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ELT, EOT and language acquisition discussed with Professor Stephen Krashen pt1

Discussion between Professor Stephen Krashen and Jason West about English teaching and learning, language acquisition and English Out There;  inspired by the audio before and after case study of the adult Chinese English learner, Jane.

Dr. Stephen Krashen IFLT 250

Professor Stephen Krashen



Part One


You can listen to the full (8 min) before and after audio of Jane speaking English here:


English Out There Case Study - Jane, China

All of the data (i.e. every single recording with contemporaneous notes) and other case studies and sessions with other learners can be found and accessed on the Languages Out There podcast.

I met Professor Krashen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Krashen) online a few years ago. I first quoted him to effect when arguing with a DOS in a pub on a Friday evening after work. She'd taken exception to my advice to a learner to have one shot of vodka to improve fluency before a Cambridge oral exam. Luckily for me I had a copy of Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning (1981) in my bag. In it Krashen says that 1 to 1.5 ounces of alcohol can improve performance. She was a fan of his and that, as they say, was that; she stood down.

We have never met face-to-face but have exchanged quite a bit of correspondence. I carried out the case studies of Jane (Chinese) and Waldeck (Polish) in the spring of 2010 because I had become tired of telling people how effective it was and thought the best way to get the message across would be to simply do it and record everything from start to end and then to publish the results (hoping that they would be good).

Jane and Waldeck were the first two students to respond to a post I put on EnglishClub.com offering to help the first two learners who wanted to improve their English speaking skills. The only condition was that they needed to agree to let me document and publish their experiences.

I sent the link to the audio before and after of Jane to Professor Krashen and he very kindly took the time to listen and comment on the podcast page. You can still read his comment online, this is what he wrote,

Remarkable. If we had more description of just what lessons Jane did & other exposure to English, and her own view of what caused the improvement, this would be a major contribution to our knowledge about what works. Thanks for posting this.”

I followed up via email and that started the long email discussion over July and August 2010, and you can read the whole discussion below.


Professor Stephen Krashen: I've been overwhelmed with politics lately (I will send you some examples). Your press release includes this: 

EOT ebook courses include detailed instructions and student worksheets that can be printed out or uploaded into virtual classrooms or online file sharing applications.

CAN I see some examples of this?

Jason West (JW): Absolutely! Re: ebook samples. I have just sent you some. 

When we were assembling materials for publication we then hired freelance ELT writers to add another layer and then they were edited by a professional editor, Tim Bowen from an ELT perspective and myself and a colleague from more of a practical/EOT perspective. The SS and OO pre-int courses don't have MP3s or any additional bits like the ones above and below because they were put together by someone with a pure EOT teaching background (the audio is in the practice) and I would say that they are the purest, possibly most effective and easiest to use EOT materials.

I thought you were on holiday and didn't use the snappier made up quotation, but 'Remarkable...a major contribution to...' removing the caveat so not to confuse and keep it short with a link to your full comment on our site and with a link below that to the audio of Jane and her answers to your questions with details of the materials she used.

Finally, you and I discussed the status quo in ELT publishing some time ago. I know you suggested I send this stuff out for free. I'd love to, but I can't because I am under such pressure to pay back loans and provide modest returns for friends and colleagues who have invested, plus 9 years of incredible effort. To use one of our ebook courses does cost 25 to 35 cents per hour...the practice is free. Students and teachers can sell them from their websites, blogs and social media profiles and get 25%. So if they tell four friends who buy a book the one they bought was effectively free. I am not an expert in online marketing and I am not a fat cat ELT publisher. I am just a guy who likes psychology and language who ran a few English schools and had an idea to improve the product and set about doing it. I and my family (I have a Danish partner and two small boys) live very modestly and all we want is financial security, which has eluded us for some years now.

If EOT could gain a wider audience it could make a real difference to a lot of people. I just wanted to bring you up to speed and let you know a bit more about how tough it has been and continues to be to keep this show on the road.

Prof. Krashen: Jason, you are certainly free to use the quote you used, because I posted it. It is public domain. As for more, it might now be a good time to talk about details. I have looked through some of our previous correspondence, but it might be easier to have an organized written discussion with you.  

JW: OK, thanks, I was just a tad concerned about chopping out the caveat and making a flowing sentence on your behalf.

Thanks for offering to have a written discussion. I hope I can explain in words that make sense to you (I'm not academically trained).

I will answer your questions below:

Prof. Krashen: FIRST: the organization of EOT (1) worksheets (match word to picture, etc): Can you provide me with a succinct list of the activities? 

JW: The learner works alone or is guided through the exercises in the worksheets for each lesson. There are 120 lesson plans over six levels and each lesson plan has between four and seven exercises or activities that involve the learner using the target language for the lesson. I'm not sure if you want to see all of the exercises (oo's) or the rubrics for each lesson? The ebooks sent you links to download will show you exactly what kind of activities the learners engage in. I sent you three versions of our materials, self-study (SS), one-to-one (OO) and for teachers to use with groups (TD). I have also attached a product summary/publisher proposal which was written by a publishing agent and it should give you a better idea of the scope of the courses, there are sample lesson plans with activities and some course overviews. But do please elaborate re: the activities? I hope this helps.

Prof. Krashen: (2) Conversations with native speakers who are NOT teachers. Conversations can be on any topic. Is this correct? 

JW: That is correct. The learner studies the target language either alone or with a teacher in a class or one to one in preparation for a series of conversations with fluent or native speakers of English who do not need to be teachers. The conversation needs to start on the topic of the lesson and using the questions from the final 'Out There' task (the speaking task) that are either provided (lower levels) or created by the learner themselves. Once the conversation is underway and the questions have been answered the topic can and does often change or become developed. We suggest learners have between four to six conversations with different people per lesson. The conversations can be very short (lower levels) or can stretch out a bit (higher levels).

Prof. Krashen: (3) Sessions with teachers. Please describe. Are these related to the worksheets? 

JW: Yes, teachers can teach using the worksheets in the classroom like a conventional class and then take the learners out into the town or city to do the speaking task with local people (in English speaking locations) or the students can go online and speak to English speaking friends using services such as Skype (free web telephony). They can also upload the materials to online virtual classrooms and teach there. 

The TD materials are the original ones we have mainly used in London over the last 9 years.

They were rewritten and then adapted to create the self-study and one-to-one/online materials (which are almost identical and can be used together, for example a teacher might require a student to work alone and then provide some tuition with the same course book).

These are the various ways we and others have successfully used the materials:

1. Normal language class group in a classroom

2. Normal language class starting in a quiet public place or café

3. Online virtual classroom group

4. One-to-one in person

5. One-to-one online

6. Self-study offline

7. Self-study online

The worksheets include reading exercises (many in the higher levels have licenced content from the Guardian newspaper) and the Beginner, Elementary and Intermediate self-study and one-to-one courses come with audio for listening exercises that are part of the worksheet exercises.

Finally, there are what we call 'social media tools' and 'copy kits'. These are sentences that online users can copy and paste into their text chat box when they first introduce themselves to potential English speaking friends. The messages just say that they want to be friends and want to practise with the person, that they will only take a few minutes of their time each time they contact them and that they will then say 'bye'. So reassuring the English speaker that a) there is a plan and b) it will be quick and focused and not waste their time or make them feel awkward or that their time is being abused. The copy kits are some exercises that require some information to be with the English speaker to make the conversation flow.

I hope this helps...looking forward to more questions...

Prof. Krashen: The EOT activities are clearly form-based, with the goal of mastering specific vocabulary or grammatical items. 

I wonder how much time Jane spent on the activities, how much time she spent in conversation with non-teachers, how much time she spent with teachers. And how much time she spent doing other things related to English (reading, watching TV, listening to the radio). In other words, how much comprehensible input she got.

She had a total of 18 hours of EOT, which consisted of an hour of EOT everyday, and review.

She "reviewed the lessons again and again" for a total of two hours a day, using her iPod. She did ten lessons.


She also mentioned "talking books" – audiobooks, I assume. I wonder if this is included in the two hours a day.

Also she mentions radio: "Except this, sometimes i listen to the international radio which broadcast English music or some subjects relate to economic, science, nature. And some interviews etc. " I wonder if this is included in the two hours per day.

She doesn't mention if she did any reading in English.

She doesn't mention conversations with English speakers other than you and the EOT conversation partners.

She attributes her gains to EOT: "Well, after several regular communications with professor Jason online accompany lots of exercises on the plans, they made me not only enrich my vocabulary quantity, but made also the English speaking become a kind of habit to me. I think that is my improvement."

My hunch is that people have less respect for the informal comprehensible input they get and more respect for "formal" language teaching. I wonder if this is true of Jane.

Even so, I think she made great progress. Even though the EOT lessons were form-based, they still had some comprehensible input and the conversations and sessions with you had lots of comprehensible input.

To summarize, I am trying to get a feel for (1) how much total input she got, (2) how much of it was comprehensible input.

I should also mention that the conversations and lessons with you probably contributed a lot because they were so relevant to her. And she was able to select the EOT lessons she wanted.

Attached: Current tentative working paper [not attached]

JW: This is great. I'd like to comment below: 

The materials do have some focus on form and they look familiar to learners, which makes them comfortable when they use them. The way Jane used them was as revision, which to me was very astute. She used beginners lessons with Chinese instructions first to get the process and what she was meant to do with the language absolutely clear in her mind. I have seen this before. Learners get a confidence boost from doing exercises with language they feel comfortable with. Particularly anxious speakers, as Jane was, benefit from starting with easy language. My hunch is that the focus on form is reassuring to them prior to the anxiety inducing task of speaking. Through asking them to speak using pre-taught and familiar language and limiting the performance phase in scope and time (with just a few rehearsed questions) we are lowering the anxiety levels that would normally be attached to such a speaking task involving a native or fluent speaker. Successful completion of the task, however brief at beginner level, is valuable in building their self-confidence because they have proven to themselves that they can do it. It can then become self-perpetuating and increasingly motivational.

My understanding from the answers she gave and from talking to her is that whilst working with me and the materials she studied them (pen and paper) and then did the speaking task with me and then listened again with her iPod. I think she did have some other conversations based upon the lesson materials but with non-teachers and then only one or two people. The bulk of the speaking practice during the period was, I think, with me (we can ask her more specifically to comment we are still in touch and I think she will be happy to help). I also think her references to the other sources of English describe primarily what she has habitually been doing to a greater or lesser degree over the last 16 years; she could well have upped the audio book input during the time we were working together, it would make sense wouldn't it?

In fact, when we spoke last week for the first time in about 6-8 weeks I was amazed that she had seemed to suffer very little, if any, degradation of her speaking and listening skills. Because of this I specifically asked her how much speaking practice she had done since we last spoke and she said 'none'. Which made me think that she really had acquired the ability to speak more comfortably.

I think your hunch about greater respect for teaching than informal comprehensible input  is right but I would add that I think their respect for 'formal' language teaching (due to their familiarity with the process from years of traditional language education i.e. focus on form exercises) and using/revising language they are very confident manipulating on paper just prior to having to produce it in small structured bursts with non-teacher conversation partners makes the demands on them manageably lower than if they were asked to enter a communicative experience without any preparation and especially not without any completely comprehensible input. I also wouldn't underestimate the supportive effect in a face-to-face class of having the teacher and classmates nearby during the speaking task when talking to strangers (we put them in pairs sometimes, often a more confident student with a less confident, for support). Online is supportive in a slightly different way. There is less potential to lose face and there is a greater level of familiarity with the practice partners as a result of the initial introductions when meeting for the first time and then any prior conversations.

Everyone who has been involved in EOT has always seen the form-based lessons as a kind of emotional and pedagogic crutch with which learners can a) get focused practice of the target language but also b) gain the confidence to take the next step to a structured conversation with a non-teacher which, as they grow in confidence will increasingly lead to multiple tangential (unplanned) conversations which again contribute greatly to the growth in confidence. When those conversations involve gentle 'natural' correction motivated by a desire to understand and be understood "Uh-huh, what...say that again...oh, that's what you mean....you say it like this....it's spelt like this (types the word out in Skype chat box)" (unlike much teacher correction which is based, especially in the learner's mind, on being theoretically right or wrong). This is what I found interesting about Kuhl and Rivera-Gaxiola, Neural Substrates of Language Acquisition, 2008 (which you put me onto!), when they described the methods by which they taught the babies Mandarin and that only one produced results and which was very close to EOT in terms of the process used. Their 'motherese' is, I think, in some ways what sympathetic non-teachers produce when conversing with learners.

Yes, they were very relevant to her and she did select the lessons. With Waldek (29, Polish)

I selected the lessons and deliberately selected some lessons in an effort to correct some habitual mistakes he made when speaking (one was the use of the definite article) with some success. He started on pre-int materials (B1) and ended up on up-int materials (C1), in 33 hours of EOT. His prior background is very different from Jane's. Not formally educated in English he also was much less audibly bothered about making mistakes (which I would have expected based upon experience and well-known socio-cultural influences). I have seen this before and the before and after videos of Florent from 2006 illustrate it quite well. When he was first interviewed he had no past tenses. After 30 hours of EOT and spending two weeks in London he had noticeably developed his ability to monitor his own language and was correctly using past tenses most of the time. The lessons he had experienced were chosen for him, like the ones I did with Waldek.

I would add that I think it could be argued that any lesson that requires the learner to speak to a non-teacher, despite being focused on some form at the start will inevitably develop a uniqueness (personalization) of its own as it progresses and as it becomes more of a naturally flowing conversation. The more personal, amusing, enlightening and emotionally rewarding the conversation becomes the more memorable.

Thanks for attaching the draft paper. Can I comment on that too? I found it very interesting indeed.

I don't know anything about TPRS but I think that "completely comprehensible input, which can be reassuring for beginners" (line 1. para 1) is spot on and is also relevant when trying to encourage speech. It is what Jane did with our materials. When the focus on form in the lesson is easy enough it means, for beginner speakers, that they have one less thing to worry about before and during their speaking session. My hunch is that the simple act of speaking some language you know you can read and write and have clear in your mind with someone you have never met or you know is not your teacher or even a teacher full stop, produces an appreciable confidence boost that can be repeated.

I agree with you when you hypothesise that "interesting input lowers the affective filter".

But must confess that for some strange reason I have a mental blockage when it comes to your description/application of the affective filter because I always think of it as some kind of barrier to production too! Which you might find at odds with your hypothesis. You see, I would suggest that for low level speakers you could add the word 'easy' before the word 'input' and then add 'prior to immediate production'. I think this holds to a certain extent for higher levels too. I see the management and reduction of performance anxiety as being key to successful production (assuming the learner has acquired enough language to be able to communicate).

I stumbled upon Yerkes-Dodson 1908 when looking into the relationship between performance and anxiety and it struck a chord with your description of the affective filter (in my speech-centric mind), monitor over users and that of Stevick (lathophobic aphasia) which in my mind is a more extreme version of the same thing. What do you think?

In your comments on applying your hypotheses (Intermediate, para 2. line 4.) you write "input that contains language that has already been acquired" and, purely in relation to the aims of EOT, I would add 'but not habitually produced'.

Finally, one of the most important and gratifying pieces of feedback we ever received (and which you might find useful to hear about) was from students at Belgrade University training to be English teachers (over the years we have always had a regular flow arriving to do courses and have spoken with them at length about EOT). When I asked  them what their peers were saying about EOT they said 'it turns passive knowledge into active knowledge'. They were uniformly very accomplished users of English and yet they still felt that they had a corpora of acquired language (i.e. they could read and write it) that was dormant when they spoke and that EOT activated it. My hunch is that Jane's rapid improvement, like that of many others over the years, is due to something in the process of EOT that allows latent language to be produced.

I think of EOT as more of a psychological process than a linguistic one. I know you are firm about acquisition never being the result of speaking and I am sure you are right. Acquisition in my mind, like yours, must come first, but then, when someone has acquired enough language to be able to speak what is stopping them. I don't think it is a need for more grammar bashing, or possibly even more reading and listening as you would suggest. I think that many people (as ALG would probably agree) are conditioned, either by their personality, their socio-cultural heritage, or their previous educational experiences (i.e. methods used to teach them language) or most likely by an individually highly variable combination of all three to experience some difficulty producing language they have acquired.

I hope my non-academic language isn't too grating on your sensibilities and that I haven't rambled too much!

To be continued....I hope.

By the way, would you like to talk to Jane? Or send her some written questions?

Part Two is HERE....I’d like to thank Professor Krashen for the huge amount of time and consideration he has given me and English Out There, and for the wit and wisdom of his comments in our discussions, both topic specific and social.  It has been a real privilege to discuss our work with him in such detail and at such length.  This is the first 8 pages of 34.


If you believe in creativity, attribution and integrity PLEASE read and SHARE the facts about what happened to EOT. Help us fund our Oxford University Press legal case http://bit.ly/SvJwL5 and sign our e-petition to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University http://bit.ly/SvJNxt