Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter - 16

The Input Hypothesis

Maybe the most important aspect of Stephen Krashen's theories of second language acquisition is The Input Hypothesis. This explains how someone learns a second language. The hypothesis deals with acquisition of speech and not the learning of formal grammatical rules and cold memorization of vocabulary words.

When you seek to learn a language different from your native tongue, if you are receiving "input" that is slightly above your ability in the second language, then you will proceed along a natural order in becoming proficient in spoken fluency. If you are at level "A" then what you need is input that is slightly above level "A" in order to progress. But, the input must be comprehensible.

An example is in my present use of the Destino's free video course I mentioned last time. I can understand 95% of everything. There is just that small bit of dialogue that keeps me on my toes, just enough of what I don't know to make me grow linguistically. Krashen believes the input must come through reading or hearing the structures that are at a slightly higher level than the seeker's current ability. I think this works.

Problems arise in a classroom setting because not all of the second language seekers are at the same level of acquisition. Therefore, this input becomes problematic if specific structures are "taught." Rather, "acquisition" activities should be present in the classroom (reading or hearing).

"...a certain amount of comprehensible input must be built up before the acquirer is required to speak in a classroom (Brown, 2000:278)."

Acquiring grammatical structures through comprehensible input in the form of reading or listening comes before the second language seeker attempts to speak the language.

I wonder if this works at all in a classroom without every member of the class being at the same competency level? I can see in the different levels my wife and I are at linguistically that we've grown more in our proficiency in Spanish by using materials and courses at home that afford us "comprehensible input" that has been slightly above our individual competencies in Spanish.

The Natural Order Hypothesis

In second language acquisition research conducted in 1974-75, 1980 and 1987, it was postulated that the acquisition of grammatical forms followed a natural and predictable order. How this happens is contingent upon multiple factors. The learner's age and the learner's circumstances seemed not to be a significant influence on this natural order. Dr. Krashen makes the point that this does not mean some sort of curriculum should be devised based on this order.

Krashen's entire point seems to be that there is a difference between the conscious learning of grammatical structures and the unconscious acquisition of speech, no matter the language. Acquisition of speech is far more important in the empowerment of someone who wants to speak the language-spoken fluency.

Critics would say Krashen has drawn too rigid a line between the learning and the acquiring of a second language. Some believe Krashen made these distinctions based on a specific or particular environment in which the learners were found and did not consider the classroom might be an environment that would have some importance in second language acquisition.

Krashen's critics do agree with him that the mass teaching of a linguist's approach to cold, grammatical principles does not facilitate second language acquisition. They go on to suggest that within a classroom, it would be best to help the student construct his own grammar so that he might reach full mastery of the language.

This seems to me to be a throwback to some earlier approaches in which the student, through some kind of touchy-feely existential probing, comes up with "his own grammar."

A natural order might, on the other hand, emerge in the process in which the child, or the second language learner, hears hundreds upon thousands of repetitions from those within the learner's environment who speak the language with correct form and structure. This situation is where the unconscious assimilation of correctness comes. Language is then acquired!


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