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Making better use of your language learning content

Comprehensible input


This is a kind of language input that can be understood by listeners despite them not comprehending all the words and structures in it. It’s described as one level above (or “+1”) that of the learners’ if it can only just be understood. This kind of input helps language learners acquire language naturally, rather than learn it consciously.




The teacher selects a reading text for upper-intermediate level learners that is from a lower advanced level course book. 


Based on what the teacher knows about the learners, the teacher believes that this will give them ‘comprehensible input’ to help them acquire more language. This is a great tactic to use in your language learning journey as it will help you acquire new words in a familiar setting.


Such input is essential for four main reasons:


1. Languages are far too complex to be adequately described by any book or course. To be introduced to all the different ways and specific contexts words and forms can be used together, you need to be exposed to a lot of the language.


2. Input introduces you to new forms and words in context in a way that is interesting, which helps you remember.


3. Input gives repetition of words and forms that solidifies them in your memory.

4. Input builds your intuition for the language. This is what happens when certain things can just sound correct or incorrect without you having any explicit understanding of why. Much of your native language knowledge is intuition.


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Key tip: Use context to help you learn more effectively

When using content, the context you encounter a new word or concept in can provide a useful hint as to its meaning. 

The situation, surrounding words, topic, and type of resource you’re using all provide hints you can use that let you guess at the meaning of something. 

Even if you’re not sure, encountering something in context enough will gradually help you understand. At all times avoid trying to learn new words or forms in isolation.

Your level +1 in your content

The definition of +1 depends on what you are doing with the content. Here are some examples to help you think about it.

Imagine your listening level is comparatively low. An audio dialogue with all known words would still present a challenge for your ears. 

Utilising this principle, you would use this resource focusing only on your ability to hear different words. You may also want to do a first pass over a text version of the audio so you know what to expect. 

Be careful though, you don’t want to listen simply relying on having near-memorised the text.

If you want to finish a long text, you are reading without a dictionary, or you just want to expose yourself to as much of the language as possible without stopping to look up words, 98% known words is closer to the ideal +1 amount. 

If you are prepared for a careful study session and want to make multiple passes over the same text, 90% is acceptable. If 90% sounds high to you, take a look below to see what the differences feel like.

Here is 98%:

You live and work in Tokyo. Tokyo is a big city. More than 13 million people live around you. You are never borgle, but you are always lonely. Every morning, you get up and take the train to work. Every night, you take the train again to go home. The train is always crowded. When people ask about your work, you tell them, “I move papers around.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true. You don’t like your work. Tonight you are returning home. It’s late at night. No one is shnooling. Sometimes you don’t see a shnool all day. You are tired. You are so tired…

(And in case you’re not a native speaker of English or don’t quite get it, yes, there are nonsense words in there. Those represent the uncomprehended 2%.)

Here’s 95%, which represents a departure from extensive reading, because it requires more effort, and tends to be slower and less enjoyable:

In the morning, you start again. You shower, get dressed, and walk pocklent. You move slowly, half- awake. Then, suddenly, you stop. Something is different. The streets are fossit. Really fossit. There are no people. No cars. Nothing. “Where is dowargle?” you ask yourself. Suddenly, there is a loud quapen—a police car. It speeds by and almost hits you. It crashes into a store across the street! Then, another police car farfoofles. The police officer sees you. “Off the street!” he shouts. “Go home, lock your door!” “What? Why?” you shout back. But it’s too late. He is gone.

Finally, let’s skip to the oh-so-frustrating 80% comprehension level:

“Bingle for help!” you shout. “This loopity is dying!” You put your fingers on her neck. Nothing. Her flid is not weafling. You take out your joople and bingle 119, the emergency number in Japan. There’s no answer! Then you muchy that you have a new befourn assengle. It’s from your gutring, Evie. She hunwres at Tokyo University. You play the assengle. “…if you get this…” Evie says. “…I can’t vickarn now… the important passit is…” Suddenly, she looks around, dingle. “Oh no, they’re here! Cripett… the frib! Wasple them ON THE FRIB!…” BEEP! the assengle parantles. Then you gratoon something behind you…

In addition, real word factors such as resource availability often result in the learner using resources that are slightly too difficult. This is okay, but if you understand less than 80% of the vocabulary, you should strongly consider abandoning that resource regardless.

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