Introduction Stephen Krashen’s “Second Language Acquisition And Second Language Learning”

This post is the first in a series where I present famous books and articles on teaching/learning a language in bullet-point form. Let’s start with the Introduction to Stephen Krashen’s 1981 book “Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning.”

Here’s a link to the whole book:

And here’s a quick summary:

Krashen is the father of language learning as we know it and this is the book that really got the ball rolling. The big take-away from the introduction is “Monitor theory.”

He puts forward that people can get a language in two ways. The subconscious way is acquisition, which is kind of how kids learn. You’re focused on the message, not on rules. Conscious is like how you typically think of learning a language — memorizing grammar, vocab, etc.

Note that we should be careful with the terms. Learning is what happens with the classroom/textbook. Acquiring is what happens with regular life.

Krashen is arguing that acquiring is the way to go.

The nine chapters are fleshing out this idea. In the introduction, he explains the main ideas of each chapter. Here’s a bullet-point version of the introduction.


  • Monitor Theory: two ways to learn a second language, independent of each other.
    • subconscious language acquisition
    • conscious language learning
    • interrelated in a definite way
    • subconscious far more important
  • Acquisition and Learning and the Monitor Model for Performance
    • acquisition = similar to how kids learn
      • needs natural communication
      • people worry about messages not form
      • Error correction, teaching rules = irrelevant
      • Native speakers might say things differently to help out learner
      • Seems like people learn structures in a similar progression
      • self-correct based on feel for grammar
    • Conscious = error correction, teach rules
      • give a good mental representation of what’s right
      • might not work
      • syllabus from simple to complex, may not match acquisition
    • Monitor Fundamental Claim: conscious learning can only guide acquisition
      • Helps accuracy
      • (Like I learn a word through acquisition and then use conscious to correct the form?)
  • Conditions of Monitor Use (i.e. when can people use classroom/book stuff), “Performer” (speaker, writer, listener) needs:
    • Time
    • To be focused on form
    • To know the rule
      • (This is hard. Even experts don’t know all the rules)
    • Rare to satisfy all three conditions
      • e.g. on a grammar test!
    • conscious learning ONLY available as a Monitor (other monitors available)


Chapter Summaries

(These are all in the introduction)

  • 1. Individual Variation
    • Three types of performers
      • Monitor overusers (I need to know the rule)
      • underuser (I don’t need no rules)
        • bad on grammar tests, but may know a lot (often complex stuff)
      • optimal user (monitor when appropriate, doesn’t get in the way, like in a prepared speech)
        • can achieve illusion of native speaker competence
        • “They ‘keep grammar in its place’, using it to fill gaps in acquired competence when such monitoring does not get in the way of communication.”
  • 2. Attitude and Aptitude
    • Mystery/Problem
      • Good test scores related to second language achievement
      • Attitude related to second language achievement
      • BUT Good test scores and attitude not related
    • Two Hypotheses
      • 1. Aptitude directly related to conscious learning
      • 2. Attitude only relates to acquisition
        • attitude = orientation toward speakers, personality
        • right attitude = encourage useful input, open to input
    • Implications for teaching: attitude more important than aptitude
      • conscious learning = small impact
    • Also in Chapter 2
      • Child-adult differences
      • conscious grammar source = Piaget’s Formal Operations stage?
      • Puberty changes affect learning a language?
      • Good language learner = acquirer (+ optimal monitor user?)
  • 3. Formal and Informal Linguistic Environments
    • Studies conflict on formal/informal learning environment
    • Informal: conducive to acquisition
    • Formal: can do acquisition + learning
    • starts discussion of language classroom (continues in chapters 8, 9)
  • 4. The Domain of the Conscious Grammar: The Morpheme Studies
    • What do people learn first, second, etc.
    • Studies show order of acquisition
    • Also show when using conscious grammar
    • Hypothesis: Total focus on communication (no form) means adult errors similar to kid’s learning a second language (and some similarities for 1st lang.)
      • Monitor/focus on form disturb natural order
      • childlike errors = no monitoring going on
    • Morpheme Studies say only use conscious grammar when they have to
    • Response to criticism
  • 5. The Role of the First Language
    • Performer gets going by using first language. Then modifies based on what they know of the 2nd language
    • data: acquired syntax influenced by first language
      • so either low acquisition or trying to produce before learning enough
      • foreign language more than second language (cuz fewer chances for communication)
      • rarely seen with kids learning naturally
      • silent period to prep is a good idea
    • possible to use first language + monitor exclusively. Limited, but gives adults head start over kids who only use acquisition
  • 6. Neurological Correlates
    • Lennenberg Hypothesis: child-adult differences in learning a language cuz in puberty cerebral dominance complete
    • Some reports say pre-puberty
    • Maybe critical period and cerebral dominance not related
    • Hypothesis from Ch. 2: formal operations = up ability to learn, down ability to acquire
    • Early stage of acquisition (not learning) involves right side of brain
      • could strengthen parallel between first, second language acquisition
  • 7. Routines and Patterns
    • Memorized language
    • Routines = whole sentences (how are you),
    • Patterns = fill in the blank (that’s a ______)
    • Routines, patterns different from both acquired and learned language
      • don’t become acquired/learned directly
    • some helpful aspects (establish, maintain social relations / manage conversations)
  • 8. Theory to Practice
    • Classroom application
    • How do we acquire (comprehensible input = crucial, necessary)
      • “Input Hypothesis” (more Chapter 9)
      • discussion of which activities work (focus on message, not form)
    • optimistic on classroom value (real world can’t give low/intermediate students comprehensible input)
    • Conscious learning
      • easy rules for optimal monitor use
      • hard rules only for language appreciation
  • 9. The Relevance of Simple Codes
    • simplified input (i.e. teach talk) any good?
      • yes, maybe essential
      • like “caretaker speech” for babies learning first language
      • comprehensible, low “affective filter”
    • teacher only worries about being understood (not grammar, etc.)
    • Best language lessons:
      • real communication takes place
      • student understand speakers/passage
    • “We teach language best when we use it for what it was designed for: communication.”

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