How we learn language

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How we learn language

  1. 1. How do we learn a second language? A quick introduction to Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition By Stephen D. Krashen Created for busy teachers by Kerima Mohideen, EAL Teacher
  2. 2. Who is Stephen Krashen? Stephen Krashen Professor Emeritus School of Education University of Southern California • • linguist and educational researcher. Well known US campaigner for a better understanding of second language acquisition and the education of bilingual/ethnic minority pupils. • In 2012 wrote following letter to Guardian in support of writers and artists calling on to schools implement policies on reading for pleasure as recommended by Ofsted
  3. 3. Wide Reading Is Key The Guardian, Monday 30 July 2012 21.00 BST Research supports Michael Rosen and 90 other writers and artists who urged a reduction in spelling, grammar and phonics teaching and an increased emphasis on reading for enjoyment ( Children must be free to read for fun, Letters, 24 July). Studies done over the past 100 years show spelling instruction has little effect on spelling accuracy and that formal study of grammar does not improve reading and writing. Studies over the past 25 years show heavy phonics study (termed systematic intensive phonics) only helps children do better in tests where they pronounce lists of words out loud; it has no significant effect on tests where children have to understand what they read. Research also confirms that those who read more do read, write and spell better, have larger vocabularies and better control of complex grammar rules. The best way to ensure pupils develop a strong command of written and spoken English is to encourage wide, self-selected reading. Professor emeritus Stephen Krashen University of Southern California, USA
  4. 4. Although he works in the USA, Krashen`s ideas are relevant to British education and his book Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition is a key text for all teachers involved in teaching pupils who speak English as an additional language. The book is available to download for free from Stephen Krashen`s website here: http://www.sdkrashen.com/ In this power point I summarise and sometimes comment on some of the key points of the book. It is not intended as a substitute for reading the book but to encourage and inspire colleagues to reconnect with a key education theorist and hopefully read the book.
  5. 5. Part One Why theory is important. This section introduces Krashen`s diagrams about how theory and practice relate and my own brief comments about why this is important in the context of British schools.
  6. 6. Why theory is important Stephen Krashen states that the goal of the book is to reintroduce teachers to theory and to regain their confidence. The ideal situation would be where there is continual interaction between linguistic theory, applied linguistic research, teachers` ideas and intuition and these would all impact on actual teaching practice - as outlined in the diagram below: Second language acquisition theory like any scientific theory is a set of hypotheses, or generalizations, that are consistent with experimental data and must be able to predict new data. Eg How humans learn… Ideas and intuition Applied linguistics research is usually aimed at solving a real-life practical issue or problem eg experiments that compare teaching methods in controlled situations Language practice teaching What teachers actually do day to day in the classroom. Insights and experiences of teachers and students eg anecdotal accounts of what works for them in practice
  7. 7. In reality and through no particular fault of teachers, he suggests the situation is much more like this: Second language acquisition theory like any scientific theory is a set of hypotheses, or generalizations, that are consistent with experimental data and must be able to predict new data. Applied linguistics research is usually aimed at solving a real-life practical issue or problem eg. experiments that compare teaching methods in controlled situations Ideas and intuition Insights and experiences of teachers and students eg. anecdotal accounts of what works for them in practice Eg. How humans learn… Language practice teaching What teachers actually do day to day in the classroom. Why should we care about this? Why is theory important?
  8. 8. Unfortunately because everyone has been to school, they assume that this qualifies them to speak with authority about how children learn and what they should learn. Government education policy is driven by the ideas and intuition of such `experts` while research into education is at best ignored and at worst dismissed as left wing propaganda. Our `ideas and intuition` can only be as good as our individual experiences, knowledge and training and if we are not careful ideas and intuition may also carry prejudice, mistakes and misunderstanding. Education is a political battleground currently in the UK. The fight is not just about pay and conditions and challenging the privatisation of education. The battle is also about what people should learn and how they learn. Understanding how people acquire language helps us enable children from communities who speak English as an additional language to access and succeed in the British education system. It is a key plank in antiracist education. We teachers have a responsibility to keep ourselves informed about educational theory and use this to defend ourselves and our students and assert our position as professionals who know what we are talking about.
  9. 9. Part Two A summary of the five hypotheses about language acquisition. The fourth and fifth of these are the most important.
  10. 10. Before looking at the five language acquisition hypotheses here is a summary in Krashen`s own words of the fifth hypothesis – important to bear in mind because it is this one which is directly relevant to our practice “What current theory implies, quite simply, is that language acquisition, first or second, occurs only when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not "on the defensive"… Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply "comprehensible input" in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are "ready", recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” So let`s look at how we get to this fifth hypothesis
  11. 11. Hypothesis one - The Acquisition-Learning Distinction This states that there are two ways in which we develop competence in a second language 1. Language acquisition or “picking up” a language A subconscious process; language acquirers are not usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact that they are using the language for communication. The result of language acquisition, acquired competence, is also subconscious. We are generally not consciously aware of the rules of the languages we have acquired. Instead, we have a "feel" for correctness. Grammatical sentences "sound" right, or "feel" right, and errors feel wrong, even if we do not consciously know what rule was violated. This is similar to the way children acquire their first language and in many cases also their second or third language. 2. Language learning or the conscious effort to learn a language. The conscious process of learning vocabulary and phrases, rules (grammar), being or becoming aware that language has structures and practising to gain command of these. Eg many of us have learnt a second or third language in this way at school or later in life. Three further points about this hypothesis • The ability to `pick-up` languages does not disappear at puberty although adults may find it harder to acquire the same native-like levels of fluency that children are often able to. • • Error correction has little or no influence on the process of language acquisition. The Acquisition-Learning Distinction may not be unique to second language learning – it may also be true of developing competence in first language and also other in other areas of education – subject teachers take note!
  12. 12. Hypothesis Two - The Natural Order Hypothesis This hypothesis states that language acquisition occurs in predictable grammatical stages. “One of the most exciting discoveries in language acquisition research in recent years has been the finding that the acquisition of grammatical structures proceeds in a predictable order. Acquirers of a given language tend to acquire certain grammatical structures early, and others later.” This works for adults and children, for first and second language acquisition and for all languages studied by researchers. Researchers have also observed consistent order and uniformity in the mistakes made by second language acquirers. “Studies supporting the natural order hypothesis show only the order in which mature, or well-formed structures emerge… Other studies reveal the path acquirers take en route to mastery… There is surprising uniformity here as well - acquirers make very similar errors, termed developmental errors, while they are acquiring.”
  13. 13. Warning! Stephen Krashen tells us that there is danger in thinking that the Natural Order Hypothesis could be used to determine the content of what we teach – that grammatical sequencing is the way to teach. In fact teaching grammatical sequencing is something that should be rejected as this would be counterproductive.
  14. 14. Hypotheses Three – The Monitor Hypothesis This hypothesis explains how the two ways of gaining competence in a language – acquisition and learning – operate in relation to each other. Acquisition (the subconscious process) initiates our utterances in a language and is responsible for our fluency Learning (the conscious process) functions as `monitor` or `editor` changing the form of the utterance after it has been produced by the acquisition system and this may happen before or after we speak or write (self correction). Learned Competence – the Monitor Acquired competence Output
  15. 15. Implication of the Monitor Hypothesis The conscious learning of grammatical rules are of limited value in second language performance. In fact second language learners only use their conscious knowledge of rules in language performance if three conditions are met 1. Time to think about and use rules effectively. Not generally possible in normal conversation The overuse of rules in conversation can damage communication eg hesitancy of speech and inattention to what the conversational partner is saying. 2. Focus on form is needed to use the monitor effectively. In other words we must be thinking about correctness. Even when we have time, we may be so involved in what we are saying that we are not able to attend to how we are saying it. 3. Knowing the rule a formidable requirement. The structure of language is extremely complex, and linguists have described only a fragment of the best known languages. Students are exposed only to a small part of the total grammar of the language and don`t learn everything they are taught.
  16. 16. Optimal Monitor Users Our aim as teachers is to produce optimal monitor users • who use the monitor when it is appropriate and when it does not interfere with communication. •who may not use grammar in ordinary conversation, where it might interfere or inhibit communication. • who may make whatever corrections they can to raise the accuracy of their output in writing or in planned speech. In other words, learned competence in language is used to supplement acquired competence.
  17. 17. To summarise points made so far: Hypotheses one, two and three suggest that • humans are endowed with a shared natural facility for acquiring language • this happens in predictable grammatical stages • the most powerful tool for gaining competence in language is the subconscious acquisition process • the conscious learning process only plays a supportive role in acquiring language. Therefore “The important question is: How do we acquire language? If the Monitor hypothesis is correct, that acquisition is central and learning more peripheral, then the goal of our pedagogy should be to encourage acquisition. The question of how we acquire then becomes crucial” It is time to turn to hypotheses four and five.
  18. 18. Hypothesis Four - The Input Hypothesis How do we acquire language? or Given the correctness of the natural order hypothesis, how do we move from one stage to another in acquiring language? In other words how do we make progress? If an acquirer is at "stage 4", how can they progress to "stage 5"? How do we move from stage i, where i represents current competence, to i + 1, the next level of competence?
  19. 19. The input hypothesis makes the following claim: A necessary (but not sufficient) condition to move from stage i to stage i + 1 is that the acquirer understand input that contains i + 1, where "understand" means that the acquirer is focussed on the meaning and not the form of the message. This means that we acquire only when we understand language that contains structure that is "a little beyond" where we are now. How is this possible? How can we understand language that contains structures that we have not yet acquired? The answer to this apparent paradox is that we use more than our linguistic competence to help us understand. We also use context, our knowledge of the world, in other words, extra-linguistic information to help us understand language directed at us.
  20. 20. The full input hypothesis is as follows 1. It relates to acquisition not learning 2. We acquire by understanding language that contains structure a bit beyond our current level of competence (i + 1). This understanding is done with the help of context or extra-linguistic information 3. Deliberate attempts to provide i + 1 input is unnecessary and may be harmful. When communication is successful, when the input is understood and there is enough of it, i + 1 will be provided automatically. 4. Production ability emerges. It is not taught directly. Fluency cannot be taught – it emerges over time. What are the implications of this for teachers with EAL pupils in their classroom?
  21. 21. The silent period and grammatical accuracy The best way to teach speaking is simply to provide comprehensible input. Early speech will come when the acquirer feels "ready"; this state of readiness arrives at somewhat different times for different people, however. Early speech, moreover, is typically not grammatically accurate. Accuracy develops over time as the acquirer hears and understands more input. This is why many beginner EAL pupils arriving in the school will have a long period of silence. This does not mean they are doing nothing. Pupils with some or a lot of knowledge of English are also still busy acquiring English alongside the subjects. There are ways in which we can help both groups of students in our lessons which we will look at later but looking briefly at evidence for this hypothesis is helpful in understanding what principles should underlie our support for them.
  22. 22. Evidence for the input hypothesis This hypothesis is consistent with what is known about `caretaker talk` carer interaction with young children • • This talk is modified a little to aid comprehension But it is only roughly tuned to the child's comprehension – so it includes repetition of structures already acquired as well as i+1 input but also exposes the child to i+2 and i+3 language ie beyond their immediate ability to learn • Content relates to the `here and now`. In other words, what the child can perceive or has experienced – thus providing extra-linguistic* input eg when talking about a trip to the park or pictures in a story book “…the child does not acquire grammar first and then use it in understanding. The child understands first, and this helps her acquire language.” *Extra-linguistic means not involving or outside of written or spoken language eg facial expression, gesture, pictures, surroundings and previous experience and so on
  23. 23. A similar process operates with additional language acquisition. There are three types of modified or `caretaker talk` 1. Foreigner talk – native speakers modify their speaking a little for less competent speakers (in school native speaker pupils also play this role) 2. Teacher talk – this is foreigner talk in the classroom 3. Interlanguage talk – talking with other additional language acquirers eg in the ESOL class. Teacher/Foreigner talk like caretaker talk should always be real communication. It isn`t necessarily about the `here and now` but extra-linguistic features – context, pictures, mime, objects etc to aid i+1 input are an essential part of this communication if it is to be effective. Unconscious bias warning on next slide !!!
  24. 24. Unconscious bias warning!!! I think that how sensitively and effectively this foreigner/teacher talk is done is affected by our underlying attitudes to `foreigners` in `our` country and in `our` schools as well as by our own levels of unmanaged stress. These underlying attitudes are picked up by others and can affect their learning negatively. This is why schools should always be welcoming to all children and their parents and we should always make the effort to be hospitable and inclusive. We need to be relaxed and easy going about the presence of EAL learners in our classrooms.
  25. 25. Hypothesis Five – The Affective Filter Hypothesis What affects our capacity to acquire an additional language ? 1. Motivation. Second language acquirers with high motivation usually do better 2. Self –confidence. Second language acquirers with good self image and self esteem usually do better 3. Low anxiety. Low personal or classroom anxiety leads to better performance in second language acquirers. Comprehensible input is the most important factor in acquiring a second language. Affective filters are those things that impede that language acquisition A pupil with `low affective filters` is one that acquires language easily. They will be motivated, confident and relaxed.
  26. 26. Implications for our teaching “Classrooms that encourage low affective filters are those that promote low anxiety among students, that keep students off the defensive” “The effective… teacher is someone who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low anxiety situation. Of course, many teachers have felt this way about their task for years, at least until they were told otherwise by the experts!” The anecdote recounted by Krashen and which is reproduced on the next slide gives food for though.
  27. 27. "Four years ago I was looking for any kind of job I could find. I happened to get one teaching ESL to a class of six women from various parts of the world who spoke no English. I had never heard of ESL before. The salary was poor and I didn't know if I wanted to pursue a teaching career, therefore my approach was very casual and low pressure. My method usually consisted of thinking up a topic to talk about, introducing it, and encouraging each student to express her feelings. In spite of my casual approach, the teaching job was extremely pleasant. I had a deep empathy for anyone who was facing a language barrier because I had just returned from a trip around the world alone as a monolingual. They all started speaking English fairly well after the first two weeks of class. I remember a woman from Columbia telling me that she hadn't spoken English before because she was afraid of making mistakes. After being in class for a while, she spoke English and made mistakes and didn't care. I didn't attach much significance to the progress that the women made. I had no idea how long it took people to learn a language. Gradually I became quite career-oriented, and made a conscious decision to try to be a top-notch ESL teacher. I had guilt feelings about the casual way in which I had taught those first six women, and my teaching evolved into the traditional authoritarian style with the textbook dominant. Over the years, it has gotten to where I feel frustrated if a student takes class time to relate a personal anecdote. I can look back on these four years and see a gradual decline in the performance of my students. Until recently, I have been assuming that I needed to be more attentive to their mistakes in order to speed their progress. My present style of teaching bypasses the students` feelings and basic needs, and concentrates on method. I never see successes like those first six ladies." (From Stevick, 1980, pp. 4-5 quoted in Krashen 2009).
  28. 28. So when is it appropriate to directly teach English as an Additional Language? Given what we know about language acquisition Krashen suggests that it is appropriate for beginners to have dedicated language classes because this is likely to be the only time they actually experience any comprehensible input (i+1) Being surrounded by language which is not modified or supported for comprehensibility is not conducive to language acquisition and is indeed quite a scary, threatening situation. In a large school, the EAL department provides sanctuary, survival English and people to have comprehensible conversations with for EAL beginners. Intermediate students` needs can be met through subject teaching IF the required i+1 input is available. In fact this is the most stimulating way for young people to learn a language IF the conditions are right in those lessons. Remember - fluency only emerges over time given the right conditions. It cannot be taught.
  29. 29. What can subject teachers do to support EAL learners in their lessons? 1. Relax and be welcoming – engage in a little social chat and show an interest in the pupil's background, first language, interests etc. Encourage other pupils to do the same. 2. Provide plenty of opportunities for i+1 input by making the content of the lesson as comprehensible as possible through extra-linguistic supports (pictures, objects, use of first language etc). But remember this should only be roughly tuned and that it may not be possible to make all of your lesson comprehensible to the EAL student – particularly beginners. 3. Be aware that progress in the subject may be limited by how much control the pupil has over English. Do not force premature production/achievement attempting to do so may cause stress and be counterproductive or in some cases cause overdependence on support staff who are effectively forced to do the work for the student . Perhaps it is time to re-quote from an earlier slide. This time I have highlighted some important sentences.
  30. 30. “What current theory implies, quite simply, is that language acquisition, first or second, occurs only when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not "on the defensive"… Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply "comprehensible input" in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are "ready", recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” I cannot recommend enough that you read Krashen`s book. You can find it here http://www.sdkrashen.com/
  31. 31. This power point was created by Kerima Mohideen to introduce colleagues to a key text in English as an Additional Language teaching Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition Stephen D. Krashen July 2009 (Internet Edition) All quotes in the power point are from this book. Kerima Mohideen is an EAL Teacher in a London Secondary School January 2014

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