Introduction to the work of Professor Stephen Krashen

“Stephen Krashen (born 1941) is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California,[1] who moved from the linguistics department to the faculty of the School of Education in 1994. He is a linguist, educational researcher, and political activist.” – Wikipedia

Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition by Stephen Krashen

“The acquisition–learning hypothesis claims that there is a strict separation between acquisition and learning; Krashen saw acquisition as a purely subconscious process and learning as a conscious process, and claimed that improvement in language ability was only dependent upon acquisition and never on learning……..Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language, during which the acquirer is focused on meaning rather than form.” – Wikipedia     (CLE = subconscious acquisition + meaningful.  Weekend Chinese class = conscious process.  Based on a cursory review, this is where I may differ with the professor, as far as Chinese is concerned.  Using his term, I think acquisition and learning are complementary, due to the high opportunity cost and resource commitment required.)

“Furthermore, Krashen claimed that linguistic competence is only advanced when language is subconsciously acquired, and that conscious learning cannot be used as a source of spontaneous language production. Finally, learning is seen to be heavily dependent on the mood of the learner, with learning being impaired if the learner is under stress or does not want to learn the language.” – Wikipedia  (CLE =subconscious.  Weekend Chinese class = stress + does not want to learn)

“The monitor hypothesis states that consciously learned language can only be used to monitor language output; it can never be the source of spontaneous speech.” – Wikipedia  (Weekend Chinese class = consciously learned language => not the source of spontaneous speech)

“The affective filter hypothesis. This states that learners’ ability to acquire language is constrained if they are experiencing negative emotions such as fear or embarrassment. At such times the affective filter is said to be “up”.” – Wikipedia (Parents speaking Chinese with children in the public  [granted there may be some scenario that this is not wise].  Also, we parents can readily admit that there are things that we don’t know how to say but we can look it up and learn together => less fear or embarrassment)

“Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second-language acquisition, which he says “is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second………Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings. While the mechanism is commonly accepted as true, its importance in language learning is disputed. “- Wikipedia.  (This is where  access to and reading of extensive Chinese books come in, of course.)

“Free voluntary reading (FVR) is the reading of any book (newspaper, magazine or comic) that students have chosen for themselves and is not subject to follow-up work such as comprehension questions or a summary.” – An introduction to the work of Stephen Krashen.     (I rarely ask the girls on the details of their reading.  As long as they read, it’s good.)

“In language learning, extensive reading is contrasted with intensive reading, which is slow, careful reading of a small amount of difficult text – it is when one is “focused on the language rather than the text”.   Extensive and intensive reading are two approaches to language learning and instruction, and may be used concurrently; intensive reading is, however, the more common approach, and often the only one used.  Extensive reading has been used and advocated in language learning since at least the 19th century.  In the first language, many connections have been made between reading and vocabulary size, as well as other academic skills.” – Wikipedia.  (For me, intensive reading comes in two major flavors.  The first one is the usual language instruction based on textbooks or the likes.  The second one is the read-aloud exercises of an appropriately leveled reading material – probably the most efficient way of increasing colloquial fluency in my pointed of view.  In my point of view, intensive reading and extensive reading are complementary, and, when combined with CLE, is the best long-term method to learn Chinese (or other difficult to learn languages), when the requirement of time, resources, and opportunity cost is high.  Interestingly enough, to a certain extent, Karaoke singing can provide CLE, read-aloud intensive reading, and voluntary-extensive reading, all concurrently!)

In conclusion….

To sum it up, I think I have done the many things that Professor Krashen promotes based on his research, by providing CLE and free voluntary reading.  Where he and I may differ is that I think acquisition and learning (his terminology) are complimentary, to provide long-term, effective, and efficient improvement in Chinese proficiency.  CLE makes long term possible, providing the psychological backdrop for the child, which promotes effectiveness.  Due to its high resource/time demand and opportunity cost, we need efficiency as well.  That’s where intensive reading and active learning comes in.  For me, the particular instruction curriculum and the actual instruction/active learning is the easy part.  Providing the CLE is the tough part.  Where Chinese weekend schools fail for most is not only for the lack of rigor, but that active learning is only part of the picture and can not provide the long term needs, which is required to sustain such learning.  Where Chinese immersion school is far less than optimal for most is that it provides only ~ 15-20% of students’ year-round waking hours as their CLE, which is a far cry from the amount of CLE required for difficult to learn languages such as Chinese, in the greater Anglophone environment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s