFL student makes a mistake while speaking. It does make us all feel better, doesn’t it? Another good one about one study where they found that chalkboards are more effective that overhead projectors like the one he is using in the video and he says what a waste of money. Ha!

Empathy time as he gets you to put yourself in that place where you are struggling yourself using a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language. For him that would be Spanish. More about how we learn all these rules in school about language and grammar and all that is good for is building our internal monitor which doesn’t help at all with fluency and should only be engaged when we are writing something formally because if we let that monitor run wild then our speech will be greatly halted and rather annoying to listen to. What you have to appreciate is how this is all based on rigourus research and he elludes to that by directing you to his cure for insomnia which is his book titled ‘Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning‘ and you can read it all online.

Way back in 1975 Dr. Krashen concluded that acquisition gives us our fluency and learning gives us our accuracy. Isn’t that nice? He went on to devise a lovely balanced program of 2 days a week of conversation and 2 days a week of grammar. How fair, yet it’s all wrong! What the research has been saying since 1975 is that acquisition is the most important and it will give you both fluency and accuracy and there is very little difference for kids or adult ESL learners. Even the most hardcore grammar person of which he is will be shocked by that as he was but you just can’t bury your head in the sand and reject the research. He then goes on to another funny bit about how a good time for him is reading about a grammar of a language he doesn’t know.

Getting back to talk he states that when he was the Director of ESL in Queens College, NY he told his teachers that the universals of language teachers where; 1) Explain the rules clearly. 2) Correct errors. That’s what he told them and what he wrote about and most people thought and some still do that it was his best work. Guess what? All those papers are wrong! The research has changed his position to one that is all about acquisition. This all begs the question; How do we acquire language? That’s where he goes into his 2 language lessons and how can you tire of seeing those. Such a great reminder of what a good ESL lesson should look and sound like.

Well let’s not spoil all of the talk here. Push play on the youtube video above or listen/download to Dr. Krashen’s talk at Yeonsei university on ‘Optimal English Education’ below which is essentially the same talk with a few other jokes. You’ll be glad you did and you’re students will be ecstatic. Enjoy!

Stephen Krashen quote

“Language acquisition proceeds best when the input is not just comprehensible, but really interesting, even compelling; so interesting that you forget you are listening to or reading another language.”

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24 Responses to “Dr. Stephen Krashen on Language Acquisition”

  1. Comment made by Robert P. Meneses on Oct 27th 2012 at 9:06 pm: Reply

    Greetings Mr. Krashen.

    It is a pleasure to me to be able to demo your perspectives to my Ss.

    Hope to meet with once again when I return to USC where I also studied for quite sometime.

    Best regards.

    Robert P. Meneses-

    • Comment made by admin on Oct 28th 2012 at 3:28 am: Reply

      Dear Robert,

      If you’d like to get in touch with Dr. Krashen you should follow him or find him on facebook using those links above.

  2. Comment made by Khalil Zakari on Oct 27th 2012 at 9:59 pm: Reply

    Accuracy and Fluency seem to be more of a continuum than a dichotomy. Effective classroom interaction management provides enough evidence for the claim.

    • Comment made by admin on Oct 28th 2012 at 3:52 am: Reply

      Thank you Mr. Zakari for the insightful comment. That does seem to be the case brought to light by quite a few papers. I thought the text below might be good in illuminating that very point.

      According to one well-known contrast, learning is conscious knowledge of language rules, does not typically lead to conversational fluency, and is derived from formal instruction. Acquisition, on the other hand, occurs unconsciously and spontaneously, does lead to conversational fluency, and arises from naturalistic language use. Some specialists even suggest that learning cannot contribute to acquisition, i.e., that “conscious” gains in knowledge cannot influence “subconscious” development of language.
      However, this distinction seems too rigid. It is likely that learning and acquisition are not mutually experience. “Our knowledge about what is conscious and what is subconscious is too vague for us to use the [learning-acquisition] distinction reliably,” says one expert; moreover, some elements of language use are at first conscious and then become unconscious or automatic through practice. Many language education experts suggest that both aspects – acquisition and learning – are necessary for communicative competence, particularly at higher skill levels. For these reasons, a learning-acquisition continuum is more accurate than a dichotomy in describing how language abilities are developed. In this book the term learning is used as a shorthand for the longer phrase learning and acquisition. The term language learner (or just learner) is used here in preference to more awkward terms, such as language acquirer or language learner or acquirer.
      Language learning strategies contribute to all parts of the learning-acquisition continuum. For instance, analytic strategies are directly related to the learning end of the continuum, while strategies involving naturalistic practice facilitate the acquisition of language skills, and guessing and memory strategies are equally useful to both learning and acquisition. For ease of expression, the term learning strategies is used in this book to refer to strategies which enhance any part of the learning-acquisition continuum.
      (Oxford, Rebecca L. 1990. Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. pp. 4-5. Newbury House Publishers.)

      • Comment made by Khalil Zakari on Oct 28th 2012 at 9:16 pm: Reply

        Thanks Admin for your valuable/constructive response.
        …language learning strageties — specific actions, behaviours, steps, or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills. These strageties can facilitate the internalization, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability. (Oxford, 1992/1993, p. 18). I am just wondering if the terms OFTEN INTENTIONALLY) do not tend to overemphasize learning on the detriment of acquisition.

        • Comment made by admin on Oct 29th 2012 at 2:49 am: Reply

          I see what you mean. The intentional part is more to do with their interest in the subject matter and being hungry to know more and therefore are still in the ‘language acquiring zone’ if you will and not in an ‘forced language learning zone’. Did I just coin those phrases? LAZ and FLLZ will be catching on soon :)

  3. Comment made by Arkady Zilberman on Oct 28th 2012 at 12:50 pm: Reply

    Acquisition is subconscious, learning is conscious process.
    I think it will be more clear if we paraphrase this phrase:
    left brain learning or right brain acquisition.

    The most difficult part is to activate right brain since our schools traditionally are engaged mostly in left brain (logical) learning.

    The best kept secret – comprehensible input: we acquire the language when we understand it. That is why support in native language is necessary in a modern application used by teachers in blended learning, however it should be organized in such a way that precludes subconscious translation into the mother tongue.

    • Comment made by admin on Oct 28th 2012 at 3:45 pm: Reply

      Thank you for the comment Mr. Zilberman. I see on your site you are trying to address that. Interesting!

    • Comment made by Khalil Zakari on Oct 28th 2012 at 9:37 pm: Reply

      I am not quite sure that using L1 or L2 in the EFL classroom can be of much help to learners. My argument is that students will become dependent on it, and not even try to understand meaning from context and explanation, or express what they want to say within their limited command of the target language (L2) – both of which are important skills which they will need to use when communicating in the real situation. Using L1 or L2 for me is some sort of spoon-feeding. It just sponges on the challenge(s) learners face having to learn/acquire a foreign language. There are instances where L1 or L2 become inevitable…..

      • Comment made by admin on Oct 29th 2012 at 2:43 am: Reply

        A good point indeed Mr. Zakari. There may be a place for it at certain levels/stages I suppose could be argued but perhaps the risk of that crutch is serious enough to keep it out of the classroom and use it only sparingly outside of class to answer student questions. There was something I read about anxiety felt by students who didn’t get the assignment for HW or other more complex instructions unrelated to the lesson at hand and that isn’t something we want to happen either.

  4. Comment made by Willem koper on Oct 28th 2012 at 2:15 pm: Reply

    Just two questions. Should ESL teachers be more like referees or like trainers? As a non-native English teacher I often see colleagues trying to turn students into referees, instead of training them in communication skills. Most teachers who learned English and don’t use it as their mother tongue should not forget that they themselves once studied the language. Do you believe in learning facilitators?

    • Comment made by admin on Oct 28th 2012 at 3:49 pm: Reply

      Thank you for the questions. I think we better open this up to everyone and see what they say. However, could you give some examples of what a teacher does in the classroom that is from the referee stance and how the trainer would do it? Thank you!

      • Comment made by Khalil Zakari on Oct 28th 2012 at 8:58 pm: Reply

        Indeed. As Admin says, we need some examples of what a student-refree-based behavior might be if compared to a student-coach-based teaching/learning behavior..

    • Comment made by Matt on Oct 29th 2012 at 2:14 am: Reply

      Posted this on behalf of Matt.

      I, for one, certainly don’t want to see myself as a trainer. The word “training” implies behavioural conditioning and a behaviouristic approach to language acquisition which resulted in Audiolingualism (based on the controversial work of John B. Watson) and grammar translation, both of which Krashen criticises.

      • Comment made by Khalil Zakari on Oct 29th 2012 at 1:05 pm: Reply

        It is true that ‘ training’ is not a term which is accepted by everyone working in the field of autonomy in language learning (Whitney 1988: 155) for being too narrowly and too functionally focused; nonetheless, it does not have to be , in my opinion, viewed as intrinscally synonymous to conditioning. there are a multitude of different versions of ‘learner training’ which are based on an array of context-related factors, such as the beliefs about language and language learning , the cultural, social and political environment in which learning is taking place, the nature of the macro-decisions of the language policy in addition to the kind of experience and expertise of the teacher engaged in the learner training process.
        Approaches that tend to have pre-determined programs to train all the students in much the same way might be considered as conditioning plans/processes. Pavlov’s dogs were equal to Pavlov, and Watson’s pigeons were no different from each other, to his mind.
        Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed and my own specific world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — a doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even into a beggar-man and thief,i regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors [JB Watson, “What the nursery has to say about instincts,” in Carl Murchison, ed., Psychologies of 1925 (Worcester, MA: Clark University Press, 1926), p. 10].

        One of the most challenging aspects of modern education, however, is adapting materials and methods intended for grade-appropriate instruction to students with different learning motivations, learning styles and multiple-intelligences.

        These learner-centered approaches consider the learner as an individual, a stake-holder, a decision-maker and an autonomy seeker. The role of the teacher is, accordingly, that of a facilitator and a feedback provider. Needless to say that learner training works best with small groups of adult learners who have a clear understanding of their own aims and needs.

        • Comment made by admin on Oct 30th 2012 at 1:10 pm: Reply

          Matt says:

          I, for one, certainly don’t want to see myself as a trainer. The word “training” implies behavioural conditioning and a behaviouristic approach to language acquisition which resulted in Audiolingualism (based on the controversial work of John B. Watson) and grammar translation, both of which Krashen criticises.

          Your posters would probably like articles on rewards, testing, etc. by Alfie Kohn: http://www.alfiekohn.org/index.php

          The discussion then went on to this on LinkedIn:

          On the other hand, I’ve yet to see any conclusive arguments for form focused instruction unless you count standardised metaliguistic test scores as a legitimate learning outcome. It certainly isn’t language competence. When proponents of form focused instruction (FFI) say that input alone isn’t enough and declare it leads to fossilised errors, they have to make a comparison with FFI. Does FFI significantly reduce fossilised errors when compared to comprehensible input alone?

          Jeff Gerdes • I agree that standardized metalinguistic test scores are not legitimate indicators of learning outcomes. They prove high scores are results of students who test well, but, from personal experience, tests often create a high level of anxiety in students who are otherwise very competent. I feel that FFI does not produce fossilized errors; reading for fun creates creativity and higher levels of thinking, which are not easily assessed by standardized tests and are not form-focused instruction material. (Unless I’m on the wrong ‘foot,’ there.) However, allowing for alternative assessments does allow for indicators of higher level thinking skills. Of course, alternative assessments are viewed as “fun work” and not easily scored/explained for publication in newspapers, which is where taxpayers, unfortunately, look for indicators of learning.

          I have to admit, I am not familiar with Merill Swain’s output hypothesis. I’ll have to investigate that theory.

          Matt Bury • On the FFI vs. natural approaches and fossilised errors front, I’d like to know if there’s any recent research that could shed some light on the subject. John Truscott claimed back in 1998 that it could actually be counter productive.

          Beniko Mason’s research (cited by Krashen) focuses on measuring differences in efficiency, rather than efficacy, between FFI and more natural approaches such as FVR and SSR. But so far, natural approaches seem to be winning in both communicative competence and metalinguistic tests; she uses TOEFL and TOEIC tests for some of this. Even Patsy Lightbown, who’s a proponent of FFI, has produced data that shows significantly stronger communicative competence development in natural approaches (FVR) as well as comparable FF test scores in a longitudinal study (Lightbown 1992).

          Perhaps there are fewer studies that measure communicative competence because of the issues you’ve mentioned. It’s difficult and time consuming to analyse the returned output from learners. Is this shortcoming more our problem than learners’? Shouldn’t we be working towards developing more effective and efficient approaches to linguistic competence assessment? If government agencies, universities and employers require more effective assessment and certification, then the assessment agencies, e.g. Cambridge and ETS, will have to find a way. I think the contention is between institutional, educational and business needs on the one hand, and assessment agencies’ profit margins and the affordability of assessment and certification to learners on the other. I think addressing these issues is key to effective second and foreign language education reform.

          What a healthy discussion going on indeed :)

  5. Comment made by Willem koper on Oct 28th 2012 at 9:12 pm: Reply

    In Spain most learning of English is tested in writing. Therefore, students take the same attitude of knowing about grammar and pass a test as when they study any other subject. They forget most of it soon afterwards. They feel they are learning the rules of the game with the basketball on the table. They want to get up and learn by doing but every mistake is punished by the blow of a whistle…
    What if the teacher understands that every affirmative sentence is like bouncing the ball with your right hand and a negative one bouncing with your left hand. A question is when you pass the ball to someone else. Practice makes perfect and oral skills are trained. Later mistakes are commented and back to practice.

  6. Comment made by Khalil Zakari on Oct 28th 2012 at 10:20 pm: Reply

    Test designers should continue to talk about the misuse of their tests. School achievement tests are seldom valid especially when they are prepared by individual teachers. Most often they fail to test what they claim to test.

    I refer you to English Teaching Forum 2012, Volume 50 , Number 3. p.p:33-6
    Twenty Common Testing Mistakes for EFL Teachers to Avoid (1982)

    As for the ball-bouncing analogy, I could not get the point, I must confess.

    • Comment made by admin on Oct 29th 2012 at 2:39 am: Reply

      “If more testing were the answer to the problems in our schools, testing would have solved them a long time ago.” Bill Goodling, chair of House Education Committee

  7. Comment made by admin on Oct 31st 2012 at 7:40 am: Reply

    Had to share this comment from LinkedIn:

    As a guy teaching himself Spanish with a cartoon blog, Dr. Krasner’s lecture on language acquisition, which I just finished listening to, has changed my whole mind. In one hour some things that had been vague thoughts jelled into a conviction!! Ian, thank you SOOOO much for this link.

    His bit on learning reading was spot-on to my life!! I was almost two years behind my peers in grade school until an observant teacher pulled me into an environment in which I was surround by books about World War 2. The Big Book of B-17s hooked me, and set me on a path to excelling well past my peers in reading in just one year.

    I’m going out tomorrow to buy myself some Manga in Spanish! And maybe some Spanish wrestling comics!!!!

    This group has been one of the best and most helpful ever!! Gracias, danke, spasebva, arigato, merci!!!!

    Posted by Steven Lee Stinnett

  8. Comment made by admin on Nov 2nd 2012 at 3:21 am: Reply

    More great discussion:

    Hi Dave. What do you mean by “cotext”? If you’re referring to co-constructed meaning, I’m with you! I suspect that Steve Krashen could count on “comprehensible input” to engage the minds of students who are either docile or eager to learn a language, but I’m not sure such input would have an impact on students today if it didn’t also invite them to react or contribute to the input. Mind you, Steve’s personality is an invitation to react, whatever the input.
    Posted by Betty Beeler

    Cotext are relationships between words in the text that provide the core
    comprehensible input. This is more technically referred to as collocations
    and concordances. I prefer to label them both “cotext.” I could demonstrate
    this, but it would take a bit more space than we have here. References
    would be Complexity Theory and Applied Linguistics (Cameron &
    Larsen-Freeman), and, The Stuff of Thought (Pinker). This a bit beyond
    Krashen’s theories, but very hypothetical and arguable for sure. Fun to

    Posted by Dave Hopkins

    I think we are on the same page here Betty…”Co-constructed meaning” I would take as the interrelationships between meaning and structure that provide the contextual fabric, and the lexical items that drive the grammatical forms. I don’t think Krashen would disagree, but he is narrowly defining the “input” as the learning side of the coin, whereas the engagement and production of language is the “practice” which is needed to develop language competency. I also believe that both Chomsky and Krashen played a bit heavy on the “input” theories, and didn’t pay sufficient attention to the development and refinement of “interlanguage” through practice and peer scaffolding. Wow…we’re into it now, ne?

    Posted by Dave Hopkins

    Very thought-provoking comments. I think many of us try to use teaching methods that associate context, production, practice and what you call “peer scaffolding”, without sacrificing cotext and form. Thanks for the references. I can see how linguistics is a sort of complex adaptive system, but would like to know more about its applicability to language acquisition.

    Posted by Betty Beeler

    Diane Larsen-Freeman (co author of Complexity and Applied Linguistics) is one of the formost spokespersons for language as a “complex adaptive system.” I reviewed her book on Amazon and believe that much of the theoretical fabric in CAS resonates (her word) with classroom experience. A highly recommended read. Pinker’s contribution is the fascinating exploration of how words, particularly verbs, constrain and instantiate sentence structures.I love his example, “You can ‘fill’ a glass with beer, but you canot ‘pour’ a glass with beer.” I am just a working teacher, but it’s hard not to fascinate over the possibility that “words” not “rules” predominate.

    Posted by Dave Hopkins

    Regarding Mr Krashen ‘s knowledge and views I take my hat off.
    and I’m not a cowboy. I’ve found his perspectives rather nourishing to say the least.

    Posted by Robert Meneses

  9. Comment made by admin on Nov 9th 2012 at 11:41 am: Reply

    What I miss with teaching based on providing comprehensible input is: how does a student who has “plateau-ed” get to the next level? If you have enough language to make yourself understood well, then you turn language learning settings into opportunities to manipulate the language you already have and do not add to your knowledge base—
    Posted by Lisa Chason

    Hello Lisa,

    Yes I agree could you give some examples though?
    Posted by Damian Glynn

    How does a student who has reached the plateau get to the next level? because at this stage a student may feel that he has stopped learning and as a result , she starts losing the desire to study . To help with this , I think we should give this student something NEW to learn , depending on her goal . For example , if the student wants to express herself like a native speaker, understand ‘ real language’, e.g , the news , lectures , movies, Then maybe teaching collocations or phonology ( connected speech) could help her move beyond the plateau . Collocations applies to all areas of language use ( speaking , listening , reading , writing ..) and connected speech is present in natural language ‘ real language’ .The more the student become AWARE of collocations ,the more she hears it , reads it and starts to notice it everywhere and it becomes part of her own language. The same applies to connected speech . In our career we can experience the same thing ‘ reaching the plateau ‘ . As a teacher, I feel I need to go to the next level. I can see where I want to be but I feel stuck.
    Posted by mia khalifa

    Hold on a minute! Nobody said that sticking to “comprehensible input” meant rehashing familiar grammatical or lexical items. Remember Steve’s way of teaching “augen”? He built upon existing knowledge (visual identification of eyes) to introduce “new material”, the name for eyes. The trick is to find ways to avoid a plateau in the first place by continually building on existing cues!
    Posted by Betty Beeler

    Sometimes a plateau is unavoidable and could be a good sign to help students consolidate and apply the language they had acquired ,and then become more autonomous as language users .
    It is not REHASHING, but NOTICING language. Raising awareness in language learning , for example going back to the listening text that serves for comprehension and use it for language awareness: students can listen and identify the difference between what they hear and printed form and notice features of connected speech , notice words that they occur together etc…
    Posted by mia khalifa

    Mia, I agree with you. I was making the point that being on a plateau was not rehashing; it is actually a stage during which consolidation can take place, and from which new language can be acquired. So I was trying to say that one shouldn’t see a plateau as stagnation (which seemed to be the concern of one of the contributors), but as part of the process.
    Posted by Betty Beeler

  10. Comment made by admin on Nov 15th 2012 at 6:33 am: Reply

    This is true that language acquisition occurs comprehension or cognition of learning second language! This is not a learning grammar rules or telling the story in the second language. Krashen set an effective way to make good communication in the second language. Speaking and listening skills in English can develop slowly on “input”!
    Posted by Farida Huseynova

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