April 27, 2011
Long before Krashen it was understood that languages are best learned through input.
Krashen’s ideas about the primacy of input and reading are not new, according to this fascinating article, that should be the subject of ongoing discussion. Here are a few choice paragraphs.John Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1692), wrote: “How . . . is it possible that a child should be chained to the oar, seven, eight, or ten of the best years of his life, to get a language or two, which, I think, might be had at a great deal cheaper rate of pains and time, and be learned almost in playing?” By the early 19th century an obscure, peripatetic businessman by the name of James Hamilton had the following to say; “Mankind are thirsty for real knowledge and will not long put up with the shadow of it. Either the teacher will find out a mode of communicating a knowledge of the learned languages in a shorter time and more efficaciously than has been hitherto done, or the study of these languages will be relinquished altogether.”“Reading,” he writes, “is the only real, the only effectual source of instruction. It is the pure spring of nine-tenths of our intellectual enjoyments. . . . Neither should it be sacrificed to grammar or composition, nor to getting by heart any thing whatever, because these are utterly unobtainable before we have read a great deal.”Hamilton goes on, “As reading is the source of all real instruction, so it is also the sole, the only means by which the words of a language can be acquired. . . . The man who has not learned to read knows only those words which he has learned in conversation; his vocabulary is smaller than can well be imagined.” Nevertheless, Hamilton did not oppose the study of grammar, only its timing. “The theory of grammar should be taught only when the pupil can read the language, and understand at least an easy book in it,” Hamilton wrote, in agreement with Locke. Contemporary corpora studies have also identified vocabulary recognition as the main variable in reading success.Hamilton’s method is one of the historical ancestors of LingQ. Check out our new Blue Popup which offers instant information about the words we are reading. It makes difficult texts even more accessible.
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