Stephen Krashen and Comprehensible Input

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Stephen Krashen Comprehensible Input
Stephen Krashen and comprehensible input

Back when I lived in Busan, South Korea,  Stephen Krashen came there! It was kind of a big deal and there was certainly a buzz around town.

I went to his presentation on extensive reading and was inspired enough to start doing it in my classes. Here are the details about it!

What’s the Deal With Comprehensible Input

Stephen Krashen thinks that comprehensible input is the most important factor, in learning a language. He says that our brains have an LAD (language acquisition device) and that the teacher’s job is to provide input to it, in a low anxiety situation, where student’s affective filters are low.

Classrooms or Real World: Neither are Perfect

Classrooms can give input in a comprehensible way but it’s often not interesting. The real world gives interesting input, but it’s often not comprehensible for language learners.

So, classrooms and teachers still have a place in language learning, especially for the beginner and a big part of our job is to provide interesting and engaging input that is at, or just slightly above the level of the students. If it’s above, we can help the students to understand, which fits in nicely with Vgotsky’s ZPD theory.

Extensive Reading: Required!

Krashen says that comprehensible input can offer language learners a good start, but it’s not really appropriate for academic English, or ESP (English for Specific Purposes). Language learners have to acquire this language in the same way that a Native Speaker would (naturally) because it is actually too complicated to teach it directly. This language is naturally acquired through extensive, free reading.

An example of how to do with this would be: starting with comic books, easy novels, progressing to sci-fi books, up to journal articles and then serious textbooks in an area of particular interest. There are different paths to fluency but all involve reading texts on increasing difficulty, for pleasure.

For more on extensive reading by Krashen:

The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research

The Power of Reading: Learn More

Check out this short video and find out why Krashen loves reading so much!

Classroom Implications

A few thoughts of how this can apply to my own teaching life:

1. I need to encourage students to read extensively. Many (99%) have never read a single novel, comic book or newspaper article in English, for fun.

I haven’t really figured out how to actually make this happen in my classroom though. Some teachers buy some books (usually with their own money!) and students can borrow them for the first 10-15 minutes of class for free-reading time. I like the idea, but haven’t gone down that road yet.

Another option is to have students select a book and read it on their own time. Will this actually happen? For most students, probably not.

2. I need to provide interesting input for my students in the classroom. This involves taking stuff from the real-world and making it a bit easier by grading the language in it. Some of my best classes have been when I based them on something happening in the world at that time.

3. I need to ensure that I provide a classroom environment with low anxiety. This means cooperation instead of competition. I’ve definitely been guilty over the years of this, but in past years, I’ve been trying to decrease stress levels and increase fun and relaxation.

Academic Types: Check out this book by Stephen Krashen

For more details about extensive reading and why it’s effective for language learning, you’ll want to check out this book:

Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use

What Do You Think about Extensive Reading?

Do you use extensive reading in your ESL/EFL classrooms? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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