mitcho Michael 芳貴 Erlewine

Postdoctoral fellow, McGill Linguistics.


Krashen The Party

Yesterday we ETA’s went to a workshop at Lan-Yang Institute of Technology. The workshops were focused around the instruction of reading. The three afternoon sessions we saw included two workshops on building vocabulary and one by [[Stephen Krashen]].

Krashen is kind of like the Chomsky of language acquisition and teaching—a huge and controversial (some may say incendiary) figure who you can love or hate, but can’t ignore. Last Wednesday in our weekly workshop, Dr. Collins delivered a chronological run down of Krashen’s theories.1 As an entertaining aside, one task given to us was to draw a schematic diagram of Krashen’s view of language acquisition and production. Below is Dale’s drawing, which eerily reflects the geography of the brain… the input comes in through the ears (or eyes, at the back of the brain), then hits the Affective Filter (the amygdala), goes to the Language Acquisition Device (the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas), then the output is filtered by the Monitor—a product of conscious learning—(the frontal lobe). Pretty creepy.


Krashen’s talk2 was fascinating, albeit not what I expected: given that the workshop’s focus was on the teaching of reading and that he himself has been a big advocate of recreational reading for language learners, I expected more on teaching English reading as to non-native speakers. The majority of the talk, though, was on writing and the composing process: “reading more makes you a better writer, but writing more makes you smart.” He talked about how the act of (regular) writing clarifies and organizes our thoughts, and advocated for a writing process which involved much revision as, “every time you have to revise, it means you’ve become smarter,” and building relaxation (to allow for eureka moments) into the process. His conclusion and analysis are important for first-language speakers just as much as the second-language learner, and the talk did feel more like a writing seminar than a pedagogical one. Krashen is an engaging and entertaining speaker, using many examples from famous writers and common experience to draw his conclusion.

The intensity with which he spoke and the passion for thinking about thinking reminded me of Sally’s Honors Analysis class, which was as much about thinking as it was about mathematics. Sally once told us that, when we’re stuck on a problem, we should find someone just about as smart as us and just explain the problem to them. He claimed that the majority of the time, the simple process of explaining the problem outloud and answering clarifying questions would make the solution come to us. It’s a powerful technique that I’ve used many times at Chicago and elsewhere, and Krashen’s analysis of what happens when we write thus struck a chord with me.

Afterwards I was fortunate enough to go out to dinner with the speakers, some of our advisors, and some faculty from the Institute that hosted the workshop. I had some great conversations about my background, where my future directions may lie academically, and of course the ideas. ^^ It reminded me of dinners with linguists back at home, after a workshop or CLS. I realized I miss the fraternity of academia—the sense of mutual respect and interest academics have for each other’s work and ideas, even if the “other” is only 22 years old.

  1. A similar basic run down of Krashen’s various theories is found on this blog post, The Krashen Revolution

  2. Krashen, Stephen. “What is Academic Language Proficiency,” presented at the International Conference and workshops on English Language Teaching: Pedagogical Aspects of Reading. Yilan county, Taiwan, November 8th, 2007. 

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  • Bailey

    I don’t know what kind of ideas being off on your own in another country has given you, but such titles as this are not okay.

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  • 熊大海

    this sounds awesome, mitcho. i’m going to read a lot of krashen over the winter break and also get my brother into his papers.

    glad you’re having fun over there!

  • Mary

    Wow I was just writing an essay about Krashen's Affective Filter Hypothesis :)
    interesting read
    thanks :D