An idea from Krashen

Leafing through the booklet of Krashen’s “Taipei lectures”, I came across the following idea - something which Krashen calls “Handcrafted Books”.

Pg 25, he writes:

“A problem with free reading in the second- and foreign-language situation is that it is hard to find texts that are both interesting and comprehensible; the beginning student will find authentic texts too difficult. There are two solutions to this problem. One is simply to find the best pedagogic readers and make them available for free voluntary reading. A second is a recent innovation called “Handcrafted Books” (Dupuy and McQuillan 1997). Handcrafted Books are written by intermediate students, corrected by the teacher, and are to be read by beginners. Writers are instructed not to look up wordswhile writing; if intermediate students don’t know a word, the chances are good that beginners won’t know it either. Handcrafted Books thus have a good chance of being interesting and comprehensible; they are written by peers who are slightly more advanced than the readers.”

Okay, so this seems pretty counter-intuitive. If you want to learn a foreign language, then you use material from native speakers, right? But the more I thought about this, the more sense it seemed to make.

We recently had a comment about German books (I think it was by Vera) where she was saying that - as a native speaker of German - she found it almost impossible to know what kind of German book would be easy or hard for foreign learners of the language.

So if Krashen is right about this, maybe we are doing some things wrong at LingQ?

Maybe it is only the upper intermediate and advanced level stuff which actually needs to be composed by native speakers?

Maybe at least some of the beginner level material should be composed - as Krashen suggests - by fellow learners of the target language who are at a more advanced level? (Obviously it would still need to be corrected and recorded by native speakers.)

It sounds kind of crazy, I know. But what do you other guys think about this?

No, I really don’t agree.

Even if an intermediate student writes something correctly or gets it corrected, often a native speaker would have used some different words or a different phrasing.

I think almost anyone, even native speakers can get a ballpark figure of what level a text is if they really think about it. I can certainly tell if an English text is most suitable for beginner, intermediate or advanced students.

“Often a native speaker would have used some different words or a different phrasing.”

You’re right. But if I understand the theory correctly, that is actually the whole point.

The idea is that these texts would form a kind of ‘bridge’ leading learners on towards more advanced and authentically native material.

Well I think that’s good to notice early on so you can start to get yourself out of the habit of doing it however your native language would.

But I guess if the language is extremely different then maybe such a stepping stone would be useful. I dunno.

I remember a podcast Steve did with tracey, a former tutor at lingQ, a few years ago. In this podcast, Steve made a point about writing and speaking in a foreign language. Steve said to tracey that the students should speak as they wrote, but should not write as they spoke. I do not totally agree with steve since writing and speaking are different means of communication. Nobody speaks the way they write and vice versa.
I have been tutoring at lingQ for 3 or 4 years. Most of my students are fluent in French and there is no hint about their foreign origins but their accents. However, when it comes to writing, things are quite different and it becomes obvious that French is not their mother tongue.
SolYViento made a good point about writing, quote “Even if an intermediate student writes something correctly or gets it corrected, often a native speaker would have used some different words or a different phrasing” unquote.
I do think that all the contents found in the different libraries at lingQ, must be written by native speakers. It is not very difficult for me to correctly assess the level of the contents since I wore out so many trousers at school, my nose bent over French textbooks.

The way I wrote this answer will probably fuel SolYViento’s arguments about the phrasing of a native and non native English :slight_smile:

What about texts written by a native elementary school child? They ought to turn out simple and yet idiomatic. I could press flowersuccess into writing a couple of stories for LingQ to see what you think.

Serge, what I suggested and still believe is that for a learner, writing and speaking should be as similar as possible. This means that a learner should avoid slang and overly colloquial language in his or her spoken language since it is difficult to use such language correctly without a lot of practice. At the same time, a learner should just start writing as if they are speaking and not try to write in an overly literary manner. This makes it easier to start writing. A more formal style can be developed later. If the writing and speaking are similar in style, they reinforce each other as the learner develops more confidence in the language.

There are people who speak better than they write, and vice versa. There are non-native speakers, even ones with heavy accents, whose writing is indistinguishable from a native, and there are people with fluent, almost accent free English , whose writing always has mistakes.

We have put some corrected learners’ writing , recorded by the tutor, in the library. Whether this makes interesting content is up to the members here. I think if we know the member whose writing it is, it can be interesting. In some cases, however, the corrected text was still not natural English, and so the resulting lesson was not really all that appropriate.

On the other hand, some of our members have created excellent beginner and intermediate content. The greater our variety the better.


I think what you suggest could also be an interesting idea. However one potential weakness would be the age gap. A learner in his or her 40s might be kind of switched off by content which a child would find interesting…

The kind of example that I would envisage would go something like this:

1.) Steve would write (let’s say) a detective short story in Spanish. He would use whatever language comes to him naturally - if possible without looking anything up. The story itself would aim to be the kind of thing that a guy of his age and background would relate to and enjoy.

2.) One of the native Spanish speakers at LingQ would correct any mistakes. However he/she wouldn’t just be taking out really egregious errors. Their brief would be to make it sound quite natural - yet without introducing complex vocabulary, idioms, or complex syntax. Basically they would try to keep it as close as possible to what Steve had written, while basically making it into ‘good’ Spanish.

3.) The native speaker would record it and upload it to the libraray at LingQ (He or she would get the points for the story, while Steve would have to be satisfied with the benefit of having his creative writing in Spanish corrected!)

As an idea, I can see possibilities…


C’mon, I know you can do it ;-D Let’s see a new series of crime novels in Spanish!

“A problem with free reading in the second- and foreign-language situation is that it is hard to find texts that are both interesting and comprehensible; the beginning student will find authentic texts too difficult. There are two solutions to this problem”…

The third solution is to further develop technologies that help us read and comprehend the second- and foreign-language at the level above our current level. At the level where, were we left on our own, we would have found the language difficultand have soon dropped the reading.

When the Baylon dictionary, with its one-click translation first came out, more than 10 years ago, and was installed in our office, many of the immigrants started to read authentic news on their computers. ( It was in Israel, and my boss in the office happened to know a few people from the Babylon team).

LingQ is also such a technology, because its integrated hints and the dictionaries help to read and understand quicker. LingQ is not ideal for the purposes of reading, IMO, because it originally was not designed for it. ( I had expressed this my opinion long ago) . However, its development is going on and the system evolves.

I believe that certain e-books will very soon be equiped with integration of dictionaries and the learners’ words databases ( the latter seems to be the idea of lingQ), but their design will be from the start aimed to facilitate reading in a foreign language.

“I believe that certain e-books will very soon be equiped with integration of dictionaries…”

They already are. On my eReader you can just tap on a word on the screen in order to look it up in one of 6 university level bilingual dictionaries.

(Unfortunately it is still impossible to read with any comfort and enjoyment unless I already know at least 80% of the words in the text…)

JayB, I meant more than equipping a e-book with a dictionary. Imagine a wizard which knows wich words you, not an average user but you JayB, do not know. ( A more complex wizard would also know which phrases you would not understand, in spite of knowing the meaning of the individual words). The wizard makes use of its knowledge to facilitate your massive and quick reading with comprehension, rather then (but not excluding) your lingqueing.

Similar but not exactly these things were discussed on LingQ Forums many times. This summer, I have shown Steve and Mark the working prototype of such a system, orinted to a e-book reader, and to a movie watcher who needs to read foreign captions quickly.

I think I know what Ilya means. The wizard could recognise the phrases you have searched for before and found difficult ( it could be difficult word order, strange positioning of pronouns, a strange conjugation of a verb) and then highlights all phrases which are similar to the difficult ones in your search history.

Oh no James123, I didn’t mean what you suggest. Enjoy the full rights to your invention :slight_smile: .

I mean the application that is, primary, helps you immediately comprehend what you are reading, without getting your eye and your thought away from what you are reading, away to openning new windows, invoking dictionaries, etc. The wizard is a wizard, let even imaginary :slight_smile:

“handcrafted books” can be a lot of fun for students to make. They can work as a team, and they can add illustrations and things to their stories. It’s as much for the students making the book, as it is for students reading the book.

They may indeed choose words and phrases that a native speaker may not choose, but that is why the teacher corrects their text. Anything that is noticeably unnatural can be changed.

Also, some schools simply don’t have a lot of money and may not be willing to invest in a library of foreign-language reading material.

However, I think this idea really is most appropriate in schools. I’m not sure how applicable it is to independent language learners. We have very good graded readers in many languages now, plenty of textbooks, online dictionaries, and tools like LingQ.

With experience, I think teachers can develop a fairly good idea of what students will find comprehensible at different levels of ability.

I think if a learner uses the LingQ system to study it doesn’t matter if the text has unknown vocabulary, because it is so easy to look up new words, make flashcards and study it later.

It’s immediately obvious if the text is in your level before you even open it because you can see how many new words it has.

Usually in LingQ I have the problem of texts being too easy, not too difficult.

I think this is only an issue in traditional language classrooms where students don’t have the tecnology of LingQ at hand, instead they are relying only on paper dictionaries, or worse they are just asking the teacher every question they don’t understand, which makes reading very tedious and difficult.

In the classroom I like to give students something to read and instruct them to read for the main idea, without looking up or asking about words they don’t know. Then they summarize it and talk about it. They can later go home and look up all the words they don’t understand, without wasting precious class time. If a word is crucial to the overall understanding of the article, then I explain it first.