CI in Short

After a reader had slogged through a 28-page forum discussion on Comprehensible Input-based language teaching, the question came out: Could someone post a very brief, 3- or 4- point summary of the basics? This is my take on that.

Comprehensible Input: the brain acquires language by hearing language it can understand.

It takes many repetitions for the brain to acquire new words, and many more repetitions for it to master and internalize a new structure (“grammar pattern”) so it can use (comprehend or produce) either unconsciously and correctly.

Acquisition takes time, and everyone’s acquisition goes at a slightly different pace.

Output will happen when the brain has sufficiently grasped a certain word or piece of structure. Until then, output is forced and most often will be incorrect as the brain seeks to use rules and logic to consciously construct language based on its knowledge of the native and any other languages it knows well or in part.

Most programs these days teach some variation of the “communicative approach”, which holds that the brain learns language through memorization of patterns and vocabulary items which are plugged into the patterns. Under this view, output must be forced so that the student can “practice” the new material by speaking and writing it, in order to master it.

CI and the communicative approach are diametrically opposed to one another because of the basic difference in the beliefs underpinning each about how language is acquired/learned.

Even the meaning assigned to the phrase “comprehensible input” (which has been used daily by the CI community for many years) differs hugely between the CI and communicative communities. When a communicative trainer says “comprehensible” what he really means, to the CI teacher, is “somewhat comprehensible”, “we’ll gesture and hope for the best”, or “we managed to avoid translation”. None of these are acceptable for TPRS teachers within the CI philosophy of teaching. I strongly urge the rules-and-output folks to find another term, because it simply does not fit with logic that “comprehensible” should mean anything less than “able to be understood”!

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