All of the posts about Stephen Krashen’s Hypotheses are available here.

(Previous post: The Monitor Hypothesis)

The next post in this series (#4/9), The Natural Order of Acquisition, is found here.


A: The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis

Very important for teachers to get

“Language acquisition and language learning are two different things.”

Language acquisition is an unconscious process. Acquisition happens when the student is hearing the language or reading in the language but is focused on something other than on the language itself as subject matter. Acquisition happens when the student is focused on the message.

Language learning is conscious, focused and purposeful. It can feel difficult. Ironically, what passes for learning is often nothing more than short term memorization that is quickly forgotten.

Acquisition is a by-product of hearing or reading comprehended messages in the target language. Acquisition tends to be long term. Only language that has been acquired can be used instantly and readily. Anyone of normal cognitive ability can acquire language, but consciously learning a language by methodically memorizing vocabulary and drilling grammar rules can be done by only a limited percentage of students–and many researchers would say that even those few have actually acquired the language by meaningful comprehensible input along the way.

Here are some charts comparing Acquisition and Learning in theory, in teaching and in learning:

The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis highlights two very different ideas about language teaching and learning that can be summarized as follows:

Input leads to output. Acquisition-based teaching with meaningful comprehensible input.

Output leads to output.  Traditional learning-based teaching with grammar rules and output-based “practice”.

Read more about the acquisition / learning distinction in Understanding TPRS.



  • Minimize explicit grammar. Keep the acquisition/learning distinction in mind and go light on explicit teaching and learning of grammar—especially with younger students.
  • Emphasize acquisition over learning. Focus on acquisition-based activities: input above output.
  • Focus on the message. Remember that practice looks different under the acquisition model. In a traditional classroom with a learning-based model, students are shown a grammar rule and then they practice it. This rarely results in fluent language use and the rules are quickly forgotten after the unit and test. Students acquire the grammar and vocabulary of the language without being consciously aware as they focus on messages. With enough input, students begin to develop an ear for the language. They are able to apply grammar rules because “it just sounds right” to them.

The next post in this series (#4/9), The Natural Order of Acquisition, is found here.

NOTE: This is a series on Stephen Krashen’s main hypotheses of language acquisition presented in a simple form. I teach these ideas in this same way to my high school students. We even have quizzes on each of the hypotheses. It helps students to know something about linguistics so that they understand WHY certain methods are being used in class—that the teacher is not just making up activities, that what is being done in the classroom has a basis in theory, research, and successful practice. I also want to prepare them to be able to identify best practices in language courses they may take later.
We use the acronym MANIAC to remember the 6 hypotheses and because a teacher may need to focus like a maniac in order not to be swayed by inertia in education and tradition in schools. Don’t worry about the “maniac” moniker, you’ll get maniacal energy from your engaged and acquiring students once you learn how to put these hypotheses into action.