What’s Comprehensible Input, anyway?!

Most simply it’s language that the listener (or reader) understands. And it’s really important. So important, in fact, that Dr. Krashen (Linguist and Educational Researcher Extraordinaire) asserts that  “… ‘comprehensible input’ is the crucial and necessary ingredient for the acquisition of language.” 

If you’re a parent, you already know this. When your children were small, you loaded them up with comprehensible input- you talked to them, sang to them, read books to them and asked them questions. You did this for a long time before any language came out. And you know they understood you waaaaay before they could answer you back. Don’t touch that! Do you want juice? It’s nap time. Even before babies can express themselves verbally, they demonstrate their comprehension by nodding, shaking their heads, and obeying (or willfully disobeying!) 

Isn’t it amazing that your children never needed grammar exercises or vocabulary lists to become proficient in their first language? It’s because brains are designed to build language from exposure to input. Your children soaked in all the comprehensible input around them and output (speaking and writing) followed. Lots and lots and lots of input is required for just a little bit of output. Thankfully, according to Dr. Krashen, “Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”  Hallelujah!!

So what does this mean in a language class?

Students acquire their second language (and 3rd and 4th…) just the way babies acquire their first language.  It means that your most important responsibility is to give them lots and lots of comprehensible input. It means you’re free from grammar rules and worksheets, vocabulary lists and memorized skits.  It means your students are concerned with the messages they’re hearing/reading and not concerned about the rules of the language. With time and loads of input, they’ll start developing a sense for what sounds right, just like we have in our first language. It also means that we don’t pressure students to produce until they’re ready. Just as you wouldn’t (and can’t!) force a baby to start speaking prematurely, the same is true for language students too.

But the key here is that language has to be comprehensible for the magic to happen. Just flooding them with input (listening and reading) that they can’t understand isn’t the answer and it’s actually detrimental. It will stress them out and frustrate you.  And more than just comprehensible, the input has to be interesting. Even if you’re a wizard at making language understandable, if they’re not paying attention to the message, it doesn’t do anything for their brains.   Dr. Krashen again,Optimal input focuses the acquirer on the message and not on form. To go a step further, the best input is so interesting and relevant that the acquirer may even ‘forget’ that the message is encoded in a foreign language.

So how do you do it? How do you talk to your students in a way that’s comprehensible AND compelling?

I’m so glad you asked! Martina Bex has has 15 tools to support comprehension of language learners.   This post is so good! Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait for you to come back 🙂 And how do you know if your input is comprehensible? If they’re actually picking up what you’re laying down? Wow, you ask great questions!

So what’s the deal? Where does TPRS fit in? Is it the same thing as CI?

There are a bunch of ways to deliver Comprehensible Input to students…TPRS is one  of them. Elizabeth Dentlinger created this fabulous image of the CI Umbrella, with a few different strategies that fall within the Comprehensible Input philosophy. ci-umbrella-final-version1

This umbrella doesn’t include all the ways to provide CI (it’s what the cool kids call Comprehensible Input) but it’s a great list to get you started. Or poke around my site a white…all the classroom activities are CI Activities…that is to say, they’re designed to load up my little darlings with Comprehensible Input. Because..

Comprehensible Input leads to Language Proficiency.

Not buying it? Need some more convincing that CI is the way to language proficiency?

If you’re the touchy-feely type that likes anecdotal evidence, read my story. 

If you’re more analytical and you crave research, facts and figures, eat your heart out!

Looking for some practice ways to incorporate Comprehensible Input into your language teaching? Here’s a webinar I did: What, Why and How: CI

Welcome to the party! Thanks for reading and best of luck on your CI journey!


  1. […]  get you started if you’re  just starting your teaching career. (Welcome to teaching! You’re lucky if you’re a language teacher because we have the best gig at school! And if you’re dedicated to loading up your students with Comprehensible Input, you’re in the right place, I’ve got goodies for you! What’s Comprehensible Input, you ask? I’m so glad you asked!) […]


  2. Reblogged this on NoelG and commented:
    This looks interesting. I can well remember my, two, failed attempts at learning languages at school. The focus was on vocabulary, and especially grammar. I knew more of French and German grammar than I did English. I managed to leave school believing that pluperfect, and imperfect were French words. And yet, when in France I struggled to order a pack of cigarettes.


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