Krashen's Hypotheses. A critical and reflected perspective

Term Paper, 2016

19 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Outline of Krashen’s theoretical framework

3. Critical exploration
3.1 Input Hypothesis
3.2 The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis
3.3 The Natural Order Hypothesis
3.4 The Monitor Hypothesis
3.5 The Affective Filter Hypothesis

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This paper deals with one of the most influential linguists in the field second language acquisition, Stephen D. Krashen. His theoretical framework provides essential implications for prospective language teachers. The focus of the following explorations will remain in the realm of theory and not extend to practical handson advice for the second language classroom.

Krashen claims to have put forth an “overall theory” (Krashen 1985: 1) of second language acquisition accompanied by implications for teaching. Starting with one hypothesis automatically leads to the others. As all five hypotheses are interlinked this closely they will be presented concisely in the first part of this paper by drawing on various works published by Krashen.

The second part of this paper gives an overview of the controversial aspects regarding Krashen’s hypotheses. Some of the weaknesses found in the Input Hypothesis, the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis, and the Natural Order Hypothesis will be addressed by Pienemann’s Processability Theory. Afterwards the Monitor Hypothesis and the Affective Filter Hypothesis will be critically explored.

In this paper Krashen’s original texts are used as reference in order to be able to get a deeper understanding of his theoretical work and the alterations the hypotheses have undergone over the years. The voices of criticism have been collected in the years following his publications but also in recent years. The goal of this paper is to present Krashen’s framework and explore its weaknesses in order to present a critical and reflected perspective.

2. Outline of Krashen’s theoretical framework

Krashen’s Input Hypothesis can be considered as one of the most influential hypothesis in second language learning. Krashen suggests that “perhaps we acquire by understanding language that is ‘a little beyond’ our current level of competence” (Krashen 1981: 102-103). This assumption led to his very well-known concept of i + 1. The current level of the acquirer is defined by i. The acquirer can only process language material that is characterized by the complexity of “1”.

In order for the input to reach the learner he or she has to be “open” to the input. (Krashen 1985: 3). However, the learner might be affected by a lack of motivation or by anxiety. In this case the input cannot reach the language acquisition device (LAD) because a filter caused by negative emotion prevents the learner from utilizing the input. Krashen calls this idea the Affective Filter Hypothesis.

Krashen refers to Brown who found that children who acquire English as their L1. It was found that they mastered morphemes such as the plural s earlier than the third person singular /s/ (cf. Brown 1973). This order of acquisition of English as L2 in children has been termed “natural order” (Krashen 1982: 51). A determined order of acquiring morphemes was also found in children who acquired English as L2. Comparing the acquirers of English as L1 and L2 showed a though not congruent but at least similar order. In his Natural Order Hypothesis Krashen claims that there is a fixed order in which English is acquired.

Krashen believes that there are “two independent ways” in which a learner acquires L2. This belief resulted in his Acquisition Learning Hypothesis. Acquisition is “a subconscious process identical in all important ways to the process children utilize in acquiring their first language”. Learning is “a conscious process that results in ‘knowing about’ the language” (Krashen 1985: 1).

The distinction between acquisition and learning leads to the Monitor Hypothesis. The acquired system enables us to communicate while “learning, conscious knowledge, serves only as an editor, or Monitor” (Krashen 1985: 1). The grammatical rules we learn, e. g. through instruction, are stored in the monitor.

3. Critical exploration

3.1 Input Hypothesis

The vague definitions make the interlinked hypotheses very vulnerable. The three most important points of criticism will be explored in more detail. How can the i and the “1” be determined and which parameters can be used here? Is input, however it may be tuned, sufficient to ensure language acquisition? It is a known fact that there are individual learner differences. It can be assumed that different levels of competence can be found within the smallest group of learners. Which approach in teaching will ensure that all learners are attended to? Latifi, Ketabi, and Mohammadi (cf. 2013: 224) suggest that the formula i + 1 might not be a genuine idea by Krashen. D. P. Ausubel (1963) proposes the concept of meaningfulness or subsumability. Very close to Krashen’s later idea subsumability means that “the received information should be roughly tuned to the existing cognitive structure” (Ausubel 1963). Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1987) also promotes the idea that learning in general is a gradual process that cannot leave out specific stages.

Input is basically all written and spoken language a learner is exposed to. Krashen believes that the input an L2 learner can profit most from is very similar to “caretaker” talk. Whoever takes care of a child alters their utterances directed to the child in order to help the child understand the message (cf. Krashen 1981: 102). In all his works he also introduces the notion of comprehensible input or intake. It is defined as the part of the input that the learner can actually understand and therefore process.

As learners acquire L2 following a natural order Krashen claims that an L2 instructor only has to detect the level of competence of learners and create teaching materials accordingly. The "necessary grammar" is "automatically" provided by an instructor who wants to make sure that learners receive "comprehensible input" in "sufficient amount" and "right quantities" (Krashen, 1985: 2).

There are two problems in Krashen’s very vague wording. Firstly, the i of the learner has to be analyzed in order to be able to determine what will function as the + 1. In addition to that the complexity level of the +1 also has to be identifiable. According to the formula the learner will not be able to process +2 or +3. Krashen does not mention any means for an analysis of the i or the +1.

Secondly, there are a lot of settings when it comes to second language acquisition. The one most interesting for the focus of this paper is the instruction within a classroom of learners from age 10 to 16. If an instructor knew which level the learners are have accomplished, he would be able to make an informed decision about the +1 needed for the learner.

It can be expected, however, that the learners are on different levels of acquisition in regard to the different phenomena of L2 as every individual learns at their own pace. The difficulty remains to provide comprehensible input for each learner. McLaughlin also points out these weaknesses.

At the present stage of second-language study, both tasks are impossible to for researchers, and, above all, for teachers dealing with many students at different levels of ability” (1987: 39).

The words “at the present stage of second-language study” were true in 1987. Today it is possible to analyze the level of competence and identify the +1. The Processability Theory (PT) and the analysis software Rapid Profile put forth by Pienemann provide the necessary information (cf. Pienemann & Keßler 2011).

Last but not least the Input Hypothesis has to be into perspective as a whole. Input and intake do play a very important role in second language acquisition. However, Krashen’s claim for the omnipotence of input has to be modified. There are also other factors that have to be considered. Ellis also challenges Krashen’s idea that it is enough to provide learners with sufficient input following the formula i + 1. He states that “input is necessary but not sufficient for acquisition to take place” (2003: 47).

3.2 The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

In this chapter Krashen’s dichotomy of acquisition versus learning will be explored in more detail. Aspects in focus are the definition of the two supposed opposites and how other linguistics view this distinction. As the secondary ESL classroom is the real-world benchmark it will be examined whether acquisition, learning, or both take place in this environment.

In the outline of Krashen’s framework it has been stated that Krashen draws a strict borderline between acquisition and learning. “Acquisition differs from learning in two major ways: acquisition is slow and subtle, while learning is fast and, for some people, obvious” (Krashen 1982: 187). This dichotomy is extended by attributing subsconscious processes to acquisition and conscious processes to learning. Various linguists have criticized Krashen for this fuzzy terminology (cf. Zafar 2009: 141).

In Krashen’s framework acquisition is the desirable process for a learner. The acquired system yields a fluent speaker of L2 while “learning has only one function, and that is as a Monitor or editor” (Krashen 1982: 15). He also claims that “learning does not turn into acquisition” (1982: 83). Zafar states that “acquisition could be better understood when described as a process enriched by the learned system”. Instead of drawing a borderline between acquisition and learning the “cross-currents […] are to be acknowledged and explained” (Zafar 2009: 141).

Input is the “essential environmental ingredient” for acquisition. (Krashen 1985: 2-3). The non-environmental ingredient is an “internal language processor”. Krashen makes it clear that he envisages this processor to have the same qualities as Chomsky’s language acquisition device (LAD). The LAD is accessible for children acquiring their L1. The effectiveness of the LAD declines with age. The older a person gets the more limited is their access to the LAD.

It is therefore highly problematic if Krashen claims that the LAD plays a role in adult second language acquisition although this device is inseparably linked to children’s first language acquisition by Chomsky’s work. Gregg (1984) points out that it is very unlikely that the LAD is still functional in an adult.


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Krashen's Hypotheses. A critical and reflected perspective
Karlsruhe University of Education
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Martina Alexandra Hunkler (Author), 2016, Krashen's Hypotheses. A critical and reflected perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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