Re: [xmca] Evidence of a Critical Period for the Acquisition of SkiingEquipment

From: Mark (
Date: Sat Mar 10 2007 - 02:05:24 PST

Dear David,

It seems for every case for something there is a case against something. You
could discuss the widespread failure of foreigners in Japan to learn
Japanese, you could look also at the successes. You could also discuss the
failures of immigrants in America who fail to learn the English language...
what is it? What causes us not to learn the language we are living in?

In the article you provided the reference to, yes, I have read it and I do
agree, as I mentioned in my last letter as well.
Vygotsky and Krashen are different. There is no doubt about it. I argued
that in a previous essay and will argue it again in furture essays,
although, by now it is more obvious and really doesn't need to be argued.

My point is different. Maybe the way you teach English in Korea is
different, but here Japan, we teach the PPP way. It is so engrained in every
textbook and in classrooms across the country that it will take my lifetime
and many more probably to rectify it. But again, washback is washback and
PPP will always be around as long as there is a need for it.

Krashen is from the outside, he doesn't take into account any ZPD and
certainly he doesn't allow for child centered learning. PPP doesn't allow
for interlanguage either and Krashen's i+1 is so similar to the PPP approach
that well, regardless of the lesson, and whether the student has acquired
the language or not, we turn the page and move on. So much or accuracy of
the i+1 or even whether the student has acquired the English becuase they
understood it, or whether it was relevant, it still is teacher centered.

Vygotsky is child-centered, I don't need to go on.

But as I pointed out in my last letter where does the lesson material come
from? Who decides what is going to be 'taught' before walking into a
classroom? Obviously in a teacher-centered classroom as we face here in
Japan, the teacher would be the obvious answer. So how does the teacher
decide this lesson? Based on a PPP approach or better yet, an i+1 approach,
which makes sense, since the teacher is probably closest to knowing what the
i in the i+1 is and what the 1 should be.
This is where Krashen sits in every classroom. From the teacher point of
view. The teacher can be insightful and assist the student through their
ZPD's but without knowing what the student will or will not be able to do,
with or without someone's help, is unbeknownst to even the student. One
could assume that if simple present is understood, then simple past regular
verbs would be the next step. But the student may have no concept of that
even with the help of the teacher.

So from that point of view the language would seem to be 'incomprehensible'
and not be acquired. It's not the teacher's fault, the student isn't ready
for it yet. As mentioned the last time, the student will be able to distance
their zone, if the language being presented to them is at that level.
Nation's four strands can be compared to the comprehensible input
hypothesis, In Nation's first strand, the learner can learn new words or
understand new vocabulary if 95% of the vocab is already understood. Is that
5% = to '1'?
So when I was making my point about Krashen being on the wrong side of the
fence, what I meant, was this: he didn't take into account that the ZPD
existed. He assumed and placed all the burden on the teacher. He didn't
identify what the '1' was either. But that is the same as a teacher assuming
that through this lesson the student will be able to distance their zone in
their ZPD, but we don't know how large the zone is either. We don't know how
much help will be needed, or how little help will be needed either. Nation
doesn't cite Vygotsky either. Nobody seems to think that Vygotsky is
important to how English is taught. Vygotsky seems to be all alone in his
child-centered world, and everyone else seems to want to open up student
heads and pour English in regardless of level.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that everyone (I use this term loosely)
seems to want to believe that language acquisition occurs from the outside.
It doesn't. It occurs from the inside and whether the ZPD of someone is too
large to distance (as I would be in the case of astrophysics) or there is no
ZPD whatsoever in something so easy to understand, that it requires no
explanation whatsoever, and in the case of SLA, the acquisition is only
going to occur if 1. the student can work through it and 2. interlanguage is
allowed to occur. Krashen didn't take into account social interaction
either. No one does. Even Ellis in his Task Based Language learning, doesn't
take into account social interaction and Swan in his Legislation by
Hypothesis article denounces TBL altogether, obliterating any hope for
Vygotsky to bud in methodology. We all like terms like communication, yet,
the methodology that results is only to get students to talk, and the lesson
is not about acquisition at all.

So as I brought Krashen into it, he and Vygotsky in the same classroom,
maybe Krashen could have learned something and maybe he might have come to
the child-centered side seeing that comprehensible input could be the ZPD on
that point only. I agree and will say again, the i+1 concept and ZPD are
different in every way, yet in being so different, they are polar opposites.

And as you point out, the American brand of SLA doesn't have much to offer
us here in Asia. As I mentioned before too, yes methodology plays a large
role and regardless of whoever won whatever war, acquisition and focus on
methodology will remain as is. Without recognizing the reasons why English
is studied, methodology or approach will be mute points.

Whether you eat American oranges or not, they are still being imported yes?
Therefore there is a market for them. Just like there is a market for those
Krashen followers or for even those who believed in the Silent Way. And for
those who hold on to Grammar Translation for dear life. That is a point I
was trying to make.

The more I study about TEFL/TESL, the more I am placed in the gray zone
until I can find my own niche and emerge with something I can believe in. I
can believe in Vygotsky and the ZPD so the way out of the gray is to find a
way to bring Vygotsky and SLA into unison. And I believe it is through
methodology. Which was the other point I was trying to make.



--- Original Message -----
From: "David Kellogg" <>
To: "xcma" <>
Sent: Saturday, March 10, 2007 8:58 AM
Subject: [xmca] Evidence of a Critical Period for the Acquisition of

Dear Mark:

  As you probably know, one of the very first researchers to even mention
the word "social" in second language acquisition research was Schumann, who
studied the apparent failure of a Costa Rican laborer, Alberto, to acquire
English despite an "input rich" environment in New York.

  This was closely followed up by Schmidt, who studied the (in his view)
similar (but in my eyes ENTIRELY dissimilar) inability of a Japanese painter
in Hawaii called Wes. (Actually, Wes, being a modern artist, was simply not
very interested in English indefinite articles.)

  But nobody to my knowledge has really looked at the widespread failure of
American, Canadian, and British teachers of English living in Japan to
acquire the Japanese language, despite the daily provision of comprehensible
input. I suppose there may be a solid body of research on this in Japanese,
with a lively debate about whether it should be attributed to differences in
intelligence or affective factors or simple unwillingness to assimilate. But
perhaps I project.

  As for the other things you mention, I¡¯m afraid you¡¯ve already HEARD
what meagre thoughts I have. I don¡¯t actually understand what you mean when
you say things like ¡°You can¡¯t dispel Krashen (why not?); he¡¯s needed (by
whom?), he just didn¡¯t take the right side of the fence (what fence?)¡± As
I tried to make clear, I don¡¯t think the American brand of applied
linguistics and second language acquisition has much to offer us in Asia. I
don't even eat Florida oranges, which are currently being dumped on the
fruit market here.

  I have, however, consumed far more Krashen than I ever wanted to. I've
also been to hear him give the same talks again and again. By doing this I
have discovered that Krashen is one of those people you really only have to
hear once every thirty years, because he never changes his mind or
¡°acquires¡± any of the ¡°input¡± there is against his hypothesis.

  There is certainly plenty to read on why Krashen and Vygotsky won¡¯t sit
in the same room. You might start here:

  Dunn, W. and J. Lantolf (1998) ¡®i + 1¡¯ and the ZPD: Incommensurable
constructs; incommensurable discourses¡¯ Language Learning 48: 411-42.

  There are also good reasons why I personally wouldn¡¯t put them in the
same room. First of all, Krashen¡¯s a strict computationalist: that¡¯s what
¡°comprehensible input¡± means. Secondly, he thinks that learner production
plays no role in "acquisition", which is not only anti-Vygotskyan, it¡¯s an
offense against teacher good sense. Thirdly, and most importantly, there is
the point I was trying to make in my last letter: Krashen, like ALL Western
¡°second language acquisition¡± ideologues, condemns children (and even
adults) to starting all over, and does not recognize that a new language is
built on the semantic system of the old.

  Yes, I read Scollon and White and a lot of other things about the Critical
Period hypothesis (Lenneberg, for example, and more recently David
Lagabaster), but I think the whole Critical Period hypothesis was nothing
but an adultomorphic (mis)understanding of how big a child-sized language
really is. You notice NOBODY discusses whether or not there is a critical
period for the acquisition of literacy. I wonder why not? It is a subject
that my mother in law, who learnt to read in her late twenties, would be
very interested in reading about.

  Or how about skiing? About two weeks ago we had our graduate school
retreat, which was held in a ski resort in the mountains near the DMZ. The
lifts were open all night so after the grads finished their presentations
and repaired to a karaoke, I hit the slopes.

  From the lift, I could usually tell well enough who had learnt to ski as a
child and who had not. Yes, it usually had something to do with how well
they skied, but not always (I learnt as a child, for example, and I am a
poor skier).

  The native-skiiers (child learners) were extremely fluent; they had a
style developed from basically schuss-booming the fall line: going down the
slope in a line parallel to the edge of the slope, legs spread wide apart to
keep from falling one way or the other, and paying almost no attention to
how fast they were going. If they were skilled, they had refined this into a
graceful f or s curve, but they were still skiing the fall line.

  The non-native skiiers (adult-learners) were more concerned with accuracy;
they had a style developed from traversing the fall line: going across the
slope in a line perpendicular to the edge of the slope, skis close together,
and kept closely together in neat turns, paying careful attention to speed,
balance and hexis. If they were skilled they did this at great speed and
with considerable aplomb, but they were still skiing across the slope rather
than down it.

   It occurred to me that this was quite consistent with how Vygotsky
differentiates between native language learning and foreign language
learning (a point which I made at some length, apparently to no great
effect, in my last letter). In the native language, the child acts first,
and analyzes much later. But foreign language learning commences from the
highest point of development of the native language, and this allows
children to focus on accuracy and analysis from the outset.

  Naturally, this way of learning a language has strengths and it has
weaknesses, as Vygotsky said. But a view of language learning which says
that the strengths of this type of learning are worthless and the weaknesses
are extremely desirable is rather suspicious, isn¡¯t it? Mightn¡¯t it be
part of a marketing strategy for flooding East Asia with untrained ¡°native
speakers¡± of English? Mightn¡¯t it be part of overwheening American
arrogance (and associated ignorance) in other fields of intellectual

  I do not accept that Confucius and Vygotsky are incompatible; quite the
contrary. I think that Confucius' belief that the self is not autonomous,
but can be explained as a network of social relations is in some ways a
direct ancestor of the Vygotskyan concept. I also don¡¯t agree with your
essentialist view of how teaching is carried out in Asia; this is really the
sort of thing that I was criticizing Lantolf for uncritically adopting from

  Let¡¯s assume that you and Geneung are right, however. After all, she is a
colonel in the US Army, and as we know, they never make mistakes. The same
question that I raised with respect to the Russians arises: Why are there so
many more successful Japanese learners of English than American learners of

  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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