The Limits of Conscious Grammar: Some Observations by Experts

Stephen KrashenStephen Krashen

The Monitor Hypothesis says that consciously learned language is available as a Monitor, or an editor. We think about rules before we say/write something or after, and make corrections when we realize what we said, or are about to say, is wrong. The conditions for the use of the Monitor are severe: The performer has to (1) Know the rule; (2) Be thinking about correctness (3) Have time to retrieve and apply the rule. (Krashen, S. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. New York: Prentice-Hall. Out of Print.)

Over-use of the Monitor (Krashen, 1981) happens when Monitor-use interferes with communication, when we are over-concerned with correctness (Hemingway, 1927; Berra, no date). Knowledge of grammar does not make a significant contribution to communication (Walker, 2002).

Hemingway on the overuse of the Monitor:

 “The major, who had been the great fencer, did not believe in bravery, and spent much time while we same in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. ‘Why, then, do you not take up the use of grammar?’ So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind.”

Ernest Hemingway, “In Another Country.” In Men without Women, Scribner, paperback fiction. 1997, p. 46-47. Originally published 1927.

Baseball star Yogi Berra on the overuse of the Monitor:

“You can’t think and hit at the same time.”

Limits of grammar knowledge in real production and comprehension.

Letter to the London Times, August 29, 2002

Sir: While my wife (1953 O-level French, fail) happily bargains with French market stallholders, I (1953, A-level French, pass) and only stand by muttering “No, tomatoes are feminine” or “You should be using the subjunctive!”

I was even able, when paying the bill at a small hotel, to say beautifully and accurately in French: “Had we not been awoken at 3am by the dustcart, it would not have been necessary for us to have raided the mini-bar for a bottle of water.”

Unfortunately I had to reply on my wife to understand the reply: “Sorry, but it is still going to cost you 50 francs.”

Yours faithfully,

H.L.M. Walker

Saffron Waldon, Essex.


Subcribe to Stephen Krashen’s Blog where you’ll find this paper and many more on a variety of topics of interest and concern.

Get iTDi certified in teaching academic language with Stephen Krashen. Join Stephen Krashen for his iTDi Advanced Course THE Path to Academic English. Live sessions with Dr. Krashen begin February 7th. All classes are recorded.


Published by

Stephen D. Krashen

Stephen Krashen is a linguist, educational researcher, and activist. Dr. Krashen has published nearly 500 papers and books, contributing to the fields of second-language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading. He is credited with introducing various influential concepts and terms in the study of second-language acquisition, including the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the affective filter, and the natural order hypothesis. Most recently, Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second-language acquisition, which he says "is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second." Dr. Krashen is currently professor emeritus at University of Southern California.

One thought on “The Limits of Conscious Grammar: Some Observations by Experts”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.