"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Foreign language mastery: what the research says

Foreign language mastery: What the research says
Sent to the Washington Post, June 12, 2013

Andrew Eil claims that the “easy steps” to foreign language mastery are to study grammar very hard, drill vocabulary every day, and force yourself to talk (“Speak the language,” Washington Post Express, June 11).

A massive amount of research done over the last few decades by a wide variety of researchers and published in scientific journals presents a very different view: We acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read, when we get “comprehensible input.”  When we get a great deal of comprehensible input through listening and reading, we acquire the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

Studies show repeatedly that intensive grammar study and memorizing vocabulary are of limited value, and that speaking doesn’t promote language acquisition; rather, the ability to speak is the result of comprehensible input.

Andrew Eil has clearly done well in foreign language acquisition, but I think that his competence came largely from the enormous amount of input he has received from the reading he did, the movies he saw, and the many conversations he had with others, activities he mentions only in passing at the end of his article.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Author of the following books: Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning (1981); Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition (1982); The Input Hypothesis (1985); The Power of Reading (1993, 2004); Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use (2003); English Language Learners in American Classrooms (w. J. Crawford) (2007); Free Voluntary Reading (2011).

Mildenberger Award, for best published book in Second Language Acquisition in 1981, for Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning.
Pimsleur Award, given by American Council of Foreign Language Teachers for best published article in 1985.
Honoree, National Association for Bilingual Education, 1999
Elected Member, Reading Hall of Fame, 2005
Doctor of Humane Letters awarded by Lewis and Clark College, Portland, 2011

Original article: http://www.expressnightout.com/2012/06/speak-the-language/

1 comment:

  1. Well said! Not only does the "Speak the Language" article promote a tried and UNtrued approach to language learning, it also contradicts itself: in the article's subtitle, it says "A State Department staffer reveals his tricks for becoming fluent FAST", yet the article goes on to say "I learned them all — WiTHOUT SHORTCUTS" [capitalization mine]. As you point out, he has indeed acquired a high level of fluency (as have some other grammar mavens who use THEIR success to justify their methods), but you needn't look far to see that the vast majority of learners try and fail to acquire foreign languages using the "tricks" Andrew Eil suggests.