The Natural Approach

Developed by Tracy Terrell and Stephen Krashen

The Basic Premise

  • Vocabulary comes before syntax.
  • Use visual aids to support comprehension.
  • Focus is on reading and listening. Speaking develops as time passes.
  • Need for comprehensible input.
  • Focus on communication, not whether it is grammatically correct.

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  • Developed by Tracy Terrell/Stephen Krashen in 1983.
  • According to Krashen, learning a new language follows "a predictable, natural order".
  • Based on Chomsky's idea of a Language Acquisition Device -- we all acquire language at different rates.

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Stages of the Natural Approach

Pre-production: Occurs between 0-6 months. Students have minimal comprehension and do not verbalize much.

Early Production: Occurs between 6 months - 1 year. Students have limited comprehension and use one or two word responses using key words.

Speech Emergence: Occurs between 1-3 years. Students have good comprehension and can produce simple sentences, although they still make grammar/pronunciation errors.

Intermediate Fluency: Occurs between 3-5 years. Students have excellent comprehension and make few grammatical errors.

Advanced Fluency: Occurs between 5-7 years. Students have a near-native level of speech.

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Taken from:

Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners

by Jane D. Hill and Kathleen M. Flynn

More Points to Consider

  • Allow responses in both L1 and L2 as students are getting used to learning a new language.
  • Test a student's ability to communicate, not grammatical accuracy.
  • Error correction is NOT especially helpful.

Read more about this in Tracy Terrell's article Natural Approach to Second Language Acquisition.

The Natural Approach is still used in classrooms today. Many teachers do not enforce grammar as much as they do vocabulary, at least with beginning students. Teachers understand that there is a "silent period" where students do not produce much speech when they first begin to learn a foreign language.

Compiled by Sally Gordon and Rita Weltsch