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Native Pathways to Education
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Future King Island Speakers

Chapter 4

Steve Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition

There are many and varied theories in first and second language learning. When I first began studying some of these theories in the early 1990's, I related fairly well with the work of Stephen D. Krashen on theory of second language acquisition. I have included very basic information on his work. I like his idea of utilizing the best resource there is for language acquisition – the native speakers themselves! The theory will be discussed before the model for strengthening Inupiaq through the recorded lessons.

In 1982, Krashen published a book titled, "Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition". His theory of acquiring language has five hypotheses:

• The Acquisition-Learning Distinction
• The Natural Order Hypothesis
• The Monitor Hypothesis
• The Input Hypothesis
• The Affective Filter Hypothesis

The following is a very brief summary of the hypotheses and how they relate to the proposed "Ugiuvaŋmiuraaqtuaksrat Lessons"

Krashen recommends using speakers of the language to learn how to communicate. He says that "language acquisition occurs when language is used for what it was designed for, communication" (p. 1). Various individuals have learned to speak Inupiaq amongst the King Islanders. The Little Sister of Jesus, a Catholic order of nuns, used to visit my mother to learn Inupiaq from her. They used to take notes while they repeated words after my mother. In the early 1960's a marine biologist with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, John Burns, did the same thing. He learned Inupiaq while working and hunting with the King Island men out on the Bering Sea. These individuals wanted to learn to communicate in Inupiaq so they acquired the language from the speakers of the language.

The first hypothesis is, "The Acquisition-Learning Distinction," Krashen speaks about the difference between the acquisition and learning of language. Much like the "traditional way" (in a Native community) of learning a language, he stated, "language acquirers are not usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact that they are using the language for communication. The result of language acquisition, acquired competence is also unconscious" (p. 10). Whereas in learning the language, it is a conscious process of knowledge. It is about knowing the grammatical rules, "being aware of them and being able to talk about them" (p. 10). To Krashen, this is not as important as acquiring language. It is more important to communicate in the language.

In Krashen's thinking, adults can access the same natural "language acquisition device", like children, "acquisition is very powerful process in the adult" (p. 10). So, it is possible for adults to acquire language like children. The recorded tapes can help with that process of learning the words then practice the words with a fluent speaker.

The second hypothesis is, "The Natural Order Hypothesis." It is about individuals learning the grammatical structure of the language. Krashen give examples in English where morphology was most studied. Individuals learn at a different pace as to how they would learn the grammar of a language. Some will take longer while another learns at an early age. This is where the "baby language" fits in. Children are given one-word expressions and/or commands. These are shortened words so very small children can begin understanding Inupiaq language. They begin learning the grammatical structure at a young age and are able to move on the complete sentences as they become older.

The third hypothesis is "The Monitor Hypotheses." This has to do with the relationship between the acquisition and learning of language. The monitor is like an editor of what is being learned (grammatical structure), while acquisition is the ‘utterance initiator'. Krashen gives different suggestions on ‘monitor' use. The over-users are those who use the ‘monitor' all the time. The under-users are those who have not learned or prefer not to use their conscious knowledge. The optimal user is the one who uses the ‘monitor' appropriately all the time.

The fourth hypothesis is, "The Input Hypothesis." This is about moving from one stage to another. Krashen asks, how does one move to the next stage of learning? He explains as "i" being information that is known and then adding more to the next step, which would be represented as "+1". So the input hypothesis is "i+1". The added understanding is through linguistic competence and through context. "Comprehensible input" is provided to gain fluency in a language. A caretaker's speech to a child is modified so the child can understand what is being said. As time progresses, the words become more complex. The common expressions become a full sentences as the child grows older, motions are added for "comprehensible input." Where observation is inherent in the Inupiaq language, it is akin to "the explanation of the silent period in terms of the input hypothesis is straight forward – the child is building up competence in the second language via listening, by understanding the language around him" (p. 27).

The fifth hypothesis is "The Affective Filter Hypothesis." Krashen explains that there are variables, which contribute to success in acquiring language:

  1. Motivation – individuals with high motivation do better.
  2. Self-confidence – individuals with good self-confidence or good self-image do better.
  3. Anxiety – less anxiety is better for language acquisition.

Krashen states it well when he says, "The effective language teacher is someone who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low anxiety situation" (p. 32). A sympathetic mentor is such a teacher! Native elders and cultural experts have always taught in this manner.

Krashen continues about the different approaches to teaching languages and how they relate to his theory of acquiring a second language. The newer approaches he talks about were James Asher's Total Physical Response (TPR) and Tracy Terrell's Natural Approach for language instruction. These approaches have had good reviews with various indigenous communities. As an Inupiaq Bilingual Teacher at Nome Public Schools, I have tried Asher's TPR methods but have always fallen short on commands after a while. It was difficult to move onto regular sentences. The movement was good for the children but at college level, the adults did not really get into it with the commands.

Methodology and Procedures for the Lessons

In his article, "Status of Native American Language Endangerment," Dr. Michael Krauss (1996) explains how Native languages are learned best, the "traditional way," where children have learned from parents and elders since time immemorial. In the King Island Community, this hasn't been happening in the last ten to twenty years. Our young people are yearning to learn the language. This is indeed the best way to learn a language and that is why the "Ugiuvaŋmiuraaqtuaksrat" lessons are designed to start with the "baby language." The progression to simple expressions is readily achieved and then a learner can advance on to regular adult sentences. In this way, language learners are eased into speaking in Inupiaq. It is only logical that when one is learning to speak Inupiaq, they should begin how children have learned to speak over generations and generations of learners.

Lawrence Kaplan and Lorena Williams wrote and recorded "Inupiaq Phrases and Conversations" in the Kotzebue dialect. It offers an introductory working knowledge of Inupiaq for those wishing to begin learning the language. There is a guidebook with the recording. The King Island version has a core vocabulary in this project to get started. It is designed so that the aspiring learner would gain confidence to seek out a mentor. Here in the "safe environment" the learner can practice speaking in the language.

How can King Island Inupiaq be strengthened to language renewal? I drew a model to show how this can happen. Below is a circular model of how the recording and the guidebook will help to strengthen King Island Inupiaq:

B. Alvanna-Stimpfle
Model 1 Strengthening King Island Inupiaq.

Model 1	Strengthening King Island Inupiaq.

Explanations of steps:

  1. Learner begins at own pace. Listens to the recording and follow along with the guidebook. This can be used as reinforcement to regular classes as well.
  2. Over time, learner gains confidence to seek out a mentor. Ask a fluent speaker who is willing to spend time speaking in the language.
  3. Establish a foundation for working together informally. The vocabulary can be expanded with the mentor.
  4. When individuals feel ready, begin planning an immersion school. Lessons learned from other indigenous communities can be discussed how to best implement a school. Individuals can also create informal language gatherings to listen and speak in Inupiaq.
  5. Language is strengthened for revitalization by community activities.
  6. Strengthen the core lessons for deeper knowledge.

At the traditional council level within the King Island Native Community, grants can be sought to train fluent speakers to work with language learners. There is also the Elders Council Members who may be interested in acting as mentors. They would have to be compensated as well. These are ideas that would have to be presented to the traditional council in a well-planned format so everything would be understood about the lessons and how they would work.

The lessons can also be used as reinforcement for teaching classes at college level or as independent study. They can also be expanded through use. Most people prefer to learn languages informally rather than formally, like the Grammar Translation Method. Since the lessons are based on simple phrases and conversation success can be easily achieved if one keeps practicing throughout the topics.

In terms of current thinking for language learning and education, I have been involved other Native educators over the last ten years or so. We have had many discussions about teaching and learning from our own perspective, the indigenous perspective. When we attended the 1999 World Indigenous People's Conference on Education in Hilo, Hawaii, the Hawaiian Native educators taught us through their conference theme "The Answers Lie With Us" that we have the answers we need to move forward, to help our children in education and to learn from our past. Oscar Kawagley and his book, "The Yupiaq Worldview, A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit" taught us about our own perspective. We have our own approach to science and education right along with Western science and education. It is from the indigenous perspective. All the authors I read stated it was important to learn an indigenous language from our own perspective, to learn in our own way. We have our own methods to teach our languages.





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Last modified April 14, 2009