Learning a new language

I Was Wrong, Stephen Krashen Was Right: Content is King

I Was Wrong, Stephen Krashen Was Right: Content is King has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.

 

 

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here again to talk about languages, as I always do here, and I have a confession to make. I was wrong and Stephen Krashen was right.

 

I have often said that I consider the three keys to language learning success to be the attitude of the learner, the time we spend with the language and the ability to notice. Now, it’s not something that I came up with. This is something that I heard at a conference of the American Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages. It was the head of the San Diego State University Language Department who said this and I was very struck by it and I have repeated it many times.

 

Stephen Krashen would always say to me, “Noticing? No, we don’t deliberately notice. We learn subconsciously through enough compelling, comprehensible, meaningful input.” I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong and Stephen Krashen was right because I think that the ability to notice is something that develops naturally. It develops naturally if we get enough input, if we expose ourselves to the language, if we listen and if we read. So I will now say that the three keys to language learning success are, again, the attitude of the learner, you know, like the language, want to learn, want to be learning this language, confident that we can do it. All of these positive things, that’s extremely important.

 

The second thing is the amount of time we spend with the language. In other words, not reading a grammar book in our own language and not necessarily even sitting in a classroom. It’s the time we spend listening, reading, speaking — Engaged with the language, that time.

 

The third thing is the availability of good, compelling, comprehensible, meaningful content. In reflecting on my own language learning, I do best in those languages where I was able to find that content. This means that we need initially to have beginner content which, again, I don’t think should be absolute brain dead beginner content, but content much like our mini stories where you get into sort of an intermediate level of content but there is lots of repetition.

 

Of course because there is so much repetition the stories can’t be that tremendously compelling. In the initial period you’re kind of motivated to get a sense of the language, to discover the structure of that language, how it works and so forth, but very soon you have to get into something where you are actually interested in the content.

 

Stephen Krashen claims that this is stories, you know, fiction. He’s a big believer in fiction. Personally, I’m more interested in nonfiction and I’ve said before that in Chinese the availability of graded readers on history and geography were very helpful in terms of getting me to the next stage where I could actually read and listen to content, you know, authentic documents from history or books and things of that nature.

Finding that content is extremely important and I think we should do more as language learners to pool our resources, to help each other or even to create these resources. Maybe there should be more people just recording conversations and maybe we could have a website where we all put them up there, for example, in Arabic so that I could access natural conversations in Arabic transcribed or in Farsi.

 

I think this content thing doesn’t matter. I was at the Montreal Long Fest and there were different presentations on different techniques — chunking and there are some people who like to use memorize and anki and, of course, I don’t very much. I just stay with LingQ. All of that is secondary, secondary. The key thing is the availability of meaningful content in the language. So that’s the third one, attitude, then time and the content. Content is King!

 

There are all kinds of starter books, grammar explanations, dictionaries, ankis, games, language-learning games. None of that matters in my opinion. What matters is having suitable content. Graded content can be a bridge to get to where you can access the authentic content, but I also think natural conversations are a bridge because typically in conversations the vocabulary used is more sort of oriented towards high-frequency words. So I would love to see an explosion of conversations, dialogues in different languages spoken naturally and then transcribed made available to language learners.

 

I had a comment. I think it was here at YouTube. Someone said why would anyone learn Farsi? It’s a difficult language and the verbs show up in different places depending on whatever and stuff. I don’t know. He had a lot of criticism of Farsi. None of that matters if I can find compelling and interesting content in Farsi and I’m motivated because there are Farsi speakers here in Vancouver and because, after all, Iran and Persia, there are 80-90 million people there. Historically it’s been a very important country. Twenty-five years ago the Persian Empire was the largest empire in the world. All of that is kind of stimulating.

 

So things that affect your motivation and the availability of good content is much more important than details that the language is too complicated and it’s silly. Every language has its complications and I don’t think Farsi is unique in that regard. It doesn’t matter. The techniques you use don’t really matter, except to the extent that you need to be efficient. So in consuming this compelling and interesting content you should use techniques that are efficient. Thumbing through a traditional dictionary is not efficient. No sooner do you close the dictionary than you’ve forgotten what you looked up. So I don’t consider that efficient, but there are things that we can do to make this all-important consuming of reading and listening more efficient because the more efficient it is, the greater the intensity of the learning. Ultimately, though, it’s the interest level in that content, the ability to access it, the comprehensibility of it that’s going to make that input activity so powerful.

 

So I just wanted to say that and I think we have to try better at LingQ as well. We have a lot of content there. People can import content, they can import e-books, but we’re going to be out there looking for partners who can provide us with content, whether it be free or even to sell across LingQ. There is nothing wrong with paying for something. I would rather pay for content than pay for classroom time quite frankly because it’s the content that’s going to take us to fluency.

 

Just to summarize, I confess that I was wrong and once again Stephen Krashen was right. He really is the guru when it comes to language learning. You can do other stuff. You can read the grammar. You can do flashcards. You can do all this other stuff and that’s good. If you’re motivated to do it, then do it. It does provide you with a different form of exposure to the language and does sort of maybe stimulate you if you’re interested in those kinds of things, but overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, it’s your attitude, the time you’ll spend and the availability of comprehensible, compelling input and, of course, all three are interrelated and reinforce each other.

 

There you have it. Thanks for listening. Bye for now.

 

Download this blog’s full transcript at LingQ to help improve your English listening skills.

 

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