Revisiting The Impact of Krashen on Theories in ELT


Stephen Krashen is often referred to as one of the most cited linguists in the world of ELT and someone who has made a significant contribution to Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Although his Monitor Theory appeared about 40 years ago, he remains one of the most influential theorists referred to in teacher preparation courses.

Text by: Paul Bouniol

Krashen’s five hypotheses

Krashen’s Monitor Theory, initially called Monitor Model, was developed in the late 70s and early 80s and indeed continues to have a marked effect on language teaching. It is worth remembering that Monitor Theory is composed of five hypotheses: the Input Hypothesis, the Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis, the Monitor Hypothesis, the Natural Order Hypothesis, and the Affective Filter Hypothesis.

  • The Input Hypothesis

The Input Hypothesis, which Krashen considers to be probably the most important concept in his theory, claims that we acquire new language by being exposed to what he calls ‘comprehensible input’, i.e. input which is meaningful and can be understood. If learners are exposed to language slightly above their current level of competence, then there is ground for language acquisition and this language will be of use. 

  • The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis

Krashen distinguishes ‘language acquisition’ (i.e. language samples subconsciously picked up) from ‘language learning’ (i.e. a conscious mental process geared towards studying and focusing on form and rules). He argues that ‘acquisition’ is indispensable for fluent communication while ‘learning’ serves more as a supportive system. For Krashen, acquisition should be the teacher’s priority: it is this language, naturally or automatically picked up, that will be available the moment the learner needs it.

  • The Natural Order Hypothesis

Based on language morphemes research held mainly in the 1970s, Krashen postulates that L1 or L2 language sequences can be predictable. There seems to be a ‘natural order’ of language acquisition, independent of how complex or simple language rules are.  He postulates that research findings have demonstrated that learners wherever they live are bound to make the same types of errors, no matter how similar or different their linguistic background is. Moreover, he underlines that ‘easy’ rules are not necessarily the ones acquired.

  • The Monitor Hypothesis

The Monitor Hypothesis holds that it is the language we have previously acquired which triggers our utterances and what turns us into fluent speakers able to produce correct samples of language. In other words, Krashen asserts that it is the language that we have already learnt which ‘monitors’ (or ‘edits’) the new language we acquire. However, three conditions must be met: knowing the rule, focusing on the rule, having enough time to apply the rule.

  • The Affective Filter Hypothesis

Krashen recognising the impact of emotional factors posits that an atmosphere of low anxiety is a pre-condition for more successful language acquisition. He also adds that the amount of comprehension and acquisition of the new language will be directly affected by the learner’s filter: a high affective filter (e.g. anxiety, boredom or lack of motivation) can impede language acquisition.

Criticisms of Krashen’s theory

Naturally, as happens to most theories put forward, several aspects of Krashen’s Monitor Model/Monitor Theory have been criticised after their publication. To quote just a few, some criticisms have revolved around Krashen’s rather limited research, lack of empirical content and instruments used to collect data (e.g. Porter, 1977; McLaughlin, 1978; Gregg, 1984), insufficient explanations about the variability in language-learner language (e.g. Ellis, 1985) and being generally imprecise (e.g. McLaughlin, 1987). (for more details refer to the ’Further Reading’ list below)

Implications for the second language classroom

Yet, despite the criticisms, Krashen’s theories have implications for the second language classroom. (More can be found, e.g. in Krashen (1982) and Krashen and Terrell (1983)).

 Krashen’s hypothesesA few implications for the second language classroom
Input HypothesisListening comprehension and reading should form the main part of any language programme.Acquisition can be facilitated by means of visuals which provide extra linguistic context.Acquisition can also be fostered by a marked focus on vocabulary (grammar having a limited role in Monitor Theory).Being concerned about whether learners understand what is being said/read/etc is crucial: teachers need to act accordingly.
Acquisition/Learning HypothesisResorting to TPR (Total Physical Response) activities can help beginners who cannot produce much language yet.Pre-teaching vocabulary before an activity can prove most effective for learning.Repeating a few times the language used in the classroom can turn out to be useful.As short utterances/responses precede longer/richer ones, teachers should not be too demanding initially.  
Monitor HypothesisTeachers should not expect learners to be spontaneous and flawlessly apply learnt rules during oral activities (accuracy being mainly the result of acquisition).Acquisition will be fostered if writing activities (in-class or out-of-class) allow time for initial reflection, remembering the rules to be applied etc.
Natural Order HypothesisTeachers should not be too demanding and expect full correctness during the early stages of language acquisition.Learners can be encouraged if they are allowed to progress at their own pace.Devoting too much time to error correction may not prove as useful as expected.
Affective Filter HypothesisWhat can help to bring the learners’ affective filter down: Providing interesting input and a variety of topics.Allowing learners to speak only when they feel ready for it.Being satisfied with learners’ responses even when too short.Avoiding correcting language errors directly (e.g. during speaking activities).

Why Krashen’s theory is still relevant today

While certain aspects of Krashen’s Monitor Theory have been the target of some linguists and researchers, one cannot deny that his theory has had a marked effect on language teaching methodologies, such as on the Natural Approach or the Communicative Approach. Within this paradigm, more student-centred approaches were adopted, more emphasis was laid on opportunities for language-rich and authentic interactions, more meaningful and engaging tasks were adopted, learners were exposed to a variety of language resources, teachers set both in-classroom and out-of-the-classroom activities etc.  Most of its elements still characterise current and successful language teaching practice and -interestingly enough- Krashen’s hypotheses are currently included in most teacher education programmes worldwide.

ELT News

ELT News