Trends in Educational Linguistics
A Critical Analysis of Krashen’s Monitor Theory: Implications for Foreign Language Teaching
Second semester 2005/2006
The most ambitious as well as the most controversial theory which attempts to provide an overall account for SLA is Krashen’s 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 theory’s five main hypotheses in this paper. In addition, I aim to address what I consider to be some of the theory’s 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 Krashen’s 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 language—i.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 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 learner’s output, whereas the acquired...