Wednesday, March 29, 2017

language acquisition from input

Sent to The Scientific American
March 29, 2017

I was very excited to read Veronique Greenwood's "Learn a new lingo while doing something else," describing research showing that listening makes a profound contribution to the learning of speech sounds.

Scientific American readers might be interested in knowing that we have been publishing evidence for the last 40 years showing that first and second language acquisition, as well as literacy development, takes place through listening and reading (input): The ability to speak and write is a result of language acquisition. In agreement with the studies described by Ms. Greenwood, we have found that that language acquisition happens subconsciously. 

Those of us involved in research probably spend too much time scolding others for not paying attention to our results.  Professor Melissa Baese-Berk and her colleagues, who did the accent studies, have every reason now to scold me and my associates for not discovering and citing their work.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Website, with publications (free download):
Original article:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Krashen Santa Fe 3: Fiction, heritage language

The power of fiction: The UK study
Fiction = great vocabulary builder
Sullivan and Brown, 2014: vocabulary test
1. Reading at age 42 counts, independent of reading at 16 or younger & previous vocabulary.
2. Fiction counts  (more than nonfiction), but not "low-brow"
3. Music counts a little. Reading counts more.
4. Reading counts even when you control for parent occupation and parent education.
5. Reading counts more than your own education AND is independent of your educational level
Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. 2014. Vocabulary from Adolescence to Middle Age. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London

Those who read more, know more. Readers (of fiction) do better on tests of literature, history, cultural literacy, but also SCIENCE, SOCIAL STUDIES and PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE. (Stanovich and colleagues).

Fiction stretches, challenges the mind.
1.      Fiction contributes to an expanded "theory of mind" = understand others' states of mind, ways of thinking, compared to nonfiction. (Kidd & Castono)  
2.      Fiction readers have more tolerance for vagueness, better able to deal with uncertaincy (Djikic,  Oatley, and Moldoveanu,  2013). Based on survey done after reading fiction or nonfiction, eg agree/disagree with: “I don’t like situations that are uncertain," “I dislike questions that can be answered in many different ways.”
3.      Ethics and insight: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man,  (102), 5/1995,  "You think because I wear this mask I don't know what it's like to have problems?"  also: Batman Returns, The Watchmen
4.      Career success
Simonton (1988) "omnivorous reading in childhood and adolescence correlates positively with ultimate adult success" (p. 11). 
Malcolm X:  ‘What’s your alma mater?’
Michael Faraday (1791-1867): influence of working for a bookbinder for 7 years.

Heritage language development
1.    Popular view: people resist English
2.    The facts: The first language disappears rapidly

Language Use: Spanish-speaking high school students in Miami: Use of Spanish
Prior to elementary school: 85%
Junion High school: 37%
Sr High School: 18%
Informal use during senior year
Parents: 76%
Siblings: 32%
Friends in school: 20%

Portes and Rumbaut, 2001: age 14
Competence in HL and English, 1 = not at all, 4 = very well
Overall English = 3.77,,, HL = 2.75  (n = 4288)
China    English = 3.54,   HL = 2.23
Vietnam  English = 3.42,  HL = 2.54
Mexico    English = 3.62,  HL = 3.33

       3. Should we be concerned? Yes. No disadvantages, only advantages to heritage language development - advantages
a.     bilinguals are smarter, and stay young longer (delays dementia)
b.    access to the wisdom of the family
c.     practical: It's good to know your customers' language
4.    Barriers to HL development
language shyness resulting from ridicule: Tse = ethnic ambivalence
cure: reading! Perfect for shy people
not the cure: take a grammar class
problem: lack of access to comprehensible input
Tse: Those who kept their HL had access to reading material
       5. Teaching heritage language classes.
a. popular literature = goal – establish reading habit
b. history and culture using the Book Whisperer method
       6. Taking advantage of the oral tradition: video library
            a. task of the HL class: create video library: history, wisdom, experiences of the family
            b. build competence through aural/visual input:  narrow, compelling input
                  movie talk/picture – comic book talk/
                  stories, jokes, regular report of the news
                  interviews, questions of personal interest

Krashen Santa Fe 2: some reseaerch, intermediate methods


Role of the class: The role of the class: DEVELOP INTERMEDIATES
Class is ideal for beginners!  Outside world reluctant to provide comprehensible input to beginners.
A universal theory of education: Prepare you for the outside world.

Beginning level:
TPR: Total Physical Response (Asher): Website:
Natural Approach (Terrell)
TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling; Blaine Ray) Websites:;;
Storylistening (

Underlying principles
class: filled with comprehensible input
organized, but not around points of grammar: activities that students will find comprehensible & interesting (compelling)
speech not forced but encouraged (indirect contribution)
grammar: not for children, as linguistics, for editing

Research: CI wins in method comparisons

The Power of Stories
I. power of read-alouds, without frills:
A.    children read to regularly make superior gains in reading comprehension, vocabulary, listening comprehension (Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, Marinus, and Pellegrini 1995; Block 1999; Denton and West, 2002).
Reach out and Read: in clinic waiting rooms in high poverty areas. free book; very modest treatment, staff demonstrates in waiting room, physician gives a book
Typical results: Mendelsohn et. al. age 4, 3 years of ROR; average of (only) three appointments, avg of 4 books received, vocabulary acquisition

national norm
% gap closed
Means adjusted for differences between the groups, e.g. mother's education, language spoken in the home, homelessness, preschool attendance, child's age.
Comparison n = 49; ROR = 73; Test scores standardized for age (100 = 50th percentile).

B. Read-alouds are pleasant: Vast majority of children say that they enjoy being read to (Walker and Kuerbtiz, 1979; Mason and Blanton, 1971; Wells, 1985; Senechal et. al. 1996.).
C. Encourages reading, which in turn promotes literacy development. The title of Brassell’s paper:“Sixteen books went home tonight: Fifteen were introduced by the teacher.”

Comprehnsion-based second.foreign language teachimg methods
Communicative tests: CI much better.  Grammar tests: CI better or no diff.

Isik (2000: ITL: Rev of Applied Linguistics) High school EFL in Turkey, intermediates; 29 hours per week, 36 weeks:
CI = Communication-based, minimal correction, graded readers, 75% CI, 25% grammar.
Grammar = 24 hrs/week form-based, 20% CI, 80% grammar

comprehensible input
Oxford grammar test
67.6 (5.0)
45.6 (9.6)
22.25 (1.07)
14.5 (4.26)
Listening compr.
24.9 (2.29)
17.5 (3.3)
19.4 (2.6)
7.5 (3.3)

The rise of TPRS (Blaine Ray) -  stories, personalization, graded readers
Varguez (2009:  Beginning Spanish in high school in US
TPRS significantly better than comparisons (t = 10.56, p < .0001).
Low SES TPRS class =comparisons. (Had TPRS teacher for part of year)
mean (sd)
32 (4.7)
22.3 (38.2)
23.45 (21.2)
Measure: combination of listening and reading

Comprehension-based methods have never lost Posted at:
Also: Students in CI-based classes more likely to continue.

Limit: only “conversational language,” not “academic language”

Intermediate methods: 
Sheltered subject matter teaching: based on comprehensible input
Characteristics: (1) intermediates only (2) focus on subject-matter, not language (If a test, the test is on subject matter)/
Research: When compared to intermediate foreign language classes: (1) as much or more language development (2) subject matter knowledge at the same time (3) academic language acquisition
The first one: Edwards, H., Wesche, M., Krashen, S., Clement, R., and Kruidenier, B. 1984. Second language acquisition through a subject-matter learning: A study of sheltered psychology classes at the University of Ottawa. Canadian Modern Language Review 41: 268-282.

THE POWER OF READING: Free Voluntary Reading: source of reading ability, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, complex grammar

Overwhelming case for reading:
Sustained silent reading (SSR)

The Fiji Island study (RRQ, 1983): Elley & Mangubhai: gains in RC
Big Books
year 2: larger differences, readers better in writing, listening and grammar

Case histories:
Goeffrey Canada: "I loved reading, and my mother, who read voraciously too, allowed me to have her novels after she finished them. My strong reading background allowed me to have an easier time of it in most of my classes."
Liz Murray (Breaking Night):  "Any formal education I received came from the few days I spent in attendance, mixed with knowledge I absorbed from random readings of my or Daddy's ever-growing supply of unreturned library books. And as long as I still showed up steadily the last few weeks of classes to take the standardized tests, I kept squeaking by from grade to grade."
Desmond Tutu: “One of the things I am most grateful to (my father) for is that, contrary to educational principles, he allowed me to read comics. I think that is how I developed my love for English and for reading.” 
Richard Wright: “I wanted to write and I did not even know the English language. I bought English grammars and found them dull. I felt I was getting a better sense of the language from novels than from grammars."

Encouraging FVR:  Read alouds, reading itself, home run books, literature
The major factor: ACCESS! LIBRARIES!

Krashen Santa Fe 1: fundamentals

S. Krashen; twitter = skrashen

The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis:
ACQUISITION – subconscious = "picking up" a language - While it is happening, we are not aware that it is happening.
- Once we have acquired something, we are not usually aware that anything has happened; knowledge stored in our brains subconsciously.
The language acquisition device never shuts off.
Acquisition - What the brain does well.

LEARNING – conscious = "rules", "grammar": What we did in school.
Error correction helps learning. When we make a mistake and are corrected, we are supposed to change our conscious version of the rule.
Learning – What the brain does poorly.

The Monitor Hypothesis: Consciously learned language only available as Monitor, or editor - before we say/write something or after.
Conditions (severe) for Monitor use:  (1) Know the rule; (2) Think about correctness (focus on form) (3) Time.
Monitor weak but not useless:  In editing stage of composing process: e.g. it's/its, lie/lay (language change?)

The Comprehension Hypothesis: We acquire language when we understand messages.
AMAZING FACTS acquisition is (1) Effortless (2)  Involuntary

Corollary of the Comprehension Hypothesis:  Talking is not Practicing.
1) we acquire language by input, not output: more output does not result in more language acquisition
2) ability to speak: the RESULT of language acquisition
3) correction? (real cure: More comprehensible input. Accuracy emerges.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis: Affective variables prevent input from reaching the “Language Acquisition Device”
Affective variables: motivation, anxiety, self-esteem
FILTER (block) prevents input from reaching Language Acquisition Device.

COMPELLING comprehensible input: so interesting you forget it is in a second language. You are in FLOW.
The case of "Paul": Lao, C. and Krashen, S. 2014. Language acquisition without speaking and without study.  Journal of Bilingual Education Research and Instruction  16(1): 215-221.(, "langage acquisition")

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Read because you want to: Santa Monica Daily Press

Published in the Santa Monica Daily Press (California), March 22 2017
"Literacy at the Library" (March 18) tells us that the Santa Monica Public Library offers a truly astonishing menu of programs and services: tutoring, story-time, classes, films, etc. 
Buried deep in the article is the library's most valuable contribution: Books for pleasure reading. In hundreds of scientific reports, our research over the last 40 years has confirmed that recreational reading, or "reading because you want to" is by far the best way to improve reading ability, writing ability, vocabulary, grammar, and even spelling.  Research also shows that those who do more pleasure reading know more about history, and science, and even have more practical knowledge.
Contrary to the recent push for nonfiction in the schools, researchers from the UK recently reported that reading fiction was a better predictor of vocabulary size than reading non-fiction, and that reading at any age boosts vocabulary knowledge.
All the programs offered by the library are valuable, but it needs to be emphasized that the Santa Monica Library has a very good book collection.  For many families with limited means, the library is the only source of reading material. 
Stephen Krashen

Member, Santa Monica Public Library
Member, The American Library Association
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
Author of The Power of Reading (2004, second edition), Free Voluntary Reading (2011), both published by Libraries Unlimited.
original article:
this letter:

Monday, February 27, 2017

The all-time champion of hard language study: Francois Gouin

The all-time champion of hard study was Francois Gouin, who describes his efforts to learn (not acquire) German in his book The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages, published in 1892 and translated into English from French.
When a young man, Gouin traveled to Germany to study German philosophy, but had no knowledge of German. Expecting to acquire German in a few weeks, he attended a lecture and understood nothing. He then “set to work” (p. 10), using they only method he knew: The “classical process,” the way he had studied Greek and Latin. He began by applying himself “resolutely to the study of the grammar” of German, and he claims it took him only ten days to fully master it. He then returned to the university, but again understood nothing: “... not a word, not a single word would penetrate to my understanding. Nay, more than this, I did not even distinguish a single one of the irregular verbs freshly learnt, though they must have certainly fallen in crowds from the lips of the speakers” (p. 11).
Gouin decided that the problem was that he had only memorized verbs. The real solution was to memorize verb roots, which he found in an obscure book. But after learning 800 roots in four days, the result was the same: Zero comprehension.
He then turned to conversation. He would spent hours in his hosts’ hairdresser salon, trying to understand what was being said, “hazarding from time to time a sentence carefully prepared beforehand, awkwardly constructed with the aid of my roots and grammar, and apparently always possessing the property of astonishing and hugely amusing the customers” (p. 14).
Gouin became aware that memorized knowledge of language was fragile: “Studied in this manner, a language appeared to me under the guise of Penelope’s web, where the work of the night destroyed the work of the day” (p. 15). Undaunted, he returned to reading, not comprehensible texts but those he needed to translate with the use of a dictionary – the works of Goethe and Schiller. The study of verbs and roots, however, didn’t help: In reading the texts, he could hardly recognize anything he had studied.
Gouin didn’t give up on the classical method. "So my work on the roots and irregular verbs seemed to have been in vain. Nevertheless I could not bring myself to believe this seriously. ‘The fire smolders under the ashes,’ I assured myself, ‘and will brighten up little by little. We must read, read, day in and day out; translate, translate continually; hunt, hunt a hundred times after the same word in the dictionary, catch it a hundred times, after a hundred times release it; we shall finish by taming it” (p. 16).
But after a full week, “I had hardly interpreted the meaning of eight pages, and the ninth did not promise to be less obscure or less laborious than the preceding” (p. 16). Gouin then gave up on translation and turned to several popular books that promised to teach the reader German, and found that they gave contradictory advice. None of them worked. Gouin’s evaluation of another book, Systematic Vocabulary, is interesting: “The book made the fortune of its author without producing the results sought for by him” (p. 24).
On meeting his professors in Berlin, Gouin noted that they spoke French quite well, and “ ... never ceased wondering how all these people had learnt this language” (p. 25). But Gouin still didn’t get it, doing everything except find comprehensible input: He spent a full week listening to lectures in German, seven to eight hours per day, and concluded that “I might attend the German university for a thousand years under these conditions without learning German” (p. 26). But his next step was the strangest of all: He actually memorized the entire dictionary, 300 pages and 30,000 words, ten pages a day, over one month. But the result was the same: When Gouin returned to the university, he still understood nothing. Nor was reading any easier: Gouin tells us that it took half a day to read two to three pages of Goethe and Schiller, “and then I was not absolutely sure of having found the real meaning of the sentences” (p. 31). Gouin then spent another two weeks reviewing the dictionary, convinced that he had not learned it thoroughly enough the first time. And after time off because what he described as “a disease to the eyesight,” he went through the dictionary again, reviewing “only” one-seventh of it each day of the week. The result was the same.
After this ten month ordeal, Gouin returned home to France. While he was gone, his nephew, two and a half years old when he left, had learned to speak French, his first language, and spoke it with “so much ease, applied to everything with so much surety, so much precision, so much relevancy ...” (p. 34), and acquired it as a result of “playing round with his mother, running after flowers, butterflies, and birds, without weariness, without apparent effort, without even being conscious of his work ...” (p 34), quite a contrast with Gouin’s experience.
(It should be noted that Gouin’s experiences with German led him to develop an early version of the “direct method” for foreign language teaching, which was consistent in some ways with the Comprehension hypothesis, known as the Series Method.)
Gouin thus had little comprehensible input; in fact, he seemed to have avoided it. He appears to have engaged in some forced speech at the hairdresser’s salon, but does not tell us whether his errors were corrected. His main effort, of course, was conscious learning of grammar and vocabulary, which he hoped would become automatic language. One can, of course, argue that Gouin’s learning did not become automatic because he did not practice enough, i.e. he did not produce enough, did not try to apply the rules and words he learned in oral and written output.

From: Krashen, S.  2014. Case Histories and the Comprehension Hypothesis. TESOL Journal (, June, 2014 (, "free voluntary reading" section)