The limits of comprehensible input?

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Valddu
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The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby Valddu » Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:19 am

I was speaking with a tutor of mine the other night and was very surprised and interested by something she told me about her younger brother. Although she lives in a family that is Mexican-American, and she herself speaks perfect English and Spanish, her brother has a very limited ability to speak Spanish. Her parents only speak Spanish, but can understand English, and so at home both languages are used in a kind of mixture.

Her parents speak Spanish and she responds to them in Spanish. Her brother understands their Spanish, but responds only in English. He feels more comfortable with English and is very Americanized. His comprehension of Spanish is still very good, and he has no problem understanding what is said to him at home or on trips to Mexico. However, his spoken Spanish is much more limited. While he’s capable of speaking, the fact that he so rarely has to speak it, means that when he does his Spanish is full of odd gaps and weaknesses, such as not knowing how to naturally use the subjunctive or switch to the formal usted.

I found this surprising since this seems to go against the comprehensible input theory I’ve been reading so much about and incorporating into my studies over the last year. The younger brother has lots of input as part of his day-to-day, but rarely needs to speak. As a result, that skill is comparatively weak. I would have thought that this isn’t possible—the constant comprehensible input should automatically develop output that is grammatically correct to other native speakers.

Is this a fluke? Or does this an example of how comprehensible input can only take you so far?
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby StringerBell » Tue Nov 13, 2018 1:00 am

I think comprehensible input is really important, but it's not enough on it's own to become a proficient speaker. I've spent the last year using a comprehensible input method for Italian and Polish. After decades of failure as a language learner, it was a turning point for me. My listening comprehension is really good, my reading is decent. My speaking and writing on the other hand...still need a lot of practice.

In order to be good at something, you have to practice it a lot. If all your comprehensible input comes in the form of listening to people talking/podcasts/TV but not reading or speaking, then you probably won't be very good at reading or speaking. You'll be much better than someone who has had no comprehensible input, but you still need to practice speaking if you want to be proficient.

That said, the benefit of a comprehensible input method is that by improving your comprehension, you're able to get involved in conversations on a variety of topics. Being able to understand what a person is saying to you is absolutely essential for carrying on a conversation. If you can't understand what someone is saying to you, you can't have much of a conversation. So I view comprehensible input as a precursor for getting involved in conversations that will lead to improved speaking ability.

In my case, I can talk about almost anything in Italian, but I make plenty of grammatical errors that usually don't prevent others from understanding what I'm trying to say. As I get repeatedly corrected and/or spend time learning how to say properly the things I mess up, slowly my speaking gets better. I don't think there is any amount of comprehensible input that will render me a proficient Italian or Polish speaker without speaking.
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devilyoudont
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby devilyoudont » Tue Nov 13, 2018 1:16 am

Valddu wrote:Is this a fluke? Or does this an example of how comprehensible input can only take you so far?


In my personal life I've met many people who only passively know the language of their parents. It's not uncommon at all.
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby arthaey » Tue Nov 13, 2018 1:41 am

Valddu wrote:Her brother understands their Spanish, but responds only in English. He feels more comfortable with English and is very Americanized.

In addition to what StringerBell and devilyoudont said, I'll add that the "children of non-dominant-language immigrants" aspect is likely playing an important role here. Some will (subconsciously or knowingly) reject or at least have complicated feelings about their family's immigrant status, leading to a psychological obstactle to wanting to use their parents' home country language themselves.

If you dislike or feel embarassed about using a language, that will absolutely get in the way of learning to use it well.
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby zKing » Tue Nov 13, 2018 1:59 am

As I've said elsewhere, I believe that listening is a very different skill than speaking. Yes, there are some cross over gains between these skills but the biggest advantage is really that learning one will greatly help you learn the other, however you still need to put in the work learning the specific skill. In essence, at some point, in order to learn to speak well, you must practice speaking... a LOT.

I read somewhere that even Krashen admitted in his writing that Comprehensible Input (CI) alone isn't enough to generate good speaking skills, but I don't have a reference for that.

And as for CI itself... when listening it is easy to not really hear a large portion of those little glue words and word endings, etc and still get the understanding you need from guessing and/or context. You don't need to truly 'notice' all those bits and you can still function very well. IMO it is very easy to plateau even with continuous massive piles of CI if you don't really try to examine and notice those small bits. You only need to look at immigrants who've been in their target country using their TL daily and getting massive volumes of CI for 20+ years who still have big holes in their TL abilities: at some point people get 'good enough' and don't 'need' to get better... and they won't if they don't try.

CI is a fantastic tool, but it must be combined with 'noticing' and the occasional bit of thought/analysis to continue to enhance listening skills. If you don't really hear something or notice that it exists, you won't 'learn it'... and I should point out that the brain has an extraordinary ability to filter/ignore stuff even if it is right in front of you. Early on this noticing/analysis happens naturally as you always need to do a bit of it in order to comprehend in the beginning/lower-intermediate levels, but later on when understanding is easier and things become more 'fun'... it takes a little more diligence to continue that little bit of work which will cause you to keep advancing to a really refined level of skill. Many don't bother, and to be clear, I don't judge them for it. This is work, it takes time, and for a lot of people better language skills aren't necessary for them to get by. To be honest, I can't say for sure if I will attempt to take my TL's too far beyond B2/C1 either.

I consider 'learning how to listen and read' to be a 'solved problem' with CI + some active noticing. But just CI alone really isn't enough. Another point of evidence: the huge numbers of Japanese anime fans who have watched untold hours of Japanese anime with English subtitles... i.e. huge piles of CI and most of these people don't know more than a few words of Japanese.

Edit: I also wanted to say that I think Reading makes the noticing thing a little easier as all those little words are clearly on the page and easy to re-read, or to put it another way, it makes it harder (but not impossible) for the brain to ignore those little glue words and endings, etc. Which is why I believe massive free reading correlates so highly with language skill. But still, the brain is pretty good at glossing over details even when reading: https://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/people/ma ... cmabridge/

As always, this is my opinion and there are certainly many who will disagree with some or most of what I've written.
Cue the angry 'extensive listening/watching is all you need' rebuttal post in 3...2...1...
Last edited by zKing on Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby reineke » Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:18 am

Stephen Krashen
‏Nov 10
Krashen, S. 2018. Down with forced speech!

http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articl ... ch_pdf.pdf
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Valddu
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby Valddu » Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:45 am

zKing wrote:As I've said elsewhere, I believe that listening is a very different skill than speaking. Yes, there are some cross over gains between these skills but the biggest advantage is really that learning one will greatly help you learn the other, however you still need to put in the work learning the specific skill. In essence, at some point, in order to learn to speak well, you must practice speaking... a LOT.

I read somewhere that even Krashen admitted in his writing that Comprehensible Input (CI) alone isn't enough to generate good speaking skills, but I don't have a reference for that.

And as for CI itself... when listening it is easy to not really hear a large portion of those little glue words and word endings, etc and still get the understanding you need from guessing and/or context. You don't need to truly 'notice' all those bits and you can still function very well. IMO it is very easy to plateau even with continuous massive piles of CI if you don't really try to examine and notice those small bits. You only need to look at immigrants who've been in their target country using their TL daily and getting massive volumes of CI for 20+ years who still have big holes in their TL abilities: at some point people get 'good enough' and don't 'need' to get better... and they won't if they don't try.

CI is a fantastic tool, but it must be combined with 'noticing' and the occasional bit of thought/analysis to continue to enhance listening skills. If you don't really hear something or notice that it exists, you won't 'learn it'... and I should point out that the brain has an extraordinary ability to filter/ignore stuff even if it is right in front of you. Early on this noticing/analysis happens naturally as you always need to do a bit of it in order to comprehend in the beginning/lower-intermediate levels, but later on when understanding is easier and things become more 'fun'... it takes a little more diligence to continue that little bit of work which will cause you to keep advancing to a really refined level of skill. Many don't bother, and to be clear, I don't judge them for it. This is work, it takes time, and for a lot of people better language skills aren't necessary for them to get by. To be honest, I can't say for sure if I will attempt to take my TL's too far beyond B2/C1 either.

I consider 'learning how to listen and read' to be a 'solved problem' with CI + some active noticing. But just CI alone really isn't enough. Another point of evidence: the huge numbers of Japanese anime fans who have watch untold hours of Japanese anime with English subtitles... i.e. huge piles of CI and most of these people don't know more than a few words of Japanese.

Edit: I also wanted to say that I think Reading makes the noticing thing a little easier as all those little words are clearly on the page and easy to re-read, or to put it another way, it makes it harder (but not impossible) for the brain to ignore those little glue words and endings, etc. Which is why I believe massive free reading correlates so highly with language skill. But still, the brain is pretty good a glossing over details even when reading: https://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/people/ma ... cmabridge/

As always, this is my opinion and there are certainly many who will disagree with some or most of what I've written.
Cue the angry 'extensive listening/watching is all you need' rebuttal post in 3...2...1...


I definitely agree that the brain has an amazing capacity to gloss over things if you don’t make the effort to notice. Frequently, when I’m silently reading in English and I run into words or names that are difficult to pronounce (even if I understand them) I naturally tend to gloss over them and not even attempt to subvocalize the pronunciation. Then later, when I’m discussing what I’ve been reading I’ll find myself stumbling to try to pronounce those words for the first time and stumbling over the sound.

I’ve also seen this tendency with my students (I’m a teacher), if I read outloud an article or passage I become capable of using the vocabulary found within it, my students, however, while eventually recognizing the meaning are still unable to use the word themselves without prompting or practice. Heck, you can even see it in multiple choice vs fill-in-the-blank. Students can recognize the definition of words presented to them, but they struggle so much more when they’re asked to actively produce it.

When I read in my L2 now I don’t just subvocalize internally—I make myself read out loud. It helps me notice—words that are new or difficult grammar are physically harder for me to read out loud fluently. Reading out loud helps me know what I don’t know.
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby reineke » Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:57 am

zKing wrote:As always, this is my opinion and there are certainly many who will disagree with some or most of what I've written.
Cue the angry 'extensive listening/watching is all you need' rebuttal post in 3...2...1...


There was no need for the comic relief edit. The comment was not angry. You made a comment about Krashen. I have provided you with the information that as of November 2018 he is sticking to his guns. Krashen advocates compelling CI in low anxiety situations. Under such circumstances, speech is supposed to emerge, not shoot out like a rocket.

"The noticing hypothesis is a concept in second-language acquisition proposed by Richard Schmidt in 1990. He stated that learners cannot learn the grammatical features of a language unless they notice them. Noticing alone does not mean that learners automatically acquire language; rather, the hypothesis states that noticing is the essential starting point for acquisition. There is debate over whether learners must consciously notice something, or whether the noticing can be subconscious to some degree."

"The noticing hypothesis has received criticism from John Truscott, on two grounds. First, he argues that the basis for the noticing hypothesis in cognitive psychology is unclear. Second, he argues that there is even less certainty over how to interpret the noticing hypothesis in the field of language acquisition. He says that, "[p]artly because the hypothesis is not based on any coherent theory of language, it is very difficult to determine exactly what it means in this context, or to draw testable predictions from it."

Wikip.

Another hypothesis. Subtitled anime is heaps of incomprehensible input with subtitles mostly serving to deplete attention from the auditory input. Speakers of Dutch, Swedish etc. get a far better tradeoff.
Last edited by reineke on Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby Lawyer&Mom » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:05 am

I’ve gravitated towards the comprehensible input method *because* it’s an easy way to get comfortable with input. The skewed benefits towards listening and reading are a feature, not a bug. French is my second foreign language, speaking isn’t all that important to me, I have much more access to French media than French speakers, why bother putting all the work into the details when I could be swimming in native content already?
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Re: The limits of comprehensible input?

Postby Xmmm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:26 am

If someone is kidnapped, drugged, and wakes up with an Amazonian tribe, then he is of course going to learn the language by comprehensible input and one day speech will emerge. This is obvious. He has no chance to do it any other way, and obviously throughout history this is the way language has been learned most of the time.

But if someone is the only person in North America learning Dzongkha, and he's learning it all through Bhutanese baseball games, science fiction novels, and romantic comedies ... why would speech ever emerge? If he wants to speak, he literally has to shop around for a tutor, set up a time, etc. And how does he know if the time is too soon, and he's forcing himself, or if he should have started speaking a year ago but is just too cheap, or chicken, or lazy to get with the program?

I know my biggest fear is not "I'm going to hit them with a word salad or maybe even pure gibberish. They're going to scratch their head and ask what I'm trying to say." My biggest fear is they're going to ask me a long question, and I'm going to stare at them in panic, and say "uh, can you repeat one more time?" And then they repeat it and I still don't know what they said. Because for me that's the point of maximum perceived stupidity (and why I would err on the side of more CI).
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