Compelling Readings for Language Acquisition

<![CDATA[This post is long overdue but I thought it would make a fitting opening to 2013 as the talk I am reporting is one of the most interesting ones I followed in 2012 and adds to what many colleagues will have read of the work of Dr Stephen Krashen.

The Symposium

Dr Krashen’s talk, ‘Technology: useful tool if used to create and enhance comprehensible input ‘, was one of the plenaries on the second day of ‘Wired in or out’ technology symposium at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul on December 1 & 2, 2012.

The Talk

Dr Krashen reviewed his Language Acquisition theory, and talked about the good (as he called it) war between the skill building  hypothesis and the comprehention hypothesis,  a war which is “good” in the sense that (1) it deals with the core issue of language education, and (2) we are learning from it.

He then quoted some case studies (including his own) and talked about input that is not just comprehensible but compelling as well. He also talked about the value of narrow reading, i.e., reading the same genre or the works of the same author.

Despite the lack of technology in his talk – one handout, no powerpoint!  – his presentation inspired and engaged the audience. He is a great speaker, indeed!

Some Notable Quotes

“Twitter and Facebook are underground ways of getting information.They are indeed our underground for sharing and getting information, covering what the traditional journals do not cover. ” 

“The skill building hypothesis is delayed gratification, while the comprehension hypothesis is immediate gratification”

“Self selective reading is the way to go” 

“Teenagers are probably oreading and writing more today than ever in history”

“If you give someone a prize for something that’s already pleasant, you are telling them it’s not pleasant” a quote borrowed from Alfie Kohn. 


These are just a few of the great lines which I have included to whet your appetite and get you to listen to the talk itself.

The Video

Click on the title of the talk below to download the handout.

Technology: useful tool if used to create and enhance comprehensible input  (pdf download)

 Start watching from 04;36
letstalkonline on Broadcast Live Free Talk livestreamed courtesy of Heike Philps 

Some reflections 

On listening to the talk again, I could not help but reflect how truly important narrow reading was for me  and how it helped my own language acquisition.

Some unknown instinct drove me to scour the library shelves and go through all the works of every author I chose to read, or listen and transcribe the words of each and every song of each band or singer I loved as a teen. Surely, that is narrow reading and, quite possibly, narrow listening as well, although Dr Krashen used this term in a different way in his talk.

The other reflection I wanted to share with you is one about the notion of ‘compelling’ material, which Dr Krashen suggested in his talk. I cannot help but think how utterly boring or instantly forgettable a lot of coursebook materials can be and how easy it is for the language which they aim to teach to slip away without a handhold on any memorable events, stories or characters!!!

On the contrary, some of the greatest and most successful materials of all time have been those which had powerful or memorable stories in them – never mind the methodology; the texts and dialogues had exceptional memory value. And language acquisition seemed to follow suit.

One final thought which I wished I had raised at the end of the presentation, is the notion of incubation time for writing; which is something I entirely agree with and is indeed what happens to me when I write anything – even these lines are a revision, an addition to the post.

However, in terms of classroom time, this is not what most teachers can do with their learners, allow them indefinite or as-much-time-as-you-need-time in order to produce a piece of writing.

Has Dr Krashen turned against classroom instruction?

In an earlier talk, which you can follow here on You Tube, he talked about classroom instruction being necessary up to the intermediate level, a level needed for learners to be able to deal with their own learning. How will writing be taught then is an interesting question.

It would be interesting to find out how he envisages classroom instruction today, even in very broad terms.

The Interview

Later, at the end of the symposium, Dr Krashen was kind enough to say a few words to me in a short interview.




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