Creating More Comprehensible Input While Getting Comprehensible Input

When acquiring languages through comprehensible input, how can we help others acquire languages in the process? Here’s one thing I’ve been doing.

In my post on the first anniversary of this blog, Beyond Language Learning, I wrote how one of my intentions is not just to acquire new languages myself, but to do it in ways that will make language acquisition easier and more accessible to other people.

One small way that I’m doing this right now is with a project that might help other people acquire a language as I acquire one, and even enhance my own language acquisition in doing so.

I’m sharing it here because I’m interested in what other possibilities there may be for helping other people acquire a language in the process of acquiring a language oneself, and I hope that it can inspire other people to try similar things.

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Creating Comprehensible Input Videos for Beginning English Learners

They say that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and that you should be the change you wish to see in the world.

I’ve written a lot about the lack of content that presents languages in ways that make them understandable so that even beginning learners can just watch, listen, and pick up languages efficiently without study, practice, or translation.

Experts widely agree that exposure to a new language in ways that you can understand what is being said—known as comprehensible input—is critical to acquiring the language and becoming fluent in it.

Yet decades after linguist Stephen Krashen popularized the concept of comprehensible input, for practically any given language, there is still very little material that lower-level adult learners can easily understand without added study or instruction.

This kind of comprehensible input seems to be so rare that I had to go halfway around the world to the unique AUA Thai Program in Bangkok in order to find it in abundance.

For a long time I’ve complained about the lack of comprehensible input and lamented the opportunities silently lost because of it.

Now I’ve decided to do something about it.

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Abundant Compelling Comprehensible Input: What We’re Aiming For, and How to Get There

There’s no shortage of compelling things to communicate in every language. The challenge is having people make them highly comprehensible even to those who don’t yet know their language at all.

In order to acquire new languages as effectively, efficiently, enjoyably, and effortlessly as possible, the most important thing is to have an abundance of compelling comprehensible input at every level.

Compelling comprehensible input means being able to hear the language you’re learning in ways that are both highly interesting and highly understandable to you.

Unfortunately, although we have both the technology and human resources to create it in abundance today, compelling comprehensible input remains needlessly scarce.

This is especially the case for total beginners, but it’s true for every level of learner, all the way up to advanced.

This blog, Beyond Language Learning, is about creating a world where compelling comprehensible input is available in abundance to every language learner.

You’re reading this, I hope, because you too are interested in the same kind of goal, thinking about how to get there, and perhaps even working already to build that world.

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The Dangers of “Cargo-Cult” Thinking in Applying the ALG Approach

A sometime enthusiast of the Automatic Language Growth approach recently remarked to me that there’s a somewhat cultish aspect to the theory.

I definitely agree that the central claims of ALG—that given the right experiences and approach, adults can acquire new languages effortlessly and approach native-like levels of fluency—are of the sort that can inspire potentially cult-like devotion.

One of the main messages I try to communicate is that there are good reasons to take such claims seriously and they need to be the subject of rigorous scientific research.

Research of this kind largely hasn’t been done yet, but I think it could yield important insights supporting far better language learning.

In the meantime, we need to think clearly and carefully about how we go about putting ALG ideas and concepts into practice.

A danger that can arise from an uncritical devotion to ALG based on aspects of the theory that can capture the imagination is to become dogmatic about applying it without regard to practical concerns such as the overall context.

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We Need Opportunities To Pick Up Languages Without Study

About a month ago I released a video telling the story so far of Automatic Language Growth, the AUA Thai Program, and the need for better research and opportunities to support language acquisition for adults.

The response has been positive from those who are already familiar with AUA and the ALG approach, as well as from others who are involved in language teaching using comprehensible input-based approaches.

Of course, to focus on the response from this audience would be, to some extent, just preaching to the choir.

I’m more concerned about feedback from people such as those who are unfamiliar with comprehensible input and those who are skeptical of approaches like ALG, so that I can respond to their questions and criticisms and learn from them.

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Where Is All the Comprehensible Input?

UPDATE: Read about how I’m creating comprehensible input videos that beginning English learners can watch, understand, and pick up English from without study, practice, or translation—even if they don’t know any English at all.

It’s been well over 30 years since linguist Dr. Stephen Krashen popularized the notion of comprehensible input as the basis for language acquisition.

According to Krashen, even as adults we become fluent in new languages not by studying and practicing words and rules, but by gaining exposure to language in ways that make it understandable to us.

You can see Krashen demonstrating comprehensible input in a 1983 BBC documentary where he’s shown giving an audience two brief German lessons.

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