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The concept of comprehensible input (CI) derives from Stephen Krashen's hypothesis on second language acquisition. Activities based on CI require students to actively gain an understanding of the teacher’s instruction and of the context in which the targeted language is being used. Therefore, CI provides a practical instrument to guide students towards a natural acquisition of the second language. In this article, we will explore the benefits of incorporating CI in your language classes.
Language acquisition vs. learning: the foundation of the Comprehensible Input approach
The concept of Comprehensible Input was developed by linguist Stephen Krashens after years of studying the process of language acquisition in children. In his Theory of Second Language Acquisition, Dr. Krashen identifies two paths to second language performance. The first path is called language acquisition, the second one is that of language learning. What sets them apart?
Language acquisition, according to Krashen, is a process that occurs at the unconscious level, through constant exposure to a language. Acquisition is what occurs in children when they learn to speak their native language. Children's attention is focused on understanding the messages they receive from outside and communicating with their surroundings. Language learning, on the other hand, is what happens within a regulated and, in a certain sense, artificial context such as a language course.
To Krashen, the most effective route to learning a second language is through acquisition. The key point of Krashen's theory is that becoming fluent requires concrete and constant interaction with the target language. The conclusion of this approach, then, is that we acquire literacy when we become able to understand and transmit messages.
The Input Hypothesis
According to Krashen, learning a second language can be a natural process on par with learning the native language.
For this to be possible, however, the student should be exposed to compelling and meaningful content that prompts him or her to continuously interact with the targeted language. This content is defined by Krashen as Comprehensible Input.
In the above video, Dr. Krashen explains the core concepts of the Input Hypothesis. Comprehensible input is the language that learners can understand without recognizing all the grammatical structures in it. For it to be effective, the impulse should be just one level above the student's level of proficiency.
It is, therefore, possible to summarize the Input Hypothesis as it has been done here:
“[…] Language learners improve in a language when they are given language input that is slightly more advanced than their current level. Krashen called this “i + 1” where “i” is a person’s current language level and “+1” represents language that is slightly more advanced than their current level.”
Is the Comprehensible Input approach an effective language teaching method?
From a purely academic point of view, there is no clear consensus about the effectiveness of the Comprehensible Input approach. Some have criticized Krashen's theory, arguing that it is possible to achieve excellent levels of fluency even in traditional classroom teaching contexts.
On the other hand, some studies have experimentally tested the Comprehensible Input approach, obtaining results that seem to confirm the validity and effectiveness of this method.
As we have stated several times, each language teaching method has its strengths and each method can be the right one if it meets the needs and inclinations of the students.
The Comprehensible Input approach certainly has strengths for those who want to encourage students to interact more in the second language but without forcing them into traditional classroom exercises that often fail to stimulate the curiosity of students.
As we will see in the following section, a classroom-based on the Comprehensible Input approach is highly interactive and entertaining.
The Comprehensible Input approach requires the active involvement of students and is most effective when supported by the use of multimedia language learning content. Therefore, using this method will allow you to introduce different study materials (books, movies, podcasts) naturally into the language classroom, providing students with interactive and stimulating learning materials.
Finally, there is another advantage of this approach to consider: it can be practiced anywhere without spending too much.
If you are having difficulty engaging students to participate in classroom activities or if you notice that your students struggle to actively use the targeted language, the following sections on the implementation of Comprehensible Input strategies may give you some ideas on how to make things better.
Comprehensible Input strategies for language teachers
The first step in preparing a lesson based on the Comprehensible Input approach is to determine the proficiency level of the students -- always remember the "i +1" formula!
Krashen himself identifies four strategies depending on the level of students' proficiency:
- Direct Instruction: this is an approach to use during the early steps of the language acquisition process. In this case, it is the teacher who instructs the students on what to do. It is very important at this stage to put the words and phrases in context to help students understand. As it has been noted, “appropriate context is crucial” and providing instructions based on experiences that are relatable to the students is a powerful way to aid their understanding.
- Joint Construction: this strategy is appropriate for students with a basic language understanding. In this case, students can interact more with the teacher, and carry out instructions on their own. The teacher's guiding role, however, must always be present.
- Coached Construction: in this case, students enjoy a significant level of autonomy. The teacher no longer guides the progress of activities but observes students acting individually, intervening only if necessary. In this phase, it is possible to start exploiting multimedia content to help students develop a greater understanding of targeted language.
- Monitoring: In this phase the autonomy of the students is maximum, and constant supervision by the teacher is no longer necessary.
Bringing the Comprehensible Input approach in the classroom with Sanako Connect
A central assumption of the Comprehensible Input approach is that the input must be comprehensible but also compelling. Therefore, it is important to use language learning content that not only aids understanding of the input but also provides the stimulus for students to discuss the topics of the lesson.
The best way to keep student engagement high is to vary the source of input. That's why using multimedia content is a great way to convey consistent language and at the same time create opportunities for discussion.
The resources that a teacher has available in this case are endless: presentations, infographics, specialized reading, songs and podcasts, Youtube videos, games and apps, etc. The important thing is that they are level-appropriate and that they help students understand and convey meaningful concepts.
Sanako Connect is a solution for language educators to deploy interactive language teaching strategies based on multimedia learning content. This browser-based software allows teachers to create their own educational materials and easily share them with students.
Educators can use Sanako Connect’s content creation features to add energy to their lesson, exploiting the power of visuals to broaden students’ understanding of new concepts. Connect also empowers teachers to set up speaking exercises for students that can be carried out either individually or in groups. Therefore, it is possible to have students read a text or watch a film and then open a discussion to test students' understanding. This approach allows for the consistent development of reading, listening, and speaking skills as part of comprehensible input.
Sanako’s products are designed to provide students adequate time to actively practice core language skills. Therefore, Sanako solutions provide the necessary inputs to help students acquire a foreign language naturally.