Monday, January 07, 2008

Krashen on speaking and language acquisition

Sent to the Taipei Times, January 2, 2007
Speaking is the result of language acquisition, not
the cause.
Kao Shin-fan ("Keeping it English in the
classroom", Dec. 25) suggests that English teachers
should combine "persistent persuasion with
pressure" and even "moderate nagging" to make
sure students use English in classes, because "most
students learn how to speak English by actually
speaking it."
The research does not support this contention. Rather,
the evidence is overwhelming that we acquire language
not by producing it but by understanding it, by
listening and reading.
Studies tell us, for example, that increased speaking
and writing do not consistently result in more
language development, but increased listening and
reading do. Also, there are many cases of substantial
amounts of language acquisition taking place with very
little and sometimes no production, but with lots of
input. Finally, language is extremely complex: We
don't talk enough, or write enough, to account for
all the vocabulary and grammar that we acquire.
The best hypothesis is that the ability to speak is
the result of language acquisition, not the cause. If
this is true, forcing students to speak before they
are ready is not only useless, but counterproductive.
The best way to develop spoken fluency is to provide
lots of interesting and comprehensible input. This
means more pleasure reading, and more listening (try
www.eslpod for a free source of English input,
designed for intermediate students of English as a
foreign language).
Stephen Krashen


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