Second Language Acquisition This article will briefly describe the

This article will briefly describe the theory of the acquisition of a second language put forth by Stephen Krashen, a professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California, and author of over 100 books and articles on the topic.

A lot of literature exists on the subject of language acquisition and there is quite often disagreement regarding how we learn, and how best to teach a second language. The main thrust of Krashen's theory consists in his five hypotheses:

1- The Acquisition versus Learning hypothesis

This is fundamentally the base of Krashen's theory: He makes a distinction between the acquisition of a language (which happens on a subconscious level much like the way children learn a first language) and learning through the conscious study of a language (which he believes is more like a language appreciation exercise). Krashen believes and purports to have extensive data which supports the notion that students who study a language in the traditional grammar lesson and drilling scenario acquire the language much more slowly than those who subconsciously 'pick up' the language by exposing themselves to comprehensible examples of it.

2- The Monitor hypothesis

The 'Monitoring' process is activated by a language learner when he or she is trying to convert acquired language into structures learned through formal instruction. This process in effect monitors and edits the acquired language and comes into play only if the language learner a) has enough time, b) knows and understands the appropriate rules, and c) focuses enough to think about them. Krashen has divided language learners vis-a- vis the monitor function into three groups:

Over-users are L2 speakers whose fluency suffers greatly from the need to edit everything before or while speaking. He believes that people with low confidence or low self-esteem a more likely to be over-users.

Under users are L2 speakers who don't edit anything (or very little) they say and apply nothing learned from formal lessons if in fact they ever had any. These types of speakers are more likely to be out- going extroverts.

Optimal users: Those who edit just the right amount, which Krashen believes should be very little, and correct or edit based on the feel of the language.

3- The Natural Order hypothesis

Krashen believes that all learners basically acquire specific grammar structures in a predictable, fairly set order for a given language, regardless of age, what their first language is, or how they were exposed to the L2. He cautions however that this finding does not mean that syllabuses should be designed with a step by step grammar plan. Rather, he stresses that students exposure to comprehensible language as the key factor. They will acquire the structures in good time.

4- The Input hypothesis

This hypothesis contends that a language learner of a given level , say level I, will only improve and gain better proficiency when they are exposed to comprehensible language of level i+1. This basically means that a person will acquire new language and improve their abilities only when they have been exposed to and understood some language a little above their current level.

5- The Filter hypothesis

This hypothesis states that the penetration of comprehensible input is filtered or blocked out in effect, by the language learner's anxieties, self-confidence and motivation. Krashen believes that the formal class model is an environment more conducive to stress and anxiety (and perhaps not the most interesting place either), making it a less than ideal scenario for acquiring language.

In general, to sum up the major points of Krashen's theory, he believes that the traditional model of grammar lesson followed by drilling is outdated and proven to be a less effective way to learn a language than to just be exposed to comprehensible (and comprehended) language input. The type of input a teacher can provide should not be determined by a ridged grammar based syllabus. Rather it should be comprehensible and interesting so that the students are focusing on the content of the material, not the language itself. The language will be acquired over time subconsciously as long as the students understand it and are interested in the material. Krashen says that this does not mean that there is no place for grammar in the classroom, but that students and teachers alike often fool themselves into believing the grammar lesson itself is the reason that students benefit from the lesson, rather than from the exposure to the language itself as the lesson is being conducted and understood by the students, as he contends.

I believe all this means that those of us who do teach grammar should not necessarily abandon our approach altogether. But if one is to believe in the theories and studies of modern linguistic researchers like Krashen, what we can learn is the importance of making our lessons fun, interesting, slightly challenging and above all, understandable.


Stephen Krashen's Theory of Language Acquisition by Richardo Schutz A Summary of Stephen Krashen´s "Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition" by Reid Wilson