Krashen's Hypotheses

Krashen’s Hypotheses

Excerpted from Foundations:  A Natural Approach to the (Transition) Year
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Stepping Stones is based in large part on the research of Dr. Stephen Krashen, whose simple yet earth-shattering hypotheses have not yet been disproven - after almost forty years - and to which I hew as closely as possible in my work. These hypotheses are explained in my own words below:

Conscious learning about a language, including memorizing and learning and manipulating grammar paradigms, is a separate process in the brain from unconsciously acquiring a language.  In order to build long-lasting proficiency, where using the language to communicate is the goal, teachers must teach for acquisition, not learning.  Acquired proficiency comes from our internal mental representation of the language, a linguistic system we build in our minds, not from learned facts, lists, and formulae.

Understanding comprehensible messages (in spoken and, for literate students, written form) is the cause of language acquisition.  There is no other way to feed the Language Acquisition Device (posited by linguist Noam Chomsky) the data that it needs to build a mental representation of the language.  

The Monitor is our self-editing, or self-correcting function.  It is useful for helping us produce grammatically-correct writing or correct speech.  However, the Monitor can also impede our willingness to take risks and try using language.  In the beginning stages of language acquisition, teachers should focus on communicating, not accuracy, and avoid correcting students’ attempts at output.

Language is best acquired when students are relaxed and focused on something interesting and pleasant.  A classroom environment that keeps affective filters low, thus, is key for optimal language acquisition to occur.  This suggests that we need to make all our students feel as comfortable and successful as possible, celebrate success, smile at them, and cultivate a warm, relaxed, focused, and stress-free environment.  

Grammatical features of languages are acquired in a natural order that cannot be changed by instruction.  Students can learn about features of the language (e.g. the difference between the verbs ser and estar or how to form the past tenses) in any order, but true acquisition of the features is not under our conscious control.  Students progress along the natural order in the same order, but at different paces.  We should thus provide our classes with the most complex language that they can still understand (which in the beginning is provided at a very slow pace, with lots of scaffolding such as pictures or translations or visual aids), so that students at all their different stages along the natural order of acquisition can all take linguistic data that helps them to grow their mental representation of the language.  

The Vision

Dr. Krashen’s vision of comprehensible input - whole-language, meaningful, interesting instruction for world languages - aligns with our national standards.  That information can empower us to work within our systems to shift the local standards more into alignment with the type of input Dr. Krashen recommends as superior - input that prioritizes communication and whole language over specific language parts.  

With ACTFL leading the way away from the ineffective form-focused language instruction of the past, and with local teachers helping to shift the conversation towards our national standards and the research on how we learn languages, eventually we will become free of faulty standards and gain the unfettered ability to teach in a natural and much more enjoyable way, by providing comprehensible, community-building, and creative experiences to our students.  This book lays down a suggested roadmap for that type of instruction.

With Stepping Stones, you have a scope and sequence for a year of uncluttered, proficiency-based language instruction and assessment of students’ acquired competence, their proficiency in using the language for communication.  If teachers had the full freedom to align only with the national standards, this could change language classrooms into community-building creative spaces more resembling a Montessori or Waldorf or Dewian school - those visionary radical education reformers of the Progressive Era - than the form-focused classrooms that most of us inhabited in our school careers as beginner language learners.  

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