Story-Listening: Do You Want to Understand the Core Principles?

guided self-selected reading optimal input hypothesis second language acquisition story-listening vocabulary

Over the past 45 years, understanding of second language acquisition has evolved around two key concepts:

  • Language Acquisition: A subconscious process where language is absorbed naturally without active awareness.
  • Language Learning: Involves conscious study and memorization of grammar and vocabulary, typical of traditional classroom teaching.

However, true mastery of a language is seen to result more from this natural acquisition rather than conscious learning, with the latter often proving limited in practical use.

Traditional language learning in schools, which focuses on studying grammar rules and vocabulary, is often less effective compared to natural language acquisition. This approach, based on memorization and structured learning, contrasts with acquiring language through understanding spoken and written words. The key to successful language acquisition lies in understanding, rather than just learning the rules.

Consciously learning a language has limitations due to several factors:

  • Limited Rule Learning: We can only learn a small portion of language rules.
  • Focus on Correctness: Applying learned rules requires constant attention to form, which is challenging during actual communication.
  • Time Constraints: Accessing and applying learned rules in real-time conversation is difficult.

These points lead to the conclusion that true mastery of language, including vocabulary and grammar, is more a result of natural language acquisition rather than the direct result of conscious learning.

The concept of "The Natural Order" in language acquisition suggests that language rules are acquired in a specific, predictable sequence. Key points include:

  • Predictable Sequence: Language rules are acquired in a set order, not randomly.
  • Ineffectiveness of Forced Learning: Mere study and drilling don't change the natural acquisition order.
  • Efficiency with Right Input: Providing suitable input leads to efficient language acquisition following this natural order.

This approach emphasizes the natural progression of language learning rather than forced or structured syllabus-based learning.

Krashen and Mason's hypothesis on optimal input for language acquisition highlights four key characteristics:

  • Comprehensibility: The input should be understandable but not necessarily 100% clear in every detail.
  • Engaging and Compelling: It should be so interesting that the learner forgets it's in a different language.
  • Richness in Language: The input needs to have enough detail to keep the story or text engaging and clear.
  • Abundance: Language learning happens gradually, requiring a lot of input over time for effective acquisition.

Optimal input for language acquisition is hypothesized to include just the right amount of grammatical structures and vocabulary that learners are prepared to acquire. This concept, known as "i+1", is effectively met through Story-Listening and self-selected reading. Research has consistently shown that these methods lead to significant language development. Story-Listening, in particular, has gained popularity in language teaching, especially for beginners. It involves selecting timeless stories and enhancing understanding through comprehension-aiding supplementation (CAS), which includes methods like drawings, gestures, and simple explanations, rather than just teaching vocabulary.

The "Optimal Order of CAS Application" involves a series of steps to make unfamiliar words in Story-Listening more comprehensible

Comprehension-Aiding Supplementation (CAS) Steps:

  • Step 1: Introduce the meaning of the target word using a known synonym or phrase.
  • Step 2: Present a word or phrase with the opposite meaning.
  • Step 3: Repeat the first step using different language.
  • Step 4: Use additional words with similar meanings.
  • Step 5: Finally, use the target word in context.

Application in Story-Listening:

  • Focus is on understanding, not memorizing.
  • Steps are flexible and adaptable based on the learner's needs.

Story Listening Efficiency:

  • Students learn more vocabulary per minute from just listening to stories.
  • Less efficient when combining story listening with study exercises.

Check out the results: this table demonstrates the consistent trend across multiple studies where story listening alone has higher efficiency in vocabulary acquisition compared to combining story listening with studying.

Study Source


Number of Participants

Words Gained

Time Spent

Efficiency (Words per Minute)

Mason & Krashen, 2004

Story Only





Mason & Krashen, 2004

Story + Study





Clarke, 2019

Story Only





Clarke, 2019

Story + Study





Clarke, 2020

Story Only





Clarke, 2020

Story + Study





The approach of Story-Listening as a precursor to developing a habit of pleasure reading in language learners is emphasized in this study. Key points include:

  • Transition to Reading: Story-Listening is a stepping stone to encourage pleasure reading.
  • Benefits of Pleasure Reading: Engaging in self-selected reading significantly enhances vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and writing skills.
  • Guided Self-Selected Reading Program: Teachers assist in book selection, offering a range of texts suitable for different reading levels.
  • Extensive Reading Material: Providing a wide variety of books is crucial for the success of this method, catering to diverse interests and reading abilities.

The study underscores the importance of ample reading resources to facilitate remarkable language development.

 Read the paper here:

Foundations for Story-Listening: Some Basics

Stephen D. Krashen
University of Southern California, Emeritus

Beniko Mason
Shitennoji University Junior College, Emerita

Whenever you're ready, here are the ways we can help you:

  1. Jump Into Story-Listening: A course to gain the practical knowledge and tools to deliver a Story-Listening experience.

  2. Story-Listening Kits: Ready-to-use package including the video, story, Prompter, and additional materials

  3. Theoretical Foundations and Supporting EvidenceGain insights directly from Dr. Stephen Krashen, the renowned creator of the Theory of Second Language Acquisition, whose influential hypotheses are revered among linguists and language educators worldwide.

  4. Free Minicourse: Gain an overview of Story-Listening from its creator and co-developer, Professor Beniko Mason.

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