Thursday, December 5, 2013

Language Parents for Second Language Acquisition

Language Parents for Second Language Acquisition

Stephen Krashen

International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 7(3): 2 (2012)

Lonsdale (2006) presents an interesting discussion of an aspect of second language acquisition many of us are familiar with but has never, to my knowledge, been discussed in print, the concept of “language parents.”

A “language parent,” like an actual parent, is somebody who will engage you in conversation in the language you are acquiring but who will not try to be your teacher, will try to understand what you say “even though you are miles away from what a native speaker would usually be able to understand” (p. 178), is interested in you as a person, and “more often than not, the person will be quite talkative” (p. 179). In other words, a language parent is someone who will give you comprehensible input.

Theory predicts that language parents are extremely helpful: They provide comprehensible input that may be hard to find elsewhere, and well as “encouragement and support and understanding” (179).

We might also expect that language parents who are the most helpful for less advanced acquirers are those who only discuss a few topics of mutual interest, that is, who provide “narrow input” (Krashen, 1996, 2004; Cho, Ahn and Krashen, 2005), while more advanced acquirers (or those who are more tolerant of incomprehensible input) will profit from “parents” who like to talk about a wide range of topics.

My “parent” in Vienna in 1961-1962 (my landlady, the wonderful Frau Novak) told the same stories again and again, but they were great stories and I understand more each time I heard them, a familiar occurrence with narrow listening (Rodrigo and Krashen, 1996; Dupuy, 1999). Lonsdale and his “parent” in China, in contrast, “spent many hours talking to each other about every possible subject one could imagine” (p. 179).

A reasonable conjecture is that one person, one solid language parent, can supply the bridge that helps low level acquirers acquire enough competence to be able to interact with many native speakers.


Cho, KS., Ahn, KO, and Krashen, S. 2005. The effects of narrow reading of authentic texts on interest and reading ability in English as a foreign language. Reading Improvement 42,1: 58-63. 
Dupuy, B. C. 1999. Narrow listening: an alternative way to develop and enhance listening comprehension in students of French as a foreign language. System, 27, 351-361.

Krashen, S. 1996. The case for narrow listening. System 24: 97-100.

Krashen, S. 2004. The case for narrow reading. Language Magazine 3(5): 16-20.

Londsale, C. 2006. The Third Ear: You Can Learn Any Language. Hong Kong: Third Ear Books. 
Rodrigo, V. and Krashen, S. 1996. La audicion enfocada en el aula y fuera de ella. GRETA 4(2): 71- 75.


  1. Excellent article, real food for thought!

  2. Wow!! This is encouraging for me as a teacher. Currently, I am tutoring an adult woman whose L1 is Arabic. In addition to some traditional 'academic' teaching, we have become friends and talk about a wide variety of topics. We laugh a lot. She teaches me things about her culture as well as me teaching her about American culture. When she returns to her homeland in 2015, she hopes to have acquired enough English to pursue her master's degree at an English speaking university. I'm glad to see that we are on the right track!