English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish Google+

ELT, EOT and language acquisition discussed with Professor Stephen Krashen pt2

The continuing debate 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 Two


This before and after audio started this debate. 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.

You can read the introduction which explains how this conversation happened. It is before the first part of the debate, click here to read it.

Debate Part Two


Prof. Krashen: First, this one: "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!" 

Please see attached paper on the output filter. Using form-based activities to build confidence for speaking is, I think, a dangerous game, and there are other ways to lower speaking anxiety. The danger is that it confirms the belief that language acquisition is the result of mastery of grammar. Converting passive into active knowledge, as one student called it, is NOT converting learned knowledge into acquired knowledge. It is (1) lowering the output filter and/or (2) increased acquired competence. And it is not the result of forcing oneself or being forced to speak more. Ways to solve the problem, not mutually exclusive, of increasing speaking ability:

(1) Don't worry about it, just keep providing input. Output will eventually come, except in the most pathological cases.

(2) Lower the output filter with incredibly stress-free conversations.

(3) Provide more compelling input.

Jane's comments confirm that speaking ability is not the result of speaking practice: "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."

Another path to release of acquired competence: When someone has had lots of written input with little aural input, and then gets the aural input, there may be a jump in fluency, thanks to aural input becoming much more comprehensible very quickly.

Have you considered including ORIENTATION, how to improve in your language on your own, with a little underlying theory, in order to make students autonomous? I think students need to know how it happens, and how grammar learning can both help and hurt. Attached is a paper on autonomy. There might, in fact, be a fourth way to help develop fluency, i.e. Understanding the language acquisition process, eg the silent period, relationship between input and output, etc.

CORRECTION and "gentle natural correction": Theory predicts correction will only work when it is considered to be communication, not focus on form, and happens to be at the acquirer's stage of development, or i+1. This is rare! Easier is not to worry about it and provide plenty of comprehensible input. When teachers (and parents) say that they use "expansion," (repeating the acquirer's sentence, but correctly), I tell them that if they find themselves doing it naturally don't stop, if they don't do it, don't start.

Explicit correction, supplying students with the right form when they ask for it is fine with me, just don't expect this "learned knowledge" to become acquired.

As for caretaker speech/motherese, yes it is comprehensible input, I go into this in detail in several earlier publications, including the now out-of-print book The Input Hypothesis (1985). Waldek and correcting his habitual mistakes: Articles are in general late-acquired, so this is a surprise. In fact, my colleagues, who are true masters of academic English, professors in various Asian countries, still make "mistakes" with articles. I suspect/hope that International English will change to accommodate them.

Note that Waldek improved his ability to monitor. Not necessarily acquired. Orientation will tell him when monitoring is a good idea when it is not.

Personalization. Yes I certainly agree with this: "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." But why focus on form in these conversations except for unusual circumstances? Again, it sends the wrong message.

TPRS and anxieties: Yes, TPRS lowers beginners' anxieties by providing totally transparent input at the beginning. But that doesn't require focus on form (you knew I was going to say this).

I discussed lathophobic aphasia in my 1981 book, Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. With Stevick's approval. Yes, due to one or more of these: monitor over-use, output filter. You discuss it on your blog.

As Yerkes-Dodson, I suspect that the optimal level of anxiety for LEARNING is somewhere below medium. For ACQUISITION it is zero.

JW: You didn't attach those papers on the the output filter and autonomy, I'd like to read them, thanks. Okay, more discussion below:

But what if there are millions of learners desperate to improve their English communication skills who are deeply conditioned (by publishers and educators everywhere) that they need to focus on form to improve and that grammar is all they are used to?

Changing people's long held beliefs, however incoherent and futile is incredibly difficult. Do you agree? And implementing a program to convince 800 million Chinese English learners that everything their teachers have told them about learning to speak English is wrong would take more investment and effort than simply preparing them for conversations in a way that makes them more likely to be able to get something truly useful from their time and effort, quality personalised comprehensible input that is compelling and provides them with real experiences of success using the language which in turns maintains their motivation levels.

I agree with what you have written above (I think maybe you think I don't, perhaps it is the way I express myself, please try to read between the lines a little) I have also just read sections of http://www.sdkrashen.com/Principles_and_Practice/index.html that you published online just last year, specifically these comments stood out in the section on the Role of Output:

"Engaging in conversation is probably much more effective than "eavesdropping" for language acquisition. In conversation, the second language acquirer has some degree of control of the topic, can signal to the partner that there is a comprehension problem, etc. In other words, he can manage and regulate the input, and make it more comprehensible. There is no such control in eavesdropping! But in order to participate in conversation, there must be at least some talk, some output, from each partner. Hence, the indirect contribution of speech."


"Comprehensible input is responsible for progress in language acquisition. Output is possible as a result of acquired competence. When performers speak, they encourage input (people speak to them). This is conversation."

and finally your personal family experience,

"What we heard via eavesdropping was not comprehensible. It dealt with topics that were not easily identified and that were also often beyond our range of experience. Language directed at us in Yiddish would have been simplified, and more relevant to us, and hence more comprehensible."

I think what you have written above and what EOT achieves are utterly compatible and complementary, if not the same things.

I think the focus on form can actually help here, because it isolates and provides a revision of key elements of the language they will be required to use with their conversation partners. As you said earlier in this discussion,

"...even though the EOT lessons were form-based, they still had some comprehensible input".

I am saying that the focus on the element of the intended conversation that might make the learner most anxious is dealt with in the exercises, audio and class activities in preparation for it to provide less of a barrier to entering a meaningful and highly productive conversation that provides considerable comprehensible input of a type that most learners have not had much experience of whilst they have been studying. I think I used the words 'acquired the ability to speak' (above) somewhat loosely and you latched onto it, sorry. Jane made a breakthrough in her confidence levels, successfully loweredher filter and the jump in fluency remained largely in place. That is what I meant to write.

We have included orientation in EOT and the process of the EOT lesson is just that. They follow a process that, as we heard with Jane, produced remarkable results in a very short period of time. The orientation is in the learner instructions and the flow of the process - input, activity, result. Our instructions for teachers explain the process.

A lot of teachers (UK ELT industry establishment especially) fear the transfer of knowledge of the process (i.e. autonomy) to the learner, understandably because currently they teach in a certain way. But if they adjusted their role slightly and became more like guides or facilitators, supporting processes of acquisition and especially providing support to the installation of the process you have on page 61 of the above mentioned paper (see image of your diagram below).

Krashen virtuous conversation cycle

Your diagram describes a virtuous circle of input - language acquisition -output as conversation going back round to providing more - input. I think that is what our materials do and is what I was referring to in an earlier email when I wrote about the process of practice (i.e. conversation) becoming 'self-perpetuating and increasingly motivational'.

Do students the world over who simply want to be able to speak English more fluently really care about the theory and would they want to be taught the theory or would they rather be told “Here are some materials, the process they put you through works, I can help you to use them?” I'm interested to know what you think on this point?

The fear teachers have about being made obsolete is understandable and a normal human reaction. But I think most learners will always want to have some kind of contact with someone who can guide and support them. Footballers know how to play football but even at the highest level they still need coaches to support and manage their personal physical and emotional interaction with their teammates and the opposition in the pursuit of personal and collective success.

You write above that "Jane's comments confirm that speaking ability is not the result of speaking practice" but in your diagram suggest that speaking practice (i.e. conversation) provides input of the type that will enable acquisition to take place and create a loop that is virtuous.

How to get into the virtuous circle in the first place is what I think we are both concerned with in our discussion here. Your way is to teach theory it seems, my way is to guide them in using language, materials and ideas that do not challenge what they already believe and can help them to feel more confident about the final speaking task.

Your comments above on correction and motherese, I agree with again. What EOT materials do is guide the learner into communication that is at or as close to i+1 as anything they will get anywhere else. Because they are using materials chosen either by themselves or their teacher to be 'at their level' they are positioning the speaking task, the conversation, to be 'i+1'. The fact they have prepared and from the outset have control through the preparation means that the conversational experience begins on their terms, which I think helps guide the conversation partner to provide better practice, i.e. better quality comprehensible input.

Florent improved his ability to monitor too. When something is highlighted and incorporated into practice conversations and corrected a little more than normal (with Waldek I did correct a lot more, deliberately because he was more confident to the point of being careless). We have found many students who are difficult to stop speaking yet make lots of habitual errors actually slow down and learn to increasingly monitor their language. So our lessons do work differently for different types of language learners.

But what are the 'unusual circumstances' you mention? When people follow an English course they bring all of their previous study experiences and psychological and linguistic baggage with them. What I am suggesting, a bit like Automatic Language Growth (ALG) but diluted, is that your 'unusual circumstances' are in fact, pretty much the norm.

How many people who end up wanting to learn English in later life started acquiring English at the same time as they started acquiring their first language? Only those in bilingual households or with parents with different first languages or those who lived abroad. Everyone else, the mono-lingual world, which forms the vast majority, have been through some kind of traditional language teaching and learning experience in their effort to become bilingual and that they were told was adequate for the intended purpose. Which was to be able to speak the second language comfortably. This has clearly failed in spades but no one has come up with a solution, or if they have no one has published it in a way that is a) accessible (i.e. easy to understand and apply) and b) affordable.

As for 'sending the wrong message', shouldn't the message simply be 'this works' and not that they need to read or have explained to them the theory behind what works?

I did know you were going to say that [anxiety can be lowered without focus on form]. But, you have to start somewhere and is there any crime in starting at the point of least resistance when to change someone's belief system is such a major undertaking and reduces the likelihood you (and most importantly they) will succeed. People need structure and guidance or they get lost or confused. Why not use what is universally accepted and flip it on it's head by using it to coax learners into our virtuous conversation circle? The danger and damage you seem to attribute to the use of a focus on form is not, I would argue, something that the learner is aware of or indeed can do much more damage than has already been caused to their self-perception of how they will best acquire a second language. I would strongly suggest that once they have actually experienced the virtuous conversation circle we both seem to believe can exist, then the job of teaching them the theory is, after a while, pretty much redundant in terms of achieving their goals. Instead the theory has become innate because they experienced their own subsequent improvement and managed to repeat it a number of times.

Re: Yerkes-Dodson, surely even language that has been acquired and easily used before can be stopped as a direct result of over anxiety. E.g. people who clam up when public speaking in their first language.

I'm looking forward to hearing your comments.

Part Three can be read 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.


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