Journal of Foreign Language Teaching), Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 35–39
suggest that effective strategies are those that make input more comprehensible
and that help us use writing to solve problems. It may be useful to teach some
strategies directly, but some strategies may be innate, and others could
develop as a result of comprehensible input. Those that can be taught help us
recover from inefficient strategies we learned in school.
assume in this discussion the correctness of the hypothesis that we acquire
language subconsciously by understanding aural and written messages, that is,
from "comprehensible input," and that subconsciously acquired
language is far more important in language comprehension and production than
consciously learned language (e.g. Krashen, 2003).
of strategies in the second language acquisition field has largely been
independent of the acquisition-learning distinction. In fact, many of the
strategies proposed and investigated in second language education relate to
conscious learning (e.g. ways of reviewing for a grammar test or memorizing
vocabulary). Much more useful are strategies that help language acquisition. I
will present some samples here, and also discuss strategies often assumed to
help language acquisition (writing competence), but in reality serve other
2. Strategies that
Help Language Acquisition
that help language acquisition are those that help acquirers obtain
comprehensible input and those that make input more comprehensible. Here are
just a few examples.
2.1 Narrow reading
those that help acquirers obtain more comprehensible input via reading is the
strategy of narrow reading, the practice of reading texts by one author or
about a single topic of interest, which helps ensure comprehension and natural
repetition of vocabulary and grammar (Krashen, 2004). This strategy contrasts with the usual
classroom approach of trying to do a “survey,” selecting texts of different
genres, often written in different eras. Rather, the narrow reading strategy encourages
early specialization, gradually broadening reading as interests and knowledge
of what is available develop.
supporting the narrow reading idea includes Lamme (1976), who found that good
readers in English as a first language tended to read more books by a single
author and books from a series. More recently, Cho and Krashen (1994, 1995)
reported considerable enthusiasm for reading and substantial vocabulary
development among adult second language acquirers who read books in the Sweet
Valley series; readers rapidly moved from Sweet Valley Kids (second grade
level) to Sweet Valley Twins (fourth grade level) to Sweet Valley High (fifth
and sixth grade level). Several readers in these studies had never read a book
in English for pleasure before, but became fanatic Sweet Valley fans.
2.2 Narrow listening
analogue to narrow listening in aural language is narrow listening. In one form
of narrow listening (Krashen, 1996), the acquirer collects brief recordings of
proficient speakers discussing a topic selected by the acquirer. The acquirer
then listens to the recordings as many times as desired, at leisure. Repeated
listening, interest in the topic, and familiar context help make the input
comprehensible. Topics are gradually changed, which allows the acquirer to
expand his or her competence comfortably.
language students in the US who do narrow listening in class report greater
comprehensibility with each hearing of short recordings on topics they were
interested in and said that they found it helpful and better than commercially
prepared recordings (Rodrigo and
Krashen, 1996; Dupuy, 1999).
general strategy, narrow listening, like narrow reading, means seeking out
aural input (radio, TV, recordings, audiobooks, interaction) on topics the
acquirer is interested in. Thanks to the internet, this is increasingly
possible (e.g. eslpod.com).
2.3 Obtain background
An example of a strategy that
helps make input more comprehensible is to obtain background information in the
first or second language. A wealth of research confirms that background
information in the form of pictures, discussion, and easier reading helps make
texts comprehensible. The validity of this strategy is confirmed by studies
showing that texts on topics familiar to readers are generally more
comprehensible than texts on unfamiliar topics (e.g. Johnson, 1981, 1982;
Ribovich, 1979; but see Scott, 2004 for an interesting exception).
has been hypothesized that one of the reasons for the success of bilingual
programs is that they provide subject matter information in the first language,
which makes subsequent instruction and reading in the second language more
comprehensible (Krashen, 1999), leading to better acquisition of the second
that narrow reading and listening incorporate the background knowledge
strategy: As we read in one area, or focus on the works of a single author, we
build up background knowledge that makes subsequent reading more
comprehensible. This helps explain why series books are so popular, and
effective in developing literacy (Cho and Krashen, 1994, 1995; Lamme, 1976).
related to narrow reading is selective reading. Selective reading means
limiting one’s academic or professional reading to what one needs at the moment
to solve the problem one is working on now. Bazerman (1985) reported that top
physicists typically only read and studied those technical papers that related
to their current projects, filing the others for later reading, when they
became relevant. They made no attempt to “keep up with the literature.”
2.4 Seek COMPELLING
have hypothesized that the most effective input for language acquisition and
literacy development is not simply comprehensible and interesting: It is
COMPELLING (Krashen, 2011). Compelling input is so interesting that there is no
focus on form: in fact, you cease to be aware of what language the input is
in. You are in a state of flow
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1992): your sense of self and time diminishes, only the
book, movie, or conversation matters.
this "compelling input" hypothesis is correct, it implies that second
language acquirers should not listen to or read things just because they are in
a language they want to acquire. Rather, they should try to listen to and read
things that are genuinely interesting or compelling. Similarly, making friends
with somebody just because they speak a language you are interested in
generally doesn't work.
is a simple test to determine if input in a second language is genuinely
compelling: If you find yourself noticing interesting expressions, ways of
saying things that you previously weren't familiar with, and making mental or
written notes to try to remember them, the input is not compelling enough.
3. Writing Strategies
best known writing strategies comprise the composing process, strategies expert
writers use. These are not language acquisition strategies: They will not help
you acquire new syntax, vocabulary, or command of genres. Acquisition of
language comes through input/reading, not through output/writing. These
strategies will, however, help you use writing to solve problems and come up
with new insights and thereby contribute to your cognitive development (i.e.
make you smarter). These strategies also help writers deal with writer's
for each of the following strategies is well-established in the research
literature (reviewed in Krashen and Lee, 2002; Krashen, 2003).
1. Planning: Good writers have a plan before they write,
but it is flexible; they are willing to change the plan as they write and
discover new ideas.
2. Revision: Good writers are willing to revise. They
understand that as they move from draft to draft they come up with new ideas.
3. Good writers delay editing, concerning themselves with
formal correctness only after they are satisfied with the ideas they put on the
4. Reading: Good writers stop frequently and reread what
they have written.
5. Regular Daily Writing:
Productive writers write a modest amount each day, rather than waiting
until they have large blocks of time available.
6. Incubation: Good writers understand the importance of
short breaks that encourage the emergence of new ideas and solutions to
It should also be pointed out that some of
these strategies can be developed or taught in the first language, with
immediate or easy transfer (Krashen and Lee, 2004). ***
4. Strategy Teaching
have argued that the strategies to be emphasized are those related to language
acquisition, not learning, as well as those that help us use writing to solve
problems. My hunch is that even
strategies that are teachable and useful are simply a means of re-programming,
of helping us recover from the lessons they have learned in school.
acquirers need to know that they can read narrowly, because they are used to
courses that present them with surveys, a little of this and a little of that,
which nearly guarantees a constant flow of incomprehensible and often
uninteresting input. They also need to know that they can read selectively.
They don't have to read everything, for fear it might be on the test.
Language acquirers need to know that they are
free to get background knowledge in the first language. Many of us have been taught that "total
immersion" in the second language is necessary and that any use of the
first language will get in the way.
need to encourage revision and delaying editing, because, thanks to timed
writing and sit-down examinations, students often have the impression that they
need to get everything right on the first draft.
need to know that they are free to take a moment of rest for
"incubation" when they face a writer's block. Contrary to the
impression they got in school, with the emphasis on "time on task"
and constant hard work, they don't need to look "busy" at every
5. What I Do.
strategies presented here have been important to me: I also needed and continue
to need "reprogramming": The influence of my schooling is so strong
that I need constant reminding. These strategies are easy to learn, but the
strong influence of our schooling makes them hard to remember and apply.
try to use the selective reading strategy. While writing this paper, I reviewed
several research papers on strategies. Even though new books and papers of
interest in other areas appeared while I was writing this paper, I did not read
them, postponing reading them until I was working on a project in those areas.
I admit, however, that I feel guilty doing this. Deep inside is a voice that
urges me to read every article in every new journal that arrives.
lighter reading in other languages, I try to follow the narrow reading
principle, generally reading science fiction, my favorite fiction genre. I have
read, for example, nearly the complete works of Bernard Werber, a French science
fiction author. To make matters even better, Werber has written several series,
on the same theme and with the same or related characters, one on ants (!!),
and one on life after death. I hope there will soon be audiobooks. The series were especially compelling, so
much so that when I was in my "Werber" period I temporarily abandoned
my usual practice of alternating novels in French and German. For a full year, it was only French.
strategy of getting background information has been very useful: Before reading
a series of papers in another language (or hearing a speaker), I try to first
read what is available in English, and then what is published in the second
process strategies have been very important to me. Now, when I have to revise,
I'm happy, not upset that the paper won't be finished soon, because I now
understand that revision means that I'm learning something new. I have
gradually understood Elbow's insight that in writing, "Meaning
is not what you start with, but what you
end up with" (Elbow, 1973, p. 15).
also learned to take short breaks when stuck, to allow for incubation.
Following Poincaré's advice (Poincaré, 1924), I don't try to do intellectual
work during short breaks; rather, I do something relatively mindless, like
also learned the importance of regular daily writing. I can identify with
Dickens: If Charles Dickens missed a day of writing, "he needed a week of
hard slog to get back into the flow" (Hughes, in Plimpton, 1999, p. 247). Daily regular writing, even if brief, prevents
Strategies that Never Need to be Taught
strategies develop naturally or are innate, and the inability of students to
use them is the fault of the input they are faced with, not ignorance of the
strategy. This applies to prediction, which some people maintain must be taught
("What to do think is going to happen next?")
(1983) notes that “everyone predicts –including children - all the time"
(p. 23), and argues that we need to predict in order to get through the day, in
order to deal with the complexity of the world. Most of our predictions are
correct, which is why we are so rarely surprised. When students are unable to
predict "what is going to happen next," it is because the text is
confusing or nonsensical, not because they lack instruction in prediction
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