Friday, May 22, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter - 17

The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

In the field of second language acquisition, Stephen Krashen, Ph.D, is a name that rises above the academic din that usually begins when the subject of Language Acquisition versus Language Learning is brought up. The noise becomes even more deafening when someone, such as myself, would dare to report how the theories of Dr. Krashen have affected his personal adventure in trying to achieve the highest possible degree of spoken fluency. Without at least one Ph.D under your belt, you are considered (I want to say "an idiot" but I won't) unqualified to utter the words, "I get it..."

We live in an age that those in white coats are the final arbiters of truth. Unless you've earned your white coat, you'd best sit there with your hands folded in your non-doctorate lap and keep your mouth shut. How can you begin to understand the theories of basket weaving when you don't have a Ph.D in basket weaving? (I've never been one for convention, so here goes.)

Lest I bore you with touting Dr. Krashen's academic resume and become guilty of white-coat worship myself, try Googling "Dr. Stephen Krashen" when you have nothing else better to do than sift through the over 131,000 hits. The man does have an impressive track record and reputation in this field. However, critical thinking does demand that while his credentials do demand consideration, is what he proposes true and reasonably worth our time and effort to examine?

Dr. Krashen's explanation of Second Language Acquisition follows along five points:

1) the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis,

2) the Monitor hypothesis,

3) the Natural Order hypothesis,

4) the Input hypothesis,

5) the Affective Filter hypothesis.

Perhaps I should have begun my series on Learning Spanish with this material, so bear with this diversion as I try to explain it (and all I was in college was a lowly Voice Performance Music major!).

"Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill." - Stephen Krashen

The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

Dr. Stephen Krashen's foundational principle in his theory of Second Language Acquisition is called "The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis." In this idea, a distinction is made in that wonderfully exciting and gaiety-galore world of linguistics and language pedagogy between learning a language and acquiring it.

"The acquired system" is the means through which spoken fluency is acquired.

I can recall scores of students who come to Guanajuato, Mexico (where we live), who have told me they would pay any amount of money to have the spoken fluency of a Mexican child being packed off to his or her first day of class in primary school. It is, after all, what most of those with whom I've spoken are after-spoken fluency. Sure, they would love to read and write in Spanish but they seem to have an instinctive understanding of what comes first. They know the cart does not draw the horse. They are after the horse and then the cart.

To acquire the target language is the result of a process almost identical to what we all went through in acquiring our native languages. This process is a natural event in which the learner of the language is involved with the actual act of communication and not so much in a formal relationship to grammatical structures (the horse before the cart).

"The learned system" is a system in which the learner comes into a possession of a lot of information about the language. Rules of grammar and cold-memorization of vocabulary are the thrusts of instruction. It is putting the "cart" before the "horse" and expecting, somehow, the cart to pull the horse.

"Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding." Stephen Krashen

If what you seek is how to exegete a text of the target language, then go for the cart.

If what you want is communication in the target language, then find that horse.


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