This article aims at analyzing the input hypothesis-one of the five hypotheses that construct the Monitor Model by Stephen Krashen that constituted a theoretical basis for the Natural Approach developed by Tracy Terrell. We would present an outline of the basic assertions of the input hypothesis, together with some practical pedagogical suggestions for foreign language teachers.
Key words: input hypothesis, foreign languages, acquisition.
В этой статье будет проанализирована гипотеза ввода информации — одна из пяти гипотез, сформировавших Модель Монитора Стивена Крашена, которая в свою очередь послужила теоретической основой метода естественного подхода, разработанного Трейси Террелл. В статье будет представлен обзор основных положений гипотезы, а также практические педагогические советы для преподавателей иностранных языков.
Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model is one the most ambitious theories of the second language studying process. Krashen has argued that his account provides a general or overall theory of the second language acquisition with important implications for language teaching. Krashen’s theory can be placed on the deductive side of the inductive-deductive continuum. In other words, the theory begins with a number of assumptions from which hypotheses are derived.
Krashen argued that an experimental and other daft is consistent with a set of five basic hypothesis, which combined together constitute a theory:
1. The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis;
2. The Monitor Hypothesis;
3. The Natural Order Hypothesis;
4. The Input Hypothesis;
5. The Affective Filter Hypothesis.
In 1970s, Tracy Terrell outlined a proposal for a new philosophy of language teaching which called the Natural Approach. This was an attempt to develop a language teaching proposal that incorporated the “naturalistic” principles outlined and identified by the researchers in second language acquisition studies. Terrell joined forces with Stephen Krashen in elaborating a theoretical rationale for the Natural Approach, drawing on Krashen’s influential theory of the second language acquisition. The Natural Approach has attracted a wider interest than any other innovative teaching proposals, largely because of Stephen Krashen’s theoretical support.
Krashen and Terrell have identified the Natural Approach as a traditional method to language teaching. Traditional approaches are defined as based on the use of the language in communicative situations without a resource of the native language and without any reference to grammatical analysis, grammatical drilling, or to a certain grammatical theory. The scientists write that traditional «approaches have been called natural, psychological, phonetic, new, reform, direct, analytic, imitative and so forth» [12.p. 9]
One of the most important hypothesis of the Monitor Model is the input hypothesis since “the input hypothesis attempts to answer what is perhaps the most important question in our field, and gives an answer that has a potential impact on all areas of language teaching” [6. p.20]
The input hypothesis answers the question of how a language acquirer develops competency over time, or, in other words, how a learner at stage 4 can move to stage 5. It states that a language acquirer who is at «level i« must receive comprehensible input that is at «level i+1", where i represents the current competence. We acquire, thus, only when we understand language that contains structure that is 'a little beyond' where we are now. This understanding is possible due to using the context of the language we are hearing or reading and our knowledge of the world.
However, instead of aiming to receive input that is exactly at our i+1 level, or instead of having a teacher focusing on presenting a grammatical structure that is at our i+1 level, we should instead just concentrate on communication that is understandable. When a substantial amount of input is received, the instructor should not be considered of extra information in ‘i+1’. Production ability emerges, as it cannot be directly. “We acquire, in other words, only when we understand language that contains structure that is a ‘little beyond’ where we are now”[6.p.20]
Evidences for the input hypothesis can be found in the effectiveness of caretaker speech between an adult to a child, of a teacher’s talk to a language student, or in a sympathetic conversation partner to a language learner/acquirer.
One of the assertions of this hypothesis is that language students should be given an initial «silent period», where they are building up acquired competence in a language before they begin to produce it.
Whenever language acquirers try to produce language beyond what they have acquired, they tend to use the rules they have already acquired from their first language, thus allowing them to communicate but not really progress in the second language.
There are four assertions in the comprehensible input hypothesis:
1. The comprehensible input hypothesis is related to language acquisition, not to language learning.
2. Language acquisition happens because of the i+1 input.
3. i+1 input would occur automatically if communication is successful and the student understands the input information.
4. Production skills are developed by themselves. Student should not be taught them.
Basis of the Comprehensible Input Hypothesis
1. The input hypothesis is related to a phenomenon known as a caretaker speech, or the speech of the parents and other people while communicating with little children. Caretaker speech is interesting to scrutinize because it present a conscious attempt to teach the language. To simplify the speech caretakers use basic words and structures. Along with the simplified syntax caretakers also use different intonation patterns that become more complex when the child grows up. The third peculiarity of this type of speech is the principal “here and now”. Parents usually talk to kids about what they can see or feel at the particular moment of the speech: See the ball? Caretakers do not hypothesise: What shall we do upstairs? It is also important that this principle reflects mutual interests of a parent and a child.
2. Stephen Krashen says that teacher’s speech is the main source for language acquisition. He claims that the instructors pace of the speech is slower and simpler than the ordinary speech, the syntactical structures are well organized. When native speakers interact with the learners outside the classroom in the natural environment, their speech has the same characteristics. Summing up, slower, comprehensible speech tempo, simple linguistic constructions, and body language are the means that are not the primary cause for language acquisition, but the reason for understanding the input of new information.
3. While developing the hypothesis Krashen discovered the phenomenon called the “silent period”. He noticed that children who acquire the language in the natural environment start producing the speech only several month later. Their speech is mostly constituted of the phrases that are perceived as one word. For example, a 5-year-old Chinese boy Paul, who was acquiring English while living in the USA, did not speak for the first several months. His speech consisted of the learned phrases, that we acquired by him without being conscious of their structure.
E.g. - Get out of here.
— It’s time to eat and drink.
It is likely, that these phrases were used while Paul was playing with other children. During the silent period the acquired knowledge is systematized, in order to start speech production. It’s important to mention, in cases of speech production when acquired knowledge is not enough, the learners tend to transfer the structural system of their native language into the foreign language — an interference phenomenon. Interference phenomenon can lead to a communication act, however, it would prevent progress in language acquisition.
4. According to Stephen Krashen the more comprehensible input is, the faster language acquisition will be. Some researches show that language competence is directly proportional to the amount of comprehensible input. Krashen points out, the more time the students spent in the country of the studied language, the better they could speak. Krashen also asserts that reading competence is developed in correlation to the read material. However, it’s crucial that all the input should be comprehensible for a student, otherwise it will not present any significant value for acquisition.
5. The lack of comprehensible input slows down the acquisition process, since the research proved that the children of blind or deaf parents, have a slower development of the language.
6. Language immersion is effective, because it provides comprehensible input.
7. The success of bilingual programs is granted by comprehensible input. According to a bilingual program, the native language is used along with the foreign one. An example of successful bilingual training can be found in Singapore. The citizens speak three languages (Chinese, Tamil, and Malaysian Bakhasa), together with English, that is used in schools.
Summing up, comprehensible input is very important for language acquisition. The teacher should be aware of providing an optimal input of the information. Optimal comprehensible input should be understood by a student. The teacher should speak slower than usual, especially at early stages of students’ acquisition. He/she should articulate the words, use common lexis, and create short sentences. Optimal input should be interesting and relevant for the students. It should be about the facts that they are interested in, problems that they are considered about. In other words, input should promote speech perception and production. Communication should be performed in the way that students would focus on the meaning of the utterance, not on its from. Finally, input should be rather huge and contain unknown structures, which is frequently undermined by the teachers.
Practical and Pedagogical Suggestions
Based on the theoretical and practical research in order to provide an optimal input of the information, we suggest that foreign language class curriculum should contain the following elements:
- Use of an original approach to presentation and practice of the language material;
- Teaching the art and strategies of communication before grammar;
- Encouraging speaking from the very first class;
- Helping to overcome psychological barriers;
- Helping develop memory and imagination;
- Ensuring fast and durable memorizing of considerable amounts of language material;
- Teaching the art of communication;
- Stimulating cognitive processes in the student;
- Preventing fatigue or monotony in the learning process.
As communication is not only the aim but also the means of the language teaching, it requires group learning as opposed to individual tuition. Any course should aim at developing the student's learning potential, his/her hidden capacities. In order for students to acquire the language a teacher should incorporate a lot of creative training exercises, music, arts, language games, etc. A large element of role-playing, which allows students to improvise based on set patterns, should be present in the language acquisition process. At the same time, students might be encouraged to learn grammatical patterns and expand their vocabulary.
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