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Comprehensible Input Based Language Learning

What is Comprehensible Input

Comprehensible input is language input that can be understood by listeners despite them not understanding all the words and structures in it. It is described as one level above that of the learners if it can only just be understood. According to Stephen Krashen’s theory of language acquisition, giving learners this kind of input helps them acquire language naturally, rather than learn it consciously.

Language Learning and the Input-Based Approach

I often get asked to provide subtitles or a transcript for the videos I do in other languages, I simply don’t have time to do this. Basically, all I’m able to do is some of these videos every now and again. I’m just not going to provide transcripts, but people are welcome to do so if they want to do so. What I am going to do, though, I’m going to more or less cover the same ground here in English that I covered in my two most recent videos in Chinese and Japanese, so that might help you.

With the Japanese I mentioned, first of all, that we are going to have another hangout. I’m actually planning to have it on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, which is at midnight Greenwich Mean Time or Coordinated, whatever it’s called, UTC something time. In other words, one hour to the east of Europe if you want to join me. We don’t know what language we’re going to be speaking, probably English, but if people want to come in Japanese or in other languages that’s fine. That time slot does work for Asia, so hopefully we’ll have some participants from Japan, China or Korea. So if you can make it, please come to the LingQ page at Google Plus or let me know here at my YouTube channel.

So that is the first point I mention and the second point is I wanted to cover this issue of input-base learning. In other words, read a lot, listen a lot. Basically, that’s what it amounts to. It amounts to spending most of your time listening, reading, working on your vocabulary and becoming familiar with the language rather than on output-activities or grammar-focused activities. That doesn’t mean there is no output or that people don’t look at grammar, but it means that the bulk of the time is spent on listening and reading and building up vocabulary.

Why do I think this is a better way to learn languages? I have five reasons. First of all, because it works, it works very well. Some of the best polyglots on the Internet ], if you study their methods you’ll see that it generally involves a lot of reading, 100 years or so, 150 years ago, and, of course, today with the availability of new technology, listening. In my own case, it’s worked for me.

My most recent experience was Czech, where for the first eight months I only listened and read and then gradually started speaking and stepped up the speaking just prior to going to Prague. I arrived in Prague and I could understand everything and my speaking, which was already call it a low intermediate level, I think I stepped up to maybe a middle intermediate level. Of course you have to continue speaking, but I was able to do all of that because I had a sound basis in the language and that sound basis comes from a lot of listening and reading.

So it’s effective, number one. Number two, it’s easy. You can do it anywhere. You can do it listening in your car, washing the dishes as I do or exercising. You just have it with you, you’re waiting somewhere and you do it. So it’s very easy. Similarly with reading, particularly now. I didn’t mention it in Chinese or Japanese, but we have an iPad app. So if you’re doing it at LingQ or somewhere else, you can have reading on your iPad. You can print stuff and read it. You can borrow stuff from the library. You can do it, it’s so flexible. You don’t have to go to a classroom, half an hour to get there, sit in the class, half an hour to come back.

Also, in terms of effectiveness, I just wanted to mention if you’re listening or reading, you’re 100% with the language. In a classroom, half of the time you’re having to listen to other students who may not use the language as well as you do and so, to my mind, it’s much less effective than time you spend with the language.

The third thing about input-based learning is that you’re not making mistakes. A lot of people are afraid to make mistakes. If you’re forced to speak, you’ll make mistakes. You’re listening; you can’t make a mistake when you’re listening. You might misunderstand something. It might be a little fuzzy at times. You may have the wrong interpretation when there are words you don’t understand.

None of that matters. That’s part of the process and things that are unclear and fuzzy at an early stage will eventually start to become clearer. So you’re not really making mistakes, but you’re in that stage of your learning where the brain is gradually becoming more and more familiar with the language. You’re learning more and more words and, of course, things are going to be unclear to you. So that’s an advantage.

Another advantage of listening and reading is you can do things that are interesting because you can choose what you want to listen to and read. Obviously, the first month or so you’re stuck with beginner material which is often not very interesting, but I certainly encourage people to move beyond the beginner material as soon as possible to get into things of interest. I certainly find that if I find something of interest, even if there are a lot of unknown words, I’ll work hard with that text because it’s of interest to me. So you can be doing stuff that’s of interest.

In the case of my Czech learning and my Russian before that, I was able to learn so much about Czech history, the history of Central Europe, the political situation in the Czech Republic, so when I get to Prague I have all this wonderful background. So you’re doing stuff that’s interesting and you’re learning other things besides just the language itself, which is more interesting than sitting in a classroom. Again, because there, necessarily, you’re dealing with learner material that’s been devised by someone to make sure it includes all of this vocabulary and this grammar structure and stuff, which often makes it very uninteresting.

Finally, learning via an input-based approach is cheaper. You don’t have to spend anything. You can go to the library. You can find stuff on the Internet. If you want to, there are services like LingQ or you can buy yourself an Assimil or you can buy yourself a Pimsleur, whatever, but it’s still a lot less expensive than going to class. Now, it may be that someone else is paying for the class, but that doesn’t change the fact that the class is expensive. Inherently, because you have a trained professional there in front of students, someone has got to pay for that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to class, but if you do the main emphasis, in my opinion, should be on input-based learning.

Now, input-based learning has a drawback and that is for it to be effective you have to be motivated. You have to be disciplined. You have to be a self-starter. You have to be curious about things. You have to go out and find content of interest. You have to have the confidence that you can succeed. This is often the problem with inexperienced language learners who have never really become fluent in another language. They can’t visualize themselves as fluent, so they kind of half defeat it before they start. They think they’ll never get there and if you think that then probably you won’t. You have to be a positive, confident, motivated, independent learner. However, if you go to a class and you aren’t a confident, motivated, independent learner, you won’t learn either.

I mentioned in the Chinese video I did that they did a study of Chinese immigrants to Canada and found that in seven years (they followed about 3,000 immigrants who were taking ESL here at these government-sponsored schools) there was essentially no improvement, statistically no improvement. Those who spoke well when they arrived spoke well and continued to speak well and those that didn’t speak when they arrived still couldn’t speak very well.

That’s just to say that very often in a classroom environment if the learner is not motivated, in other words doesn’t have all the qualities you require to be an independent learner and to take advantage of listening, reading and input-based learning, you won’t be successful in the classroom either. So the classroom can provide a lot of social benefits and feedback and so forth, but even if you’re in a classroom make sure that your main emphasis is on listening and reading and building up your vocabulary.

There you have it. I’m sure that I’ll get a lot of flak for this one, but I really strongly believe it. It’s the thing that people don’t understand. You don’t have to speak from day one. You don’t have to do drills. You have to listen and read a lot. Thank you for listening.

Listen and read the transcript on LingQ. Try it for free today and improve your language ability.

Comprehensible Input on LingQ

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