Mon, Jan 07, 2008 - Page 8 News List

LETTERS: Speaking isn't the key

In "Keeping it English in the classroom" (Letters, Dec. 25, page 8), Kao Shin-fan (高士凡) suggests that English teachers should combine "persistent persuasion with pressure" and even "moderate nagging" to make sure students use English in classes, because "most students learn how to speak English by actually speaking it."

The research does not support this contention. Rather, the evidence is overwhelming that we acquire language not by producing it but by understanding it, by listening and reading.

Studies tell us, for example, that increased speaking and writing do not consistently result in more language development, but increased listening and reading do.

Also, there are many cases of substantial amounts of language acquisition taking place with very little and sometimes no production, but with lots of input. Finally, language is extremely complex: We don't talk enough, or write enough, to account for all the vocabulary and grammar that we acquire.

The best hypothesis is that the ability to speak is the result of language acquisition, not the cause. If this is true, forcing students to speak before they are ready is not only useless, but counterproductive. The best way to develop spoken fluency is to provide lots of interesting and comprehensible input. This means more pleasure reading and more listening (try www.eslpod.com for a free source of English input, designed for intermediate students of English as a foreign language).

Prof. Stephen Krashen

Los Angeles, California

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