Monday, May 18, 2015

A controversy that is easily settled: Native speaker teachers of English

A controversy that is easily settled: Native speaker teachers of English
Stephen Krashen

The requirements

I think it is obvious that a competent second language teacher should meet the following requirements:
  1. a knowledge of how language is acquired.
  2. a knowledge of pedagogy (e.g. if the Comprehension Hypothesis is correct, this means familiarity with TPRS, sheltered subject matter teaching, and popular literature of interest to second language students)
  3. a high level of competence in the second language.

The point of stating these three requirements is that number 3 alone is not enough. This runs counter to the practice of hiring native speakers just because they are native speakers.

A misunderstanding over "immersion"

I tried to make the three points presented above in a letter published in the South China Morning Post (June 19, 2014), in which I stated:  "Local teachers who can help students find comprehensible and interesting listening and reading material, and who can teach them about the process of second language acquisition are far preferable to native speakers whose only advantage is an accent."

In my view, my letter should have been greeted warmly by native speakers of English teaching in Hong Kong (the NET group). It highlighted the necessity of understanding language acquisition and pedagogy, of professionalism, not just being a native speaker. (1)

Instead, the letter resulted in a storm of protest from native speaker English teachers in Hong Kong, accusing me of seeking to "end the NET scheme." (NET = Native English Teachers)

The problem, in my opinion, was the headline/leader to my letter, which was written by the editorial staff of the newspaper: Students need immersion, not NET. The headline was unfortunate for two reasons:  
  1. "Immersion" is an ambiguous word with two totally opposite meanings: For language education professionals, it means content-based or sheltered subject matter teaching, discussed earlier, and is consistent with the Comprehension Hypothesis. But for civilians, non language-educators, it means "submersion," doing nothing, simply plunging the language acquirer into a second language environment full of mostly incomprehensible input.  This is, of course, inconsistent with the Comprehension Hypothesis. I suggest that professionals stop using this term.
  2. I did not say "not NET." I said that being a native speaker of English alone is not enough. The other two requirements are very important. In a subsequent letter (July 5, 2014) I stated: "we should not prefer native speakers only because they are native speakers.  A qualified local English teacher who understands pedagogy is preferable to a non-qualified native speaker." I also pointed out the confusion caused by the headline. But the headline to this letter was also confusing: "Qualified local teachers preferable." I asked the editor to change this to "Qualified local teachers preferable to unqualifed native speakers of English." The editor declined to make this change. 

All things equal, should we prefer a native speaker because of accent? Is having a native accent really an advantage?  I think not, if the local teacher speaks English extremely well.
In fact, it is not clear that students automatically pick up the accent of their teacher: sociolinguistic studies indicate that we get our accents from our peers, not our teachers. Our accents represent the "club" we have joined or want to join  (Beebe, 1985).   Students may want to be associated with models other than the teacher.

1.     Lei and Li (2015) reported that science graduate students in China rated native English speaker teachers more highly than non-native speaker English teachers in requirement (3), English proficiency, which is no surprise. They rated non-native speaking teachers more highly, however, in requirement (2), pedagogical skills. Native speakers were rated more highly in classroom management, These results show where each group can improve: Native speakers can easily inform themselves about language acquisition, and take steps to improve their pedagogy. Non-native speakers can improve in English, and current findings show a clear and easy way to do this: through extensive pleasure reading.

Beebe, L. 1985. Input: Choosing the right stuff. In Gass, S. and Madden. C. (Eds.) Input in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Newbury House. pp. 404-414.
Lei, Hong and Yuyuan, Li.  2015.  Chinese non-English major graduate's perceptions toward native and non-native English speaking teachers. Paper presented at SHU 2015 TESOL International Conference,Shanguhai University, May 16, 2015.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Don't require advanced algebra for college admission

Published in the Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2015, with heading “LAUSD's college-prep curriculum: Does it help or hurt?”

Re: "Do we need college prep?" May 10

I am a "good math learner." I was an enthusiastic student in AP calculus in high school and I use advanced algebra and statistics in my work a great deal.  But the Times statement, "Not everybody needs advanced algebra," is correct.

Research by Michael Handel, reported in The Atlantic in 2013, shows that only about 9% of all jobs demand any algebra beyond the first year.

Advanced math should be offered in high school, but it should not be required for college admission. Those who later discover a need or desire for it are free to study advanced algebra any time in their lives.

Stephen Krashen

original editorial:
This letter:

Friday, May 8, 2015

The value of libraries

Published in the NY Daily News, May11, 2015, with the title "Carnegie was right."

Re: New York City libraries take  $10M hit in de Blasio's 2016 budget.  May 8.

"When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself."  Isaac Asimov.

I wonder if Mayor de Blasio is aware that research over the last three decades has repeatedly shown that libraries have tremendous value for school-age children: Children who live in states that provide more access to reading material through public and school libraries do better on standardized tests of reading. 

Libraries are especially important for children of poverty: The school library and the public library (especially during the summer) are often their only source of books. 

We complain about our children's reading levels, but fail to provide the means for improving it.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article:
This letter:

Not included in published letter -
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited.  (second edition)
Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36.
Lance, K. 2004. The impact of school library media centers on academic achievement. In C. Kuhlthau (Ed.), School Library Media Annual. (pp. 188-197). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
McQuillan, J. 1998. The Literacy Crisis: False Claims and Real Solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing Company.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Should kids get time to read for pleasure during school? (Part 2)

(For part one, please see

Prof. Willingham accepts Kamil (2008) as a definitive study showing that  (1) recreational reading/sustained silent reading (SSR) alone doesn't work, and (2)  with extra instruction it does.

But Kamil's version of SSR is bizarre:  In his first study, the treatment was not pure SSR, but used a variety of incentives: rewards for reading a certain amount (pencils, books, t-shirts, public recognition via names on a public list of heavy readers, and certificates and medals at an award ceremony.  There is no evidence that providing incentives is helpful (eg Krashen, 2003) and there is some reason to believe it can be harmful: Kohn  (1999) reviews the research on rewards, and concludes that when we provide rewards for an activity that is already pleasant, it sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. These kinds of rewards can thus extinguish the behavior. There is no long-term research on the effects of rewards on recreational reading.

Kamil gives no information about the comparison group, and provides no details about the results, other than telling us that SSR didn't work. No means, standard deviations or the results of statistical tests are provided.

Willingham notes that in Kamil's second study, SSR worked because the texts were more challenging (nonfiction) and students received some instruction. We are not given any details about the books, nor any information about the kind of instruction the students received, other than it was designed to help students understand informational texts. A second group who also read challenging books with no instruction did not show improvement. 

The results of this study suggest only that when students are given difficult texts, they do better with some help. They do not address the question of whether reading comprehensible and interesting texts is good for literacy development. Also, once again, means, standard deviations and the actual results of statistical tests were not presented. We are only told that the researchers used multiple regression.

In other words, Prof. Willingham has gathered support for his position from two very questionable studies.

Kamil, M. (2008). How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement. In Y. Kim, V. J. Risko, D. L. Compton, D. K. Dickinson, M. K. Hundley, R. T. Jiménez, & D. Well Rowe (Eds.), 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 31–40). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.
Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Second Edition.
Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of
accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29 (2), 9,16-30.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Should kids get time to read for pleasure during school? YES.

Comment posted in response to:  Daniel Willingham, "Should kids get time to read for pleasure during school?"
Posted at:

Prof. Willingham appears to accept the conclusions of the National Reading Panel. In short, the panel missed many many studies, and misreported several others. In my first response to the panel, cited by Prof. Willingham (Kappan, 2001), I reported that sustained silent reading (SSR) was as effective or more effective than comparison groups in 50 out of 53 published comparisons, and in long-term studies, SSR was a consistent winner. Since then, quite a few more studies have been published supporting SSR in first and second language education.

Responses to the National Reading Panel:
Krashen, S. 2001. More smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel Report on fluency. Phi Delta Kappan 83(2): 119-123.
Krashen, S. 2005. Is In-School Free Reading Good for Children? Why the National Reading Panel Report is (Still) Wrong. Phi Delta Kappan 86(6): 444-447.

More recent reviews of SSR research:
Nakanishi, T. 2014. A meta-analysis of extensive reading research. TESOL Quarterly 49(1), 6-37.
Cho, K.S. and Krashen, S. 2015. The cure for English fever? Stories and self-selected reading in English.  KAERA Research Forum 1(4): 41-47. Available at: ttp://
Krashen, S. 2007. Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 3 (2), 23-29.

When SSR works, when it doesn't work:
Krashen, S. 2011. Nonengagement in sustained silent reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal 22: 5-10. Available at: ttp:// (scroll down)