In the late evening of Wednesday April 20, Saudi TESOL introduced Professor Stephen Krashen to several hundred of its members who had gathered online for the opportunity to hear one of TESOL’s most accomplished and influential figures. In ELT as well as in the wider educational world, there are very few who are unfamiliar with the name Krashen, having learned of him through his frequent citations in articles, theses, and journals. Even his face is well-known to educators as it has appeared so many times on the back cover of resource books that he has authored. But this was not a staid academic who took his valuable time to meet with Saudi TESOL. The well-known intellectual greeted his audience warmly and showed himself to be a sincere, charismatic gentleman, who welcomed them into his home on a bright and beautiful early southern California afternoon.
From the start, the event promised to be special. Professor Krashen’s lecture centered on the strong correlation between the acquisition of language and self-selected reading of graded well-written fiction. In an academic presentation, all very underpinned by rigorous research, the speaker chose to illustrate his points through colorful storytelling, revealing fascinating and often humorous scenarios in his day-to-day life on the west coast of America.
The introduction by Dr Abdullah Al-Bargi, the President of Saudi TESOL, placed Professor Krashen’s body of work alongside those of Chomsky, Skinner, Descartes, and the Ancient Greeks in terms of informing contemporary approaches to language learning and teaching. Eventually, Dr Al-Bargi explained how much of an influence the Professor had been to him personally in his academic life, which undoubtedly expressed the feelings of many others in attendance.
After a brilliant synopsis of four of the five hypotheses for which he is best-known, Professor Krashen explored how his fourth or fifth language, Spanish, has improved dramatically in the past two years. He recounted how he meets once a week while grocery shopping with a Spanish speaker who works at the local supermarket. It seems both parties enjoy the conversations, but they are very brief as his conversational partner is in his workplace. He went on to reveal a love of graded Colombian popular fiction which consumed him during lockdown and which he now listens to in his car. It is this activity, he explained, and not the two minutes of conversation per week, that has led to the improvement in his Spanish skills.
The professor continued in this vein, making points which were research-based before illustrating the idea with warm, colorful anecdotes. Did you know Krashen was a big Harry Potter fan or once spent the entire night reading his son’s Spiderman comic book collection after he found the first to be utterly compelling? His son now has a PhD in mathematics, prompting his father to refer to him as “the real Dr Krashen”.
Dr Turki Alsolami, who supports Dr Al-Bargi as the Vice-Presient of Saudi TESOL, had lined up questions from members in attendance which were put to Krashen in a chockfull 30 minutes of Q & A. Despite the impressive number of questions put to Krashen, Dr Alsolami expressed regret for not having the time to ask all of the audience’s questions. Those which Krashen fielded were noted as good questions by the professor, which only added to the affinity which had been growing throughout the session between the special guest and his audience.
Wrapping up the two-hour session, Dr Al-Bargi warmly expressed his sincere thanks to the speaker for giving so much of his valuable time to the members of the still nascent Saudi TESOL. Krashen’s response included the word “Habibi” which fully won over both the Saudi TESOL Board members, charming both them and the large online audience.
Finally, Dr Al-Bargi promised another giant in the field for the second session of this lecture series, fully in line with Saudi TESOL’s remit, “Talks by the World’s Most Prominent Scholars in Language Education”.
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