Posted: 17 Jan 2020

Getting a taste for the language

[TRANSCRIPTION] 01 Hello and welcome to this first episode of the UpYourEnglish podcast. Thank you for being with me today, I’m very glad you’re listening and this initial episode. So to begin, I’m going to introduce the idea of this podcast. It’s simply for people who are learning English and don’t find anything interesting to listen to.  There are several profiles of people who are learning English, for example beginners. For beginners, there are lots of exercises on the internet, books, etc. And for people who already have an advanced level, they can simply read, watch, listen to all the English media because they are, well, understanding them very well. But in between, there are people who have an intermediate level and who can’t yet understand traditional English media because it’s a bit too complicated. People speak too fast for example. They have a vocabulary with words that are a little complicated.

02 So what I want to do with the Up Your English podcast is to help you learn English, not with grammar but by listening to interesting things on different subjects. For example, I’m going to talk about technology, society, culture, in the UK but also about other countries, all the things that interest me and that maybe will interest you too.

03 I’m going to tell you a few words about myself, I’m going to introduce myself, as this is the first podcast. My name is Paul, I’m a teacher in France, in Paris, which I’ve been doing for several years. As I told you, I’m making this podcast especially for people who are learning English and who have an intermediate level, I would say. If you listen to this podcast, you will be able to understand more and more things.

04 Then, the first time you listen, it’s normal not to understand everything. Ideally you have to listen twice, three times, maybe even four times. And the more you listen, the more you understand, it makes sense. And if ever there are words or excerpts that you cannot understand, you can use the transcript of this podcast. The transcript of this podcast can be found on the website

05 Today we’re going to talk about languages. How do you learn a language? [00:03:25] To start with, you have to distinguish between a mother tongue and a foreign language. You only have one mother tongue. You only have one mother tongue. It’s the language you learn as a child. You need this language simply to speak with your parents, with your friends, to communicate, to convey messages. Foreign languages are other languages. Usually you learn foreign languages at school. For example, in France, children learn English, German, Spanish and Italian.

06 How do you learn these foreign languages? Usually there is a teacher, and this teacher tries to transmit, to explain, how the language works. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work very well, unfortunately. So, of course, nowadays there are many different methods to learn a foreign language. You can learn it at school but you can also have a private teacher, you can try to learn by yourself, independently, you can use applications, books, podcasts, videos etc. etc. Now there are many ways to learn a language.

07 But today, we’re not really going to talk about the different methods, we’re going to talk about a theory. And when we talk about the theory of language learning, there is one person who is really very important and very interesting, and that is Professor Stephen Krashen. He works at the University of Southern California, USC, and he is a specialist in the theories of language learning. Learning a language means learning a foreign language.

08 Why is Professor Stephen Krashen very important? Because, in the 1980s he published several books and several articles that have greatly influenced the way languages are taught in schools, colleges, high schools and universities. So we are going to talk about this teacher’s theory and, thanks to this theory, you will be able to progress more quickly in English and learn French in a more natural way.  00:06:21] You should also know that I created this podcast using the theories of Professor Stephen Krashen. So, it will allow you to better understand why I made this podcast and how this podcast can help you learn English. Are you ready? Then let’s get started!

09 To understand Stephen Krashen’s theory, there are five hypotheses. The first hypothesis is a central, very, very, very important one. In the first hypothesis, Stephen Krashen says that we must differentiate, make the difference, between acquisition and learning. So acquisition, what does that mean? Acquisition is a noun that comes from the verb to acquire. To acquire something means to get something. For example, if you buy a phone, you acquire that phone, it’s yours. What does it mean to acquire a language? Acquiring a language is when you are a child and naturally, unconsciously, you start using a language. Why do you start using that language? Well, because you want to talk to your parents. You’re hungry, you’re cold, you want to sleep, so you have to try to express yourself, to give a message to your parents. That’s the natural way for Professor Stephen Krashen for learning a language. And, for him, it’s the only effective way to use a language.

10 Learning, on the contrary, is something conscious, it’s a conscious process. When you’re at school, you take a English class, for example, and you know you’re learning English. It’s something conscious. For example, you learn the grammar rules to understand how English works, the rules you have to follow to speak English.

11 But, and there is always a but, Stephen Krashen, he thinks that when you learn a language this way at school, when you learn the grammar rules, you can’t use the language to communicate. For example, in English you have to learn all the irregular verbs, and you think that when you know all the irregular verbs, by magic you will be able to speak English. That, of course, doesn’t work very well. So, to summarize this first hypothesis, Stephen Krashen says that we have to learn a language in a more natural way, a bit like children learn their mother tongue.

12 Obviously, there has been a lot of criticism of this first hypothesis. I also don’t completely agree with this first hypothesis. I think you have to know the rules of grammar, but that’s not the priority. First of all, you have to try to communicate, even if you make mistakes, mistakes are not very serious. The important thing is to convey a message, to express yourself and then, when you are able to do that, you can learn the rules so that you can correct yourself and express yourself more clearly. But the priority is to try to express yourself, to try to talk.

13 The second hypothesis is the controller hypothesis. What or who is a controller? It’s a person who controls. For example, especially when you take the Metro here in Paris, there are inspectors who ask you if you have your ticket to travel. The ticket inspector checks that you follow the rules.

14 When you learn a foreign language, when you speak a foreign language, there is a controller in your head. This controller, well, it tries to see if you respect all the rules. That means the rules of grammar, the rules of phonetics. And what is interesting about this controller is that not everyone has the same controller in their head. For example, if you’re a rather extroverted person, that means a person who’s not afraid to talk, who likes to express themselves, then the role of the controller is rather weak. The controller doesn’t have much influence on you. You talk, you talk, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t play by the rules. The controller, it’s almost absent.

15 On the other hand, if you’re introverted, then the controller is very, very present. As soon as you try to talk, you will first think about the rules, think of a perfect way to say something without making any mistakes. Unfortunately, that’s not very good, it’s not a good way to speak a foreign language. To speak a foreign language, you have to make mistakes, you have to try to convey a message. If you don’t try to express yourself, if you don’t make mistakes, you can’t progress. So it’s not very serious to make mistakes, we agree. You shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s normal. Even the people who are the most talented, who have the most talent to speak foreign languages, even these people make mistakes. You’ve noticed. So that’s okay. To summarize this second hypothesis: we need to limit the influence of the controller.

16 Now the third one. Professor Stephen Krashen’s third hypothesis is the natural order of acquisition. Professor Krashen says that every language has a natural order of acquisition. What’s that supposed to mean? It means that each person acquires a language by following the same order. That order, it doesn’t depend on the person, it depends only on the language.  Each language has its own order. For example, in English, prepositions are something quite difficult to learn, to master. You start using them from the beginning, but in general students make a lot of mistakes. It takes a very, very long time to be able to use the prepositions properly. That’s the natural order of a language.

17 Though, I don’t completely agree with this theory either, because I think that, depending on your mother tongue, depending on the language you learned as a child, you’re going to learn a foreign language in a different way. For example, when a Chinese student learns English, they don’t learn it in exactly the same way as when they’re a French student. For French students, there are similarities between English and French, for example, so it’s a little easier to learn certain rules, for example, to use verb tenses.

18 Now the fourth hypothesis. The fourth hypothesis is the input hypothesis. the equivalent of receiving something. So, input is also a very important hypothesis in Krashen’s theory. This hypothesis says that an individual learns a language, a person learns a language, when they tries to understand messages, when they try to understand content. For example, when you read an article, when you watch a video in English and try to understand the message being conveyed.

19 But beware, because if this article is too easy you are not going to learn anything new, you are not going to make any progress. To acquire a language, you have to try to understand things that are a bit too difficult for you, things that are a bit higher than your level, things that are a bit complicated to understand at the beginning. Because, at that point, your brain will make an effort, it will use context, for example, to try to understand the situation. How can your brain understand what it doesn’t yet know? Can it use images, can it understand a word that it hasn’t even heard? It can use images. It can make an an interpretation of that word. That’s why I think it’s more interesting to understand a word with its definition and not with its translation. Well, sometimes it’s impossible, of course. But, ideally, if there is a word you don’t know, look for the definition in English. Because that will require an effort and that effort will allow your brain to work and memorize better, to better retain information.

20 This is Professor Krashen’s fourth hypothesis. You have to try to understand things that are a little too difficult for you. He also says that understanding is more important than expressing yourself. For Professor Krashen, we only make progress, only with understanding. He thinks that using language to speak or to communicate is not the way to make progress. Obviously, I don’t agree with that. I think that using a language to communicate, to write something, to discuss with someone, also allows you to make progress, and it’s very, very important. I’ll talk about that a little bit later.

21 And finally, the last hypothesis. The fifth hypothesis is the affective filter hypothesis. What is a filter? A filter, I’ll use an example to explain. In a Google search. In a Google search, when you get the results of the search you can filter the results to show only news, images or videos. So a filter is something that allows you to retain, to keep certain things, and to let other things pass through. So what is this affective filter? It’s something that has to do with feelings, emotions, it comes from “affection”. So an affective filter means that when you feel positive or negative emotions, it has an influence on your language acquisition. For example, if you are highly motivated, if you have selfconfidence, you are in a better state of mind to understand a language, it’s easier. You think you are capable of doing it, so it becomes easier to understand that language.

22 On the other hand, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, if you think you can’t learn a language, it’s going to be more difficult because the filter in your brain is going to prevent these things, this message for instance, from getting through, from reaching your brain. That’s why, when you learn a language, the atmosphere, the ambience, it’s very, very important. If you are in a calm atmosphere, if you feel good, if you feel confident, it will be easier to learn a language. Again, if you are stressed, if you are sad, if you are afraid to express yourself, your filter, your emotional filter, will block the message and you will not be able to understand anything. That’s why, if you are learning a language with a teacher, it is very important to have a good relationship with this person, to feel confident. If you are afraid of making mistakes because of that person, you are not in a good state of mind to learn the language.

23 The conclusion of all these hypotheses, of this Krashen theory, is that it is not very important to have a great knowledge of grammar in order to be able to use a language. This is something that is a bit counter-intuitive. In France where I live for example, the French are very very very very rational and think you have to know the rules to be able to apply something. For example, for a language, they think that if you don’t learn grammar first, you’ll never be able to speak a language. And from my own experience of learning French I can tell you that is not a good method. I don’t know anyone for whom the grammar-first method has worked.

24 So to acquire a language, you have to use it to understand messages. Every day you have to try to understand something in English: an article, a video, an e-mail, some publicity, anything as long as you try to understand its message. The best methods to learn a foreign language are those that offer a lot of content, for example articles, videos, texts etc. full of interesting content, in a stress-free atmosphere. Avoid trusting a method that focuses on grammar. That doesn’t work. Grammar can help you understand something when there is a message you don’t understand, or a structure you don’t understand. But grammar itself should not be the basis of your learning. Instead, try to understand things, understand videos, understand articles. You have understood that the most important thing is to find things that interest you, things that you will want to read, look at, listen to, etc. If you want to understand something or understand someone, you will make more effort. We’re not going to think “well, now I have to do English” but rather “ah, today, I’m going to read a super interesting article, and this article is in English”.

25 With this podcast, I’m also going to talk to you about different topics. Today I talked about languages, but next time we’ll talk about a completely different subject. And I won’t talk about grammar. I’m just going to just explain, tell you stories that maybe you’ll be interested in, Or at least I hope you’ll be interested in.

26 So there you go, unlike Professor Krashen, I think you also have to use language to express yourself, because, when you use language to express yourself, when you try to communicate, it allows three things: [00:24:59] First of all, it allows you to identify problems. When you see that there’s something that you can’t say, that you can’t express, then you look for a way to do it. And by looking for that way to do it, you are going to, well, learn a new structure. Secondly, it also allows you to check what you’ve learned, to test what you’ve learned. For example, if you’ve learned a new structure or a new expression, and you use it to talk to someone, well, if that person doesn’t understand the structure, it means that it doesn’t work, that you haven’t learned the right structure, that you haven’t learned it sufficiently. Maybe the structure isn’t quite right or that you need to use it in a different way.

27 And the third and last thing that’s very important when you use a language to communicate is that it gives you confidence. And that’s very important for speaking a foreign language. When you gain self-confidence, when you see that you’re able to express yourself, to use that language, it’s very rewarding. And it encourages you to continue, it keeps you motivated, and that’s extremely important. But for that, of course, you need an instructor, you need a person who corrects you, who listens to you, who helps you progress. That’s my job, because I’m a journalist and English facilitator, an English coach. So if you need someone to listen to you, to work with you, to advise you on interesting things to read, or to look at, to listen to, you can visit my site and send me an email. And I will be very happy to help you.

28 That’s it, that’s the end of this podcast so thank you all for listening to me, thank you very much. I’m very happy if you listened to this podcast until the very bitter end. To find the transcript of it, of this episode you can go to my site Next week, in the next episode we will talk about ‘Unlocking knowledge: the life of activist Aaron Swartz’. I hope you’ll find me next week with this new podcast. In the meantime, I invite you to try to understand as many things as possible, to read articles, to practice a little English daily. Everyday, try to understand something in English. Thank you then, have a good week and see you soon!

Connect on Twitter | Instagram

Subscribe on Spotify | Youtube | iTunes

We're on YouTube