The Natural Approach

the Natural approach

natural-approachThe natural approach developed by Tracy Terrell and supported by Stephen Krashen is a language teaching approach which claims that language learning is a reproduction of the way humans naturally acquire their native language. The approach adheres to a communicative approach to language teaching and rejects earlier methods such as the audiolingual method and the situational language teaching approach which Krashen and Terrell (1983) believe are not based on “actual theories of language acquisition but theories of the structure of language ”

The Natural Approach vs the Direct Method

Although The Natural approach and the Direct Method (also called the natural method) share some features, there are important differences. Like the direct method, the natural approach is

” believed to conform to the naturalistic principles found in second language acquisition. Unlike the direct method, however, it places less emphasis on teacher monologues, direct repetion,and formal questions and answers, and less focus on accurate production of target language sentences” (Richards and Rodgers, 1986:129)

Theory of language

Krashen and Terrell view communication as the primary function of language, and adhere to a communicative approach to language teaching, focusing on teaching communicative abilities rather than sterile language structures.

What really distinguishes the Natural approach from other methods and approaches are its premises concerning the use of language and the importance of vocabulary:

  • Language is viewed as a vehicle for communicating meaning and messages.
  • Vocabulary is of paramount importance as language is essentially its lexicon!

This means that language acquisition cannot take place unless the acquirer understands messages in the target language and has developed sufficient vocabulary inventory. In fact, it should be easier to reconstruct a message containing just vocabulary items than one containing just the grammatical structures.

Theory of learning

Krashen grounded the Natural approach on a number of learning tenets.

The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

Krashen makes a distinction between acquisition and learning.

  • Krashen defines acquisition as developing competence by using language for real communication. It is a natural way of developing the abilty to speak a language, paralleling first language development in children and refers to an unconscious process that involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency through under­standing language and through using language for meaningful com­munication.
  • Learning, however, refers to formal knowledge of a language. It is the process in which conscious rules about a language are developed. It results in explicit knowledge about the forms of a language and the ability to verbalize this knowledge. Formal teaching is necessary for “learning” to occur, and the correction of errors helps with the development of learned rules.
The Monitor Hypothesis

Conscious learning can function only as a monitor or editor that checks and repairs the output of the acquired system. The Monitor Hypothesis states that we may use learned knowledge to correct ourselves when we communicate, but that conscious learning has only this func­tion. Three conditions limit the successful use of the monitor:

  1. Time. Sufficient time for a learner to choose and apply a learned rule.
  2. Focus on form. Focus on the correctness or on the form of the output.
  3. Knowledge of rules. Knowing the rules is a prerequisite for the use of the monitor.
The Natural Order Hypothesis

The acquisition of grammatical structures proceeds in a predictable order. Certain grammatical structures or morphemes are ac­quired before others in first language acquisition of English, and the Natural Order Hypothesis claims that the same natural order is found in second language acquisition. It is also believed that errors are signs of naturalistic developmental processes. Similar developmental errors occur in learners during acquisition (but not during learning) no mat­ter what their native language is

The Input Hypothesis

The Input Hypothesis relates to acquisition, not to learning and states that people acquire language best by understanding input that is slightly beyond their level of competence. Krashen refers to this by the formula L +1 (where L+1 is the stage immediately following L along some natural order.) Comprehension is achieved through linguistic and extralinguistic context clues including knowledge about the world, the context of the situation etc… Comprehension precedes the emergence of speaking as fluency appears only as a result of the provision of sufficient comprehensible input. By comprehensible input, Krashen means the utterances that learners understand based on linguistic and extralinguistic context and which consists of a sort of simplified code. He contends that when there is such comprehensible input, language acquisition proceeds successfully. Krashen also claims that when there is enough of such comprehensible input, L+1will usually be provided automatically and

Affective Filter Hypothesis

There are three types of emotional attitudinal factors that may affect acquisition and that may impede, block or freely passes necessary input for acquisition. These are motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety. Acquirers with a high affective filter are less likely to develop competence.

In a nutshell

Teaching according to the Natural Approach involves the following principles:

  • Teaching according to the Natural approach focuses on communicative abilities.
  • One of its objectives is to help beginners become intermediate.
  • Vocabulary is considered prior to syntactic structures.
  • A lot of comprehensible input must be provided.
  • Use of visual aids to help comprehension.
  • The focus is on listening and reading. Speaking emerges later.
  • Reducing the high affective filter by
    • focusing on meaningful communication rather than on form.
    • providing interesting comprehensible input
  • The technique used in this approach are often borrowed from other methods and adapted to meet the requirement of the approach. These include:


The Natural Approach belongs to a tradition of language acquisition where the naturalistic features of L1 acquisition are utilized in the L2 acquisition. It is an approach that draws a variety of techniques from other methods and approaches to reach this goal which is one of its advantages. But the originality of this approach does not lie in these techniques but on the emphasis on activities based on comprehensible input and meaningful communication rather than on only grammatical mastery of language.


To read more on the Natural Approach and other methods:

Richards, J. C. & Rogers, T. S. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). New York: Longman

Others sources:

Wikipedia: The Natural Approach

4 thoughts on “The Natural Approach”

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