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Stephen Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

Stephen Krashen is a linguist, educational researcher, and activist who is Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California. In the 1990s, as the state of California became increasingly hostile to bilingual education, Krashen was instrumental in advocating the merits of learning a second language. His Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis is the centerpiece of his academic work.

Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning hypothesis revolves around the concept of “comprehensible input,” a term which essentially means “messages that can be understood.” Comprehensible input is best received when the learner is hearing something that he or she wants or needs to know. Krashen differentiates language learning from language acquisition, emphasizing that while learning is a formalized process, such as that which occurs in a classroom, acquisition happens informally, when a person is relaxed. He identifies a “silent period” during language acquisition, a time during which the student listens but is not comfortable speaking.

The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis acknowledges that students learn faster as they are given more comprehensible input. Inversely, a lack of comprehensible input delays language acquisition. Total Immersion Language Teaching, for example, succeeds so well is because it provides lots of comprehensible input. When people are immersed in a culture in which they do not know the language, they have an intense need and desire to speak that language. Such students are not interested in grammar lessons from a book but, instead, want to hear “comprehensible input” about that culture that teaches them what they need to know to survive.

Krashen’s acquisition-learning theory has much in common with both the communicative approach to language study and Noam Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar. The idea of “comprehensible input” is simply another way of saying that students learn languages best when they are learning about things that interest them. This idea is the essence of the communicative approach. Krashen’s Natural Order Hypothesis says that we acquire the rules of grammar in a logical order. This is similar to generative grammar’s hypothesis that the basic foundations of human grammar are deeply embedded in the human brain.

Stephen Krashen has been criticized for not having sufficient empirical evidence to back up his theories. Gregg accused Krashen of using “ill-defined terms.” McLaughlin critiques Krashen’s theories as being weak and imprecise. However, Krashen has conducted extensive research to determine the validity of his theories, and his dedication to promoting bilingual education has had undeniable worth. His frequent media appearances have pushed bilingualism to the forefront of public awareness.

Krashen is regarded true linguistic theorist, with over 30 years of research and hundreds of published articles and multiple books. Stephen Krashen’s passionate work has left an indelible mark on the future of bilingual education in America.

Some of Dr. Stephen Krashen’s research is available for free at,,,

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2009 at 6:30 pm and is filed under Language Acquistion, Language Learning, Linguistics, Second Language Acquistion, Second Language Learning Methods. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “Stephen Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis”

  1. Parrish Says:

    There are so many great methods for language learning and believe me when I say that there is no magic program for mastering a language in 30 days. Books claiming fluency in 15 minutes a day can give new learners false hope. The reality is that becoming proficient in any language requires a lot of time and work. It requires diligence. However, there are a lot of things that a person can do to help advance their learning and this blog is devoted to sharing those ideas.

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  3. How To Speak Spanish Says:

    How To Speak Spanish…

    Since I knew not a word of Spanish, I practiced speaking English the Spanish way– Vanessa’ s way. “ S” sounding words were replaced with a“ th”: “ Sour Patch Kids” became“ Thour Path Kidth.” “ Hey Vanessa, push me on the swing” …

  4. espanol mi amor Says:

    Thank you for this post. I agree with this. I’ve been doing a little bit of research about language learning and this is what I often read, that a person would learn faster if she reads articles or books in her targeted language, and on that topics interests her. Which makes sense if you think about it. Think when you were still in school, you are more alert if you are interested in the topic being discussed, and this makes you want to learn more — just like in language learning.

  5. Jamie Says:

    Great information. The “relaxed” part especially rings true. Thanks!

  6. graphic design careers Says:

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  7. How to learn kanji for real Says:

    My $0.02:

    Stephen Krashen is right. Immersion is how you acquire a language; your language and ANY other language.

    You didn’t learn English because you studied it for 12 years; you already had it all in your mind by the age of 5 because of immersion. So much exposure made it become part of you.

    Although there are certain tools that accelerate the acquiring process (like SRS software), immersion is the key. And all people that say it’s wrong are teachers or language institute owners that want their innefective businesses to stay here!

    Anyways, thanks for sharing about the father of language acquisition. See ya! :D

  8. James H Says:

    Krashen’s theories are intuitively appealing but unfalsifiable (meaning there’s no way to show if he’s right or wrong). There’s plenty out there on WHY this is so. (Google Kevin Gregg, for example.)

    My main objection, as a long-term (20+ years) language teacher is that his “input only” stance has led a lot of teachers to believe that they don’t have to know jack about how the language works - all they have to do is provide enough “comprehensible input” (whatever that means) and their students will end up with high proficiency in English. If they fail, it’s then because the input wasn’t rich enough? Comprehensible enough? No, if they fail, it could be because of a hundred other reasons, not the least of which is that adults are not children. Not biologically, not socially, not anyhow. So you cannot compare L1 acquisition with L2 acquisition, except in the most banal ways.

    Krashen does this bait and switch all the time in his writings; whenever it suits him, he picks the evidence that supports his “theories” (which he arrogantly calls “THE theory of second language acquisition” - and no, “kanji”, he is in NO way “the father of language acquisition”, since HIS theoretical daddies are Chomsky, Seliger, Brown etc etc) and trashes everyone else without ONCE, EVER, in 30 years, actually defining any of his major constructs in ways that can be tested.

    Compared to chew-your-own-arm-off grammar translation, maybe his Natural Approach had something going for it; compared to any halfway decent communicative teacher, he’s old hat. Forget him and move on.

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  10. Neoglitch Says:

    @ James H: First, thanks for pointing out that Krashen’s theories derive from the works of Chomsky, Seliger, Brown… and well, others. I didn’t know that. (I’m the ‘kanji’ guy hehe)

    Now, you want your students to achieve proficiency in the language you are “teaching” them? Then teach them to become independent learners. Encourage them to read and listen to material on topics they are actually interested in. Suggest them to use dictionaries and other online resources to expand their vocab and find the meaning of words they don’t understand.

    In class, have them read and listen to audio in the target language too. Play videos or a movie in class if you can. If they ask about words they don’t understand describe the meaning of them and also provide example sentences. Basically, focus your classes on giving your students lots of native media (comprehensible input is a very relative term, really).

    I’m no teacher and you have been working on the field for two decades. However, if I were a student, I would rather have this kind of experience instead of a boring class focused on grammar explanations, drills, boring textbooks and a bunch of tests. An experience where the student is having fun and reading/listening to content by his/her own will is MUCH more effective than the traditional methodologies.

    Try it! :D

  11. Ai-Feng Kao Says:

    This blog provides great information and well organized format to look for the related topics.

    Although Stephen Krashen has been criticized for not having enough evidence for his theories, but I certainly believe that the five hypothesis do have influential effects for the field of second language acquisition.

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