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Sarah Ruff

Article Critique

The article I am critiquing is called “Features of Input of Second Language

Acquisition” from the Journal of Language Teaching and Research. It deals

primarily with the classifications of input in the classroom and what type is most

helpful to an English language learner. The article then discusses the “optimal

input” defined by Krashen and how it is compared with first language acquisition.

In this paper I will first present a general summary of the article. I will then

analyze the article in relation to the quality and value of the information

presented. I will discuss whether I agree or disagree with the main points and

finish by presenting ways in which this article can be applied to the classroom.

The article begins by defining the features of input. The general term

“input” is said to include a variety of student and teacher characteristics, including

but not limited to intelligence, sex, personality, learning or teaching style,

previous experience, motivation, attitudes, etc (Wang, p. 282). However, this

article in particular narrows down the term to refer simply to general learning or

teaching style. This is particularly important to English learners in China, who are

likely to depend almost entirely on classroom learning to improve their English.

Most of them are only exposed to English in the classroom, and therefore only

hear what is called “Teacher talk”. The article notes that the characteristics of this

include very short, simple, grammatically correct sentences and general, high

frequency vocabulary (p. 282). Teachers ask many unreal, irrelevant questions
that produce answers previously learned. The teachers do most of the talking,

and the topics tend to be uninteresting. As a result, the English language

learners have very little chance to experiment with the structures they have

learned and therefore their motivation for learning can be affected very negatively

(p. 282).

Wang continues by addressing what “Optimal Input” should consist of in

order to better help students learning English. She references Krashen, who

states that optimal input should be “comprehensible, interesting and/or relevant,

not be grammatically sequenced, (and) be in sufficient quantity” (p. 283). She

argues that if students are exposed to input with these features, they will be more

likely to learn English competently. So, input should be comprehensible- this

means that the material should be reasonably paced and not too demanding.

The input should be interesting, that is, the students should have material

available to them that is not strictly textbook. Most of the textbooks available to

Chinese students are designed to cater solely to the needs and taste of

examinations (p. 283). This is turn points to the need for sufficient quantity of

input. This is the main concern of Kashen’s optimal input hypothesis since the big

difference between foreign language learning in the native tongue environment

and in the target language environment lies in the amount of input available to

the learner (p. 283).If an English language learner is in their native country, they

may only have their textbook to rely on. It is important to provide students with

material they can derive meaning from rather than just grammatical concepts.

Wang notes one more characteristic of optimal input, that of authenticity.


She notes that students learning English in an English-speaking country will be

exposed to authentic speech patterns, whereas students in their native country

will not (p. 284). It is important for them to learn more than just “textbook

English”. She also points out that textbooks tend to simplify material both lexically

and syntactically, which causes the text to lose authenticity, which causes loss of

cultural meaning (p. 284). She states that, “in a word, simplification is often

achieved at the expense of authenticity” (p. 284).

There were not many statistics or specific research results given in this

article, so I cannot be certain of how completely valid the arguments are. They

seem both factual and logical. The writer, Xiaoru Wang, is a professor of Foreign

Language in China, and therefore has plenty of experience with English

language learners. Because of this I believe her to be a valid source for this

information. She also references studies done concerning exposure and

comprehension in the classroom done by Snow in 1977 and Carroll in 1990 (p.

283) and uses it to support her conclusion. I do find the information presented in

this article to be highly valuable for a teacher of English as a second language.

Wang points out many problems in the classroom and ideas on how to amend

them; a teacher of any subject could take this information and apply it to their

instructional methods.

I agree with most of the information presented in this article. Being a

language instructor myself, I know what “teacher talk” is. It is very easy to get

caught up in strictly grammatical instruction without taking the time to make the

material applicable to everyday life. This is particularly relevant to me as a


teacher because I teach Latin, and my students will never be in an environment

where Latin is spoken around them (cf. Chinese students learning English in

China). If I neglect to make the language relevant and interesting to my students,

there will be few chances for my students to “obtain tangible proof of their

progress” (p. 282). Wang’s section on authenticity also stood out to me, as I

know from experience that teaching solely from a textbook can limit the

knowledge of authentic language. For example, teaching a student simple

sentences in Latin which demonstrate grammatical concepts will not help them

read colloquial Latin literature.

Wang’s conclusion that employing the features of optimal input will result

in more effective teaching seems valid and I certainly agree with her proposed

techniques. Many of these techniques can be applied directly in the classroom.

For example, Wang stresses the need for “relevant topics within the classroom”

(p. 282). This can simply mean discussing in English the learners themselves-

their appearances, family life, likes and dislikes. It is also relevant to discuss their

immediate environment, like the classroom. Wang also suggests devising

language activities that will enable learners to “see clearly the relationships

between forms and meanings” (p. 283). This can include using hands-on

activities, or any type of activity that demands they use spoken or written forms of

the language in order to achieve a certain goal. Most importantly, teaching both

formal and informal English will help students truly grasp the language. I think a

good way to present this would be giving students a handout with a formal

dialogue printed on it and then bringing in another native English speaker and
“performing” the same dialogue informally. The teacher could then lead a

discussion with the students to point out the differences between the formal and

informal conversation. Speaking with the students out of the textbook context will

help them develop the skills they need to communicate in an English-speaking

environment. Thus I believe that out of all the points made in this article, the need

for authenticity is the most important and most applicable in the classroom.

SOURCE

Wang, Xiaoru (2010). Features of Input of Second Language Acquisition. Journal

Of Language Teaching And Research, 1(3). Retrieved July 5, 2010, from

http://www.academypublisher.com/ojs/index.php/jltr/article/view/01032822

84/1813