Hi

Harold R. Keables

This website is for those doing a postgraduate course in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. It is completely independent, and has no support or connections with any university.

Check out the Resources Section, which offers:

* Links to articles on all aspects of the MA.
* A Video section offering lectures by Dörnyei, Crystal, Nunan, Larson-Freeman, Krashen, Scott Thornbury (who??) and many others.
* Suggested useful blogs and web pages.
* Presentations

Academics work in universities. Their job is to teach and to do research. Most academics prefer research to teaching and are not taught how to teach. So, if you study in any good university you’ll be taught by experts who haven’t been taught how to teach. Nevertheless, if you’re a good student, you’ll get an excellent education. This leads to the suggestion that in tertiary education, teaching methodology matters little: it’s the student who counts. The students who go to the best universities are carefully selected, and a key criterion in the selection process is the student’s ability to study without spoon-feeding. A good student does her own studying and knows how to draw on the resources offered. When you sign up for a post-graduate course know that you are in charge and that you, and you alone, will determine the outcome. Your tutor is an expert, not, usually, a teacher. Your job is to use your tutor’s expertise, which means asking the right questions. Don’t ask “What should I do?”, or “Please suggest a topic”. Ask for comments on your own drafts, ask for guidance on reading; ask for clarification. Get into a dialogue with your tutor; shoot the breeze; get familiar; build a relationship, but remember: your tutor is your mentor in the Greek sense of the word, not your teacher.

Kevin Gregg

Thinking-Man-RodinShona Whyte wrote to me the other day asking if I had a copy of Kevin Gregg’s paper “The Variable Competence Model of Second Language Acquisition, and Why It Isn’t “. I sent it to her and she replied thanking me and added “It is the elegant demolition job with the beautiful turn of phrase we are used to from Gregg”. Amen to that.

IMHO, Kevin Gregg is the most aticulate, scholarly critic of matters related to SLA alive today. He’s my hero, my guiding light. Just before we get to the serious bit, I should add that Kevin has immaculate taste. Probably he has immaculate taste in all realms, but I’m talking about one realm where I have a bit of knowledge and a lot of experience: drink. Not only can Kevin tell if the scotch he’s drinking is a genuine Bowmore 25 year old, he can find a decent Ribera del Duero on a restauant menu for less than €30, he can make a mean cocktail and he can drink most people under the table.

Where were we? Kevin is an enormous resource. Any time I need help with things related to SLA, I ask Kevin, who, being the generous man he is, never takes long to send a reply. I’m not alone in asking Kevin for help: Mike Long, Cathy Doughty, Nick Robinson, Dick Schmidt, Susanne Carroll, Nick Ellis, Suzanne Flyn, William O’Grady, Lydia White, and a long list of others send anything they’re thinking of publishing to him first. He’s always asked to contribute to the Handbook of SLA every time they do a new one. In short: he’s the man. Nobody in the field of SLA comes even close to Kevin when it comes to beautiful writing, and nobody comes close to him when it comes to critical acumen. He’s frighteningly well-informed: Chomsky; scientific method; rational argument; theories of SLA. And he’s truly frightening if you talk bullshit; quite simply, as Shona suggests, he’ll demolish you.

Gregg’s paper on Krashen (1984) is a masterful critique, never bettered. His “demolition job” of the Variable Competence Model (1990) nailed it in its coffin, and he did a similar job on Emergentism (2003). He’s done some devastating reviews of books, too. Here he is reviewing Saville-Troike’s 2004 Inroducing SLA. New York, CUP.

Sack

“Has this ever happened to you? Summer vacation has started, you’ve just settled in to your cabin on the lake, when suddenly you remember: You have a contract to write an introduction to SLA, and the manuscript is due next week. What do you do? Well, if you decide not to go back to the office and actually work, you might try to write down as many of the standard topics as come to mind—learning versus acquisition, performance versus competence, morpheme acquisition, processability, critical period, UG, connectionism, and so forth—and scribble a few anodyne lines about each, without actually providing any details about any. If you did that, you might wind up with something not too different from Saville-Troike’s truly embarrassing new book. …..

It would be unjustified praise to call this book superficial: If the discussion were any shallower, it would be convex. ………..

This is a slim volume, and yet it manages to pack into its small space as much tedium as can be found in a whole issue of the Federal Register while still leaving the uninformed reader as uninformed as before. I can think of no introductory textbook, in any field, that so thoroughly, scandalously, fails as this one does.”

That’s what I’d like to have said. And that’s the way I’d like to have said it.

I think there are two areas where Gregg really stands out: first his defence of Chomsky and his insistence that any theory of SLA needs a property theory; and second, his defence of critical rationalism against relativists.

As to his defence of Chomsky, he insists that Chomsky has provided the best theory of language we have, and I, for one, agree with him. The more contentious matter is his demand for a property theory of SLA, Chomsky being the best candidate (see, for example, Gregg 1996ª). I had a few attempts at challenging this, culminating in an article I wrote for the Forum in the Appled Linguistics journal (Jordan, 2004). Gregg’s reply (and I’m absolutely sure that he, as a friend, was kind on me) carefully took my argument apart and showed it up for the ill-considered argument it was. It’s a very important question which I’ve wrestled with for a long time. I’m about ready to concede that Gregg is right.

When the “Relativist Agenda” first came to prominance in the nineties, Kevin was the first to respond (see Gregg, 1993). Later, when things had hotted up, Mike Long asked me to join him, Alan Berretta and Kevin in writing a defence of rationalism. This was the first time I’d actually got to correspond with my hero and I have to say, it was pretty bruising. Mike, Alan and Kevin don’t mince words: they come down on you like a ton of bricks if you say anything loose or badly-expressed. I say this in part to explain myself, or rather, the way I write. I was brought up in the academic world of hard knocks. Starting with my encounters at the LSE with Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Kuhn and others, where criticism was, I think, best described as brutal, I went on to enjoy the company of Mike Long and his chums, who were similarly demanding and didn’t pull punches. These were very bright, well-informed, inquisitive academics who insisted on rigour and took no prisoners. Anyway, I enjoyed the experience of working with my co-authors and the result was the Gregg et. al. 1997 article which stirred things up as we’d hoped it would. After that, we all published further attacks on the relativists, but none of us could match Kevin. Maybe his 2000 paper is the best example of his view, and I recommend it to all those starting a post grad. course.

My main reason for this brief post is, prompted by Shona, to recommend Gregg’s writing for its own sake. But I also want to say that Gregg shows the value of fierce criticism. While Gregg would never stoop to the cheap shots I’m guilty of, he would certainly approve of my, by his standards, clumsy attempts to highlight bullshit and to demand high; not in the almost mystical way that Adrian Underhill and Jim Srivener do, but rather in a way that subjects published work on matters of ELT to the highest rational scrutiny.

Gregg, K. R. 1984: Krashen’s monitor and Occam’s razor. Applied Linguistics 5, 79-
100.
Gregg, K.R. 1988: Epistemology without Knowledge: Schwartz on Chomsky, Fodor and Krashen.
Second Language Research, v4 n1 p66-80 Jun 1988
Gregg, K. R. 1990: The Variable Competence Model of second language acquisition
and why it isn’t. Applied Linguistics 11, 1. 364—83.
Gregg, K. R. 1993: Taking explanation seriously; or, let a couple of flowers bloom.
Applied Linguistics 14, 3, 276-294.
Gregg, K. R. 1996a: The logical and developmental problems of second language
acquisition. In Ritchie, W.C. and Bhatia, T.K. (eds.) Handbook of second language acquisition. San Diego: Academic Press
Gregg, K. R. 1996b: Universal principles for the modular mind. Posting on the
SLART-L discussion list. SLART-L@CUNYVM.BITNET
Gregg, K. R. 1997: A honeymoon in the hand; or Every man his own theorist: a
comment on Lantolf (1996). Ms. Osaka: Department of English, Mornoyama Gakuin University.
Gregg, K. R. 2000: A theory for every occasion: postmodernism and SLA. Second
Language Research 16, 4, 34-59.
Gregg, K. R. 2001: “Learnability and SLA theory” in Cognition and Second Language
Instruction. Robinson, P. (ed) Cambridge, CUP.
Gregg, K. R. 2003: The state of emergentism in second language acquisition. Second
Language Research, 19, 2, 42-75.
Gregg, K. R., Long, M. H., Jordan, G., and Beretta, A. 1997: Rationality and its
discontents in SLA. Applied Linguistics 18, 4, 539-559.
Gregg, K.R. 2004: A response to Jordan’s (2004) ‘Explanatory Adequacy and Theories
of Second Language Acquisition’ Applied Linguistics 26/1: 121–124.
Jordan, G. 2004: `Explanatory Adequacy and Theories of Second Language Acquisition’ Applied Linguistics 25/2: 223- 226 .

See here for full bibliography: http://scholar.google.es/scholar?hl=es&q=Gregg%2C+K.R.&btnG=&lr

The Culture of ELT Blogs

max-ernst-6

Max Ernst’s disturbing image above is, I hope you agree, magnificent. My son calls it “awesome”, an adjective which, through overuse, has almost lost its force, but surely applies here. What I love about this print is its force: it demands attention. Max Ernst was part of the Dada movement whose aim was to shock society out of its complacency. I want to suggest just one thing here: ELT blogs are part of an online philistine culture where complacency is encouraged and robust critical discussion is frowned on.

Apart from what you might read here, it’s very rare indeed to come across articles in ELT blogs which criticise the arguments and opinions of leading writers and academics in the areas of ELT and applied linguistics. If you Google “Top ELT blogs” you’ll get lots of lists, and what’s striking is that, in the thousands of posts and pages that the Top Blogs contain, there is an almost total absence of critical content.

One noteable exception is Russ Mayne’s Evidence Based EFL blog , which has done much recently to effectively explode a few well-established myths. But it’s an exception to what seems to be an unspoken rule among ELT bloggers to avoid criticism. It’s as if everybody’s signed some protection charter which lays out strict, stifling rules of eitiquette designed to ensure that the sensibilities of the nervous, tethered sheep who are presumed to make up the readership of the blogs are not upset. There might also, I suppose, be some kind of pact among bloggers to the effect that “You don’t criticise me and I won’t criticise you”.

Whatever the explanation, there seems to be a fearful aversion to saying anything “bad” or “negative” about anyone in an ELT blog, and a general lack of appetite for, or engagement in, critical exchange. To the extent that this is the case, it surely indicates an underlying anti-intellectual, uninquisitive and undemanding culture which reflects badly on the ELT online community. I should make it clear that I’m not recommending the practice of insulting members of the ELT establishment, although, IMHO, most of them deserve more insults than they get. But a culture which eschews critical debate and fails to regularly and enthusiastically subject its own current beliefs and practices to critical evaluation, is, in my opinion, both weak and philistine. Russ Mayne quotes Wilton’s remark: “Anyone who has any experience debunking legends or pseudoscience knows that the task is often an unappreciated one. People do not like to have their beliefs questioned or to have good stories spoiled”. Quite so, but as both Russ and Wilton appreciate, this debunking activity is necessary if we’re the slightest bit interested in understanding what we do as language teachers.

Nobody knows how people learn a second language, and, partly as a result, nobody knows the best way to learn or to teach a second language. And yet it’s common for leading lights in the ELT community to talk as if they knew exactly how SLA happens and how ELT should be done. The fact that these know-alls often completely contradict what they said 10 years ago suggests that you shouldn’t take what they say at conferences too seriously or trust their books any further than you can throw them. Unless we adopt a critical stance to what we’re told, we are very unlikely to improve our understanding of second language learning and teaching.

It’s not just MA students who should be encouraged to think critically and to question those who speak with “authority”. Everybody who is confronted with assertions, claims, arguments, theories, etc., should apply the two litmus tests of logic and evidence. Here they are:

1. Is this logically consistent?
2. Where’s the evidence?

This should be the default attitude of all those who like to think for themselves rather than allow others to think for them.

Of the many issues in the field of ELT and applied linguistics which deserve our attention these days, I suggest that these are among the most interesting:

• What is the current most widely-accepted explanation of SLA?
• Why are classroom materials not locally made rather than provided for by multinational companies?
• What is the current thinking about the role of lexis in describing English and in ELT?
• What is “English”? Is Jenkins right to argue that it’s a Lingua Franca? How would English as a Lingua Franca actually work? How would it be taught?
• What’s happened to Dogme? After the clever sequence of side-steps in reply to criticism made by its founder, what’s left?
• How can we pin down constructs like “motivation” and “aptitude” in sociolinguistics in order to better study them?
• What are the essential principles of Communicative Language Teaching?
• What is the role of extensive reading in ELT?
• Why is there so little action taken against the worldwide discrimination against “non-native speaker” teachers of English?
• In the multi-billion ELT industry, why do a tiny minority of people get rich while the vast majority of workers stay poor?

While all of these questions have been critically discussed in journals such as ELTJ, Modern English Teacher, Applied Linguistics, Forum, TESOL Quarterly, etc., I’ve seen very little critical discussion of them in blogs. Why so?

Why is robust criticism met with silence? What explains the uncritical culture of ELT blogs?

The Bullshit List

wall-street-bull5
Given that most readers don’t like my use of sarcasm, satire and insults when reporting on the bullshit I read in books, articles and comments made by writers and academics working in ELT, this page is devoted to examples of such bullshit which will be simply placed here without comment. All contributions for additions to this list will be gratefully received.

To quote from an earlier post on bullshit (see below), Frankfurt (2005) says that a person bullshits when faced with “obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic that exceeds his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic”, thus rendering the bullshitter “a greater enemy of the truth than the liar.” For the bullshitter in such a situation, the goals range from trying out an idea that one has not fully developed in order to see how it sounds, to trying to masquerade as more knowledgeable than one is. Frankfurt considers these goals nefarious, not because of the malevolence of the bullshitter toward the persons addressed but rather because of the cumulative effects of a cavalier treatment of truth in society overall. I concur: bullshit hides the truth.

Bulshit is always evidence of the writer’s poor grasp of the matter discussed, but it has different causes.
In some cases one feels that smug stupidity, allowing the author to be blissfully unaware of his/her use of silly platitudes and bathos, is to blame;
– in some cases wilful ignorance (so-called experts in one field confidently opining on something in an area they know little about) seems to be the culprit;
– in some cases showing off (by gratuitously name- or concept dropping whenever given half the chance) can be identified;
– and in academic writing the most common cause is pretenciousness. Adoxography is the technical term for the inflated vocabulary and obfuscating syntax used by academic bullshitters in an attempt to sound learned and to veil a poverty of substance.

So here are the first entries in what is a very long list, and one that, alas, gets longer by the day.

stupid

“So what do I believe in? I believe in the richness of techniques, approaches, materials and artefacts available to the modern teacher. I believe that an over-reliance on any of these to the exclusion of others is unattractive and unlikely to be in the best interests of all. I believe that everything – in a classroom – has to be grounded in the expertise of a teacher being able to find the best way of doing things for the benefit of (and with the help and guidance of) the greatest number of students. And often that may be unplugged, but there is no guarantee (or moral reason) why it should be. And sometimes that might be coursebook-mediated but there is no guarantee (or moral reason) why it should be.” J. Harmer.

“‘Formal learning’ occurs when a high school student in England takes a class in French, when an undergraduate student in Russia takes a course in Arabic, or when an attorney in Colombia takes a night class in English.” M. Sackville Troike

“Keep related words together. The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.” Strunk and White.

“And yet in an increasingly global world surely teaching subjects through English (and teaching English through subjects?) IS the way to go. Teaching English for no obvious reason (TENOR) has had its day. CLIL and English for Special Purposes must be the way forward. In the ESOL world by the very nature of the students and what they need and want, there’s a kind of CLIL imperative, perhaps? And yet….here’s what someone said to me the other day, and it is the reason for this post:“I hear lots of people talking about the advantages for English that CLIL offers, but I haven’t heard anyone saying it’s a great way to teach physics (or geography or maths etc).” So get your Tarot cards out, polish your crystal balls. Is CLIL the present? The Future (perfect)? The soon-to-be-past (even with the massive investment in it)?” J. Harmer

“All my teaching life I have always taught textbooks (and written them) and prepared students for exams…. And yet, everything I showed you in the webinar was taken from such textbook- and testbook-driven classes, over a period of many years. I simply add little bits of learner-driven activity at the beginning, the middle, the end of the class or for homework. These few minutes of self-esteem boosting, learner-input may be 5-10% of the time I teach and test my classes but they make all the difference.. Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. L. Prodromou

“Our advice to any teacher with aspirations or inspiration to write is ‘Go for it’. But you have to have a view of the profession as a whole. How do learners learn? How do teachers best teach? ‘Be true to yourself’ is a much-applied aphorism, valid nonetheless, but in order to do it you have to know what you believe in.” R. Soars

“It is of course easy to make fun of coursebooks and ‘grammar mcnuggets’ (another of Scott’s fantastic and thought-provoking analogies), but I think it is also possible to view them in a more benign light. Something like this: if we believe in equal opportunity then we might argue (the emphasis there is on might!!) that offering pre-digested grammar actually meets that claim far better than a methodology which advantages the more extrovert, communicative and emotionally intelligent of our students. With grammar mcnuggets everyone at least has equal access. Can we be sure that that this is the case in some more student-driven pedagogy? Which students in a group are we talking about, by the way? In a class of 60? Hmm.” J. Harmer

“The tension – and challenge – of successful communication is in negotiating the given and the new, of exploiting the predictable while coping with unpredictability. To this end, a phrasebook, a grammar or a dictionary can be of only limited use. They are a bit like the stopped clock, which is correct only two times a day.” S. Thornbury

(After a very long account of the “lexical phrase sort of) “The first and most obvious thing to report about collocates of “sort of” in L2 conversation is that there isn’t much to report”. L. Prodromou

“Teachers, doctors, bus drivers; they’ll all become redundant, right?“ S. Mitra

“Headway is the world’s best-selling English course – a perfectly-balanced syllabus with a strong grammar focus.. With its proven methodology, Headway is the course you can always trust”. OUP.

istprize
First Prize goes to this gem:

“Death is not necessarily a great change agent except in the sense that it creates space for the people still alive – and can make us very very sad.” J. Harmer

ignorance

“In Austria in the 90s the books of Herbert Puchta and Guenther Gerngross came to virtually monopolise the state secondary school market. These coursebooks are strongly multi-sensory, they draw on all the latest techniques and both the authors are strong NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) practitioners. Teachers in the secondary State sector across Austria have been directly trained in the use of the books by Herbert and Guenther. Neighbouring Germany plods along 2 language teaching decades behind.” M. Rinvolucri

“Not only is language metaphorical, but because of the kind of neural networks we build in our brains, thought itself is metaphorical and made possible through categorization that is typically conceptualized as prototypes.” K. Watson-Gegeo

“Neuroscience research has demonstrated that the body– mind dualism of Western philosophical and mainstream scientific thought is fundamentally mistaken”. K. Watson-Gegeo

“Do you want to find out about Multiple Intelligences (MI) in EFL, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in language classrooms, Transactional Analysis (TA) applied to to learning and teaching? You will find plenty to read on these topics in HLT.” Humanising Language Teaching Blog http://www.hltmag.co.uk/index.htm

“Connectionist models of SLA have these advantages: a) they are neurally inspired, (b) they incorporate distributed representation and control of information, (c) they are data-driven with prototypical representations emerging as a natural outcome of the learning process rather than being prespecified and innately given by the modellers as in more nativist cognitive accounts, (d) they show graceful degradation as do humans with language disorder, and (e) they are in essence models of learning and acquisition rather than static descriptions.” R. Ellis and R. Schmidt

“If automaticity is simply the ability to retrieve memorised chunks, this may result in a repertoire that is fast and accurate, but functional only in situations of the utmost predictability. Fine, if you’re a tourist – just memorise a phrase-book. But for a more sophisticated command of language – one that is adaptable to a whole range of situations – you need to be able to customise your chunks. In short, you need to be creative. Hence, creative automaticity.” S. Thornbury

“Krashen’s and Michael Lewis’ claims are compatible with current corpus-linguistic research, which is itself supported by long-standing and robust psychological research… Every single thing Michael Lewis says is true. … It HAS to be the case that The Lexical Approach is right in what it claims.” M. Hoey

the-show-off

“There is an ample history of solid research into how memory works (see Baddeley 1997 for example) to suggest that the word retrieval process in your activity will have a positive effect on learning…. I hasten to add that the positive benefits of touching are not validation of a kinaesthetic learning style (since the effects work equally well for all learners) but rather that they confirm the findings of a rapidly-growing research focus on ‘embodied cognition’, that is, the way the mind and the body are components of an intricately integrated system. This is not a style, nor even an intelligence. It is just cognition, and we all have it.” S. Thornbury

pretentious
“Relativism foregrounds the shifting sands of context but occludes the play of power in the shaping of changing structures and circumstances. As such, it is what Haraway (1988, p. 584) calls ‘a god trick: a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally.’ In sum, fears of relativism and its seeming attendant nihilism or Nietzschean anger seem to me an implosion of Western, White male, class-privileged arrogance – if we cannot know everything, then we can know nothing.” P. Lather

“What identities, social relations, and ideologies are indexed by the intertextualities that the children constructed? …. A sociometric test was administered to corroborate my ethnographic analyses of the social structure in the class. Each child was asked “Who do you hope will be in your second-grade classroom next year?” Their choices were rank ordered so that a nonparametric multidimensional scaling analysis could be used to create a visual representation of the social structure of the class.” J. Willett

“The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, not a center. It is the very concept of variability – it is, finally, the concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept of some thing – of a center from which an observer could master the field – but the very concept of the game.” J. Derrida

“The distinction between a literal and a metaphorical language is specious, given that metaphorical language depends for its very existence on literal language; without literal language there can be no metaphor.” J. Lantolf

“Krashen and McLaughlin’s accounts of conscious and unconscious learning can be seen as two different paintings of the language learning experience – as reality symbolised in two different ways… Viewers can choose between the two on an aesthetic basis, favouring the painting which they find to be phenomenologically true to their experience” J. Schumann

“There are multiple, often conflicting, constructions and all (at least potentially) are meaningful. The question of which or whether constructions are true is sociohistorically relative.” Lincoln and Guba

“If there are no languages, only language, what is it that we teach? … The short answer, perhaps, is that we would facilitate a kind of creative DIY approach – semiotic bricolage, perhaps – by means of which learners would become resourceful language users, cutting and pasting from the heteroglossic landscape to meet both their short-term and their long-term goals.” S. Thornbury.

Krashen’s Monitor Model: Serious Flaws Remain

krashen
In the light of Krashen’s reply to my criticisms, I’m sorry to say that my opinion of what is known as “The Monitor Model” has not changed in any significant way.

The basic problem with the model is that it relies on a distinction between acquisition and learning, where the SLA process is largely attributed to a very particular view of “acquisition”. Adults acquire a second language by picking it up in much the same way that children acquire their first language. That, briefly, is Krashen’s claim, and his comments on this blog do nothing to persuade me that the criticisms of it discussed here are wrong. All the other stuff, the monitor, the affective filter, and so on, do nothing to improve on the poverty of the main hypothesis, and so the whole shaky edifice falls. We should state, loudly and clearly, that the Monitor Model is a bundle of circular hypotheses which provide no satisfactory explanation of SLA.

Krashen, taking advantage of Chomsky’s Language Acquisition Devise (LAD), claims that adults can access the same natural language acquisition device that children use. But Krashen’s language acquisition device equates with unconscious acquisition of any sort: it’s a hopeless, unspecified, mysterious quality of mind which lacks any of the rigour associated with Chomsky’s LAD construct. Krashen gives no answers to the questions aimed at clarifying what his natural language acquisition device is, and fails totally to make it a construct which can be properly scrutinised.

Nor does Krashen give any satisfactory answer to the question “If adults acquire a second language in the same way as children acquire language, why don’t adults achieve the same end state?” The Affective Filter Hypothesis is all Krashen offers as an answer, and it gets my award for The Most Audacious Bolt-On Hypothesis (aimed at rescuing a main theory) of all time. Note that Krashen responds to the disparity between differences in end states of child L1 acquisition and adult L2 acquisition by appealing to the “THE PERFECTION FALLACY” = If it isn’t perfect, adult L2 acquisition must rely on different mechanisms. …. Adults, given enough comprehensible input and a reasonably supportive environment, typically acquire nearly the whole thing”. This is, I suggest, obvious nonsense, unless “nearly the whole thing” means “nothing like the whole thing”.

I invite anybody reading this final instalment to read Krashen’s replies and consider their weight. I suggest that he does very little to counter the criticisms made of his theory. He says, for example: “ I have provided explanations for all published cases of where it is claimed that conscious learning of rules seems to work. And the explanations are consistent with the constraints on the conscious Monitor”.
The “explanations” consist of interpreting the results according to his own theory, and amount to no explanation at all if you haven’t previously signed up to a belief in the nowhere defined construct of a “conscious Monitor”. The whole thing is an almost hermetically-sealed circular argument; an affront to rational argument.

If you look at Krashen’s replies to my questions about a natural order of acquisition, you’ll see Krashen at his worst. Rather than follow, and respond to, the main argument (there is no well-plotted order of acquisition, only evidence of the development of an interlanguage which The Monitor Model has nothing useful to contribute to), Krashen engages in a series of “clever” replies which get us precisely nowhere. And if you look at Krashen’s reply to the final criticism that his theory offends basic requirements of theory construction, you’ll see that he says: “What this means is that you are not satisfied with the evidence I have presented. More fundamentally it means that we disagree on how research should be done”. While I make it clear how I think research should be done, Krashen says nothing.

I find Krashen’s replies to my questions extremely disappointing. There is a refusal to really engage with the issues and a reliance on debating points and evasion which I find deplorable.

It’s been an instructive process for me, this exchange with Krashen. I rather hoped that Krashen would persuade me that his theory, for all its faults, was a valuable contribution to the construction of a theory of SLA. I thought that its huge basic appeal, its important kernel of truth, its implications for extensive reading, and more, could be used in an attempt to refine and re-work the model, but I now think there’s no such hope for it. We’ve moved on in our understanding of the SLA process and Krashen hinders rather than helps progress.

Two more quick points.

1. Hoey’s claim at the 2014 IATEFL plenary to have “proved” that Krashen’s model is supported by “reliable psycholinguistic evidence” is vaunted, arrogant, shoddy academic hogwash of the very worst kind. That such a respected figure in corpus linguistics could sail around so confidently in unknown waters (or, better said, stumble about so stupidly in unknown bogs) and fool himself into believing the drivel that he so eloquently spouted to his drooling audience is a depressing reflection on both him and the audience. He should have been booed off the stage.

2. Krashen’s political activity is as dubious as his Monitor Model. See this blog http://www.angelfire.com/az/english4thechildren/krashen.html

A Summary of Krashen’s Responses to Questions about The Monitor Model

krashen

Here’s “the story so far”. I’ve edited both my questions and Krashen’s responses to make the threads, I hope, easy to follow. All the references can be found in previous posts dealing with The Monitor Model. The last episode will be my evaluation of Krashen’s responses and of The Monitor Model in the light of this exchange.

Acquisition versus Learning

1. What makes you posit that two completely separate systems (presumably each with its own neuro-physiological basis) are used for language learning?

*** No response.

2. How does the “natural language acquisition device” operate, and how does it differ from Chomsky’s LAD.

*** No response.

3. If adults use the same device to acquire a second language as children use in L1 acquisition, then adults should acquire a second language as successfully as children acquire language. Do you claim that the Affective Filter Hypothesis provides a complete explanation for differences in child and adult language acquisition?

*** Krashen’s Response: “THE PERFECTION FALLACY” = If it isn’t perfect, adult L2 acquisition must rely on different mechanisms. The important fact about adult second language competence is that it is so good, not that it is imperfect. Adults, given enough comprehensible input and a reasonably supportive environment, typically acquire nearly the whole thing. Usually, adults only lack the cosmetic aspects of language, aspects of accent and morphology that mark you as a member of a social group. Scholars have ignored this and rush to conclude that L1 and adult L2 acquisition are totally different, despite the high achievement of adults, despite findings that both exhibit a predictable sequence, and both are fueled by comprehensible input. Also, there may be many “perfect” cases walking among us, unnoticed.

4. You claim that “learning” cannot become “acquisition”. This is informally challenged by just about everybody who has learnt a second language, and formally challenged by a number of reports and studies claiming that the conscious learning of rules, and the presentation of rules, explanation, corrective feedback, etc., can facilitate the acquisition of a second language. Can you disprove the intuitively obvious proposition that learning can become acquisition?

*** Krashen’s Response: The hypothesis that learning does not become aquisition is challenged largely by academicians and other academic types who have dedicated their careers to grammar learning and grammar teaching. Most normal people have doubts about grammar (e.g. “I took five years of French and I can’t say anything.”).
As for the efficacy of explanation and feedback, please see Explorations (2004), and the work of Truscott on error correction (and on grammar instruction in general). I have provided explanations for all published cases of where it is claimed that conscious learning of rules seems to work. And the explanations are consistent with the constraints on the conscious Monitor.

5. Please define “conscious” and “subconscious”.

*** No response.

6. You say that acquisition “always requires large amounts of time and input data”, but you don’t give any evidence for this claim. There are many examples of acquistion which is fast and requires little input data.

*** Krashen’s Response: Yes, agreed – there are instances of rapid acquisition, eg “fast mapping.” In fact, the superiority of comprehensible input-based methods as well as “efficiency” analyses done by Beniko Mason suggest that acquisition is faster than conscious learning (benikomason.net).

7. The Acquisition / Learning distinction is extremely lop-sided: “learning” in your model accounts for very little indeed of the SLA process.

*** Krashen’s Response: This does not throw doubt on the acquisition-learning distinction at all. The finding that conscious learning is hard to use, and does not become “acquired” means that language acquisition is something the brain does very well, and language learning is something the brain does not do well. Lop-sided, for sure. But consistent with the data.

The Natural Order Hypothesis

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1. The Natural Order Hypothesis suggests that “Second language acquirers acquire (not learn) grammatical structures in a predictable order” (Krashen 1980:169). Your case is based mainly on results of morpheme studies, but the acquisition of morphemes in the same order doesn’t entail that the acquisition of, for example, relative pronouns, indirect object placement, or epistemic modals is ordered, either in respect to those grammatical morphemes, or in respect to each other.

*** Krashen’s Response: A number of studies have found predictable order of acquisition for a variety of aspects of grammar in English and in other languages. One would expect the same principles to underlie all these orders, but this remains to be seen. Nor do we know if morpheme orders are completely independent of orders for aspects of syntax. There is very good evidence for a natural order for some structures, and I took advantage of this in hypothesizing when the monitor is working or not.

2. You say that “a strictly linear view of the natural order hypothesis, that there is only one stream of progress that acquirers follow in strict sequence” is incorrect. Rather, “several streams of development are taking place at the same time” (1982:53-4). But you give no explanation of what a “stream of development” could be, or set any limit on the number of such “streams”.

*** Krashen’s Response: How on earth could I set a limit on the number of streams? I suggested that there may be streams. Are you insisting that all suggestions, all conjectures, all hypotheses come with precise details, overwhelming supporting evidence, and refutations to all possible counterexamples?

3. If the structures of English are divided into varying numbers of ordered sets, the number of sets varying according to the individual, then it makes little sense to talk about a ‘natural order’. And if the number of sets varies from individual to individual; then the membership of any given set will also vary, which makes it very difficult to compare individuals, especially since the content of these sets is virtually completely unknown

*** Krahen’s Response: “Varying according to the individual”? I never said that. It is an empirical question. I have never made claims about variation in number of streams according to the individual.

4. If the set of sets of structures is claimed to be invariant across individual – that is, if it is claimed that there is one (unknown) fixed number of ‘streams of development’ – the problem of comparability would be removed, but the problem of empirical support for the hypothesis remains; in fact it becomes even greater.

*** Krashen’s Response: The “problem of empirical support” is not a problem. It is an invitation to do research.

5. If on the other hand one rejects the criterion of comparability across individuals, the Natural Order Hypothesis has no empirical content: for any individual it would claim that the acquisition of structure n+ 1 was the next structure to be acquired, and this would be true ex hypothesis, but it would be impossible to prove it or falsify it.

*** Krashen’s Response: If we find that i+1 is reasonably similar for everybody at stage i. this would be strong support for the natural order hypothesis.

The Input Hypothesis
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1. One claim which comes from this hypothesis is that output does not help acquisition, except indirectly. Where is the evidence for this surprising claim, which contradicts the common opinion that practice is necessary for second language acquisition? Why do you assume that learners can’t learn from their own utterances?

*** Krashen’s Response: The evidence appears throughout my publications over the decades. The latest: Rahim Sari in IJFLT, (ijflt.com), vol 8,(1). 2013.

2. Can we acquire from our own output?

*** Krashen’s Response: This is a theoretical possibility, but so far, we don’t know if it has actually happened or can happen. If a second language acquirer monitors and produces a spoken or written sentence that contains a rule that is at that acquirer’s i+1, and the acquirer understands what he or she has written, this sentence might be able serve as comprehensible input and help lead to the acquisition of that rule. If acquiring from your own output is possible, it would open the door to a bizarre kind of pedagogy: find out what is at each student’s i+1 and set up production activities that require the use of the target rule. Of course, this “new” pedagogy would look a lot like traditional instruction. One could argue that traditional instruction, however, failed to produce real acquired competence because we didn’t know what each student’s i+1 was, and because we just didn’t demand enough output. Even if “acquire from your own output” could be shown to work, I suspect that most people would far prefer to get fresh input from others, with interesting messages, rather than constantly recycle their own production.

3. You claim that we acquire a previously unacquired structure if and only if that structure is present in input that we understand; that structure is ‘due’ to be acquired next; and that structure is presented (in understood input) sufficiently often. Since we don’t know when a structure is ready to be acquired, and since you give no definition of “ready”, this claim can’t be either supported or challenged by empirical evidence.

*** Krashen’s Response: It is consistent with a lot of research, as presented in Input Hypothesis (1985), especially chapter one and in a recent paper (below). It is a reasonable hypothesis. You are demanding a level of precision that is unprecented in our field and reject all indirect evidence.
Krashen, S. 2013 The Case for Non-Targeted, Comprehensible Input. Journal of Bilingual Education Research & Instruction 15(1): 102-110. (available at http://www.sdkrashen.com, “Language Acquisition” section).

4. In general, what evidence supports the assertion that acquisition is caused by understanding comprehensible input? What theory explains how we go from understanding to acquisition? Without addressing these issues, the Input Hypothesis has no explanatory power.

*** Krashen’s Response: Perhaps this paper may be of interest (ignorance hypothesis) in explaining how we move from comprehension to acquisition. As for: “In general, what evidence supports the assertion that acquisition is caused by understanding comprehensible input?” see hundreds of my publications over the last few decades.
Krashen, S. 1983. Newmark’s “ignorance hypothesis” and current second language acquisition theory. In S. Gass and L. Selinker (Eds.) Language Transfer in Language Learning. New York: Newbury House. pp. 135-153. (available at http://www.sdkrashen.com, “Language Acquisition” section)

The Affective Filter Hypothesis

Affective-Filter
1. You say that “significant Monitor use is only possible after the acquirer has undergone formal operations a stage in cognitive development that generally occurs at about puberty”, and that “Having reached this stage, the adolescent now has a meta-awareness of his ideas and can use abstract rules to solve a whole class of problems at one time. It is thus plausible that the ability to use a conscious grammar … comes as a result of formal operations”. What are “formal operations”?

*** Krashen’s Response: Formal operations comes from Piaget. I described formal operations in several books and papers and provide citations. And I discussed how formal operations contributes to the establishment of the affective filter. See e.g: Krashen, S. 1982. Accounting for child-adult differences in second language acquisition. In S. Krashen, R. Scarcella, and M. Long (Eds.) Child-Adult Differences in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Newbury House.

2. You say the Filter determines which parts of the language will be attended to first. What does “part of a language” mean? How does the Filter recognize different “parts of a language”?

*** Krashen’s Response: I no longer think this is true.

3. In general, you don’t explain either the growth or function of the Affective Filter, or provide any evidence for its existence.

*** Krashen’s Response: Of course I do. See above citation, and chapter 2 in Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning.

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The Monitor Model as a Theory of SLA

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1. Gregg (1984) says that you have no linguistic theory and this is what makes you unable to interpret the morpheme studies, or to present a coherent account of what ‘i+ 1′ could mean.

*** Krashen’s Response: Gregg has complained that I have not integrated grammatical theory into my work. No I haven’t, but others have, eg Schwartz, and discussions contributed by L. White and others.

2. Most of the propositions in your theory are not capable of being subjected to an empirical test. There is no way of testing the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis since you give no evidence to support the claim that two distinct systems exist, or any means of determining whether they are, or are not, separate. With no way to determine whether the Monitor is in operation or not, it is impossible to determine the validity of its claims. As for the Input Hypothesis, since the levels of knowledge are nowhere defined, it is impossible to know whether i + 1 is present in input, and, if it is, whether or not the learner moves on to the next level as a result.

*** Krashen’s Response: What this means is that you are not satisfied with the evidence I have presented. More fundamentally it means that we disagree on how research should be done.

3. You provide no causal explanation. At the heart of the hypotheses is the Acquisition-Leaning Hypothesis which simply states that L2 competence is picked up through comprehensible input in a staged, systematic way, without giving any explanation of the process by which comprehensible input leads to acquisition. Similarly, you give no account of how the Affective Filter works, of how input is filtered out by an unmotivated learner.

*** No Response.

4. Your use of key terms, such as “acquisition and learning”, and “subconscious and conscious”, is vague, confusing, and not always consistent.

*** No Response

5. I think the theory is contained in the Input Hypothesis and the Monitor Hypothesis, and that the other hypotheses serve to rescue these two hypotheses from criticism. This implies that the theory offends the principle of Occam’s Razor, which expects theories to use the simplest possible formula and to postulate the fewest number of basic types of entity.

*** Krashen’s Response: Occam’s Razor does not say we want the simplest theory, it says we want the simplest theory consistent with the data. Is it preferable to not make a distinction between short and long-term memory because it would be”simpler”? How about just saying e = mc, and simplifying pi to 22/7?

6. We need more information in order to judge for ourselves whether the examples you give of confirmations of your hypotheses are robust. So, for example, when you say “More comprehensible input consistently results in better competence in adult second language, child second language, native language, literacy”, we need to know how you ensured that the input was comprehensible, how you measured “competence” before and after the trial, how strong the correlation was and how you are sure that the comprehensible input caused the increased competence.

*** Krashen’s Response:
1. How I insured that input is comprehensible. At this stage of our knowledge, we can’t do this precisely. Maybe some measure of brain activity would work. Tough to do this without making the situation very artificial.
2. How competence is measured. This is described in all studies.
3. Strength of correlation. This is reported in all empirical studies, and whenever possible measures of effect size are reported. When other scholars do not report effect sizes, I always try to calculate them and report them in my papers, eg Krashen, S. 2007. Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 3 (2): 23-29. (available at: IJFLT.com)
4. How I am sure that the comprehensible input caused the increased competence. I am not “sure,” but I think it is highly likely, because results are so similar in so many studies: see appendix to this response below.
Concerning Popper:
In second language acquisition, my impression is that most of the scholars publishing in the “prestige” journals do indeed follow Popper’s philosophy and pay little or no attention to supporting data. Study after study has been published attemting to show that
1. instruction works
2. error correction works
3. comprehensible output works.
These are all attempts to falsify one or more of the hypotheses I have proposed.
I have responded to many of these attempts, pointing out that (1) the results are fully consistent with the hypotheses I have proposed; (2) researchers have focused on and have overinterpreted the scraps of apparently falsifying evidence, (3) have stated conclusions inconsistent with their own data.
Very little attention has been paid to the many studies confirming the predictions made by the hypotheses, including the many method comparison studies (see appendix), multivariate studies and case histories. And critics of the theory seem to be unaware of research outside of their own narrow area, especially literacy development.
APPENDIX: Results are so similar in many studies. Below is a list of studies comparing comprehension-based methods with traditional methods that demand the conscious learning of grammar. The list includes studies contrasting comprehension-based methods with traditional methods for beginning foreign language teaching and intermediate foreign and second language teaching, as well as studies showing the superiority of self-selected reading over traditional instruction for intermediate second and foreign language students. All studies included comparison groups and subjects were high school age or older. In addition, there are a multitude of studies that confirm these results using multivariate techniques and case histories (Krashen, 2004, Explorations). See also: Krashen, S. 2014. Case Histories and the Comprehension Hypothesis. TESOL Journal (www.tesol-journal.com), June, 2014
Available at: http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles.php?cat=6

Rose Bard’s Blog: Teaching Journal

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Rose Bard’s blog “Rose Bard: Teaching Journal” comments on English language teaching from the point of view of a dedicated, humanistic, and radical teacher. I say “radical” because, although there are no strident political statements in her posts, nor even any overt criticisms of the status quo in the ELT industry, her posts are, nevertheless, always informed by a political view of the context in which she works. Her blog heading includes Paul Freire’s famous evocation:

The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.

There it is: to be radical is to attempt to understand reality, not in order to contemplate it, but to transform it. To understand reality, as Friere suggests, one must unveil it, and the motive for the unveiling is to bring about change. What needs unveiling is the stark truth that our social reality is mediated through economic relationships and through politics, whose institutions are, says Friere, following Marx, the poodle of the ruling economic class.

Capitalism, our preferred economic system (where those who own the means of production and control the exchange and distribution of commodities accumulate wealth through the efforts of wage labour) results in a world economy where most of the world’s population live miserable lives. Part of the misery is the absence of access to a decent education, and part of the struggle for change centres on promoting good education, not just among the poor but among the relatively well-off. This is a political struggle: an attempt to change political institutions so that they offer an effective challenge to the interests of the tiny ruling class. My personal view, as an anarchist, is that these institutions should be abolished, but I support radical attempts to change them.

In ELT, as everywhere, any attempts to radically change things are now speedily neutralised. Rather than throwing them into prison or on a bonfire, Significant Outspoken Critics are, in our more sophisticated world, now quickly lauded and invited into the fold of that elite class, who, wittingly or not, uphold the status quo. The profane shout ineffectually from without, gist to the mill, as it were. The ELT industry marches on, monitoring, adapting, slowly ceding here and there, nodding once in a while for the need for a change in window dressing, demonstrating its power and resilience, continuing to make the few rich and to keep the rest poor. Most people working in ELT earn a pittance and their awful wages and conditions of work are largely ignored by those who, from the comfort of their plush offices and luxurious homes, tell them what and how to teach.

But, to return to Rose Bard, here’s somebody among the profane who doesn’t shout insults and throw sour grapes as I do, but rather gets on and does stuff. She reminds me of Chesterton’s great poem, a bit of which is only slightly adapted here:

Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of ELT that never have spoken yet.

Rose speaks; she’s found her voice, and a powerful voice it is. It’s powerful because it’s so sincere and so utterly devoid of bullshit or of any attempt at celebrity. It works quietly to unveil the reality of her teaching world and to change it.

Rose’s accounts of her classes (which include some of the best lesson plans I’ve ever seen) are marvellously focused on the effect that her teaching is having. Her descriptions and analysis are compellingly modest, honest, insightful, and always have the students’ interests at heart. She’s just so on the ball, so responsive and adaptable, and you feel she’s learning her craft as she goes. And what’s she trying to do? Why is she so eager to learn and to improve? Because she’s trying to change things. She’s not just talking about how to give a class using songs, she’s not even “just” showing us how to walk the talk of true learner-centred teaching and overcome limitations imposed by difficult circumstances, she’s talking about the liberating effect good education can have.

In her post “My Story: The Story of Thousands”, Rose actually addresses the political issues head on, but she does so with her usual grace. She says:

Historically, education has been marked by inequality and discrimination. Aranha in his book History of Education (História da Educação) explains that there is a duality in the concept of schooling. For the elite, it is to form to higher and more intellectual levels of education while for the labor people all it is necessary is to learn to be able to read and write to a basic level of skills. That is, enough for them to be able to perform a job.

Paulo Freire knew that well. He fought for change. He suffered not in his body inasmuch as in his soul. He hoped for education to become democratic and society not to be divided anymore in a social cast. A place where there is no more oppression, but as he had stated in work, the oppressors won’t ever want to let the oppressed be set free. And we all can understand why, can’t we?

Foto-Brasile-padre-Lumetta

In another post, “Nothing special about teaching profession… Huh?” Rose comments on observing students at the Bairro da Juventude School in Brazil. Related to her well-expressed and well-judged observations, Rose comments on the views of Mitra. She says “Apart from not finding anything new or innovative in Mr. Mitra’s work, I find his assertion on the future of learning confusing, minimalist and innacurate as far as education development goes and that is what bugs me”. She goes on not to call him a self-serving chancer as I would have done, but to state her case with winning restraint.

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The influence of that great educator John Faneslow is evident in all Rose’s posts. John’s a radical, and, like Rose, I suspect, steers clear of any alignment with political groups, or even political “doctrine”. John observes and reports on classroom behaviour better than anybody else I’ve ever read by a country mile, and I include the great Earl Stevick. (I should add that I’ve had the good luck to be a teacher trainee in many of John’s courses, as has Rose.) John is such a master because he sees what most of us when we’re in the classroom don’t. John sees the effects the teacher is having, he sees the details of the teacher’s and the students’ behaviour, and he sees the wood over the trees. His secret is that he makes a huge effort to be non-judgemental, and that he focuses on outcomes. For John, like Rose, outcomes are what those involved have learned; not just a better understanding of the present perfect or of some new vocabulary, or of how to get what you want to say out, but of who you are and of your social situation. John, like Rose, wants to change things. That’s his guiding light. That’s why he tells teachers to change what they usually do, and that’s why, like Rose, he hates elitism and toeing the line. It’s also why I put him in the same camp as Rose: a true radical who speaks with a clear, independent, truthful voice and who rises way above the silly fights that I pick.

Rose Bard’s blog deserves to be read by millions and her approach to ELT should inspire us all.

Criticisms of The Monitor Model

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Open Letter No. 2 to Stephen Krashen  

Dear Stephen,

Let me begin by saying that I think you’re right about a lot of important issues. It is now generally agreed that most language learning is unconscious, that comprehensible input is vital for learning and that a teacher’s most important job is to provide that input. Whether or not because of what you say about an affective filter, it’s also generally recognised that affective barriers can prevent successful SLA and that a teacher should make every effort to lower those barriers.

In this post, I want to outline the main criticisms I have of your theory, making frequent references to Gregg (1984), who isn’t of course responsible for how I interpret his paper. I’ll then wait for you to response, and after that I’ll try to deal with all the responses you’ve made recently, and to bring the threads of this discussion together. My intention will be to present your theory in its best possible form and to compare it with other current theories of SLA. Readers might want to check my summary of your Monitor Model (scroll down from here to the post “Newsflash: Krashen Well …..”) before proceeding.

Acquisition versus Learning

The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis “states that adults have two distinct and independent ways of developing competence in a second language” (Krashen, 1982:10): acquisition, which is “subconscious”, and learning, which is conscious.

First, what makes you posit that two completely separate systems (presumably each with its own neuro-physiological basis) are used for language learning? This offends Occam’s razor and is generally implausible.

Second, you claim that adults can access the same natural language acquisition device that children use (1982:10), but your language acquisition device seems to operate in a different way to  Chomsky’s language acquisition devise (LAD).  As Gregg (1984) argues, the language acquisition device you talk about seems to equate  with unconscious acquisition of any sort, whereas for Chomsky the mind is modular and the LAD is but one of various ‘mental organs’ that interact with each other and with input data to produce linguistic competence. Furthermore, Chomsky’s LAD is intended to describe the child’s initial state, before being presented with primary linguistic data, and is constrained by UG. So please could you explain how “your” language acquisition device operates, and how it differs from Chomsky’s LAD.

Third, if adults use the same device to acquire a second language as children use in L1 acquisition, one would expect adults to acquire a second language as successfully as children acquire language. Your explanation for why they don’t is as follows:

The filter hypothesis explains why it is possible for an acquirer to obtain a great deal of comprehensible input, and yet stop short (and sometimes quite short) of the native speaker level… When this occurs, it is due to the affective filter.. .. Child-adult differences in attainment are not due to any change in the “language acquisition device” (LAD) but are due to the filter… (Krashen, 1982:32, 45).

This implies that provided adults acquiring a second language get enough of the right kind of input, they should become as competent as children become, and if they don’t, it’s because they have some affective difficulty: lack of motivation, dislike of the culture of the target language’s speakers, whatever.  One can readily accept that affective factors play an important role in SLA, but it’s hard to accept that the Affective Filter provides a complete explanation for differences in child and adult language acquisition. I suggest that children’s L1 Acquisition is very different to adult SLA, that your distinction between acquisition and learning is wrong, and that the Affective Filter Hypothesis (discussed below) is an ad hoc hypothesis, bolted on to rescue the important Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis and the Input Hypothesis from criticism.

Forth,  in Krashen 1981,1982,1983, 1985, you claim that “learning” cannot become “acquisition”. This is informally challenged by just about everybody who has learnt a second language. Reports by Gregg (1984), Schmidt (1990), and Thornbury (2013), among many, support the claim that the conscious learning of rules, and the presentation of rules, explanation, corrective feedback, etc., can facilitate the acquisition of a second language, as do studies by Ellis (1994a; 1994b), Fotos (1994); Hulstijn (2005), Lyster and Saito (2010), to mention just a few. So, the burden is on you to disprove the intuitively obvious proposition that learning can become acquisition. Are you able to do so?

Fifth, many critics, including Gregg (1984) and McLaughlin (1978) say that you don’t clarify what you mean by “conscious” and “subconscious”. Specifically, does “subconscious” mean “not accessible to the conscious”, or simply “not conscious at a given moment”? Does “conscious” entail “incapable of becoming unconscious”? If you define the “subconscious” as inaccessible, and conscious “learning” as always accessible, then the claim that learning does not become acquisition is of course true, but only trivially so because you make it so. But if (some) unconscious knowledge can be brought to consciousness, and if conscious knowledge is capable of becoming unconscious, then unless you offer evidence, which you don’t, there’s no reason to accept your claim.

Finally, you say that acquisition “always (sic) requires large amounts of time and input data”, but you don’t give any evidence for this claim. There are many examples (see Gregg, 1984 for some) of acquistion which is fast and requires little input data.

The Monitor

In your 1982 work you say “Learning has only one function, and that is as a Monitor, or editor”. In Krashen 1981,1982,1983, 1985, you clearly state that the Monitor Hypothesis claims that “learning” is available only for use in production, not in comprehension. Last week in our exchange on this blog, I asked you “Is it right to say that the Monitor hypothesis claims that learning is available for use in production, but not in comprehension?” You replied “NO. It is available as a Monitor, but it is possible that conscious knowledge can make input more comprehensible. There has been no investigation of this possibility, to my knowledge”. I don’t get this and I hope you’ll address it in a reply. For the moment let me say that, in my opinion, the claim made for the Monitor (as I still understand it from re-reading your work) is an extraordinary one for which you offer no evidence. We may note that McLaughlin (1978) makes the same point, and that you don’t deal with it in your reply (1979) to him.

Gregg gives this example as evidence against your claim:

“The other day while listening to the radio, I heard the announcer announce wagunaa no kageki, kamigami no kasoware. Knowing that kageki = ‘opera’ and that kami = either ‘god’ or ‘hair’ or ‘paper’, and knowing that there is a (fairly unproductive) rule in Japanese for pluralizing by reduplication, I concluded that kamigami must be the plural of kami ‘god’, that therefore wagunaa must be Wagner and kasoware must mean ‘twilight,’ and that I as in danger of hearing Die Gotterdammerung. Of course I was not quite right: there is no word kasoware, it’s tasogare. But the point is that I was using a rule that I had ‘learned’ (and never used productively), and using that rule consciously (and quickly enough to turn the radio off in time). … Of course I was using acquired knowledge, but I was also consciously making use of rules that I had “learned”. Which suggests that “learning” can indeed be used in comprehension, as no one before Krashen would have doubted.”

Do you insist that learning cannot be used in comprehension?

The extreme conditions you impose on Monitor use means that, as you say “for most people, even university students, it takes a real discrete-point grammar-type test to meet all three conditions for Monitor use .. .’ (1982:18). This suggests that under normal conditions, the Monitor isn’t used, which, coupled with the fact that the Input Hypothesis claims that we learn a language through comprehension, throws doubt on the Acquisition / Learning distinction. The “two distinct and independent ways” adults have of developing competence in a second language are extremely lop-sided: “learning” in your model accounts for very little indeed of the SLA process.

The Natural Order Hypothesis

The Natural Order Hypothesis suggests that “Second language acquirers acquire (not learn) grammatical structures in a predictable order” (Krashen 1980:169). Your case is based mainly on results of morpheme studies, but, as Gregg (1984) and Wode et.al.(1978) point out, the acquisition of morphemes in the same order doesn’t entail that the acquisition of, for example, relative pronouns, indirect object placement, or epistemic modals is ordered, either in respect to those grammatical morphemes, or in respect to each other. In recognition of this objection, you say in a footnote “Wode et al (1978) note that ordering studies might be overly concerned with determining relative order of acquisition of items that are formally quite different’ (1981:63).

If we took a simple view of the Natural Order Hypothesis we would suppose that the learner acquiring the thousands of structures of English does so by progressing from the first to the latest, starting from Structure 1 and reaching, let’s say, Structure 1,678. You say that “a strictly linear view of the natural order hypothesis, that there is only one stream of progress that acquirers follow in strict sequence” is incorrect. Rather, “several streams of development are taking place at the same time” (1982:53-4). But you give no explanation of what a “stream of development” could be, or set any limit on the number of such “streams”. Let me quote Gregg (1984) again:

If the structures of English are divided into varying numbers of ordered sets, the number of sets varying according to the individual, then it makes little sense to talk about a ‘natural order’. If the number of sets varies from individual to individual; then the membership of any given set will also vary, which makes it very difficult to compare individuals, especially since the content of these sets is virtually completely unknown. If the set of sets of structures is claimed to be invariant across individual – that is, if it is claimed that there is one (unknown) fixed number of ‘streams of development’ – the problem of comparability would be removed, but the problem of empirical support for the hypothesis remains; in fact it becomes even greater. If on the other hand one rejects the criterion of comparability across individuals, the Natural Order Hypothesis has no empirical content: for any individual it would claim that the acquisition of structure n+ 1 was the next structure to be acquired, and this would be true ex hypothesis, but it would be impossible to prove it or falsify it.

Another issue is the utility of this hypothesis. What is it for? The hypothesis can hardly be used to organize a syllabus which coincides with the natural order because nobody knows what this natural order is. And in any case, you have always rejected grammatical sequencing as an organising principle for an ELT syllabus. By the way, the fact that nobody knows what the natural order of English structures is (plus the fact that nobody knows when the monitor is working and when it’s not) makes “finding a natural accuracy order in a highly monitored situation, or finding an unnatural accuracy order in a spontaneous unmonitored situation” impossible. The attempt to “show a change in the natural order related to affect” is similarly bound to fail. These were 2 examples you gave in reply to my request for a conterexample which would falsify your hypotheses.

The Input Hypothesis

The Input Hypothesis claims that we acquire by understanding language that contains structure a bit beyond our current level of competence (i+ 1). This is done with the help of context or extra-linguistic information. When communication is successful, when the input is understood and there is enough of it, i+1 will be provided automatically.

One claim which comes from this hypothesis is that output does not help acquisition, except indirectly. Where is the evidence for this surprising claim, which contradicts the common opinion (which may of course be totally unfounded) that practice is necessary for second language acquisition? Why do you assume that learners can’t learn from their own utterances?

A second claim is that we acquire a previously unacquired structure if and only if that structure is present in input that we understand; that structure is ‘due’ to be acquired next; and that structure is presented (in understood input) sufficiently often. Since we don’t know when a structure is ready to be acquired, and since you give no definition of “ready”, this claim can’t be either supported or challenged by empirical evidence.

In general, what evidence supports the assertion that acquisition is caused by understanding comprehensible input? What theory explains how we go from understanding to acquisition? Without addressing these issues, the Input Hypothesis has no explanatory power.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis

The Affective Filter Hypothesis claims that there is such a thing as an affective filter, which is ‘that part of the internal processing system that subconsciously screens incoming language based on… the learner’s motives, needs, attitudes, and emotional states’ (Dulay, Burt, and Krashen 1 982:46). The hypothesis also claims that ‘the effect of affect is “outside” the language acquisition device proper’ (Krashen 1982:32).

As mentioned above, the Affective Filter is supposed to explain incomplete mastery of a second language by adults, and so the question arises why doesn’t the Filter work in children? You’ve said that that “significant Monitor use is only possible after the acquirer has undergone formal operations a stage in cognitive development that generally occurs at about puberty” and that “Having reached this stage, the adolescent now has a meta-awareness of his ideas and can use abstract rules to solve a whole class of problems at one time. It is thus plausible that the ability to use a conscious grammar … comes as a result of formal operations” (1981:35).  Crucial to this otherwise very unconvincing account are “formal operations”. What are they?

You say the Filter determines which parts of the language will be attended to first. What does “part of a language” mean? How does the Filter recognize different “parts of a language”?

In general, you don’t explain either the growth or function of the Affective Filter, or provide any evidence for its existence.

A theory of language

Gregg (1984) insists that “a theory of second language acquisition must include a linguistic theory if it is to have any value as a theory”. He says: “Aside from throwing out a reference to ‘LAD’ from time to time, Krashen has no such theory, and this is what makes him unable to interpret the morpheme studies, or to present a coherent account of what ‘i+ 1′ could mean. As Chomsky says, ‘It is absolutely suicidal for a field to define itself the way psychology of language almost invariably does, as dealing with processes but not with the structures that might enter into them, or to deal with the observed stages of growth and development, but not with the systems that underlie them’ (Chomsky 1982:69)”.

A theory of SLA

Here, I repeat the criticisms I made in my original post. Firstly, most of the propositions in your theory are not capable of being subjected to an empirical test. There is no way of testing the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis since you give no evidence to support the claim that two distinct systems exist, or any means of determining whether they are, or are not, separate. Similarly, there is no way of testing the Monitor hypothesis: with no way to determine whether the Monitor is in operation or not, it is impossible to determine the validity of its claims. The Input Hypothesis is equally incapable of being tested: the levels of knowledge are nowhere defined and so it is impossible to know whether i + 1 is present in input, and, if it is, whether or not the learner moves on to the next level as a result.

Secondly, you provide no causal explanation. At the heart of the hypotheses is the Acquisition-Leaning Hypothesis which simply states that L2 competence is picked up through comprehensible input in a staged, systematic way, without giving any explanation of the process by which comprehensible input leads to acquisition. Similarly, you give no account of how the Affective Filter works, of how input is filtered out by an unmotivated learner.

Thirdly, your use of key terms, such as “acquisition and learning”, and “subconscious and conscious”, is vague, confusing, and not always consistent.

Fourthly, I think the theory is contained in the Input Hypothesis and the Monitor Hypothesis, and that the other hypotheses serve to rescue these two hypotheses from criticism. This implies that the theory offends the principle of Occam’s Razor, which expects theories to use the simplest possible formula and to postulate the fewest number of basic types of entity.

Finally, I should mention your response to one of my questions to you last week. You said:

According to a pure Popperian view the hundreds of confirmations of the hypotheses count for nothing – but I think they are good evidence supporting the hypotheses. EG: More comprehensible input consistently results in better competence in adult second language, child second language, native language, literacy. Comprehension-based methods have won EVERY method-comparison study ever done, for beginners and intermediates, sustained silent reading is a steady winner in L1 and L2 studies over traditional literacy instruction (in some short term studies, there is no difference, which makes sense, it takes a while for students to find a book), in multivariate studies self-selected reading is always a strong predictor of competence on several tests while instruction does poorly. There are no exceptions. Any exception would be serious counter-evidence to the comprehension hypothesis.

I agree entirely that supporting evidence is extremely inportant when assessing a hypothesis or theory (and I thus expect you to give evidence in support of the assertions made in your theory). Of course, Popper himself did not dismiss the need for supporting evidence, and, furthermore, very few scholars in the field of the philosophy of science today accept the original strong version of the Falsifiability hypothesis. Pace Popper, scientific theories rely as much on inference (inference to the best explanation) as they do on deduction and testing for counter evidence. But we need more information in order to judge for ourselves whether the examples you give of confirmations of your hypotheses are robust. So, for example, when you say “More comprehensible input consistently results in better competence in adult second language, child second language, native language, literacy”, we need to know how you ensured that the input was comprehensible, how you measured “competence” before and after the trial, how strong the correlation was and how you are sure that the comprehensible input caused the increased competence.

There it is: “casi nada” as they say here. I look forward to your response.

Best,

Geoff

 

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