The Linguistionary

Most experts and specialists find sinful pleasure in using (and showing off) complicated, convoluted, and highly specialized vocabulary; linguists are no different unfortunately (though they should know better.)

To help make linguistic research articles and materials more approachable, I have translated a number of key terms and linguistic buzz words into human language.

If you come across any linguistic terms that should be added to the Linguistionary, please contact me here.

Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

One of Steven Krashen’s five central hypotheses (the other four are below). He draws a distinction between language “acquisition” (a natural, subconscious process seen in all children but few adults) and language “learning” (a modern, conscious process seen in no children but nearly all adults). It is this difference that explains why all children learn to speak their native language fluently while adults struggle to reach even a basic level of proficiency in foreign languages. Krashen believes that if adults would only put aside the focus on learning about foreign languages (grammar rules, word classes, and other metalinguistic information) and actually put themselves in environments where acquisition can take place, they too could master foreign languages just as they did their first.

Affective Filter Hypothesis

Another Krashen hypothesis. The word “affective” means emotional. When you are overtaken by negative emotions (boredom, stress, anger, etc.), the affective filter goes up, decreasing both you performance in the language and your ability to acquire new information. When you are calm, motivated and confident, the affective filter goes down and you find it easier to communicate (use what you know) and learn new information (expand what you know).

Fossilization / Fossilized Errors

Fossilized errors are subconscious, repetitive mistakes made by language learners, that continue to occur regardless of correction or subsequent exposure to proper forms. This kind of error can be contrasted with one-off mistakes that occur due to slips of the tongue or insufficient exposure to the language. Proponents of “Input First, Output Later” language learning philosophy point out the prevalence of fossilized errors among language learners who begin speaking from day one.


The grammar-translation method is an academic approach to language learning which requires learners to translate written passages (usually word for word) based on consciously memorized grammatical rules and vocabulary lists. The method was originally used for translating works written in Greek and Latin, but came to be applied to modern spoken languages as well. Critics of the method (yours truly included) believe grammar-translation to be a highly inefficient means for reaching oral fluency in a foreign language (as demonstrated by the vast percentage of Japanese, Korean and Chinese EFL students who emerge from 10+ years of grammar-based English instruction unable to speak the language well if at all.)

Input Hypothesis

Another Krashen hypothesis. To acquire a first or foreign language, a learner must be exposed to a great deal of meaningful input (what he calls “Comprehensible Input”). For children, this input comes in the form of hearing spoken language from one’s peers (parental language input actually has a minimal effect which is why children don’t take on the accents of 1st generation immigrant parents).Literate adults can also get input via reading, though listening input should take precedence especially in the early stages.

Monitor Hypothesis

Another Krashen hypothesis. As discussed above, most adult learners focus too much on learning about the language and not actually acquiring it. One result of this is the adult tendency to over monitor their speech in a conscious effort to apply grammar rules and use proper vocabulary. If a language is acquired naturally, there is little need to monitor structure and vocabulary and one is able to converse in a free flowing way. Monitoring is more appropriate, however, in writing where one has the time and need to be careful about word choice, style, etc.

Natural Order Hypothesis

Another Krashen hypothesis. Children acquire language structures in a predictable and consistent order (i.e. learning the simple tenses before the perfect tenses). Interestingly, the very same order applies to adult foreign language learning. Many assume that the order of acquisition follows a linear line from simple to more complex structures, but in fact, many seemingly simple structures are acquired later than those that appear more complex on the surface. A good example of this is the 3rd person singular ‘s’ that is added in sentences like “He lives in Seattle now”. It is one of the last structures to be acquired by both native English-speaking children and foreign adult learners.

Rote Memorization

Learning new vocabulary (or anything for that matter) by simply repeating it many times. For example, most people “learn” (or rather fail to learn) Chinese characters by simply writing them down several hundred times.

Spaced Repetition

Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS) leverage the “spacing effect”, whereby we gradually remember things for longer and longer periods of time with each subsequent exposure. By intentionally re-exposing yourself to new words and phrases at certain intervals, you can jumpstart your memory and better control what sticks (and for how long).

The most well-known use of spaced repetition in language learning is Pimsleur‘s “Graduated Interval Recall” (GIR). In Paul Pimsleur’s 1967 paper A Memory Schedule (published in The Modern Language Journal), he prescribes the following re-exposure intervals for maximum retention: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years.

According to Tony Buzan, best-selling author of Master Your Memory, most of us forget up to 80% of what we learn within 24 hours. To combat this, he suggests the following review schedule: 10 minutes after you finish studying, then again 1 day later, 3 days later, 1 week later, 1 month later, and 6 months later.

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