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Key figures in ELT

June 30, 2009

Hello again,

Like many teachers and trainers of my generation, I was deeply affected by the work of Stephen Krashen. His acquisition/learning distinction made a lasting impact on ELT, although ...

...in some ways it is a refinement of ideas going back to de Saussure.

According to Krashen acquisition is a subconscious process like the one children experience when they absorb their first language. Meaningful interaction, or natural communication, occurs, when speakers communicate. The learned system comes from formal instruction about the language, for example, awareness of grammar rules. For Krashen learning is less important than acquisition.

The Monitor hypothesis relates acquisition to learning. According to Krashen, an utterance originates from the acquisition system and the learning system plays the role of monitor or editor. In other words, the monitor can function when three conditions are met: the learner has sufficient time, can consider form and correctness, and knows the rule.

The Natural Order hypothesis is based on research suggesting that the acquisition of grammatical structures follows a predictable natural order. For each language, some grammatical structures are acquired early while others late. This order seemed to be independent of age, L1 background, and conditions of exposure. This natural order can explain why learners of English, for example, find it hard to use third-person singular –s in the present simple tense. It is imply that this structure comes later in the process.

Krashen’s Input hypothesis explains how learners acquire a second language. It is concerned with acquisition, not learning. Learners progress when they receive second language input that is one step beyond their current stage of competence. If a learner is at a stage 'i', then acquisition takes place through exposure to Comprehensible Input at level 'i + 1'. As not all of the learners will have the same level of linguistic competence at the same time, Krashen suggests that natural communicative input will ensure that learners should receive 'i + 1' input appropriate to their current level of linguistic competence.

The Affective Filter hypothesis states that a number of affective variables have a facilitative, but non-causal role in second language acquisition. These include motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. Learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped to acquire a second language. Low motivation, low self-esteem, and anxiety can raise the affective filter forming a mental block to prevent comprehensible input from being used for acquisition.

Krashen’s theories helped teachers to take a more flexible and communicative approach to syllabus design and to recognise some of the psychological barriers to effective learning.

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  1. Phil Says:

    Krashen's views made a big impact on me too when I did my training. I still subscribe to these perspectives but I believe there is a need for language learning too now. In terms of syllabus design then can I ask what you think here. Should there be a balance between the two? In relation to acquiring grammatical structures I think Krashen is right but that still we should make students aware of the systems. In relation to vocabulary though I reckon there is strong need for language learning to accelerate the process of acquisition. The two, language learning and language acquisition, can be made to meld by a good programme with a creative approach, I think.

  1. j. Says:

    I have recently found an add where a native speaker is sought for for teaching a 5 year old boy somewhere in Central America. The place is remote, so you are supposed to live in. As a cosequence, your salary is, I think, $200 (the rest of the money is, I assume, taken off for your living costs) and it states that they also need help in maintaining a small family business (in tourism), so they would be happy to offer you some additional manual work for extra money.

    I guess it pictures the attitude to English language teachers and their expected level of education.

    As a non-native English speaker who has studied for years to brush up my English, and have a valid teaching certificate in my native country, I would never take this position. But then, this employer doesn't seek for such an employee, but for an unskillful worker who just happens to be of English/American origin and is desperate enough to accept such a position.

    Maybe that's (partly) the clutch with all this "native speaker" fuss?

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