Comprehensible Input

The key to learning a new language is finding sources of “comprehensible input”. This is a source of material that is slightly above your current level of understanding. Why is this important?

Your brain is remarkably good at identifying and learning patterns. Most of the learning you actually do is done in the background by your brain, without your conscious knowledge. The trick to optimal learning is to put your brain in an environment that it can learn from, and that’s where comprehensible input comes in.

WChinese Street Signshen I first came to Taiwan, I was overwhelmed by all the Chinese signs and labels around me. I couldn’t wait for the day when I’d actually be able to understand what they all meant.

With so much material around me to “learn” from, I’d be able to pick up Chinese in no time, right?

Well, it doesn’t quite work that way.

Since all these characters were foreign to me, my brain didn’t know where to begin, and so very little learning could take place. In fact, what I found happening was my brain would instantly pick out the one or two signs that were in English, since that’s all it could decipher!

This is why when kids are learning to read, we don’t start them off with Harry Potter. You start with easy to read books with smaller sentences first, then let them work their way up to more difficult material.

When learning Chinese, you need to use the same approach. If you’re just starting off, you’ll want to start with some absolute beginner material that introduces you to the basics. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can them move on to more difficult (but only slightly more difficult) material, so that your brain can process the new material in the context of what it already knows.

If the new material is too easy, then while it may be fun to absorb, no actual learning will take place. If it’s too difficult, then your brain will give up as there will be too much new information to process.

CLO was designed with this approach in mind.

Each lesson only teaches a few new words at a time, while reusing words that were previously taught. Dialogs and articles are presented for you in their entirety in the beginning of a lesson, so that your brain can try and process the new vocabulary on its own first, before the explanations are given.

If you ever find your learning reaching a rut, where you don’t find your Chinese improving, it may be because there is a lack of comprehensible input being provided to your brain. This happens when you hang around the same people all the time who are speaking at the same levels that you are already used to.

If this happens to you, the it’s time to look for new sources of input. Try striking new conversations in new topics that you’re not familiar with. Or try reading or watching a program that is slightly above your current ability.

Doing so will ensure that your learning never ceases, and that you’re constantly making new progress.

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2 Responses to “Comprehensible Input”

  1. Danny

    Just wanted to say that I’m glad you took up the blogging again! For quite a long time the site looked a little abandoned. Maybe you could write something about if and what is happening behind the scenes or what plans you have with CLO for the future 🙂

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