Stephen Krashen presented his Theory of Second Language Acquisition back in the 1980′s. It has been a leading influencer in thinking about language learning ever since and has had a big impact on my thinking of how we learn language and thus, how I can help others learn language for themselves.
The theory itself has five parts and while much of it has had an influence on language education, some of the ideas are more widely accepted than others. In it all is a lot of debate and a lot of scientific sounding language, but I want to focus on trying to unpack one part of it in a way that is useful for the everyday language learner.
Krashen, in his great little book Foreign Language Education the Easy Way says:
“We acquire language in only one way, when we understand messages, that is when we obtain “comprehensible input.” Thus, we acquire when we understand what people tell us or what we read, when we are absorbed in the message. More precisly, we acquire when we understand messages containing aspects of language that we are developmentally ready to acquire but have not yet acquired.”
This is all best understood if it is demonstrated and so in the following video, circa the early 80′s, Krashen himself demonstrates what he means by Comprehensible Input.
In watching this video it becomes all too clear that comprehensible input helps us internalize the language, recognize words and patterns and leads to our learning the language. I am not too concerned over what is meant by acquisition or learning. I am also not concerned with whether Krashen’s theory is 100% true or not. I’m pretty sure most of you don’t even care who Krashen is! I am only concerned with trying to take what I feel are the best parts of this idea and trying to realistically help learners apply them to their language learning journey. That’s what I am trying to do here.
The problem is that while most of us can agree that comprehensible input will greatly improve language learning, we don’t know how to go about finding it. It’s not something that can be standardized and turned into a nice little learning method product we can purchase from Amazon.com. And while comprehensible input is beneficial, the world we live in is not overly charitable in handing it out. In fact mostly, when it comes to comprehensible input, our world is downright cruel.
In the past, teachers have been the best at providing comprehensible input. They were trained in this thinking, in ideas like Total Physical Response, providing background knowledge and scaffolding. Most language teachers were, and still are very good at this. As independent, self-directed language learners however, we don’t have a teacher providing it for us and must find ways to find it for ourselves.
In my next post I would like to present ten ways independent language learners can make sure that they are getting the comprehensible input they need to learn the language. If we can’t find comprehensible input on the market or in the world around us, then it is our job to create it for ourselves. Thankfully this is not all that difficult and can be a lot of fun. So be sure and check back on Thursday for some great ideas.
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