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TESL Theory: The Input Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen

In this post, I hope to cover a major theory to language learning which is taught in all TESL programs. The Input Hypothesis will be explained and then simplified to help make sense from the potential jargon. Then I will explain how this connects to a classroom or student. Why is the Input Hypothesis important to teaching? Read to find out~

Stephen Krashen is a world renowned second language theorist who has impacted the ESL field. He believes that input is the only true cause of second language acquisition. The Input Hypothesis claims that an important “condition for language acquisition to occur is that the acquirer understand (via hearing or reading) input language that contains structure ‘a bit beyond’ his or her current level of competence…If an acquirer is at state or level i, the input he or she understands should contain i+1” (Krashen, 1981, p. 100). Basically, the learner should be exposed to a language that they can understand but also be challenged to improve their knowledge. The key with this theory is the input needs to be within the student’s reach, not too far beyond (i+2) nor too similar (i+0). Krashen believes speaking should not be taught directly or very early in the language classroom. Speech will “emerge” once the acquirer has built up enough comprehensible input (i+1).

At my academy, students are taught with this language learning theory in mind. The difficult part obviously with students in a classroom lies in what is i? At one level, each student in a classroom will have a different level and thus teaching i+1 becomes even more difficult when considering each students’ English levels. While providing input with i+1, a concern lies in the feedback students receive. If speaking is not taught in the early stages of language development, what type of corrections and feedback should be provided to the student? Or, should feedback be given? What type of output should we expect from the student?

For teachers, we have been taught that student’s success lies in their output; how well can the student interact in class, whether it is in their spoken or written forms. Krashen argues the key for teachers is to provide learners with enough input to let the students begin to feel comfortable with the language, despite the amount of output the student makes in class. If Krashen is correct, is the need for assessment and output production important in the early stages for language learners? Is there a middle ground for this idea? Comment what your thoughts are and if you have any experiences to suggest whether the Input Hypothesis is accurate or not.

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