Is Krashen right or wrong?
Willy A Renandya, 19 Feb 2022
I read with great interest a recent article “Was Krashen right?” by Lichtman and Van Patten (2021). The authors critically examined Krashen’s original Monitor Theory and came to the conclusion that Krashen’s theory has in fact been largely confirmed by other SLA scholars.
Lichtman and VanPatten made an important point when they said that Krashen’s work was often ignored or unacknowledged by other SLA researchers. Interestingly, the past 40 years of research into the nature of language acquisition does not seem to weaken Krashen’s central claim that input is a crucial factor in the development of learners’ linguistic system. In fact, recent research affirms and strengthens Krashen’s SLA theory.
Lichtman & VanPatten’s verdict on Krashen’s monitor theory:
Krashen’s Monitor Theory first appeared some 40 years ago. Does it belong to the “history of language teaching”? Or do Krashen’s ideas still drive second language acquisition research—unacknowledged and under different names—and thus still have relevance for teaching? We argue that they have survived and are still relevant (p. 283).
I outline below my observations of Krashen’s most important theory of language acquisition: The Optimal Input Hypothesis.
- The optimal input hypothesis is a recent re-formulation of the input hypothesis and its attendant i+1 formula.
- The optimal input hypothesis states that acquisition happens when students are surrounded on a daily basis by a large quantity of rich, compelling and comprehensible language (both written and oral)
- The acquired linguistic system that results from daily exposure to meaningful language is complex, abstract and implicit. Competent users know that they have acquired this abstract system, but they can’t explain what they know and how they got to know it.
- Our ability to use language for authentic listening, reading, writing and speaking draws heavily from this abstract and implicit linguistic system. Not from explicit language knowledge we learned in school.
- Explicit language knowledge is useful in the school contexts as students are typically tested on their ability to demonstrate their knowledge of the language, and not on their ability to use language for meaningful communication.
- People often get the wrong idea that the input-based approaches deprive students of the opportunity to try out the language for speaking and writing purposes. This is not the case. Students are allowed to speak and write (if they so wish), but are not compelled to do so.
- Teachers are worried that input-based approaches take up a lot of curriculum time. While the concern is legitimate, they will need to re-assess the primary goal of language teaching: (i) to help students accummulate bits and pieces of explicit language knowledge or (ii) o help them develop abstract and implicit linguistic system?
- The input theory is often misunderstood. As Lichtman and Van Patten (2021) pointed out, contemporary scholars researching language acquisition often make little or no reference to Krashen’s work and come up with different terms to discuss the role on language input in language learning. Ironically, their research findings strengthen (not weaken) Krashen’s claim about the role of input in language acquisition.
- If input is the real driving force behind language learning, we are duty-bound to provide optimal input in our teaching. In a reading and listening lesson, for example, the least we can do is to increase the amount of reading and listening materials and reduce the amount of ‘reading/listening-related activities’. These are activities that are nice to have, but do not play an important role in the development of learners’ abstract linguistic system.
- If input is indeed crucial in language learning, schools should seriously consider implementing an extensive reading and listening programme. This is because the input available in the classroom is way not enough!! The quantity of input is limited (way too small), and so is the quality (limited range of language structures and functions and vocabulary words).