25 Ways to Find or Create Comprehensible Input

In my last post I promised ten ways to find or create comprehensible input.

As I started writing though, ten seemed like just a beginning and so I kept writing.

Comprehensible input is too important to restrict to ten ideas.

As well, I find that I learn the language in one of three settings and so it seemed fitting to divide this post into sections reflecting those environments.

I learn language in the personal setting, by myself as I study on my own.  I learn language in a lesson setting, where I intentionally work with a native speaker for a set period of time.

And I learn language in a community setting, when I head out to be with native speakers in an informal way.

Each of these settings is different and present their own unique challenges for obtaining comprehensible input.  Regardless of the setting though, it is important as independent language learners that you find or create the comprehensible input that you need to learn the language.

It is your responsibility.

Before I begin, if you are not sure why you need to find or create comprehensible input, I would encourage you to go back and read Comprehensible Input, my last post.

As well, for the sake of brevity, I have tried to do my best to offer brief summaries of the ideas below.

If I or others have written about them elsewhere, I have tried to include a link so that you can get more in depth information if you would like.

Are there more ideas out there? I am sure there are and I would love to see you share your ideas in the comment section below.

The Personal Setting

  1. Children’s Books: Children’s books are written with a narrower vocabulary and are usually supported with pictures, both of which help aid comprehension. Read More.
  2. Dora the Explorer: Children’s cartoons can be a great source of comprehensible input. Some are better than others. Dora the Explorer for example narrates nearly everything she does in a repetitive fashion so that as Dora is walking down the yellow brick road she is usually saying something like, “I’m walking down the yellow brick road. I’m walking, walking, walking. I am walking down the yellow brick road.” Finding dubbed versions of these can be a great source of comprehensible input.
  3. Google Translate: Finding resources like Dora the Explorer in the target language is usually the challenge. With Google Translate and Youtube though, you can find just about anything. Type: Watch Dora the Explorer into Google Translate and then copy the translated phrase into the Youtube search bar. You can use Google Translate to search for tons of things in this way. A few to consider: clothing catalogue, children’s stories, world news, or the name of your favorite hobby. Read More. Read More.
  4. Passion Podcasts or Blogs: Using Google Translate, find podcasts or blogs about the things you are passionate about. If you are a Man United fanatic, find blogs and podcasts about Man United in the target language. What’s your passion? Harley Davidson? Fly Fishing? Star Trek? Apple Computers? George Cloony? Internet Marketing? Find a blog or podcast created by a native speaker about that topic.
  5. Comic Books: Comic books use the pictures to tell half the story, giving you a tremendous amount of background knowledge. The reading is mostly just the dialogue between characters. A comic book or graphic novel can be a great source of comprehensible input.
  6. Dubbed Movies: Finding your favorite movie dubbed into the language you are learning can be an excellent source of comprehensible input. Your interest is high,  you have great amount of background knowledge and you can watch scenes or the whole movie again and again.
  7. Narrow Reading:  Rather than skipping around and reading about a lot of different subjects, reading a variety of different texts about the same subject builds background knowledge and creates more comprehensible input.  As an example you may read four different newspaper articles about the same current event.  Each author writes from their own point of view, but each uses the same set of words and structures. Read More.  This could also be expanded to other activities: watching movies, listening to podcasts and listening to other native speakers – all about the same topic. Read More.
  8. Books in a Series: Reading a series (Narnia or Harry Potter for example) is another great way to create comprehensible input.  A great deal of background knowledge, vocabulary and the writer’s style carries over from one book to the next.  For example, as I have read through the Harry  Potter series, there was a larger percentage of words that I knew in book 2 that had carried over from book 1.  This allowed my mind to get integrated review of what I already knew while being able to focus on the new stuff that was coming up.
  9. Label Up:  We have probably all at one time or another labeled the things in our home with the new language.  This is great, but we can increase the amount of comprehensible input available by expanding this labeling to include statements about what the object does, or what we do to it.  For example if you label the door, why not also write a few sentences below the word: I open the door. I close the door. I knock on the door.  This will give you more interaction with more of the language. Read More.
  10. Repeat – reread, re-watch, re-listen: Don’t be afraid to read the same book twice or watch a movie four times in a row. With each pass through, you will understand more, allowing your brain to make more and deeper connections of meaning with the words and structures you are seeing.
  11. Side-by-side reading: Side-by-side books have the story in both languages in the same book. One language on the right page, the other language on the left page. I would avoid reading sentence by sentence, but being able to look back and forth as you read does much to increase comprehensible input. Learn More.
  12. Livemocha or Rosetta Stone: These two programs will not do everything for you, but can be a supplemental activity that will provide you with lots of comprehensible input.  Do a lesson a day as part of your program and they can be a great resource. Read More. Read More.

The Lesson Setting

  1. Catalogues:  Home Furnishing catalogues like the ones IKEA gives away can be a great resource to use with a native speaker.  You can do a lot of great activities that provide really great comprehensible input with them. Read More.
  2. Total Physical Response:  Total Physical Response is a classroom activity that language teachers have been using for some time.  It is time tested and proven to really work.  The challenge is to turn it around so that you the learner can direct what is going on while still receiving the great input. A good game of Simon Says may be a good place to start. See an Example in the classroom.
  3. Language Acquisition Projects (LAPs):  Developed by Dwight Gradin, LAPs are an amazing way to get structured and ever expanding comprehensible input.  There is a brief summary of how to use LAPs as well as 26 LAPs in Peter Pikkert’s FREE LACE Manual.  I am hoping that a training video will be made for LAPs one day because they are amazing once you know how to use them.  LAPs were the single most powerful tool I used at the beginning of my Turkish journey.
  4. Handcrafted Stories:  Handcrafted stories are stories that you have written.  After you correct them with a native speaking friend, they become a great source of comprehensible input because they are interesting and filled with background knowledge (you wrote them after all).  And since you wrote them, they are at your level.  Perfect!  Record your native speaking friend reading them, put them on your ipod and now you have an amazing source of comprehensible input that you can add to your personal study time. Read More.
  5. Road Map: On a large poster board, draw a map of your town with some of the main landmarks.  Borrow one of your son’s matchbox cars (optional).  Now sit down with a native speaker and have him tell you how to get to one place or another as if you are the taxi driver.  This is a great way to get a lot of input and also really get a lot of practice at understanding directions.
  6. Story Telling:  Have your native speaking friend or  language helper tell you a common story that you both know.  Thinks of childhood stories, folktales, etc. You could also give them a bunch of props and have them use the props to make up and tell a story. Read More.
  7. Re-tell:  Have a friend or language helper re-tell something that you both saw.  Last night’s football match.  A TV show or movie.  It has to be something that you watched as well.  This will give you the background knowledge that will help create comprehensible input.
  8. Speak to a Topic:  Chose a common topic and have your native speaking friend talk about it for a few minutes.  Have them tell you about their family, their favorite team, their favorite food, etc.

The Community Setting

  1. The Grand Tour Question: The grand tour question is asked about a specific personal narrative of a person’s life. Examples could be questions about a favorite childhood memory, about a national event that everyone experienced, or about a future event. Questions about the past will give you answers using the past forms of grammar, questions about the future will give you future forms. The key to creating comprehensible input is to ask multiple people the same question. Each will give you their own story about the same topic. Grammar forms and much of the vocabulary will be repeated. Asking this question to four or five people in the same week and by the the time you are listening to the last one, your comprehension will have improved significantly. If it’s possible, record these narratives for later listening. Read More.
  2. Strategic Shopping: Admit it. You love to shop. For language learning, shopping strategically will increase the amount of comprehensible input you receive. Chose an item that you need (want) to buy. Before you head out to shop for it, prepare yourself by looking up key vocabulary and writing down some key questions. Then proceed to the first store and ask the clerk about the product. Listen intently. Ask questions. Ask them to repeat what they said if you need them to. Ask them to write new words down. Thank them and leave. Go to store two. Repeat the same process with a new clerk. Thank them a leave. Go to store three. Repeat the process. Read More.
  3. Dumb/Smart Questions: One of my favorites, the Dumb/Smart question is dumb because you already know the answer to the question you are going to ask and it’s smart because this background knowledge gives you a a much greater chance of understanding what the person says and thus, receiving comprehensible input. Read More. Watch.
  4. Take Control: One of the best things you can do in the community setting to ensure you receive comprehensible input is to take control of the conversations. You can do this with some of the ideas above, but you can also do this by just asking people to slow down, or repeat things or to give examples.  Watch More.
  5. Help them Help you: In general, people aren’t all that good at giving comprehensible input. Usually they either realize you aren’t a native speaker and break into a really loud and generally grammatically incorrect sort of caveman dialect or they don’t realize and continue to talk a mile a minute with no concept that you may not be following them at all. With a little gentle instruction however, most can become great sources of comprehensible input. As an added bonus this will increase the amount of actual communication that takes place and your friendship will become much richer. Read More.

If you have any questions about these, please ask them in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them there and would ask for your input as well.

Together we can create a great conversation that will help all of us as everyday language learners.

Read this article in German, Polish

Do you have other ideas for finding comprehensible input?


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22 Responses to 25 Ways to Find or Create Comprehensible Input
  1. 葛修远
    June 2, 2011 | 4:52 pm

    This really is great, especially the ‘community’ section. I like the way you divide up language input into different domains like this as well. I subscribe to a lot of language-learning blogs, which I sometimes think is a waste of time but it’s this sort of content that makes it worthwhile.

    • aarongmyers
      June 2, 2011 | 5:37 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I am glad the list has been helpful.

  2. Nicole
    June 2, 2011 | 6:53 pm

    Looks Great, Aaron! Going to read this one later. I think there are a lot of helpful reminders here. BTW, congrats on your recent blog win!

    • aarongmyers
      June 2, 2011 | 8:10 pm

      Thanks Nicole. I hope you will find lots of great ideas and thanks for the congratulations as well. Have a great day.

  3. Andrew
    June 3, 2011 | 7:28 am

    Fantastic list, I especially agree with the use of dubbed movies and TV shows, those are one of my favorite methods of learning–you can not only work on your comprehension but also your speaking ability by simply repeating what the characters say and then rewinding, listening, and doing it again until you sound exactly like they do. I know people who have learned whole languages (typically English from American movies, I’ve seen several cases of this, most prominently a Swiss girl I knew in high school) using entirely and ONLY this method (no grammar, no lessons, no textbooks, just movies).

    Also, thanks for the link.


    • aarongmyers
      June 3, 2011 | 2:15 pm

      Thanks Andrew. I think there is something for everyone here. Those learning English seem to have an advantage don’t they. (And Spanish isn’t too far behind if your living in the states.) Thankfully, finding dubbed movies is one place we English speakers have the advantage. Outside of bad Chinese Bruce Lee movies, it seems we have gotten used to the idea of subtitles. Turkey has an amazing dubbing industry though. High quality and high quantity. I’ve heard that Russia doesn’t do much other than cartoons. Not sure if that is true or not. Maybe a good topic to discuss on Twitter. Which countries have high quality dubbing industries?

      • Roman D.
        June 3, 2011 | 10:33 pm

        First of all, thanks, Aaron, for such a wonderful work on putting together the list. Truly, the possibilities are numerous, when you put a little bit of creativity into it :)

        Now, as for subtitles, it depends on the content. While professional dubbing industry may vary from country to country, there are many amateur and semi-professional enthusiasts always working on translating movies, shows, games (when possible), etc.

        In Russia, there is actually a great market of dubbed movies and, as of recent years, western TV shows. However, the quality of translation often suffers, and it is obvious to any person fluent in both languages. However, the requirements might not be as steep for a person who learns Russian for he 1) knows the movie already 2) won’t necessarily understand everything to realize there’s a significant difference in quality.

        So, Russian is probably the language that doesn’t lack in input materials :) As are major European languages.

        • aarongmyers
          June 4, 2011 | 9:11 am

          Thanks for the comment and the update on Russian dubbing. I think you make a good point – the quality may not be all that important if you are wanting to learn Russian. As long as it’s close and “Russian” it will provide comprehensible input (if you have a good base of background knowledge).

          Take care,


  4. RealPolish
    June 9, 2011 | 2:30 pm

    Thank you for your great advices! I’m Polish native and I’ve learned English on my own for one and a half year. I’ve never used a grammar books or study grammar, I find Comprehensible Input as a most powerful method in learning languages.

    • aarongmyers
      June 9, 2011 | 5:39 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Your English is pretty great for a year and a half! Congrats and I think you are a great example of the power of comprehensible input, high quality interaction and a lot of determination. Your blog looks great too. Anyone looking for Polish resources ought to check it out!

      • RealPolish
        August 18, 2011 | 7:02 pm

        WoW! many thanks for a good word! I really apreciate it!

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  7. rgould
    January 6, 2012 | 12:51 am

    As an alternative to Google Translate, I’ve often found that Wikipedia works really well for finding the name of something in a foreign language. In Russian for example, Dora the Explorer is translated by Google as “Дора исследователь” (Dora Isslyedovatyel), but in Russian, Dora is actually called “Даша-следопыт” (Dasha-slyedopit). Entering the proper term into youtube gives better results.

    • aarongmyers
      January 6, 2012 | 5:45 pm

      @rgould Thanks for the tip about Wikipedia – another great source of target language material!

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  10. Gül Öztürk
    November 26, 2012 | 4:31 pm

    This article was really educating, thank you so much. I look for easy news and discussion forums for my target language; it is nice to see daily talk . I am a native Turkish speaker and I am building my Finnish and Swedish vocabulary usually this way. Also, I subscribed language learning blog pages, the nicest thing with them is that you can ask your questions, too. lingq.com has audio files for all lessons and lexin.nada.kth.se is a perfect multilingual dictionary with sample sentences. I like your webpage and all this information you share with your readers.

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  12. Comprehensible Input | ashleyfesl
    February 15, 2013 | 11:28 am

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  13. Comprehensible Input Resources « broadyesl
    February 15, 2013 | 7:45 pm

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  14. Erik
    September 29, 2013 | 7:07 am

    This is an essential resource!

    You should make a Facebook page called Comprehensible Input where people can share the articles they find that are both interesting and comprehensible.

    One more idea: After writing an entry on Lang-8, ask a native to correct it while also suggesting the most natural form of expression as possible, Then RECORD it! …that way, you can listen to your own thoughts, the way you SHOULD HAVE expressed them! (as opposed to seeing your corrections once and just forgetting them!)

    For learning Portuguese, I made a chrome extension that allows anyone to mark-up any article, adding translations, example sentences, etc. And then, share it. …however, I’m the only person that actually uses it for that! (others just use it as a dictionary extension)

    Anyway, I think my website is a decent resource of comprehensible Portuguese input for Englsih speakers going from Intermediate to Advanced. Have a look at the articles:

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