Input and Grammar Awareness. A Case of EFL University Students in Libya

Essay, 2010

9 Pages



Theoretical Description of the Input Hypothesis
The Input Hypothesis
Exposure to Input
Critical Discussion of the Input Hypothesis
Learning Vs Acquisition
Quality and Quantity of Comprehensible Input
Presenting and Processing Input

How Grammar is Taught to EFL Students in Libyan Universities

Some Suggested Implementations for Introducing Grammar for EFL Learners

Reference List


How languages are acquired or learned is still a question of a debate among scholars. Various theories and hypotheses have been proposed to interpret the way learners move from learning to acquisition. Among these hypotheses comes the Input Hypothesis by Krashen during the 1970’s. This hypothesis has gained its value from the fact that input is one, if not the most, significant element required in order for the language acquisition to take place.

However, the emergence of other hypotheses such as the input and interaction hypothesis, and the output hypothesis have raised many questions about Krashen’s assumption in terms of whether input and the negotiation of meaning is enough to acquire new structures in the classroom . In the case of new language learners who come to study English at Libyan universities, it is often noticed that these learners very frequently fail to apply tenses appropriately in spite of their comparatively good knowledge of the structure and rather long exposure to simplified chunks of the new language. The two main concepts suggested by Krashen, comprehensible and sufficient input, do not seem to help learners develop their understanding of form and use of the new language. In order to make sure learners acquire the language as a whole, I will suggest that it would be more beneficial to pay attention to how we introduce language instead of just focusing on the types and qualities of input as suggested by Krashen.

Therefore, this essay will describe briefly the theoretical and practical principles of the input hypothesis and to what extent it contributes to language acquisition. My main concern here is the way input (i.e., tenses) is presented to learners.Krashen’s hypothesis seems to pay more attention on meaning at the expense of form and use. I will ultimately suggest a more productive and interesting way of introducing tenses in a natural context. That is through literature.

The paper starts with a brief description of Krashen’s Input Hypothesis followed by a critical discussion of some anticipated definitions and principles. I will also try to conclude some shortcomings and benefits of it. Next, the discussion moves towards when and how learning becomes acquisition.

Theoretical Description of the Input Hypothesis

The Input Hypothesis

Throughout the last thirty years language input has been of high significance to SLA researchers. Carroll (2001: 1) for instance considers input as ‘… one of the most under-researched and under-theorized aspects of second language acquisition’.

When talking about Input Hypothesis as a dominant part of second language acquisition theory, it is important, first of all, to understand its main components. Krashen (1985) describes language acquisition as a result of a long period of exposure to simplified input. He claims that speaking a second language occurs when a learner has achieved a particular level of language competence after they have received sufficient comprehensible input (ibid). On one hand, the terms ‘simplified input’, ‘exposure’, ‘language competence’ and ‘sufficient comprehensible input’ seem to be the essential components of the concerned theory.

On the other hand, the other anticipated hypotheses namely, the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis, the Natural Order Hypothesis, the Monitor Hypothesis and the Affective Filter hypothesis altogether seem to be the scaffolding of the Input Hypothesis. Throughout these five hypotheses Krashen assumes two conditions in order for the new language to be acquired: accessible comprehensible input and a lowered affective filter to let the input in. (Krashen: 1985: 4)

Exposure to Input

The term ‘input’ includes a wide range of routes which enhance learning. According to Rast (2008) input is that “linguistic environment of the learner, that is, to that which is available to be taken in, or rather, to everything in the TL that the learner is exposed to and has the opportunity to either hear or read”. Therefore, according to this simple definition of input, learners receive data in two streams; these are reading and listening. Krashen (1985) however argues that not all what a learner hears is received and processed for acquisition. There are a number of conditions without which input is difficult to analyse and comprehend. He suggests that in order for the learner to move from i to i +1, learners need sufficient amounts of comprehensible input. In other words, learners cannot move and extend their linguistic knowledge from the basic rule to a more productive understanding unless the data are easy to process by learners themselves. The issue of quality and quantity ofcomprehensible input will be evaluated critically in the coming up sections.

Critical Discussion of the Input Hypothesis

Learning Vs Acquisition

These two terms are often considered independent from each other in SLA research.Whenever we try to make that distinction between the two phenomena the word ‘consciousness’ comes in the middle. There has been a lot of debate about the term consciousness, and what meanings it could hold. Schmidt (1994: 134) has indicated that the term ‘subconscious’ does not necessarily refer to that described by consciousness research to mean ‘without awareness’. It may also have the meaning of ‘not being aware of having noticed something’ (Schmidt: 1994 cited in Jong: 2009). Whereas Krashen argues that it is unlikely that understanding the rules would result in using the language automatically as in acquisition (Kees de Bot et al: 2005: 7-8).

Another possible way of investigating the difference between learning and acquisition could be concluded through the distinction made by some psychologists and linguists between ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’ knowledge (e.g. DeKeyeser: 2003; Ellis: 1994; Krashen: 1994). Jong (2009) assumes that if language learners have the knowledge about a particular rule as well as are able to articulate this rule then this type of knowledge would be explicit. On the other hand, if learners are able to produce well structured utterances without being able to say the rule, then this would be called implicit knowledge. This distinction between explicit and implicit knowledge of grammar is similar to Krashen’s discussion of the difference between learning and acquisition. Similarly, Kees de Bot et al (2005) describe the difference between the two terms as natural versus artificial processes. In other words, acquisition is an arbitraryand unreasonable development of the language knowledge and skills. Unlike learning which is based on logical rules with conscious understanding of how languages work.

Thus, according to Krashen’s suggestion, learning is only a first step towards acquisition. Understanding rules and being able to use them outside cannot be considered acquisition unless it was automatic and subconscious.

Quality and Quantity of Comprehensible Input

The amount and type of information learners receive during their leaning process undoubtedly a significant role in shaping their linguistic knowledge. According to Krashen (1985) lack of access to comprehensible input may lead to fossilisation. This might begenerally the case for many EFL learners who live in non-native languages. However, learners who did not receive a great deal of formal instructions and grammar lessons seem to have a better command over natural conversations in real life. These learners, with their limited amount of vocabulary and simple grammatical knowledge, proved to be much more confident than learners who may have learned great deal about rules and grammar. This fluency in speaking, however, tends to appear at the expense of accuracy, at least in my concerned context.

On the other hand, Krashen (1985) suggests that if input does not provide learners with the i + 1, it would be of the wrong input. Krashen calls for a more variant input with different levels of vocabulary and syntax. The topic of variation in language classrooms plays a significant role in developing learners’ communicative and linguistic ability. First of all,

Presenting and Processing Input

Krashen’s hypothesis of the natural order ( see Krashen: 1985)has described how particular points of language may be acquired before others in a particular level, but it has not provided any evidence on whether form and meaning could be acquired simultaneously or in order as well. We might all agree that meaning is the first linguistic aspect a learner may catch either during a lesson or in a real conversation with a native speaker. Form, on the other hand, might be a bit more difficult to notice from the first take. Dualay et al (1982) points out that, grammatical and morphological structures are not acquired randomly but in order and neither the input nor the teaching method should change that order. (Dulay et al cited in Bleyhl: 2009: 150)

Understanding language use, however, needs more attention and frequency. An extended study of German students studying English progressive forms showed that Input frequency and saliency enforced the use of the progressive form by German learners of English. Nevertheless, the same study found that the various uses of the progressive in the input cause confusions to learners and ultimately make it difficult for them to develop a subconscious understanding to the function of the progressive. (Rohde: 2009: 29-46)

Jacky islearning English now Vs Jacky learns English everyday

When learners are introduced to these two tenses, it is assumed that learners will pick up the very simple message which is that somebody called Jacky exists in London at the very early stage. As the lesson proceeds and meaning has been simplified, focus on form begins to take place. In the above examples, it may not be quite difficult to notice the different elements used in each sentence as long as they are clearly displayed on blackboard. The problem is however, how learners would understand when to use this structure or that one. In other words, the limited examples introduced to learners in the classroom do not seem to be sufficient to acquire that form efficiently.

At early stages of learning, an inaccurate sentence such as:* Jacky is learns English is quiet common. One possible interpretation which might lead to such an ungrammatical sentence could be described as the wrong introduction of the present simple. It has been suggested that learners will face more problems with word order at the perception and comprehension stage than at the production stage (Rast: 2008: 63-65). This study of French learners learning Polish revealed that when the basic knowledge of the morphological system of Polish is lacked, learners tend to rely on their L1 order which may or may not be the same. Thus, the existence of sentences like * Jacky is learns English may be the result of introducing two tenses simultaneously side by side like:

Jacky is learning English now (Present Continuous)


Jacky learns English everyday (Present Simple)

Or, it could be the result of introducing two different sentences of the same tensebut in different classes: For instance, introducing Jacky is a student in the first lesson and Jacky Learns English everyday in a following lesson.

Learners often fail to match between these two structures probably because of the auxiliary verb. The idea that auxiliary verbs can form a tense on their own is still difficult to process for many Arab learners. However,Rohde (2009) has investigated the role of input frequency on the acquisition of the progressive and found that presenting the different functions of the present progressive tense would be more fruitful if they are presented separately as learners tend to match one form to one function at a stage. Wrong presentation of grammar tenses and time of presentation may represent vital causes of fossilisation which might be added to Krashen’s causes discussed in his hypothesis (See Krashen: 1985: 43-52).

How Grammar is Taught to EFL Students in Libyan Universities

The context of this assignment is new students coming to study English as a foreign language at the school of education in Misurata University in Libya. The Direct Method seems the most preferable method of introducing new grammatical points to novice learners. This method is based on the belief that children acquire their first language when they make association between language and the real world. Pedagogically, the acquisition of grammatical rule will happen as a result of understanding and repeating examples in clear contexts. In this method, learners will rely on their unconscious process to understand the rule and make the association between form and meaning (Thornbury: 2003: 49-50). Now my question is, is first exposure to input enough to learn a rule with its meanings and functions? In fact, it is unlikely that learners will pick up all the functions, along with the form, at the same time. In my opinion, the more learners come across a structure the more they understand its variable contexts.

Exposure to input may not be effective if it lacks repetitive structures. Krashen states a quick review of several studies which concluded that the more learners expose to input in the second language, the more proficient they will become. Other studies contrastively see little or no relationship between exposure and proficiency. He explains that if exposure does not contain any comprehensible input, it has little or no effect on acquisition. First time exposure, however, may not result in learning at least in a short-term period. Crystal (2007: 181) demonstrates that the existence of these various bits of spoken or written utterances cannot be recognised unless our attention is directed towards them. A more productive technique is to focus on a particular grammatical aspect on the first day and on vocabulary or phonology the next. If this technique is followed over a long period of time, learning will be the final result. In other words, teaching a grammatical structure, for example, on one occasion may not lead into a full comprehension of it. The more learners are exposed to input, the more they notice and comprehend. Therefore, it is difficult to tell that complete attention to form meaning and function may take place during one class. Besides, comprehensible input could be quiet beneficial if it was presented in a repetitive consequence.

Some Suggested Implementations for Introducing Grammar for EFL Learners

Teaching tenses through short extracts of texts does not seem to help learners understand when to use this tense or that one because these extracts lack unity and cohesion. In other words, teaching examples of the present perfect, for instance, would make more sense to learners if it is taught within authentic contexts such as novels. Why novels? First of all, novels, unlike extract passages, are full of discourse. The often contain narrations monologues as well as dialogues. Besides, there is always that chain of events which would help learners to follow the plot of the story and figure out rules for themselves.

This approach is mainly based on recurrent repetition of various linguistic aspects located in a variety of spoken and written discourses. As it is sometimes difficult for learners to acquire a particular language use from the first second or even third time, the subject of repetition becomes an issue. Harmer (2009) suggests that repetition practice could result in significant ability not only in remembering the language but also in developing the learner’s noticing ability. He continues to emphasise on a particular type of repetition called repetition of encounters. In this type of repetition, he assumes that repetition assist learners correct the acquired knowledge in their heads. In other words, faster learning and recalling of the language will take place when learners are exposed to language patterns and uses repeatedly. At the same time Harmer states that this technique is not quite rewarding because learners need to learn these items on different occasions with a space in between. (Harmer: 2009: 56)

Pedagogically, when focusing on tenses teachers need to make sure of a number of issues in their lesson:

1- Make sure learners make the connection between what they are reading and real world. This could be done through asking comprehension questions related to meaning and function of each tense.
2- Explain any new vocabulary which s/he thinks will cause misunderstanding of the target tense.
3- Make sure students are able to distinguish between spoken and written genres used throughout the story.This would help them recognise the different discourses which might be used for each genre.
4- Most importantly, the teacher has to make sure all learners are engaged in reading when doing silent reading. If the teacher is doing the reading for learners, s/he has to pay attention to his reading speed as fast reading may result in some learners get lost or even feel bored.

Teachers may give learners free instructions such as underling all forms of the present perfect tense, for instance, leaving learners see how it is being used throughout the pages of the novel. This way, learners may not be forced to concentrate very much on use as it will become clearer as they move from page to page. While reading, the frequentattendance of variable structures at different occasions will enforce comprehension of structureautomatically as learners focus on meaning and function.

It is unlikely that learners will be able to find out everything related to present perfect in one lesson. Therefore, the teacher will ask students about what they have found about the present perfect on that part of the story. Then, s/he may write the new information on the blackboard and make more explanations.

In conclusion, input theory seems to have a significant contribution in the SLA. The five hypotheses suggested by Krashen are undoubtedly crucial. Each component completes the other and the loss of one may lead to a delay in acquisition. The paper has mainly discussed three criteria related to input. First, I have discussed the argument of distinguishing between learning and acquisition based on Krashen’s definitions for both phenomena. I have discussed the two phenomena in terms of consciousness and found that learning is only the beginning of acquisition but not a final stage.Second, I have investigated the validity of Krashen’s assumption in terms of the necessity of having sufficient and suitable input in order for the acquisition to take place. Third, I have described how learners process English tenses in their minds and called for the importance of focusing on the way input is introduced to learners instead of focusing on the input itself. As most learners tend not to catch everything about one grammatical aspect. Finally, I have suggested, in the implementation section, that holistic teaching of tenses would be more fruitful through extended pieces of writing such as novels.

Reference List

Candlin, C. N. and Carter, R (Eds) (2005) Second Language Acquisition: An Advanced Resource Book. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Carroll, S. (2001) Input and Evidence: The Raw Material of Second Language Acquisition. Amesterdam: John Benjamins.

Crystal, D. (2007) How Language Works. England: Clays Ltd.

De Bot, Lowie, W. and Verspoor, M. (2005) Second Language Acquisition: An Advanced Resource Book. N Y: Routledge.

De Jong,N. (2009) Second Language Learning of Grammar: Output Matters Too in Piske and Young-Scholten, 95-115.

DeKeyser, R. (2003) Implicit and Explicit Learning. In Thorsten Piske and Martha Young-Scholten (Eds) (2009) Input Matters in SLA (pp. 95-115). UK: MPG Books Ltd.

Dualay, H. Burt, M. and Krashen, S. (1982) Language Two in Piske and Young-Scholten, 137-155.

Ellis, R. (1994) The Study of Second Language Acquistion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. In Piske, T. and Young-Scholten, M. (2009) Input Matters in SLA (pp. 95-115). UK: MPG Books Ltd.

Harmer, J. (Ed.) (2003) How to Teach Grammar. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Harmer, J. (2009) The Practice of English Language Teaching. 4th ed. UK: Pearson Longman.

Krashen, S. (1985) The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. N Y: Longman Inc.

Krashen, S. (1994) The Input Hypothesis and its Rivals. In De Jong, N. (2009) Second Language Learning of Grammar: Output Matters Too in Piske and Young-Scholten, 95-115.

Piske and Young-Scholten (2009) Input Matters in SLA, 95-115. UK: MPG Books Ltd.

Rast, R. (2008) Foreign Language Input: Initial Processing. GB: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Rohde, A. (2009) Input Frequency and the Acquisition of the Progressive in Piske and Young-Scholten, 29-46.

Schmidt, R. W. (1994) Deconstructing consciousness in search of useful definitions for applied linguistics. AILA Review 11, 11-26. In Piske, T. and Young-Scholten, M. (2009) Input Matters in SLA (pp. 95-115). UK: MPG Books Ltd.

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Input and Grammar Awareness. A Case of EFL University Students in Libya
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Mohamed Ben Nasr (Author), 2010, Input and Grammar Awareness. A Case of EFL University Students in Libya, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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