Comprehensible Input:

A suggest that you will acquire language best when you study in such a way that you 1) listen to large amounts of comprehensible input, 2) have opportunities to use the target language to communicate with others, and 3) support your learning with some grammatical learning (focused on making input comprehensible and developing awareness). The Way you want Improve Your Spoken English and  better understanding How to Speak Fluently English in Week.

A Brief History of Linguistic Theory:

For much of the 20th century in the West, language researchers thought that children learned the language simply by forming habits, by imitating what was heard. In response to this, Noam Chomsky declared that language was too complex to be learned simply through imitation. Furthermore, if children were simply imitating what they heard, how could researchers explain the mistakes of children? It appeared that children were making mistakes because they were applying “rules” where they did not belong, producing speech like “you hurt me.” A phrase they would never hear in their environment. Apparently, children did not simply imitate speech but were actively constructing “rules” in their mind from the input they received to govern their speech. More importantly, they did not receive enough information about language in their environment to give them all the knowledge they needed to know the things that they knew about language. How could children do this? Chomsky hypothesized that humans are born with a “language acquisition device.” This device is a part of the brain designed specifically for language acquisition and is separate from its other parts. He believed all that was needed to get this device to start working, was input, exposure to the language.

Later, researchers began noticing that second language learners also produced language that contained mistakes, yet these mistakes were not arbitrary but governed by “rules.” However, these “rules” could neither simply be attributed to the influence of the native language nor the target language. Researchers refer to this system of rules as “interlanguage.” This interlanguage is transitional. As learners grow in the language, their interlanguage system becomes more and more similar to the target language. In other words, as they make progress their language becomes more and more correct. This “series of interim systems that a learner constructs in the process of acquiring an L2 [second language]” is called the “interlanguage continuum” (Ellis 1997).


Stephen Krashen (1985) proposed the Input Hypothesis. The Input Hypothesis claims that learners make progress in English acquisition through exposure to comprehensible input. Comprehensible input is defined as “understanding input that contains structures at our next ‘stage’ – structures that are a bit beyond our current level of competence” (Krashen, 1985, p2). This is often designated with the equation “i + 1”. The “i” represents the learner’s current competence in the second language; the “+ 1” symbolizes the features of the input that are beyond the learner’s competence, and which he is developmentally ready to acquire. Accordingly, input that is either too simple or complex will not help a learner make progress in spoken English.

To explore this, asked the following questions with the following results: 

Question: On an average day of study, how much time did you spend LISTENING to spoken English? Less than 1 hour  1 hour or more
Successful Learners 36.36 % 63.64 %
Non-Successful Learners 81.81 % 18.18 %

The results are clear. The great majority of successful English language learners in this study 1) listen to English for 1 hour or more and 2) listen to the right kind of input, input where they can understand the main idea but not some parts. There are many aspects of the full Input Hypothesis that are seriously questionable. Nevertheless, I believe it is safe to claim that exposure to comprehensible input greatly benefits the language learner.

On the other hand, 57.58 % of non-successful learners are listening to this same type of input. Why are they still poor speakers? Most likely, the amount of time spent listening to this kind of input is insufficient to achieve a higher level of proficiency, as indicated by the previous question. Finally, 42.42% of non-successful students are not only spending too little time listening, the time they do spend is not much use because the input is too difficult for them to comprehend.

Gaining Access to Comprehensible Input:

Perhaps you are convinced that comprehensible input is indeed important, but you think “How can I gain access to comprehensible input?” There are many things you can do.

1. The Internet:

The internet can be a rich source of free input. The following websites are loaded with input:

  • Randall’s ESL Listening Lab This website has short passages, grouped by level (easy, medium, and difficult). It has pre-listening warmups and questions to quiz your comprehension.
  • The English Listening Lounge This website also has short passages grouped according to difficulty with comprehension questions. However, only a few passages are available for free. To get full access, you must pay $20 dollars a month.
  • Brian Teaman’s Virtual University – This website is really cool. It has video interviews with English-speaking people from all over the world. It is full of vocabulary, comprehension questions, and more.
  • Story Archives This website has many news stories. Perhaps more appropriate for high-intermediate or advanced students. It has audio and video options. Contains both vocabulary and comprehension questions.
  • Arlyn Freed’s ESL/EFL Listening Resources This website does not contain listening resources but provides information about several websites that contain listening resources. Some are designed for EFL students and some are not.

2. Radio:

Many students in my study, both successful and non-successful speakers, listened to radio broadcasts, such as the VOA (Voice of America). This can be a good thing, especially for very advanced students, but one must be careful. The stories on the VOA are often very difficult; and since they are on the radio, you only get to hear them once. Most students will not comprehend enough of each story for this activity to be helpful. Of course, one can still listen to the VOA, but it should not be the primary source of listening input.

3. TV/Movies:

Many students also watch English TV and movies. Sometimes these are better than radio because they contain pictures. Pictures are helpful because they can help make the input more comprehensible. The problem with TV and movies is that they are often long and difficult, so that you may lose concentration and comprehend little of what is said. Perhaps the best way to view TV shows and movies are to view them in short periods. With friends, you can predict what you think will happen, then watch the segment, and finally discuss it. You can watch the segment again and again. Also, if you have a transcript of the program, you can read it to check your comprehension.  Also, you must not simply read the Chinese subtitles while trying to comprehend spoken English in movies. If you do, most likely you will ignore the English input and severely weaken the benefits of the activity.

4. Crazy English:

Many students also listen to Crazy English. These are great short segments of language concerning topics that many students are interested in. The great thing is that you can listen to the passages as many times as you need to. Plus, the transcript is available with English grammar tips.

5. Purchased Materials:

Perhaps some of the greatest (but also most expensive) forms of comprehensible input are instructional books with cassettes/CDs. For example, when I first came to China, I did not even know how to count to ten in Chinese. Soon, however, I bought Chinese for Beginners with the accompanying listening book and cassettes from the Beijing University and Cultural Press. These materials are wonderful. They provided me with vocabulary and grammar support to understand the reading and listening passages. For one lesson, the same vocabulary, and grammatical features would be reinforced through several different listening passages about a similar topic, such as “going to dinner” or “Chinese history.” Then the next lesson would build on this knowledge and introduce new vocabulary and grammatical features while reinforcing the old ones. I studied my book, listened to the cassettes, and answered the questions every day and made great progress in the Chinese language. My progress was greater than many foreigners in China. However, I would not have progressed nearly as far if I did not have these materials. If I only watched TV or listened to stories on the internet, I do not believe I would now speak Chinese as well as I do.

6. A Word of Caution:

All of these: radio, TV, movies, and Crazy English, can be wonderful sources of comprehensible input. However, you must keep in mind your level and what comprehensible input truly is. If you find yourself simply hearing sounds and not comprehending the main idea of the passages, then you’re listening to practice is not helping you as much as it should. You can still engage in these activities, but you need to use more strategies to help you understand what you hear. Perhaps you need to look new vocabulary up in the dictionary or listen to shorter sections of the passage.

The bottom line is that if you are not comprehending the main idea of your input, you either need to employ more strategies (i.e. dictionary, repetition, shorten the length, etc.) to make it comprehensible or find different, simpler sources of input.

Strategies for Understandable:

Strategies are helpful for comprehending a listening passage. Listening is part of Improve Your Spoken English; When you are listening, try the following:

Before Listening:

  1. Look at the title of the passage and any pictures.
  2. Ask yourself questions: What do you know about this topic? What do you think this passage will be about? What information do you hope this passage will tell you?

During Listening:

  1. Focus your attention on what is being said.
  2. Listen to the main idea.
  3. Listen for key words and ideas.
  4. Relate what you hear to what you already know. (Amato, 1996, p55)

After Listening:

  1. Ask yourself: a) Did the passage match my guess? b) What did I learn from this passage? c) Summarize the main idea of this passage in 1-2 sentences.
  2. Write down any new words you feel are important.

Note: A suggest that you will acquire language best when you study in such a way that you comprehensible, intelligible, perspicuous, understandable, understood, and understanding as the best way for you want how to understood; Improve Your Spoken English.


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