Long before Krashen it was understood that languages are best learned through input.

Krashen’s ideas about the primacy of input and reading are not new, according to this fascinating article, that should be the subject of ongoing discussion. Here are a few choice paragraphs.

John Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1692), wrote: ???How . . . is it possible that a child should be chained to the oar, seven, eight, or ten of the best years of his life, to get a language or two, which, I think, might be had at a great deal cheaper rate of pains and time, and be learned almost in playing????

By the early 19th century an obscure, peripatetic businessman by the name of James Hamilton had the following to say;

???Mankind are thirsty for real knowledge and will not long put up with the shadow of it. Either the teacher will find out a mode of communicating a knowledge of the learned languages in a shorter time and more efficaciously than has been hitherto done, or the study of these languages will be relinquished altogether.???

???Reading,??? he writes, ???is the only real, the only effectual source of instruction. It is the pure spring of nine-tenths of our intellectual enjoyments. . . . Neither should it be sacrificed to grammar or composition, nor to getting by heart any thing whatever, because these are utterly unobtainable before we have read a great deal.???

Hamilton goes on, ???As reading is the source of all real instruction, so it is also the sole, the only means by which the words of a language can be acquired. . . . The man who has not learned to read knows only those words which he has learned in conversation; his vocabulary is smaller than can well be imagined.??? Nevertheless, Hamilton did not oppose the study of grammar, only its timing. ???The theory of grammar should be taught only when the pupil can read the language, and understand at least an easy book in it,??? Hamilton wrote, in agreement with Locke. Contemporary corpora studies have also identified vocabulary recognition as the main variable in reading success.

Hamilton’s method is one of the historical ancestors of LingQ. Check out our new Blue Popup which offers instant information about the words we are reading. It makes difficult texts even more accessible.

One thought on “Long before Krashen it was understood that languages are best learned through input.

  1. Hello,Steve.Thanks for your passion towards language learning,I m sure lots of people can benefit from your work! I once left a comment on your blog asking about reading.And this time,I really do have something to say about it,I hope you can give your views on it.I dont see the value of reading test in assessing your language ability,because it lacks validity.First,reading depends on your prior knowledge.When you understand the relationship between words,you gotta have known something about them.So when a comprehension test is given to students,some may have knowledge about the content of the passage,and they can score high easily,but not because of their reading ability.No matter which passage that the teachers choose,this situation cant be avoided! When it comes to practise,when language teachers and linguists like you, are asked about the tips for better reading skills and scoring high in those reading tests,the answer would probably be "read a lot","read different books",etc.So I just cant help but wonder : is it just about expanding your knowledge,but not reading skills?The ability of reading helps in acquiring other fields of knowledge,so other academic tests of diffenrent subjects should somehow have assessed the ability of reading,so here s some overlaping area.Second,reading is actually a communication skill which has been included in other papers of assessing th language ability,like speaking and writing and listening.When you are reading,you have to know what the underlying message that the author wants to say.When you are talking to the others,it requires the same ability too,so here s some overlaping area too.Reading is not a skill in language,it s a communication skill backed up by piror knowledge.so reading tests should not be part of the assessment of the language ability.Reading tests are just testing students’ piror knowledge and communication skills.Well,communication skills are backed up by piror knowledge too.So simply,theres no such a thing as reading skill,it s just a communication skills,so whats the point of assessing it??

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