Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Krashen on the size of vocabularies

Rodrigo, V. (2009). Vocabulary size and reading habit in native and non-native speakers of Spanish. Hispania, 92.3, 580-592. [Componente léxico y hábito de lectura en hablantes nativos y no nativos de español]

The results of this paper strongly suggest that non-native speakers who have read a lot have larger vocabularies in the language than native speakers who have not read a lot.

Four groups of subjects took a vocabulary test designed to reflect the size of their vocabulary in the language. The kind of test used is considered standard procedure in vocabulary size estimate studies. It consisted of words chosen at random from a dictionary. If a subject gets 50% of the words right, the assumption is that they know 50% of the words in the dictionary.

The group that did the best were native speakers of Spanish who, it is assumed, had read a great in Spanish (n = 14). All were university students in the US from Spanish-speaking countries.

Second best were non-native speakers of Spanish who had also, it is assumed, read a great deal in Spanish (n = 10). All were graduate students in Spanish language and literature. Only three of the ten were from the US, but none were from Spanish speaking countries.

Third best were native speakers of Spanish who were considered to be non-readers (n = 6). All were employees of the university, and all had immigrated to the US from Spanish-speaking countries in Central America.

The lowest-scoring group consisted of non-native speakers of English who had had little reading experience in Spanish (n = 14). All were students in a fifth semester Spanish class.

1: Spanish L1/readers: mean = 48.6, sd = 5.3. Estimate of vocab size = 48,600.

2: Spanish L2/readers: mean = 40.9, sd = 6.9. Estimate of vocab size = 40,900.

3: Spanish L1/non-readers: mean = 25.5, sd = 9.4 Estimate of vocab size = 25,500.

4: Spanish L2/non-readers: mean = 11.1, sd = 3.3 Estimate of vocab size = 11,100.

Most striking is that group 2 did much better than group 3: The effect size is 2.09, a "huge" effect. Being a reader appears to be more important than being a native speaker.

Rodrigo did not administer a detailed questionnaire on reading habits, nor did she gather data on the precise level of education of subjects in group 3. One could, thus, argue that the results are due to factors other than reading. The results are, however, consistent with the hypothesis that reading was the true cause of the differences, and there are no likely competitors: Studies showing the limitations of formal study make it unlikely that study was the reason for the difference between groups 2 and 3. What is clear is that non-native speakers can reach very high levels of competence in vocabulary, and exceed some native speakers.

Rodrigo points out that it is possible that subjects in group 4 did not show their full competence because of the fact that the distracters were all presented in Spanish on the vocabulary test, and that subjects in group 1 and group 3 who were not from Spain were disadvantaged by the fact that the test used continental Spanish

Subsequent studies can easily deal with these gaps.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Krashen and the phonics debate

I have found that it is helpful to distinguish three approaches to phonics. Two of them are extremist positions that few people in the real world hold:

Intensive systematic phonics: Teach ALL the major rules in a strict order. This is the official position of the National Reading Panel in the US, and is the foundation for Reading First, which failed every empirical test.

ZERO phonics. Never teach phonics, ever. Teach phonics, go to jail. Whole language is accused of holding this position, but it never has.

There is a third position, BASIC PHONICS. Not a compromise, but one that fits nicely with the Comprehension Hypothesis, the idea that we develop literacy and acquire language by understanding messages. In literacy, this is the Kenneth Goodman/Frank Smith position that we learn to read by reading, and that most of our phonics knowledge is the result of reading.

Basic phonics says that we should teach the rules that children can learn and remember and actually apply to texts to make the texts more comprehensible. In practice, for English this amounts to initial consonants and more straight-forward vowel rules. Some people call this "alphabetics."

Whole language supports basic phonics.

The arguments against intensive systematic phonics: There are too many rules, many are very complex and don't work well, and different phonics programs teach different rules (Frank Smith). In addition, intensive gives good results only on tests in which children pronounce words presented in a list. The impact on tests in which children have to understand what they read is microscopic and insignificant. I summarized this research here: http://sdkrashen.com/articles/does_decoding_contribute/all.html

For more details, please see articles at: http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=1 <../../../../index.php?cat=1> and http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Krashen on taking a break

Take a break
Sent to the Washington Post, Feb 8, 2011

Columnist Jay Mathews and some school officials are disturbed because Fairfax County School District high students get 90 minutes a week recess ("High-schoolers' 'recess': Benefit or brain drain?" Feb. 6). Some students, they claim, are simply taking it easy during this time, not studying.

That's only 18 minutes a day, probably much less than these critics take for coffee and unscheduled breaks whenever they feel like it, an option high school students don't have.

These short breaks, time when we can take it easy, are important. Research on creativity tells us that true learning requires some downtime. When Einstein had a problem in his work, he would take some time off for music. After a little relaxation, the solution would often present itself.

We should probably discuss whether 18 minutes a day is enough, not whether it should be eliminated.

Stephen Krashen

Source: Krashen, S. 2001. Incubation: A neglected aspect of the composing process? ESL Journal, 4(2): 10-11. Available at http://sdkrashen.com/articles/incubation/all.html

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Krashen on vocabulary quizzes

Developing vocabulary knowledge in the real world

Sent to Science news, Nov. 15

Researchers may have shown that taking practice quizzes on foreign language vocabulary do better than students who just read the words and their meanings ("Testing is an effective memory tool," November 6), but both kinds of "study" are inferior to absorbing words by encountering them in a real text that is of some interest to the reader. The results of a number of studies strongly suggest that picking up words by reading meaningful texts (and hearing interesting
stories) is more efficient, in terms of words acquired per hour, than any kind of deliberate study.

The practice-quiz method is fine for artificial school situations, but it is not the best way to develop vocabulary knowledge in the real world. Reading interesting books and hearing interesting stories is more efficient, and a lot more fun.

Stephen Krashen

Original article: http://sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/64316/title/How_testing_improves_memory

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Krashen: "I read it because it's beautiful"

This was published in IRA Inspire, sent out on the internet from the International Reading Association. It is very ironic that an IRA publication defends literature in this way, when the IRA has enthusiastically supported the standards movement and the LEARN act, which promise to wipe out this kind of literature teaching in favor of the approach that the "observer" in this classroom represents.

I Read It Because It’s Beautiful

by Karen Morrow Durica

Somehow a life without poetry seems…




Not much.

So each day in my classroom I read…



Free verse—

And such.

An observer sat in my room one day…

Noted poem’s title

Evaluated delivery

Recorded “lesson” sequence—

Said dryly: “It seems

There’s no connection curricular-wise…

No anticipatory set

No vocabulary drill

No comprehension query—

Do they know what it means?”

I could have contrived a defense or two, but…

Spirits flowed with peaceful joy

Honesty prevailed

Simple truth explained—

“I read it because it’s beautiful,” I said.

She didn’t quite frown but recalled all the same, “We’ve…

Standards to meet

Timelines to keep

Pages to cover—

Important content to be read.”

I looked from her to my students’ gaze; they…

Had relished the words

Danced with the rhythm

Mused with the meaning—

Were richer in spirit than when we began.

I read it because it was beautiful. And beauty is…

Never superfluous

Never irrelevant

Always needed—

Always in my “lesson” plan.

Krashen: Students are different...or are they?

This was also published in IRA Inspire. The International Reading Association supports rigid and rigorous language arts standards that insist that all students follow the same path and take the same tests at the same time. It does not recognize individual variation in rate of literacy development, interests, or that "students are different" in any way.

From Early Struggles to Lifetime Success

Roy (not his real name) had trouble with reading, right from the

"I was at the bottom in reading skills and spelling skills. I was a very, very slow reader and couldn’t read out loud or silently. It began in first grade and continued in second grade, third grade, and on and on and on…."

He repeated first grade, spent years with tutors, but even now, as an adult, he has trouble with spelling and oral reading. But Roy is also a leading medical researcher, with a doctorate and a string of publications and awards.

"My interest in chemistry started with my interest in airplanes in grade school. That quickly converted to propellant systems in seventh and eighth grades. I set up a lab in my basement and did experiments. That early experience was useful, building your own confidence."

With a passion for science and a curiosity to learn, and with the support of family and teachers along the way, he harnessed multiple intelligences and followed an unusual path to literacy.

Which goes to show: Students are different, and they learn in different ways. Once teachers find those ways, great things are possible!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Krashen on the usefulness of Mandarin

Sent to The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Tennessee
June 15, 2010

**I am all in favor of Mandarin. In fact, I am trying to acquire some Mandarin myself. But the popularity and usefulness of Mandarin for American students has been exaggerated ("French not 'fini,' but Chinese challenging its place in language classrooms," June 11).**

**About 100,000 students are in Mandarin classes in high and college in the USA, and a large percentage are "heritage language speakers" who already speak at least some Mandarin from home. **

**In contrast, it has been estimated that at least 300 million people are studying English in China (about 80 million in elementary and high
school) and at least 15 million children are studying English in Taiwan, where it is a required subject in school. **

**For every American studying Mandarin, there are at least 300 residents of China and Taiwan who are studying English. **

**Even assuming that all Chinese speak Mandarin (they don't), the chances of an English speaker speaking Mandarin better than the Mandarin speaker speaks English is remote.**

**It will be a while until Mandarin will help Americans in the business world. **

**Stephen Krashen**


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Krashen on length of stay in ESL

Repairing "Repairable Harm"

Stephen Krashen


"Repairable Harm" (Olson, 2010) suggests that the solution to the problem of students who remain classified as English Learners for long periods of time consists, among other things, of more careful preparation on tests of their progress, careful tracking, and "rigorous" instruction that includes explicit and direct teaching of the vocabulary, grammar and text structure of academic language. These proposals are quite similar to those presented by the current US Dept of Education in the form of Race to the Top, and the LEARN Act, now in committee in congress.

There is an alternative. Most long term English Learners live in poverty. Decades of research confirm that poverty has a huge impact on student learning, resulting in lower scores on all measures of school achievement. Poverty means food insecurity, poor health care, higher levels of pollution, and far less access to books, at home, at school and in the community.

The latter is especially important when discussing California, which has among the worst supported school and public libraries in the nation, and by far the lowest number of librarians per student. It is also easy to deal with. Studies in California (Achterman, 2008) and throughout the world (Krashen, Lee, and McQuillan, 2010) show that providing access to quality school libraries can mitigate the impact of poverty on reading achievement and subject matter learning (grade 11 US History in Achterman, 2008).

Increased access to books means more self-selected recreational reading, and more self-selected recreational reading has a powerful effect on the development of just those aspects of language that Repairable Harm is concerned with (Krashen, 2004). Through extensive reading, students acquire (not learn, but acquire) an enormous amount of grammar, vocabulary and text structure, enough so that the academic language of textbooks becomes far more comprehensible. Studies also show that wide reading results in more school knowledge as well as knowledge of the world (Ravitch and Finn, 1987; Krashen, 2004).

There are severe limits to the amount of vocabulary, grammar and text structure that can be explicitly taught and learned: The systems to be acquired are vast, and have not even been fully described. In addition, studies so far strongly suggest that reading is a more effective and efficient means of developing competence in these areas than direct instruction is (Krashen, 2004; 2010).

Repairable Harm makes some very good suggestions. It supports the use of the primary language in school, both early in the students' career to build background knowledge and literacy, and later, for the advantages of full bilingualism. It also calls for more efforts to end the social isolation experienced by many English Learners, a problem carefully described in Repairable Harm author Laurie Olsen's study, Made in America (1997). But the tasks faced by English Learners and their teachers would be greatly facilitated by providing greater access to interesting and comprehensible reading, and the easiest way to do this is to strengthen school library collections and school library staffing, especially in areas of high poverty.


Achterman, D. 2008. PhD dissertation, http://digital.library.unt.edu/permalink/meta-dc-9800:1

Krashen, S., Lee, SY, and McQuillan, J. 2010. An analysis of the PIRLS
(2006) data: Can the school library reduce the effect of poverty on reading achievement? CSLA Journal, in press. California School Library Association.

Krashen, S. 2010. Comments on the Learn Act. http://www.sdkrashen.com .

Olsen, L. 1997. Made in America: Immigrant Students in US High Schools. New York: The New Press.

Olson, L. 2010. Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners. Californianstogether.org.

Ravitch, D. and Finn, C. 1987. What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? New
York: Harpercollins.