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By Steven L. Rosen

Faculty of Human Culture and Science
Dept. of Intercultural Studies

The Natural Approach to Language Teaching

Key words: structure, unconscious, context, semiotics, meaning, Sapir-Whorf


A. Introduction
There are many theories about language mind and culture, and these theories
usually disagree. Although these theories present different understandings of
language, mind and culture, they can all help to deepen and broaden our
understanding of the mysterious process of human meaning production and
language learning.

B. What is language?
**Linguistics defines language as the rule governed process of
These rules form a system.
This system is largely unconscious.
This unconscious has some kind of structure.
Meaning/signification is the result of this unconscious knowledge.
However, meaning also depends on context of use- meaning culture.
So language and culture are deeply connected.

C. Language Theories

-Structural linguistics: Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913):
*The father of modern (structural) linguistics.
Also called semiotics- the study of how language produces meaning from
unconscious structures: signs/symbols.

Language is a system links thought with sound.
But these sounds are part of an unconscious system: there is some
underlying form or structure behind them.
Each language is a kind of code which is arbitrary--- every culture has a
different linguistic code.
Communication is possible because members of the culture all share that
code, deep in the unconscious mind.
Human concepts are only possible by using signsi.e., no language, no
real thinking. Language is a vehicle for thought.

-Pragmatics/ speech act theory/ discourse analysis/ sociolinguistics:
Linguistic meaning is there, not because we share the same language
but because we share the same contextual knowledge, i.e., culture.

Pragmatics: C.S. Pierce (1839-1914)
Pragmatics studies the relationship between language use and user in
situational contexts.
Culture is created and acted out through dialogue.
Context: includes speakers intentions, assumption, and beliefs.

o Speech act theorypart of pragmatics- the view of language as social actions


C. Ludwig Wittgenstein (188901951): language philosopher

Language is used as part of human activity; meaning cannot be
separated from that activity.
The meaning of language depends on how people use the language.
Meaning is not fixed but depends on the situation, the context.
Language is a cultural act.depends on culture, and expresses
cultural rules.

D. Noam Chomsky (1928-- )

Children are born with grammatical knowledge in their brains (innate). This
innate knowledge is called Universal Grammar.
There is deep structure and surface structure.
Learned grammar (transformational grammar) translates these deep
structures into actual sentences.
This theory completely destroyed behaviorist theories of language: language
learning is not about memorizing words or language rules, but about
actualizing language structures deep in the mind.

E. Anthropological linguistics/cognitive linguistics : Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis and beyond

The categories with which we understand the world come from our
particular language. In other words, our language shapes the way we
see the world.
Language = culture.they are basically the same.
Learning a language is also learning to think, not just learning to talk.


F. Metaphor: Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors We Live By)
o Connects with Wittgenstein and Sapir-Whorf: language reflects a conceptual
o Ordinary language is highly metaphorical.
o Thought is highly metaphorical.
o Metaphor is a mental process.
o These metaphors structure the way we see and understand the world (our
perceptions). It is basically unconscious.
o Important cultural values are expressed through metaphors--- and indeed
come from metaphorical structures.

[Connotation- ]: connotative meaning is the real meaning.
There is usually no direct experience of the worldsocial life takes place
through a screen of language, linguistic concepts (metaphors). a vast background
of cultural presuppositions.
The human mind tends towards categorization.We automatically classify
an experience according to concepts we have in our unconscious mind.

Part II. The Natural Approach to Language Learning:
Stephen Krashens theory of language acquisition


There are many different theories about second language acquisition,
and many different methods for teaching a foreign language. A teacher
should probably choose the method and approach which they feel most
comfortable with.

There are many different kinds of students with many different levels
and aptitudes, so teachers should be creative and experiment with many
different methods.

However, the Natural Approach developed by Stephen Krashen is a very
effective approach because it truly understands the way the human processes
language and language acquisition.

The Natural Approach
Formal learning of grammar rules or memorizing words does not give the
student the ability to use the language flexibly and naturally. It does not lead to
communicative competence.
Krashen believes that the best way to learn a foreign language is not
through formal study of vocabulary and grammar rules, but through a natural
approach which emphasizes listening.
Conscious learning of rules and word meaning, as in the grammar translation
method, is not effective for developing good communication skills. Why? .because
linguistic communication is primarily unconscious.

Therefore we need to develop a method which will help the student
internalize into their unconscious mind (deep level) all the various linguistic
features of language phonological rules, grammar, vocabulary, usage, pragmatic
and socio-linguistic rules, and nonverbal meanings.

Many people say that English ability of the Japanese people is poor because
they are shy, but this is not true. (Even shy people can learn to speak a language
well). The reason that Japanese English ability is poor is mainly because the
teaching method is very unnatural: it is based on conscious learning of rules and
memorization of words rather than deep acquisition which will allow students to
use language naturally in various situations.

Krashen suggests a better way to teach languageone which is interesting,
enjoyable, and has less stress and more satisfaction.

What is the Natural Approach?
The method of the Natural Approach tries to teach language in the same
way that children learn their first language:
1. Lots of comprehensible input (listening).
2. Little pressure to produce perfect sentences.

In other words, lots of interesting input/listening is good. Lots of pressure to
give the right or correct answer is bad!

Language learning should be fun, enjoyable and interesting, without a lot of
anxiety and worry.

Krashens Theory of Language Acquisition

1. The Acquisition vs. Learning Hypothesis
Conscious learning is slow and doesnt go very deep. Real language
acquisition is a process where language structures are learned on a deep
unconscious level, so that when its time to use them, they can be produced easily
and naturally (appropriately).
Immersion is the best method for real language acquisition. Why? Because there
is the deep unconscious internalization of language rules (grammar, pragmatic
rules, phonological rules.everything!!!)

2. The Input Hypothesis
Children learn their first language naturally, through listening, not through
formal study. Second language learning should try to follow this style as much as
possible, too. For the Natural Approach, listening is the most important skill, and
all other skills follow from this.
Students need to be given lots of comprehensible input, i.e., listening which
is just a little bit difficult, but understandable from the context.

Just like with babies, with language learners there is a silent period where
the unconscious mind is processing the new language before it can be used naturally.

3. The Affective Filter Hypothesis
When there is a lot of anxiety, the language input cannot go deeply into the
mind. Motivation, self-confidence, and relaxation are helpful for internalizing a new
language. Therefore, it is very important for the teacher to create a learning
environment which is low pressure, interesting and fun.

4. The Monitor Hypothesis
Conscious (formal) learning from a book or lecture takes time to focus on the
form and rules of language. During this time a conscious editor in the mind
(Monitor) is always checking and concerned with correctness. This internal editor
often interferes with language acquisition.

5. The Natural Order Hypothesis
The acquisition of grammatical structures happens in order, from simple to
more complex.

Principle: Interesting input results in better learning/acquisition

Classroom stress should be minimized.
Interesting and high quality material should be presented to the
There must be listening practice every day (input) - CDs, computer
software, online learning, radio shows, T.V. and etc. are all good
but EVERY DAY. (Just as one can never be a good pianist by
studying once a week, one will never be good a language studying a
few hours a week).