Second Language Acquisition : Monitor Hypothesis


The monitor hypothesis asserts that a learner’s learned system acts as a monitor to what they are producing. In other words, while only the acquired system is able to produce spontaneous speech, the learned system is used to check what is being spoken.

Before the learner produces an utterance, he or she internally scans it for errors, and uses the learned system to make corrections. Self-correction occurs when the learner uses the Monitor to correct a sentence after it is uttered. According to the hypothesis, such self-monitoring and self-correction are the only functions of conscious language learning.

The Monitor model then predicts faster initial progress by adults than children, as adults use this ‘monitor’ when producing L2 (target language) utterances before having acquired the ability for natural performance, and adult learners will input more into conversations earlier than children.

Three conditions for use of the monitor

According to Krashen, for the Monitor to be successfully used, three conditions must be met:

  1.  The acquirer/learner must know the rule

    This is a very difficult condition to meet because it means that the speaker must have had explicit instruction on the language form that he or she is trying to produce.

  2.  The acquirer must be focused on correctness

    He or she must be thinking about form, and it is difficult to focus on meaning and form at the same time.

  3. The acquirer/learner must have time to use the monitor

    Using the monitor requires the speaker to slow down and focus on form.

Difficulties using the monitor

There are many difficulties with the use of the monitor, making the monitor rather weak as a language tool.

  1. Knowing the rule: this is a difficult condition to meet, because even the best students do not learn every rule that is taught, cannot remember every rule they have learned, and can’t always correctly apply the rules they do remember. Furthermore, every rule of a language is not always included in a text nor taught by the teacher
  2. Having time to use the monitor: there is a price that is paid for the use of the monitor- the speaker is then focused on form rather than meaning, resulting in the production and exchange of less information, thus slowing the flow of conversation. Some speakers over-monitor to the point that the conversation is painfully slow and sometimes difficult to listen to.
  3. The rules of language make up only a small portion of our language competence: Acquisition does not provide 100% language competence. There is often a small portion of grammar, punctuation, and spelling that even the most proficient native speakers may not acquire. While it is important to learn these aspects of language, since writing is the only form that requires 100% competence, these aspects of language make up only a small portion of our language competence.

Due to these difficulties, Krashen recommends using the monitor at times when it does not interfere with communication, such as while writing.


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