Comprehensible input is such a buzzword for language learners. Let’s talk about what it actually means, if you need it, and if you do need it, how to get it.
What is comprehensible input?
In simplest terms, comprehensible input is basically just getting input that you basically understand. So input means you’re listening to it or you’re reading it to understand. Comprehensible means you can comprehend it within reason.
This does not mean you have to understand every single word, every single phrase. It basically means you can read a chunk of words or listen to a chunk of words, and you can get a general idea of what’s going on.
This is especially true for my fellow perfectionists out there. It’s okay if you don’t understand every single little thing, if there are gaps in there, that’s totally cool. Comprehensible input is just a general understanding of what’s going on. And then you can use that general understanding to fill in the blanks and understand the words and phrases that are new to you within context and build from there.
Do you need comprehensible input?
So now that we understand what comprehensible input actually is, let’s talk about if you need it. And when I talk about your specific level in your target language, this is pretty vague. There’s no hard and fast rules about what makes a beginne, intermediate, or advanced. Honestly, in real-life language learning, those labels don’t really matter. But for the sake of this video and for most language learning as a whole, this is just some basic housekeeping.
Beginner language learners
Let’s start with beginners. This could mean total beginner, which means you don’t understand a single thing, or beginner as in, like you took one class, you can understand one or two words, but really there’s not really a whole lot of understanding going on there.
And this is the important thing to realize because when you’re a beginner in a language, you can’t understand any of it. None of it. Like you can’t understand the gist, you can’t understand the concept of what different words are like, how they’re put together in a way that makes sense. You can understand individual words, maybe a couple of phrases, but beyond that, you’re just not quite there yet.
And therefore, if you’re a beginner in the language, I don’t want you to worry about comprehensible input at all. Actually, let me backtrack that a little bit. I like to stay pretty objective and keep my opinion out of things. So I will say that some people who are beginners like comprehensible input, even though they don’t understand everything, they like to basically throw themselves into a language and wait until their brain picks it up because your brain will figure it out eventually. But eventually is the keyword here.
A lot of language learners, myself included, do not enjoy learning a language just by brute force. And if you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to stick to it. So if you are one of those people who is perfectly happy just listening to a language, reading a language and not understanding anything, but just waiting for your brain to figure it out as you go on, then you know, once we get to intermediate and advanced, then you can listen in.
But for most beginners, I would say don’t worry about comprehensible input because it’s going to be very overwhelming. And if you are like me and you cannot get overwhelmed or else you won’t do it, then I would really just stick to the simple apps. There are honestly more resources for beginner language learners than intermediate and advanced so there is no problems here. This is as easy as pie. And if you’re looking for beginner language apps, I would recommend using my language app search where you can literally just choose your target language and beginner and you’ll get a whole bunch of different resources that will teach you the beginner level of your target language.
But when you’re at the beginner levels, you’re focused on learning the simple basic words and simple basic grammar. You’re learning the building blocks of putting the language together into comprehensible input. But you’re not at comprehensible input yet. You’re still building sentences together and understanding sounds and things like that.
Once you start feeling more confident and more aware of the language and how it sounds and being able to understand a little bit more, then we can talk about comprehensible input because that is intermediate stuff. Speaking of, let’s talk about our intermediate learners.
Intermediate language learners
So for the purposes of this video, Intermediate, I’m basically referring to those who get the basics of the language. They get like they can recognize when it’s the language, they can pull out a bunch of different words, they can understand some grammar for the most part, you’re starting to get the hang of the language and while the apps, the fun apps and the buttons and the Duolingo and all those, while those are still okay, you’re starting to get to the end of where using those apps is sufficient. You might have built up your skills for some time and you’re starting to see where there are some holes in your skills.
So, for example, if you’ve been using Duolingo from the beginner and now you’re feeling much more comfortable with the language, but you still can’t understand it in real life, you still can’t use it, then this is where we start expanding how we’re taking in the language. And comprehensible input is definitely helpful in these scenarios.
And I’ll mention a few resources that I would recommend in a second. But in general, for intermediate learners, I would really recommend you take advantage of subtitles and books where there is an audio component so you can listen to the language and read it at the same time. Any little tools that maybe you feel guilty about using because you feel like it’s a waste of time or you feel like you’re not learning enough or not working hard enough, intermediates, I would really highly recommend you use these tools because these tools can really, really help you to learn.
And no, they’re not cheating at all. And especially if you’ve ever heard of or ever experienced the intermediate plateau. This is where comprehensible input is a really big deal because generally speaking, the intermediate plateau is basically where you’re using the beginner apps, you’ve been learning the easy stuff, but you’re not growing anymore because you need to start using comprehensible input or speaking practice or, you know, these more advanced skills that aren’t just like fun little apps.
Advanced language learners
Now for our advanced language learners to get advanced, you’ve probably used a fair amount of comprehensible input. You understand a good deal of what’s going on, and there might be some things you’re confused about, but you’ve got a pretty good understanding of the language and you can use it in a lot of situations. You’re getting pretty confident.
So how do you challenge this and how do you grow once you pass the advanced levels? While still using comprehensible input, you can find specific comprehensible input that is a little bit more advanced. And also you can take away some of those tools that you used at the intermediate levels and really challenge yourself to understand these things just point blank, without the subtitles, without the audio supports, any of that stuff.
So for example, when you were at the intermediate stages and you were watching a movie and you found a movie that was really difficult for you to understand, you put it away, you went to something else, go back to that movie and really work hard to understand, you know, maybe it’s the accent that was weird. Maybe the vocabulary was just, you know, kind of old-timey, or if it was region-specific and you could really not understand it. Or they were talking about, you know, a lot of concepts that are a little bit more mature. If they were using some very specific slang, using comprehensible input to really expand your ability to understand different accents and different types of vocabulary is really going to skyrocket your ability to understand the language, even at the advanced levels. Read some classic novels, all that good stuff.
Remember, the easiest way to go about this is to get rid of the subtitles. I mean, they’re okay if you need them, but if you don’t need them and you’re trying to expand your ability to understand, get rid of the help, get rid of those tools. You might be in a position where you don’t need them anymore. You’re just comfortable. So now that we know what comprehensible input is and we know what exactly you’re looking for, dependent on your level in the language, what kind of resources are there available for people looking for comprehensible input?
Resources for comprehensible input
Remember for comprehensible input, we’re staying away from the fun apps and we are going to focus instead on the language itself and how people use it. And basically, you just kind of join in with the community. The easiest one that I would say is watching TV or watching movies. There are plenty of resources to help with that.
For example, the Chrome extension Language Reactor that I talk about all the time. Using Language Reactor with YouTube or Netflix to pull the subtitles and use them to understand, especially for intermediate language learners who are using those subtitles, this is excellent because it just pulls the subtitles right out that are already available and helps you to see them better.
Language TV Club is also excellent for this. It’s a little bit less accessible just because it is group program, so you have to sign up and it’s not like a constant access thing, it can be fun if you want some more of that community aspect of learning your target language.
Then you have Lingopie, you have Yabla and you have FluentU which are all resources that use – I think Lingopie is Netflix and Yabla and FluentU I’m not sure if they’re YouTube or if they have their own videos. I don’t remember. But all of them are video platforms for you to watch videos and learn your target language, which is great for comprehensible input. And I’ve talked a lot about listening because that is honestly what I find to be the most popular with language learners.
But if you also want to get in comprehensible input by reading, that is also easy. Two resources I would recommend for that are StoryLearning and LingQ. StoryLearning is a one-off course that you purchase and have forever access to. LingQ is a platform where you can find a bunch of free resources and then the platform itself where you click the vocabulary and the whole thing. That is a monthly service.
And bonus, if you like music and you find yourself really enjoying listening to music for comprehensible input, even though it can be more difficult, if that’s something that you find motivating, by all means, LyricsTraining can be a fun app for that if you’re learning the more commonly learned languages.
This is by no means an exhaustive list at all. I just mentioned a handful of really common, really easy-to-use resources for comprehensible input. If you want more information, if you want more potential resources, I would highly recommend you use my language app search I made it specifically so that you can find resources based on your target language, your level within that language, and how exactly you want to learn the language, whether it’s by listening to stories, reading books, whatever it is, you can narrow down your search based on those specific qualities of the resources you’re looking for.
And if you need a little bit more support in finding the right language learning resource for yourself, I highly recommend my free course.