Comprehensible Output Hypothesis

An important element in language learning today, especially for the Communicative Approach advocates (like me) is the simple notion that,

“We learn language while using language”

(N. Ellis, 2005, cited in Dörneyi, 2009, p19). The idea is not new. Krashen famously said that learners ‘need’ lots of comprehensible input, as a apart of his “Comprehensible Input Hypothesis“. That is to say, for second language (L2) learners to ‘acquire’ language, it needs to be comprehensible to them and meaningful (relating to real-world needs). So, the language a teacher should use should be levelled down to the L2 learners, and the learners need to be able to understand it. This, apparently, drives language acquisition. In essence, a teacher can talk at their class all day long, and believe the learners are learning English, but they are not. Merril Swain (1985) showed that this did not work for Canadian students learning French as an L2. The students sat quiet in the room, while all of the French was produced by their teacher. This teacher-centered approach failed. In contrast, Swain showed that, instead, L2 learners need time to talk in the L2; our English students need practice time speaking and writing in English, as a means to learn English. Thus, the Comprehensible Output Hypothesis was created, probably in opposition to Krashen’s teacher-centered notions. Even though Swain’s work pre-dates Nick Ellis’s work, there is another Educational Psychologist who pre-dates both of these by almost a life time. Lev Vygotsky argued that to learn anything, you need to spend time doing it. So, let your students learn English by using it; give them lots of practice time.

Dr Stephen Krashen who is infamous for the controversial Comprehensible Input Hypothesis.

Dr Stephen Krashen who is infamous for the controversial Comprehensible Input Hypothesis.