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The Natural Order Hypothesis: Definition and Criticism

The Monitor Model as proposed by Stephen Krashen in his influential text Principles and practice in second language acquisition in 1982 posits five hypotheses about second language acquisition and learning:

  1. Acquisition-learning hypothesis
  2. Natural order hypothesis
  3. Monitor hypothesis
  4. Input hypothesis
  5. Affective filter hypothesis

The following sections offer a description of the second hypothesis of the Monitor Model, the natural order hypothesis, as well as the major criticism by other linguistics and educators surrounding the hypothesis.

Definition of the Natural Order Hypothesis

The second hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, argues that the acquisition of grammatical structures occurs in a predictable sequence. The natural order hypothesis applies to both first language acquisition and second language acquisition, but, although similar, the order of acquisition often differs between first and second languages. In other words, the order of acquisition of a first language is different from the order of acquisition of that same language as a second language.

However, regardless of native language, all language learners of any single second language appear to follow the same predictable order; for example, learners of English as a second language generally acquire the grammatical structure of yes-no questions before the grammatical structure of wh- questions. Furthermore, according to the hypothesis, the order of acquisition remains the same regardless of explicit instruction; in other words, explicit teaching and learning cannot change the natural order of acquisition.

Criticism of the Natural Order Hypothesis

The second critique of the Monitor Model surrounds the evidence in support of the natural order hypothesis. According to Krashen, that children acquiring English as a second language acquire the morphemes of the language in a predictable sequence similar but not identical to the sequence followed by children acquiring English as a first language confirms the validity of the natural order hypothesis. Furthermore, other morpheme studies on adults acquiring English as a second language show similar results.

However, as Kevin R. Gregg argues, to generalize the results of a study on the acquisition of a limited set of English morphemes to second language acquisition as a whole is fallible. Morpheme studies offer no indication that second language learners similarly acquire other linguistic features (phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics) in any predictable sequence let alone in any sequence at all.

Secondly, the natural order hypothesis fails to account for the considerable influence of the first language on the acquisition of a second language; in fact, the results of other studies indicate that second language learners acquire a second language in different orders depending on their native language. Therefore, although posited by the natural order hypothesis, second language learners do not necessarily acquire grammatical structures in a predictable sequence.

Although the Monitor Model has been influential in the field of second language acquisition, the second hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, has not been without criticism as evidenced by the critiques offered by other linguists and educators in the field.


Gass, Susan M. & Larry Selinker. 2008. Second language acquisition: An introductory course, 3rd edn. New York: Routledge.
Gregg, Kevin R. 1984. Krashen’s monitor and Occam’s razor. Applied Linguistics 5(2). 79-100.
Krashen, Stephen D. 1982. Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Krashen, Stephen D. 2009. Principles and practice in second language acquisition, 1st internet edn. Oxford: Pergamon. http://www.sdkrashen.com/Principles_and_Practice/Principles_and_Practice.pdf.
Lightbrown, Patsy M. & Nina Spada. 2006. How languages are learned, 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zafar, Manmay. 2009. Monitoring the ‘monitor’: A critique of Krashen’s five hypotheses. Dhaka University Journal of Linguistics 2(4). 139-146.

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