Fossilization and then some Krashen

This morning's walk to classes was a half-hour battle with an umbrella against icy rain and I can safely say that winter is now upon us here in Manchester but at the moment, as the night closes in, I'm sitting in front of my computer with a nice hot-water bottle on my lap, my toes firmly ensconced in last year's Christmas present of sheepskin bed slipper boots. 

I hate cold so it's a good thing with all the articles the professors cook up for us to read that the heating's been turned up in my brain.

One of the tasks last week, for this week, was to think of what makes "a good speaker of a foreign language" and then to think of a particular challenge that you currently face or have faced when teaching Speaking.

We had to research the issue, select an article from Google Scholar and then come back into class to share what we learned.

I chose to look at fossilized errors, a subject I've written about before (but one also swallowed into the

because it's a subject that utterly fascinates me.

I mean why do some learners, despite a significant amount of comprehensible input, say the wrong thing over and over again, even when they are corrected over and over again?   Even when they are repeatedly exposed to the correct form via media, conversations with native speakers.  

You know the sort of errors I mean?  

"I stand up" instead of "I wake up"
The a - e - i mix up
 Trouble with filler words like, "well"
I suppose, at the end of the day, it comes down to L1 interference (first language getting in the way when producing speech in the second language) but why do some of our learners never go through this while others hit major stumbling blocks?  It isn't an age thing, if we're honest, now is it?  It isn't a gender thing... and sometimes, though not always, they are undoable...


a) placing a picture of the difference between standing up and waking up on the table as a cue card

b) teaching a mnemonic device, Send Emails with your iPad from Apple

with others, only practice seems to do the trick, with others it doesn't matter what you do, that error has been fossilized like an insect stuck in amber.

So, thus with my interest pricked, I set off on a trawl through Google scholar.   The first article I came to was by a young lady in China who pretty much put it down to not enough concentration on form in the beginner levels of classes.  I pretty much agreed with her so moved on to see if I could get something juicier.   

This one led to one of those 


Dr Han has compiled a list of the Five Central Issues in Fossilization in an article for the International Journal of Applied Linguistics and in it, along with discussing the sort of errors I'd been noticing, she also discussed the fossilization of level.  When the student ceases to make any further progress in the level attained.

Have you ever come across this sort of thing in your classes - when your learners, week upon week, year upon year, stay at more or less the exact same level?  

To be honest, I would probably name this state "stagnation" because I don't think it's necessarily permanent, it is very contextually and situationally dependent, don't you think?

Her article was a really good overview and a really good springboard to digging deeper, but like so many scholarly articles, there aren't concrete suggestions on how to deal with these issues.

Which brings me to the psychology module, where we had to read some Krashen.  For all you die-hard-the-man-is-a-god-folks, sorry... the article we had to read was, sorry-to-say-out-loud, rubbish.

Obviously he's contributed greatly, enormously, to the field of Second Language Acquisition, but in Comprehensible Output? for System in 1998, he seemed to suggest that Comprehensible Output (CO) is too rare to make any real contribution to linguistic competence...  (CO is when learners notice that they don't know how to say something correctly in the L2 or they've tried to say something meaningful but it all went pear-shaped and no one knew what they were saying, so they change it - make it simple/ ask for help and in modifying the intended phrase/structure learn something new about the language).. 

In this article, Krashen suggested that students don't enjoy being pushed to speak (hogwash, mine did... the issue is so level dependent - so culturally dependent - so classroom dynamically dependent -so why-they're-learning-English dependent - so how-did-they-learn-English-before-influenced etc) and then he went on to say that high levels of linguistic competence are possible without output - that basically, input is all a language learner needs!

Raised my blood pressure that article did - I mean - by golly, at least a million students all across the world who've studied languages, whatever language, were made to do so through readings and listening, year upon year, but did not get the opportunity to speak and, blanket statement of mine, they would disagree with this viewpoint.   I wonder, is it Krashen's fault that they are now mute because some textbooks authors thought he was right?   Hmm...

Also, I think I'd even go so far as to say: if fossilization occurs at any one particular stage in the learning process, then I'd be very tempted to pick a time when new language is obviously received, in that moment, the brain makes a use-it-or-lose-it-decision... and I'd lay the blame of error/level fossilization at not having enough freedom moments in class - at not being able to say things wrong in order to learn how to say them right.

But then, whadda-I-kno',


Useful links
Scott Thornbury's written a cracking post with rich comments on F is Focus on Form

References (because I have to work out how to do them and even though this is not an academic paper, and merely just an opinion based personal blog post, I'm trying to be a good girl now and should...)

Han, Z. (2004) Fossilization: five central issues, International Journal of Applied Linguistics Vol14 no.2 pp. 212-239
Krashen, S. (1998) Comprehensible Output? System 26, pp 175-182

Insects in Amber by Mila Zinkova

4 Responses to “Fossilization and then some Krashen”

  • Richard says:
    October 19, 2011

    Enjoying your MA-based thoughts Karenne. I remember that Manchester weather well, can't say I'm missing it! Glad to see you've got the formatting of the blog sorted out ;) Keep up the good work!

  • Saeed Mubarak says:
    October 22, 2011

    You mentioned students' problem in learning a foreing language and their repated errors, I think the methodology used in teaching and the willingness of the students to practice the language may help greatly in impoving the speaking skill.

  • Tyson Seburn says:
    January 04, 2012

    I just remembered you're doing this too. I really wish I were an on-site student. How are you finding the workload? (I honestly have trouble motivating myself to read)

    I'd love your thoughts:

    Happy new year!

    January 04, 2012

    Hi ya, Tyson

    It's a mix... I am very glad to be onsite, especially having access to the library and the tutors (that especially - if you imagine a really amazing conference where you only go to a handful of great talks - this is like having the best of the best speakers for months at a time)- it's a mindblowing experience.

    With regard to reading, I'm okay motivating myself to read - my main problem is that I can't keep track of all I've read and so much contradicts what the previous article was on about, in truth I feel a bit confused, on shaky ground and having trouble dissecting what I really think about language education - in a way, I think I need to be around students to really know what works and what doesn't so in that respect it is much better to be an off-site student.

    So... as probably can be seen by lack of blogging recently, my biggest problem seems to be in motivating myself to write!

    Happy New Year!


Visitors and Regular Readers


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed

Communities of Practice

Directories, catalogs and Back Links

Adult Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

The EFL ESL Blog List - ESL/EFL/TEFL Teaching Jobs and Teacher Resumes

International Blogging Directory

Recent Posts

Simply Conversations

Pedagogically sound materials designed to get your students actively talking:

Free Samples
Conversation Control

General English
Business English

Learn more on why these work