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The Monitor Theory

Eng. 526 Trends in Educational Linguistics Term Paper

A Critical Analysis of Krashens Monitor Theory: Implications for Foreign Language Teaching

Written by: Enas Al.Musallam Second semester 2005/2006


Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

The most ambitious as well as the most controversial theory which attempts to provide an overall account for SLA is Krashens Monitor Theory. This theory has had a large impact on all areas of second language research and teaching since the 1980s; thus, received extensive attention in the professional literature. Yet despite this impact, it received a great deal of criticism. For these reasons, I attempt to provide a critical analysis of the theorys five main hypotheses in this paper. In addition, I aim to address what I consider to be some of the theorys implications for current ES/FL teaching by drawing on my own experiences in the classroom as a teacher and as a student of English language.

1. The Monitor Theory:


Krashen has frequently changed some elements in his theory; which was actually not a theory at all but merely a model in the beginning, and which has undergone quite few stages of subsequent development culminating in the full-grown theory of the 1980s (Binnema, n.d.). Without diving too deep into all these developments and refinements, a description of the five main hypotheses of Krashens theory in its mature stage will be given. 1.1. The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis: The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis holds that adults have two distinct and independent ways of developing competence in a second language: acquisition, which is subconscious, and learning, which is conscious (Gregg, 1984:79). Language acquisition is a subconscious process similar to the way a child learns his first languagei.e. acquisition takes place through natural language interactions. Language acquirers are not consciously aware of the grammatical rules of the language, but may self-correct only on the basis of a feel for grammaticality. Language learning, on the other hand, refers to the conscious knowledge of a second language, knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

talk about them. Therefore, language learning takes place predominantly in formal instruction. Krashen claims that the two shall remain disparate (Krashen, 1981). The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis indicates that adults do not lose the ability to acquire languages the way that children do, since krashen claims that adults can access the same natural language acquisition device (LAD) that children use. He also assumes that learning does not turn into acquisition (Stewart, n.d.; Larsen-Freeman &Long, 1991). 1.2. The Natural Order Hypothesis: The Natural Order Hypothesis states that the acquisition of grammatical structures proceeds in a predictable order. For a given language, some grammatical structures tend to be acquired early, others late without regard to the first language of a given learner, his age, and conditions of exposure. A series of research studies investigating morpheme acquisition orders provided evidence for the Natural Order Hypothesis (Dulay & Burt, 1974; Fathman, 1975; Makino, 1980 as cited in Schutz, 2005). Although the agreement between individual acquirers was not always 100% in these studies, there were statistically significant similarities that reinforced the existence of a natural order. This natural order does not necessarily depend on simplicity of form, yet it could be altered by forcing another sequence in the teaching process. This natural order dictates the way in which a language is acquired, but learning might follow another order (Gitsaki, 1998; Wilson, 2000). 1.3. The Monitor Hypothesis: The Monitor Hypothesis explains the relationship between acquisition and learning, and defines the influence of the latter on the former. This hypothesis holds that formal learning has only one function which is as a monitor for the learners output, whereas the acquired

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

system is the utterance initiator. The monitor functions properly when three specific conditions are met: 1. there is sufficient time, 2. the focus of the interaction is on form rather than meaning, and 3. the learner knows the rule in question (Krashen, 1981; Schulz, 1991; Schutz, 2005). This monitoring involves self-correction on the base of learned language rules and is completely different from the monitoring during acquisition; where no explicit rules need to be involved. Krashen (1981) suggests that there is individual variation among language learners regarding 'monitor' use. He distinguishes those learners who use the 'monitor' all the time (over-users); those learners who have not learned or who prefer not to use their conscious knowledge (under-users); and those learners who use the 'monitor' appropriately when it does not interfere with communication (optimal users). Optimal monitor users can use their learned competence as a supplement to their acquired competence. Most of the time, however, Krashen suggests leaving the monitor unemployed; and concentrating upon meaning rather form. 1.4. The Input Hypothesis: The Input Hypothesis answers the question of how a language acquirer develops competency over time. It states that a language acquirer who is at level I must receive comprehensible input that is at level i+1. In other words, we acquire only when we understand language which contains structure that is 'a little beyond' our current level. This is achieved with the help of context or exralinguistic information (Gitsaki, 1998; Wilson, 2000). Evidence for the input hypothesis can be found in the effectiveness of caretaker speech from an adult to a child, teacher-talk from a teacher to a language student, and foreigner-talk from a sympathetic conversation partner to a language learner/acquirer (Krashen, 1981). This

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

hypothesis is also supported by the fact that the first second language utterances of adult learners are often very similar to those of infants in their first language. Krashen also provides the so-called silent period as evidence for this hypothesisi.e., children learning a second language commonly speak very little in the target language for the first several months (Romeo, 2000). A result of this hypothesis is that language students should be given an initial silent period during which they can build up acquired competence in the language before beginning to produce it. Krashen states, In accordance with the Input Hypothesis, speaking ability emerges on its own after enough competence has been developed by listening and understanding (as cited in Gregg, 1984, p. 90). Moreover, Krashen suggests that natural communicative input is the key to design a syllabus, ensuring in this way that each learner will receive some i+1 input which is appropriate for his/her current stage of linguistic competence. 1.5. The Affective Filter Hypothesis: The Affective Filter Hypothesis embodies Krashens view that a number of affective variables play a facilitative, but non-causal, role in second language acquisition. These variables include: motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. Krashen claims that learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped for success in second language acquisition. Low motivation, low self-esteem, and debilitating anxiety can combine to 'raise' the affective filter and form a 'mental block' that prevents comprehensible input from being used for acquisition. In other words, a high affective filter inhibits acquisition, whereas a low affective filter promotes it. According to Krashen, this filter is present in adults but not in children, and accounts for the failure of a

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

learner in acquiring a second language. (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991; The Monitor Model, n.d.) These five hypotheses of second language acquisition can be summarized as: 1. Acquisition is inevitable and more important than learning. 2. In order to acquire, two conditions are necessary. The first is comprehensible input containing i+1i.e., structures a bit beyond the acquirers current level, and second, a low or weak affective filter to allow the input in (Wilson, 2000). 2. A Critique of the Monitor Theory: Now that we have become acquainted with the basic features of Krashens theory, it is important to take a closer look at the criticisms that have arisen considering his theory. I believe that these criticisms stem from several issues. First, Krashens theory was one of the first theories developed specifically to explain SLA. Second, his theory made a large number of claims about a wide array of SLA phenomena, many of which seemed empirically falsifiable, which thus attracted researchers critical of the idea. Finally, Krashens theory was closely tied to recommendations for classroom practice; as a result, it seemed important to test. Serious concerns were first expressed by McLaughlin (1978), who acknowledges Krashens attempt to develop an extensive and detailed SLA theory, but finds it inadequate in that some of its central assumptions and hypotheses are not clearly defined. As a result, they are not readily testable (Gitsaki, 1998). McLaughlin (1987, p. 56) states that, Krashens theory fails at every juncture...Krashen has not defined his terms with enough precision, the empirical basis of the theory is weak, and the theory is not clear in its predictions (as cited in Binnema, n.d.). McLaughlin (1987) points out that Krashen never adequately defines

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

acquisition, learning, conscious or subconscious; without such clarification, it is extremely difficult to independently determine whether subjects are learning or acquiring language (Romeo, 2000). Seliger (1979) also criticizes Krashens theory pointing out that it is too complex in that it asks us to believe that human language users have two completely separate systems: one for acquisition and one for learning presumably each with its own neuro-physiological basis. Although the idea of two separate linguistic systems is possible, it is improbable because such a set up would be an inefficient way to store information (Low & Morrison, n.d). Moreover, I believe that Krashen fails to explain the process of acquisition, or why learned information is not accessible in the same way as acquired information is. Gregg (1984) notes that Krashens use of the LAD gives it a much wider scope of operation than Chomskys application. Krashens insistence that learning cannot become acquisition is quickly refuted by the experience of anyone who has internalized grammar that was previously consciously memorized. Drawing on my own experience in learning English, I believe that at least some rules can be acquired through learning. For example, I learned the rules of subject-verb agreement by memorizing charts provided by my teacher; like most of my classmates, I produced predominantly error-free sentences within a few days with no input other than some drills. According to Gregg (1984), If learning cannot become acquisition, and ifmost of our knowledge of a second language is necessarily unconscious, then it makes little sense to call learning one of two distinct and independent ways of developing competence in a second language (p. 81). Indeed, Krashen did not provide any real evidence that people require two completely separate systems in order to learn a language (The Monitor Model,

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

n.d.). Furthermore, if two different systems for learning a language did exist, people would not be able to master a language in a formal setting only, yet many do just that. The Saudi context services as a prime example; many students succeed in learning English although they are exposed only to the foreign language in the formal classroom setting. Krashen further claims that language acquirers may self-correct only on the basis of a feel for grammaticality, whereas language learners do so on the basis of grammar rules. Drawing on my own experience as an English teacher, I once asked my students to judge two sentences Pick the book up/Pick it up*(1) in order to provide them with the particle movement rule. Surprisingly, some students said that the second sentence was incorrect. When asked why it was incorrect, they responded that they felt that it was incorrect, although they did not know the rule. It is important to note that my students are learners not acquirers according to Krashens definition of language learning. Thus, Krashens view on self-correction must be questioned. The second hypothesis is simply that grammatical structures are learned in a predictable order. Gregg (1984) argues that Krashen has no basis for separating grammatical morphemes from, for example, phonology or syntax. In addition, if individual differences exist, as discussed in 1.2, then the hypothesis is not provable or falsifiable and is, in the end, not useful. The insufficiencies of this hypothesis become more apparent when examining it in terms of comprehension and production. Many studies into the order of acquisition, especially those in first language acquisition, are based on production. The fact that a learner uses a specific grammatical feature does not necessarily mean that he uses it appropriately, or that he
1

The asterisk (*) indicates incorrect sentence.

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

understands how it works (McLaughlin, 1978, as cited in Romeo, 2000). Further, it is not clear that the order is the same for comprehension and production. If these two processes differ in order, it is not clear how they would interact. The Monitor Hypothesis holds that learning has only one function, which is to monitor the learners output. McLaughlin (1978, as cited in Romeo, 2000) points out that restricting learning to the role of editing production completely ignores comprehension. In fact, Krashen fails to take into account the role that monitoring plays in the reception of language. Throughout my experience in learning English, learning has played a role in both comprehension and production. My claim is supported by the fact that teachers monitor students output and learners monitor the output of their colleagues. Furthermore, Krashen not only does not explain how this monitor operates, but he also fails to prove that acquisition has no role in monitoring. McLaughlin raised these points in his criticism, but Krashen (1979) did not answer them in his reply (Romeo, 2000). In addition, Gregg points out that, by restricting monitor use to learned grammar and only in production, Krashen in effect makes the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis and the Monitor Hypothesis contradictory. It is difficult to reconcile the contradiction since Krashen offers no evidence for either of these hypotheses. Krashens Input Hypothesis has also been criticized. McLaughlin claims that the concept of a learners level is extremely difficult to define, just as the idea of i+1 is (The Monitor Model, n.d.). I believe that educators also face difficulty in applying this rule in the classroom since individual differences comes into play when determining the learners current levels. Krashen did not provide solutions regarding this issue. Furthermore, many structures such as passives and yes/no questions cannot be learned through context alone.

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

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The Input Hypothesis maintains that increased input will result in more language acquisition, and that increased output will not. However, no clear evidence exists for this assumption. Romeo (2000) indicates that output of some kind is seen as a necessary phase in language acquisition. On the one hand, teachers need students output in order to be able to judge their progress and adapt materials to their needs. On the other hand, learners need the opportunity to use the L2 because when faced with communication failure, they are forced to make their output more precise. These arguments suggest that, if comprehensible input is necessary, then so is comprehensible output. Yet this goes against Krashens hypothesis. Researchers note several problems with the Affective Filter Hypothesis as well. Krashen seems to indicate that the affective filter manifests itself at around the age of puberty. However, he does not make any serious attempts to explain how and why this filter develops only with the onset of puberty. Further, he does not explain how this filter would selectively choose certain parts of a language to reject (Low & Morrison, n.d). Laser-Freeman and Long (1991) state that to provideempirical content, Krashen would need to specify which affect variables, singly or in what combinations, and at what levels, serve to raise the filter (p. 247). Clearly no explanation exists as to how this filter works. For example, is it sufficient for one aspect of a learners affective state, such as motivation, to be positive, or do all aspects have to be positive in order to lower the filterand if so, to what degree? People who are unmotivated, stressed, or worried will not learn as well. In fact, this idea is not just applicable to language learning, but for any kind of learning. However, unlike Krashen, I believe that this idea applies to prepubescent children as well. In conclusion, some of Krashens Monitor Theorys central assumptions and hypotheses are not clearly defined and, thus, are not readily testable or falsifiable. In this vein, Gregg

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

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(1984) states that each of Krashens five hypotheses is marked by serious flaws: undefined or ill-defined terms, unmotivated constructs, lack of empirical content and thus of falsifiability, lack of explanatory power (p.94). However, I believe that, despite the various criticisms, Krashen's Monitor Theory of second language acquisition has had a great impact on the way second language learning is viewed, and has initiated research seeking to discover the order of acquisition. 3. Implications for Foreign Language Teaching: Krashens Monitor Theorys influence on language education research and practice is undeniable. I will attempt to directly address what I consider to be some of the theorys implications for contemporary ES/FL teaching by drawing on my own experience in the classroom as a teacher and as a student of English language. According to Krashen, classroom teaching benefits students when it provides the necessary comprehensible input to those students who are not yet at a level that enables them to receive comprehensible input from the real world or do not have access to real world language speakers. Classroom teaching can also help by providing students with communication tools that enable them to make better use of the outside world, and when it provides beneficial conscious learning for optimal monitor users (Schulz, 1991). In fact, I believe the implications of this input factor are considerable for foreign language teaching environments. The input factor points to the need for language proficiency on the part of the teacher, who is frequently the only live source of input (other than that provided by other learners) available to students. As a result, cooperative learning can be an excellent way for foreign language students to acquire comprehensible input from their peers.

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

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Second, the input factor points to the importance of instructional time in a conventional FL program, suggesting that language institutions should increase program hours. Moreover, the Input Hypothesis suggests language students should be given an initial silent period during which they can build up acquired competence in the language before beginning to produce it. However, I do not agree with Krashen on this point. Language learners and acquirers should be encouraged to produce the target language gradually from the beginningi.e., students should be asked to produce words at the beginning, and subsequently to form full sentences. To succeed in this process, language teachers must provide production opportunities for their students from the first day. Our pedagogical goals should not only include supplying comprehensible input, but also creating a situation that encourages a low filter. The Input Hypothesis and the concept of the Affective Filter have redefined the effective language teacher as someone who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low anxiety situation (Wilson, 2000). I believe that the atmosphere of the language classroom must be congenial. Language teachers can make a difference in students motivation, anxiety levels, and self-images, by respecting their students, listening to them, and taking note of what they say. Furthermore, a correlate of this theory is that, when teachers correct output, they do not help the student. The lack of in-class correction is a direct reflection of both the Affective Filter Hypothesis, which suggests creating a low anxiety learning environment, and the Natural Order Hypothesis, which claims that the teacher allows the natural order to take its place by allowing students errors to occur. I agree with Krashen on this point; language learners lose their motivation if they are continuously corrected.

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory 4. The Monitor Theory and the Saudi Curriculum:

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In this section, I aim to examine briefly how Krashens theory influenced the design of the Saudi curriculum. Thus, it is evident that Krashens theory had relatively littleif any impact on the Saudi curriculum. Krashens hypotheses led to the belief that conscious teaching and learning were not useful in the language learning process and that any attempt to teach or learn language in a formal way was doomed to failure. However, as has been discussed in the early criticism, the situation of teaching English in Saudi Arabia contradicts Krashens view. In addition, Krashen proposed that second language learners follow the natural order of acquisition for grammatical morphemes. However, he points out that the implication of the Natural Order Hypothesis is not that a language program syllabus should be based on it. An examination of the grammatical component of the Saudi curriculum indicates that this order has been altered and is arranged according to simplicity of form. Finally, Krashen claims that speech cannot be taught directly; instead, it emerges on its own as a result of building competence via comprehensible input. However, the Saudi curriculum does not follow this claim. In fact, it provides activities that directly enhance speaking. Each unit will include a lesson that provides speaking activities (English for Saudi Arabia, 1421H, p. 2). Clearly, this goes against Krashens view. 5. Conclusion: Krashens Monitor Theory is an example of a macro theory attempting to cover most of the factors involved in second language acquisition: age, personality traits, classroom instruction, innate mechanisms of language acquisition, environmental influences, input, etc. Despite its popularity, the Monitor Theory has been criticized by theorists and researchers

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory

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mainly on the grounds of its definitional adequacy. Yet despite these criticisms, Krashens Monitor Theory has had significant impact on SL/ FL teaching.

References

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory Binnema, J. (n.d.). A closer look at the Monitor Model and some of its criticism. Retrieved December 28, 2006, from http://viadrina.euv-frankfurto.de/~w3spz/hull/KrashensMonitorModel.html English for Saudi Arabia. (1421H). K.S.A: Ministry of Education, Educational Development. Gitsaki, C. (1998). Second language acquisition theories: overview and evaluation. Journal of Communication and International Studies 4(2), 89-98. Gregg, K.R. (1984). Krashens Monitor and Occams razor. Applied Linguistics, 5, 79-100.

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Krashen, S. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Larsen-Freeman, D. & Long, M. (1991). An introduction to second language acquisition research. England: Longman. Low, G.& Morrison, D. (n.d.). Some new perspectives on monitoring and the language learner. University of Hong Kong, Language Center. Romeo, K. (2000). Krashen and Terrells Natural Approach. Retrieved December 28, 2006, from http://www.stanford.edu/~kenro/LAU/ICLangLit/NaturalApproach.htm Schulz, R. (1991). Second language acquisition theories and teaching practice: How do they fit? The Modern Language Journal, 75, 17-26 Schutz, R. (2005). Stephen Krashen's theory of second language acquisition. Retrieved January 1, 2006, from http://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash.html Stewart, B. (n.d.). Critical perspectives on learning vs. acquisition in Krashens Monitor Model. Retrieved December 28, 2006, from http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~rs831494/stuff_from_school_mac/Bodie/Krashen_final.doc

Enas I. Al-Musallam

The Monitor Theory The Monitor Model. (n.d.). Retrieved January 1, 2006, from http://www.auburn.edu/~keithcs/monitor.htm

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Wilson, R. (2000). A summary of Stephen Krashen's "Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition". Retrieved December 28, 2006, from http://www.languageimpact.com/articles/rw/krashenbk.htm

Enas I. Al-Musallam