What is Acquisition Driven Instruction?

Teri Wiechart, OFLA Membership Chair
Retired French Teacher, Delphos Jefferson High School

The main goal of a world language classroom is for students to become proficient enough in another language to be able to communicate in culturally appropriate ways with other speakers of that language.  If students acquire enough language to communicate, that proficiency will follow.  

To accomplish this goal, learners spend most of their time on the interpretation of meaning.  Communicative ability develops as a by-product of all the input events students are engaged in and the acquisition of the target language as a result of the input.  Therefore, it is vitally important that comprehensible input is embedded in communication and forms the center of classroom practice.  This leads to acquisition and eventually proficiency.

Teaching towards acquisition requires many paradigm shifts.  Teaching with Acquisition Driven Instruction (ADI) as the first and most significant goal requires a new way of thinking about what happens in a language classroom.  There are many teaching strategies included in this way of teaching that are useful for any teacher and to attain acquisition more effectively and efficiently, it is important to make these shifts.  It’s important to note that teaching with comprehensible input is not a series of new tools to put in one’s teaching tool box, but an entirely new kind of toolbox.

The most significant of these paradigm shifts is that there must be floods of comprehensible input before any significant output is expected in the target language.  Before asking students to produce the target language, they must have had enough time and input to build a mental representation of the language in their brains and have committed it to their long-term memories.  Once students have acquired language, then teachers can work to refine accuracy and build proficiency.

Input is not a phase or stage to move through quickly to get to the “real” thing – when students talk to other students. Most importantly, the principle is that input is not a step or a model, it’s the critical element necessary throughout all stages of language development.

These mind shifts are best described by Dr. Stephen Krashen in his Principles of Language Acquisition  (http://sdkrashen.com/content/books/explorations_chapter_one.pdf) where he defines his five basic hypotheses of language acquisition.

  • The Acquisition – Learning Hypothesis—the idea that language that is acquired is a subconscious process, where language learned is described as a conscious process, recognized as memorization of rules, grammar and vocabulary.
  • The Input (Comprehension) Hypothesis—explaining how we acquire language through comprehensible input–messages that we understand when we hear or read them.  He goes on to clarify that it is only with comprehended input that acquisition occurs.  He also states that the growth in the language occurs when we hear language that we comprehend plus a little more that we have yet to comprehend—i + 1.
  • The Natural Order Hypothesis—there is a set order of acquisition of any language—first, second or more languages.  This order is not exact, nor is it completely known and it is not the same as the traditional grammatical sequence in many textbooks.  Rather than trying to know the order and teach it, it is better to teach the richness of the language and allow the students to acquire as they do.
  • The Monitor Hypothesis—how we use what we have learned about the structure of a language to produce it correctly or to self-correct already written or uttered phrases.  In order to accomplish this, one must 1) know the rule, 2) focus on the form and 3) have time to apply it.  If using the monitor in conversation, it tends to slow down the fluency of communication since it’s difficult to focus on both the form and the meaning at the same time. 
  • The Affective Filter Hypothesis—when a learner is anxious, self-conscious or is less than comfortable, then even if the input is comprehensible the “language acquisition device” (Noam Chomsky) is blocked.  (https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,36&as_vis=1&qsp=1&q=noam+chomsky+language+acquisition+device&qst=ib)

It’s important that teachers new to these hypotheses take the time to understand how they will impact changes in attitude towards language teaching.

Comprehensible input is essential to this process which makes it seem like it is a “teacher” centered classroom, but the reality is that it’s the teacher who is the only one equipped to provide the quality input that is needed for acquisition to occur.  

Teachers can expect comprehension first, production later and accuracy later yet.  Teachers must resist the urge to “edit” all errors.  Instead, listen to what is being communicated.  It’s important for teachers to encourage students to take risks, and in order for that to happen, they must feel as if teachers are listening to what they are trying to communicate and not fear that they will be stopped and corrected for every error and mis-speak.   

Another mind shift is when teachers recognize that all learn at different paces AND not penalize those who learn more slowly by recording their progress on a given day and “etching” that grade in stone.  Balancing how to report student progress at any given time without putting a judgment as to the capability of the students becomes another adjustment to this teaching paradigm.  Ideally teachers should report their progress, perhaps using the benchmarks established by ACTFL (https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/can-dos/Intermediate%20Can-Do%20Statements.pdf) all the while encouraging students to continue to grow along this proficiency continuum.

Students also need to shift their paradigm.  Remind students that the main objective of the class is to acquire a new language.  There are students, parents and administrators who are focused on numbers in a gradebook and letters on a transcript.  Language proficiency is hard to measure and report using those metrics.  It’s important to give students feedback based on their acquisition and proficiency growth in their new language.

It’s important to educate students, parents, administrators, and colleagues about the science of second language acquisition.  This sort of classroom doesn’t look like “school” as traditionally expected.  From the outside, the comprehensible input class looks easy, like it’s fun and games.  Many times, it will be fun but there will also be times when it isn’t.  As teachers, it is important to keep students meaningfully engaged, not entertained.  


If you are interested in learning more, here are some resources to start.  Then find a workshop or conference where you are trained in this paradigm of teaching languages.


This site gives a good overview of Dr. Krashen’s 5 hypotheses:  http://sdkrashen.com/content/books/explorations_chapter_one.pdf

This site contains many of the publications written by Dr. Krashen and are presented free of charge.  sdkrashen.com


Recordings of Dr. VanPatten’s call in talk show:  https://soundcloud.com/teawithbvp.  These are a light-hearted presentation of useful information regarding the nature of language acquisition by BVP, Walter Hopkins, and Angelica Kramer while they were at Michigan State University.

Recordings of the second series of podcasts by BVP, Walter Hokins and Angelica Kramer.  https://soundcloud.com/user-456391322

The Nature of Language: A Short Guide to What’s in Our Heads.  ACTFL publication.  An overview of a language acquisition.  Engaging and reader friendly, this book will challenge every teacher’s ideas about what winds up in learners’ heads. It will lead teachers to question the content of most current textbooks and the practices contained in them.

While We’re on the Topic.  ACTFL publication.  In a conversational style, Bill VanPatten addresses principles related to the nature of communication, the nature of language, how language is acquired, the roles of input and interaction, tasks and activities, and focus on form (“grammar”). Each principle is informed by decades of research yet all are presented in a manner accessible to veteran and novice educators alike.

ACTFL Special Interest Group–Comprehension-Based Communicative Language Teaching (CCLT)

A webinar introducing the 2 main principles of CCLT and the mission statement of the SIG:  https://community.actfl.org/viewdocument/re-webinar-reminder?CommunityKey=6889664b-bff9-4d10-839e-b5f8ed1ceeda&tab=librarydocuments&LibraryFolderKey=&DefaultView=folder

The two principles are defined as

  • Languages are acquired as a byproduct of comprehension.
  • Input is language that learners hear/see or read for its communicative intent.

The mission of this SIG is found here:  https://www.actfl.org/connect/special-interest-groups/comprehension-based-communicative-language-teaching

Language Acquisition from the perspective of English Language Learners:  


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