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)

Reading instead of homework, the other half of the argument

S. Krashen

Comment posted on  “The Answer Sheet” : What happened when one school banned homework — and asked kids to read and play instead  (Washington Post).

This article provides half of the argument for a "reading instead of homework" policy, Harris Cooper's meta-analysis on the effect of traditional homework. Here is the other half: Self-selected pleasure reading does work.  There is overwhelming evidence that reading for pleasure is the major source of our reading ability, our ability to write with an acceptable writing style, our ability to handle complex grammatical structures, our "educated" vocabulary, and much of our spelling ability.  Studies also show that those who read more know more about literature, history, social studies, and science, and even have more "practical knowledge."  Reading fiction also contributes to an expanded ability to understand others' points of view, and develops more tolerance for vagueness,  that is, a better ability to deal with uncertainty.
Also worth mentioning: A reading-instead-of-homework policy requires access to plenty of reading material. Families who live in poverty have far less access to books.

Original article:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Self-selected free voluntary reading: The missing link in language education

S Krashen (; twitter; skrashen; facebook Stephen Krashen)
 ECIS ESLMT conference

Two views of language/literacy development
A.  The comprehension hypothesis: we acquire language when we understand it.
1.  grammar, vocabulary = RESULT of language acquisition
2.  pleasant immediately
B.  The skill building hypothesis: first learn about language, practice rules
1.  grammar, vocabulary learned first, then you can use the language
2.  delayed gratification (that never arrives)
3.  Superiority of methods based on comprehensible input:
Second/foreign language acquisition: TPR, Natural Approach, TPRS
Intermediate second/foreign language acquisition (sheltered subject matter teaching)
Literacy: success of whole language over heavy phonics methods

Special case of the comprehension hypothesis: the reading hypothesis - the source of our reading ability, writing ability (writing style), vocabulary, spelling, grammar)

The case for free voluntary reading
SSR = sustained silent reading The Fiji Island study (RRQ, 1983): Elley & Mangubhai
Big Books
year 2: larger differences, readers better in writing, listening and grammar

Richard Wright: “I bought English grammars and found them dull. I felt I was getting a better sense of the language from novels than from grammars."

Predictors of performance on the Spanish subjunctive by English speakers
subjunctive study
From: Stokes, Krashen & Kartchner, 1998

UK Study: Sullivan and Brown: Predictors of scores on vocabulary test given at age 42
1. Reading at age 42 counts, independent of reading at 16 or younger & previous vocabulary.
2. Fiction counts: high-brow and middle-brow, but not low-brow
3. Reading counts even when control for subjects' & parent education, parent occupation
Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. 2014. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London

Compelling Comprehensible Input:  So interesting not aware of language, sense of time, sense of self diminishes = Flow (Csíkszentmihályi): the end of motivation
Case histories: language acquisition never the goal, but a by-product. It was the story.
1.     Paul: Cantonese & English speaker, acquired Mandarin from cartoons and lots of TV shows, movies, with no particular motivation to acquire Mandarin. (Lao, C. and Krashen, S. 2014. Language acquisition without speaking and without study.  Journal of Bilingual Education Research and Instruction 16(1): 215-221;
2.     Fink (1996/6) 12 former dyslexics. 9 published creative or scholarly works. 11 learned to read between 10-12, one in 12th grade.  “As children, each had a passionate personal interest, a burning desire to know more about a discipline that required reading … all read voraciously, seeking and reading everything they could get their hands on about a single intriguing topic."
2nd/foreign language education in terms of compellingness: traditional > TPR > Natural Approach > TPRS

The END OF MOTIVATION: It's the story that counts
Language & literacy development = by-product

The extreme pleasure of self-selected reading
"perhaps the most often mentioned flow activity in the word (Csikzentmihalyi, 1991)
-resident of Italy - when he reads, “I immediately immerse myself in the reading, and the problems I usually worry about disappear” (Massimini, Csikzentmihalyi, & Della Faye, 1992.)
- A reader interviewed by Nell (1988): “reading removes me ... from the irritations of living ... for the few hours a day I read ‘trash’ I escape the cares of those around me, as well as escaping my own cares and dissatisfactions.
- Somerset Maugham, in Nell (1988): “Conversation, after a time, bores me, games tire me, and my thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resources of a sensible man have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe ...”
Nell: reading before you go to sleep - level of arousal increased during reading, declined just after reading below original level
- 24/26 pleasure readings read in bed “nearly every night” or “most nights” (p. 250).
“Even if I read for only five minutes, I must do it - a compulsion like that of a drug addict!”  
 “My addiction to reading is such that I almost can’t sleep without a minimum of ten minutes (usually 30-60 minutes) of reading” (Nell, p. 250).

Develops Knowledge: Stanovich & colleagues: those who read more know more about literature, history, science, have more "cultural literacy," "practical knowledge." 
Habits of mind
(1) reading quality fiction develops an expanded "capacity to identify and understand others’ subjective states" (Kidd and Castano, 2013). 
(2) fiction readers also have more tolerance for vagueness (Djikic, M., Oatley, K. & Moldoveanu, M. 2013).
Free voluntary reading & career success: “omnivorous reading in childhood and adolescence correlates positively with ultimate adult success" (Simonton, 1988)
Emery & Csikszentmihalyi (1982): impact of print-rich environment
Malcolm X:  ‘What’s your alma mater?’
Michael Faraday (1791-1867): influence of working for a bookbinder for 7 years.
Let's stop trying to "motivate" young people to read. Let's try making sure they have access to compelling reading material.

The three stages
A.   children read to regularly make superior gains in reading, vocabulary, listening.
Reach out and Read: in clinic waiting rooms in high poverty areas. free book; staff demonstrates in waiting room, physician gives a book
Mendelsohn et. al. age 4, 3 years of ROR; average of three appointments, 4 books received: Vocabulary Acquisition

Comparison n = 49)
ROR (n = 73)
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.
B. Read-alouds are pleasant: Vast majority of children say that they enjoy being read to.
C. Encourages reading, which in turn promotes literacy development.
D. 2nd/Foreign language education and stage one: TPRS!

A.   the bridge: massive evidence that self-selected FVR builds literacy, knowledge
B.    Reading narrow, self-selected
As a conduit: Bishop Desmond Tutu: " … one of the things I am very grateful to (my father) for is that, contrary to conventional educational principles, he allowed me to read comics. I think that is how I developed my love for English and for reading."
STAGE THREE: ACADEMIC READING = specialized reading: in an area of your interest, to answer a question/solve a problem: Typically narrow and selective.  

Stages 2 and 3: Narrow, self-selected. 

The alternative: Formal study
- complexity: grammatical complexity, text structure complexity, vocabulary complexity & size
- failure of direct instruction in the research: always loses to free voluntary reading.
The alternative: Subject matter study.
BUT: classroom discourse is closer to conversational language than to academic language. (Biber, D. (2006). University language: A corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. New York: John Benjamins)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trump's spelling problem

Sent to the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21, 2017

Re: "Spelling's not for eveyrone, Mr. Precedent," Feb. 20, 2017
There is a deeper pathology underlying the spelling mistakes made by Trump and members of his staff. Our studies have shown that much of our spelling competence comes from reading: Not all dedicated readers are perfect spellers, but it is clear that more reading results in better spelling. 
The spelling errors documented by Allan Fallow confirm that Trump is not a reader (Reports of Trump's lack of reading habit have been reported in The New Republic, Washington Post, New York Times, and The New Yorker), and, perhaps more seriously, it seems that neither his staff nor members of the US Department of Education read much.
Studies show that reading is not only the major source of our ability to write and spell accurately, it is also a major source of our knowledge of history, science, and even practical knowledge.  This helps explain why we see more than spelling errors coming from the Trump administration.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Some sources
Krashen, S. 1989. We acquire vocabulary and spelling by reading: Additional evidence for the input hypothesis. Modern Language Journal 73: 440-464.
Krashen, S. and White, H. 1991. Is spelling acquired or learned? A re-analysis of Rice (1897) and Cornman (1902). ITL: Review of Applied Linguistics 91-92: 1-48.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited (second edition)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Poverty is indeed the problem in education

Sources for Poverty is indeed the problem in education:

Martin Luther King, 1967. Final words of advice. From: Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  New York: Harper & Row.

Levels of poverty:
UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre 2012, ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.

Control for poverty:
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17. Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012.

“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”:
Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;   Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

Protecting children from poverty:
Nutrition:  Studies listed in Health and Academic Achievement, (2004) Atlanta: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, www. cdc.govw
Health care: Lineberry, M. J. & Ickes, M. J. (2015). The role and impact of nurses in American elementary schools: a systematic review of the research. Journal of School Nursing,31(1), 22-33
Access to books: Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36.  Studies by Keith Curry Lance and associates at

Expensive innovations:
Testing: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD.
Competency-based instruction: McDermott, M., Robertson. P., and Krashen, S. 2016. Testing All The Time? Language Magazine, January 16.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trump Patriot Towers (Washington Post)

Sent to the Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2017
Re: Trump insists he can bring the cost of $21.6 billion border wall ‘way down”
Mr.Trump says he will bring down the price of the wall on the Mexican border . I predict that part of his plan will be to make sure American business profits from the wall: The wall will be named , “Trump Patriot Towers" (high security hotels, condos, office buildings, department stories featuring Ivanka Trump brands) with special "patriot" discounts for those who reserve space early.
Stephen Krashen
Los Angeles

original article:


Friday, February 3, 2017

Novelist Salley Vickers gives credit to librariies and librarians.

 Published in the Guardian, Feb 2.

Apropos Professor Krashen’s letter (2 February) on the need to invest in libraries rather than phonics tests, as a young child I was taken every Saturday morning by my father to the local library to change the three books I would have got through during the week. I was lucky in coming from a family who read. But at the time my father’s leftwing politics lost him two jobs and we were among the “just about managing”. Without the local library and Miss Blackwell, the librarian, I would never have encountered Moomintroll, Narnia, John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk or George Macdonald’s At the Back of the North Wind – all of which have contributed to the successful novels I have, as an adult, produced. I very much doubt that phonics would have had the same creative influence on my career.
Salley Vickers

My letter and sources at:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The limits of phonics

Sent to the Examiner  (Tasmania) Feb 1, 2017.

A Tasmanian speech pathology expert maintains that screening children for phonics is "essential"  to teach students to read well  ("Speech Pathology Tasmania backs grade 1 phonics checks," Jan 31. 2017).
But passing a phonics test and becoming a good reader are not the same thing. Children's knowledge of phonics rules is not related to how well they do on tests of real reading, tests in which they have to understand what they read. To do well on reading tests, children need to do a lot of pleasure reading.
Also, there are limits on how much phonics can be learned. Rules for initial consonants are straight-forward, but after that they are quite complex with numerous exceptions.

And those who claim that heavy phonics instruction is essential in learning to read need to face this embarrassing findings: There are many cases of children who learn to read very well with little or no phonics instruction.

Stephen Krashen

original article:

"... knowledge of phonics not related ..."
Harris, A. and Serwer, B. 1966. The CRAFT Project: Instructional time in reading research. The Reading Research Quarterly 2: 37-57.
Garan, E. (2001). Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-506.
Garan, E. (2002) Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.
Rosen, Michael. 2017.
" …amount of reading":
McQuillan, J. (1998). The literacy crisis: False claims and real solutions. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

"limits on how much phonics"   Smith, F. (1994). Understanding Reading. Sixth Edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Krashen, S. 2002. Defending whole language: The limits of phonics instruction and the efficacy of whole language instruction. Reading Improvement 39 (1): 32-42.

"embarrassing findings:
 Krashen, S. and McQuillan, J. 2007. Late intervention. Educational Leadership 65 (2): 68-73.