Comprehensible Input Part 23

This is LingQ, Steve Kaufmann is our blogfather, Steve Krashen is our godfather, so we’re all about Comprehensible Input.

Me too. But … I keep trying to scratch an itch.

From Kaufmann and Krashen I had stars in my eyes (and ears) that all I had to do was listen/read/repeat a whole lot of text at Comprehensible+1 or maybe Comprehensible+n and I would absorb my target language as organically as I did as a child.

I started with that approach. I did absorb much vocabulary and a basic sense of grammar quickly. It was beautiful. I was only a few months in and I could read children’s books.

Then I graduated to young adult (Harry Potter), podcasts and a tutor. I realized, whoa, there’s a lot more to do.

Maybe I could get there with pure Comprehensible Input … in four or five years.

But I’m too impatient for that. I’m studying grammar books, I’ve got lists of vocabulary words including multiple meanings, I’ve got flash cards with regular verb conjugations and special flashcards for irregular verbs. I’ve got lists of interesting sentence examples.

I’m not complaining exactly, but I had hoped to avoid these old-school disciplined learning approaches. I’m about results. I don’t care how I get there.

How do others manage this balance?


Learning my target language has become a part of my life. I no longer approach my language learning as learning itself but more so gaining knowledge and enjoying myself. It is like I have replaced my native language with my target language and doing all the things that I used to do in my native language. My Iphone has audios from my target language (German). I have installed apps of German channels on my iphone. I have literally automised my language learning process. Every dead time goes to learning my target language.At the end of the day it is “quantity” that will pay the dividends.

I have a lot of patience. If I am not talking I am not missing much but infact gaining something through passive immersion.

Just to give you an example when I sometimes sit down with old German ladies in a retirement home(my student hostel is situated there) all they talk about is (who is banging who in the neighborhood; private life of the whole neighborhood is their personal matter). :grinning:

Instead I listen to a podcast or lecture I truly care about. I am improving my overall language skills.

In 5 years you will be really good. Language learning takes time. Therefore, enjoy the process. Keep reading and listening. You will be in a better position to hold fluent conversations. It is not that hard to activate your passive knowledge into active knowledge.

I have seen students speaking German right from day 1 (hardly any input) all they do is butcher the language and speak sentences that have an influence of their native langauges. Example, Turkish-German, Arabic-German, Korean-German…it is like they are inventing a new version of the German language.


Edit: My post and references to comprehensible input are in the sense that I’m using a tool (LingQ, google translate, etc.) to make things comprehensible. I’m not doing anything without looking up any words I need to usually, either via sentence mode or normal Lingq lookup

I don’t =). All I do is comprehensible (and incomprehensible = D ) input. I don’t do any flash cards/SRS. I did that in the very beginning and I think that can be very helpful in the very beginning, however, at some point (maybe even right from the beginning) it stunted my growth I believe. I learned far more vocabulary and quicker through reading and listening than I ever did with SRS. They main problem, to me, when using SRS is that I was spending far more time reviewing words, than learning new ones (I used Memrise, so I’ll admit there could be something inherent in the way that works, vs say Anki, but I think there is enough similarity that one runs into the same issue). WIth CI (comprehensible input), there was no systematic review. Reading and listening IS the review and by virtue of that I’m reviewing the most used words.

If I want to do extra review of words, my preference is to take a lesson and jump to each yellow word, read the sentence (and maybe surrounding sentences) and try to guess the meaning, in context. Just like I’m doing with a normal read through, except with focus on the yellow words. No SRS.

I do some grammar lookups, but usually only when I encounter a situation that I want to try and understand the “why” or the mechanics of it. I don’t do any active grammar STUDY exactly (not saying this is good or bad). I do actually enjoy going through some grammar chapters from time to time, but my time is so limited that I keep most of my focus on CI (i.e. like 95% of the time or more).

Note, I HAVE taken a looooonnnnggg time. However, imo, this is mostly a function of how little time I put towards language acquisition a day. I’m basically at 6-7 years now. However, the vast majority of this has been about 10-15 min a day of reading max. Lots of German tv watching (no subtitiles) with my German gf (not the most helpful “study”). In the past couple of years I have ramped up my listening a lot. Trying to get 30-60 minutes of that in. And trying to sneak in more reading when I can. Also incorporating some “speaking” (basically going through the mini stories currently in my native language and trying to translate via speaking into the target language). So even this “output” is using LingQ =).

If I had a full hour a day or more that I could read and listen with more attention, I feel I would easily be way farther than I am now. However, I’m quite satisfied. Like Asad said, I’m just enjoying the process. I can see I’m improving and that is always exciting.


Stephen Krashen advocates a more purist comprehensible view, even though his opinion has changed a little bit from his initial paper on the matter.

Steve Kaufmann isn’t only about comprehensible input. He has said multiple times something like “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t look up a word in a dictionary.” Looking words up in the dictionary is a very different idea from the initial comprehensible input that was seen as the way kids learn their mother tongue. Furthermore, Steve has many other ideas and advice, which go against the original hypothesis of comprehensible input being the only thing you need to learn a language: “In order to speak well, you need to speak alot”; reading grammar explanations is useful; going through the LingQ Vocabulary list as a means of drilling vocabulary (with the secondary goal of marking words as Known); using the re-organising sentences function in order to practise sentence order. Steve thinks that comprehensible input is important, but in his videos that I’ve watched, he’s never advocated for what the original comprehensible input hypothesis was stating.

If you look at other very highly proficient and prolific polyglots, many of them aren’t “input purists,” even though they are very much aware of Stephen Krashen’s idea. One can only imagine why.

Here a video describing the technique Alexander Arguelles uses when he’s starting a new language:

Here’s a video by Luca Lamperiello on if you can learn a language with input only:

One good strategy is to re-evaluate your language skills every now and again and focus on your weaknesses. Unlike in other domains of life, where you can deliberately avoid your weakness (eg. you aren’t great a maths, so you find a job teaching English), in language learning you are often limited by your weaknesses. If you have poor vocabulary, no amount of pronunciation skills is going to help you. This strategy is great, because it’s very flexible. You may have a different weakness in four months from now and so you can switch techniques accordingly.


If you feel this approach was very quick with acquisition, why do you think flash cards and grammar studying would be better? (It may be, but I don’t necessarily think so). Is it just the “jump” from children’s books to Harry Potter that scared you so to speak? Are these “extras” that you’re adding to your normal time? i.e. are you spending more overall time now, or did you replace some of your “comprehensible input” time?

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This is an interesting point and I think it’s been brought up before too as to what “comprehensible input” really is. Admittedly I’ve never looked at Krashen’s paper, but I guess I always thought it DID include looking up words you didn’t know, but only that you try to do the N + 1 level. With that in mind, to me LingQ provides the opportunity to handle a much higher level of “next level”…i.e. N + 2 or N+ 10 (or more). With the easy of look up, or highlighting phrases, or using sentence mode. Things become “comprehensible” through these look ups, but allows you to make the incremental steps that are actually nearly impossible to find source material that is truly N+1.

Note, in my original blurb on this thread, when I say comprehensible input (maybe inaccurately), I mean reading and listening, if we want to call it that. I’m not reading without looking a lot of stuff up (mostly using sentence mode).


I skimmed it a long time ago, so I don’t really remember the details. But the whole idea of the original paper was that one can learn a language solely based on input is just false. People who have perfect understanding, but have never spoken in their life, just are not native-level speakers. This is enough to disprove Stephen Krashen’s entire hypothesis. If it’s only about comprehension, that’s a different thing, but that wasn’t the original paper.

Furthermore, the idea of comprehensible input is a very vague method. Applying a method based on Stephen Krashen’s hypothesis, which is clearly wrong, to me seems much closer to the idea of how the kid learnt: that is, extensive reading/listening with no look-ups, but at a level slightly higher than where you are (i + 1). This technique is not intensive reading looking up words in the dictionary, it is not comparing and contrasting bilingual texts, it doesn’t mention anything about re-listening to content you have already read. Extensive reading/listening at i+1 is a great technique, but it’s not the only one. Extensive reading/listening has its strengths and weakness, like other techniques, so has it’s place amongst the list of methods/techniques you can use.


Thanks for the clarifications. I’ve edited my post to make sure it’s understood what I’m referring to more clearly. I agree with a lot of what you said and I also thing the term is very vague…or at least many folks have different views of what it means so it’s good to be clear.


That’s an important distinction to make, and one that Luca mentions in his video that you linked.

I watched that video this weekend, and I think it can be best summed up by saying that if your goal is only to understand the language, then input is enough. However, if you want to be proficient at output as well, then input alone will not get you all the way there. When I watched Luca’s video, I found myself completely agreeing with that statement. It seems like such an obvious thing, but it’s an important difference to be aware of.


Sure, with enough input you will eventually get you there. But the question was: “Is it possible to learn a language just through input practice?”

A follow-up question would be: “It is practical/efficient/good advice/a good strategy to learn a language just through input practice?”

To this question, Luca’s answer would be “It depends, but I do not.”

Whether you count reading a grammar book as input practice is up to your definition. Whether you count comparing translations as input practice is also up to your definition. But his method of translating back and forwards between languages, which he dubs the “bilingual translation method,” definitely isn’t input practice. And he claims he’s used this method with the majority of the languages he’s learnt, presumably because he thinks there are some benefits to it over only input. Obviously one does not need to use this method to learn a language though. It’s just that he, personally, doesn’t even use input-only methods when learning a language from the very beginning.

His video really just is an analogy to highlight how the input-purist view that you can learn a language in its entirety through input is just nonsense.


I don’t know where this falls in here, but I sometimes like to listen to videos in the target language about the target language grammar.

To me the advantage of listening to stuff about target language grammar actually in target language, is that this way it is listening practice, so I get value out of it no matter how much of the actual grammatical content I absorb or retain. I feel this removes any stress about accomplishing any learning of the grammar. I mean, sure, that’s a hope, but if I can find a presenter that I enjoy listening to, then I’ll have a nice listening experience regardless, so any grammatical knowledge obtained will just be bonus.

Plus another benefit is it helps acquaint me with how natives talk about the grammar–primarily the words they use–so I can use those words when I want to ask a native a question about the grammar.


@asad100101 – Nice to hear how you are arranging your language study. You’re not really responding to my concerns.

I enjoy the way I’m learning French. However, I have shifted away from my, perhaps, naive understanding of Comprehensible Input.

I don’t expect “the language to reveal itself” to me solely with comprehensible input. I do believe one can go a long way with comprehensible input to get the gist of average difficult text. But that’s also a long way from understanding the language and being able to use it on one’s own beyond a sort of pidgin “I go town work.”

With sufficient time I guess one could deduce subjunctive verb tenses. I say, why wait? I’m studying them now with flash cards.

What do you do?

I don’t want to study for five years if I can do it in two.


focus on your weaknesses .



I’m amazed how my language learning approach changes week by week, depending on my weaknesses and where I want to go.

I find it fascinating.

I had no idea that learning a foreign language could be such an adventure.


With sufficient time I guess one could deduce subjunctive verb tenses. I say, why wait? I’m studying them now with flash cards.

What do you do?

I don’t want to study for five years if I can do it in two.

I dont know but what level on european framework of reference for languages do you expect in 2 years? for listening, speaking and reading. Even if you are studying 16 hours a day for the next 2 years Im not sure if you can pull off C1 across the board.

I had done a lot of passive immersion then someone on another language forum told me to consult a grammar book or take grammar classes. I took formal classes for 4 months in a local language school here in Germany that covered 80% of the grammar including subjunctive verb tenses. The advantage of attending such classes was that the teacher was leading the syllabus systemetically. All I had to do was to show up every day in the class.

I still think that the teacher wasted so much time on doing grammar drills/exercises. The rules did not stick naturally.

Later I found out CHATGPT and created stories (around 600) with all these grammar concepts and read them all on LingQ. Learned all these grammar rules/concepts through stories because that’s how my brain learns through context instead of doing drills. I could use flashcards in Anki but I did not want to waste time manually adding them since I found ChatGPT pretty fast.
How about you? How do your flashcards look like?

Right now I have no issues with German grammar. Reading non-fiction books are fluent readings for me under 7 million words read. At this stage, all I am struggling is to increase my vocabulary range so that I can read novels fluently with minimal vocabulary lookups. Grammar is out the way.

As far as my listening goes, at 4200 mark, I can now understand working class people in my work place. In terms of difficulty I would rank them second highest right after Germans who have dialects (the most diffcult lot). I had no issues understanding Germans working at Bakery, Pharmacy, Libraries and so forth.

It took me 3 years and 4 months. I can forecast where it is leading to and I would say that Matt’s susgested timeline of 5 years is closer to the truth.

If you can cover that ground in 2 years more power to you. Language learning takes time. Please report back your results after 2 years of learning and let us know where you stand.

You shoud not wait because a little bit grammar study everyday will simply help you to comprehend the language. What I have problem with is solving grammar exercises ad nauseum. Seeing those grammar rules while reading a normal book was more than enough for me to cement them. I did not have to allocate extra time on doing those grammar drills.

I don’t expect “the language to reveal itself” to me solely with comprehensible input.

My experience is totally different. Whatever sentences I have spoken until now. They all “emerged”. The whole sentence appears as one whole idea and all I have to do is to speak the whole idea. No conscious thinking about grammar. There was some sort of automaticity. I can not tell you how it happens but it happens. I always feel like this sentence I either heard during my listening or read in the book.

Dr. Brown(wrote a book named “Listening Approach”) would disagree with your hypothesis according to him correct language would emerge on its own but learners do not have patience and can not wait for 4 years to listen and read the language. His learning methodology is impractical for most people. They need a pandemic to happen to impement it.


I’m envious of your experience having ChatGPT generate many stories. That sounds really neat.

But I’ve found that it makes basic grammar mistakes (e.g., “в лесе”) in simple Russian stories, so now I’m not sure I want to try that approach.

Your 90% of the input should come from authentic sources. However, It does not make too many mistakes when it comes to explaining and using grammar concepts esp in German. I double check them from other sources too.

The purpose of creating such stories was to see and cement those “rules” in context.

How did it handle present tense or past tense or future tense in Russian, esp conditional tenses?


This is exactly right. Other than during the first month or two (of a little bit of figuring out how the new language is working, which may mean a short beginner course), there’s really nothing more you need to do. No other method or fad is required. No ‘shortcuts’; no miracles, just time and attention.



We don’t seem to meeting head-on much here.

For instance when I talk about “the language revealing itself,” it’s based on what I believe Kaufmann means by the phrase. That more features of the language – grammar sentence structure, etc – become apparent the more input over time one manages.

Your description of skipping the translation of a specific sentence and arriving immediately at the meaning is something else entirely.

My concern is that Comprehensible Input as I understand it from Kaufmann/Krashen doesn’t seem to reach as much of the language as quickly I had hoped, so I’m resorting to a more conventional grammar study beyond the occasional peeks at a basic grammar text that Kaufmann suggests.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but that’s my current assessment. I am an aggressive self-learner and I am applying that for the first time to a language. My instincts are usually pretty good for how I learn.

I find your account of language learning interesting, but I’m not asking for advice nor interested in your ideas of things I should do.

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Here here. I think many things will reveal themselves to you, but some others just won’t. Maybe you never realised that you were making this grammar mistake all along for the past decades. In the end, you needed a person to point it out to you. By reading grammar books and what not, they sometimes give you the kickstart you need to start noticing the things in the language. Or as you can’t figure out the grammatic pattern yourself. You probably would figure out the subjective tense in the long run, but maybe not. For instance, in Italian, a lot of Italians incorrectly use the subjective tense, according to official grammar rules (i.e. they don’t use it, when they should). When studying such content, how are you meant to learn when to correctly use it?

Each to their own though. Grammar drills definitely work though, especially if you are preparing to write. A list of example sentences is also very useful, as in your ChatGPT example. For spelling of the subjective tenses, cloze exercises or writing out tables work great.

It depends on your native language and the language you are learning. Just look at close languages like Norwegian and Swedish. Or trying telling a native Spanish speaker, it’s going to take them more than two years of 16+ hours per day to become C1 in Italian. They’ll laugh at you. Personally, I imagine I could pass the C1 exam in Italian in less than two years and I’m not studying anywhere near 16 hours per day. I’ll definitely see if I can pass the C1 reading and listening sections, as they are freely available online. Maybe I’ll even take an official exam just for the lols, if it doesn’t cost a fortune. Let’s see.


I think if you are doing it strictly to the Krashen hypothesis (as nfera laid out) where you are just doing n+1 difficulty at all times and trying to have the language reveal itself without looking up words…then yeah. I think that will take loads of time and I don’t think it would work honestly. Not every word can be derived from context imo (although very often it can be), or you would need many more examples of that word used across many sentences to be able to derive it. I think if we are going with “Kaufmann” methodology though,…reading and listening, using lingq to help look up words or using sentence mode. I believe this is by far the fastest way to acquire vocabulary. At least it has been in my experience so far.

Not saying the other things you’re doing are useless or don’t have their place, but if you’ve been simply reading and not looking up words, I suggest you try using Lingq, readlang, google translate browser plugin…whatever it takes to quickly look up words and or phrases. Look them up. Steve isn’t doing n +1…I think he’s stated his sweet spot is like 10-15% “new words”. He isn’t deriving the meaning from context without looking things up at 10-15% new words (on top of x% still “unknown” words).


Steve Kaufmann does many more methods than just these too. For instance, for the transcripts of some of the podcasts he listens to, he presses the right arrow button to skip to the next yellow/blue word, skipping all the white words/words he knows, as a means of trying to learn new vocabulary and drill ‘learning’/yellow vocabulary faster. Furthermore, he sometimes switches back and forwards between reading the paper book (extensive reading) and going through the same eBook within LingQ (intensive or semi-intensive reading, i.e. looking up new words in the dictionary and potentially reading Sentence View translations). What Stephen Krashen recommends and what Steve Kaufmann does are really two different things.

I am curious on how effective extensive reading is for vocabulary acquisition, compared to that of reading with access to a dictionary. As you mention, my hypothesis is that using a dictionary is a faster method (as long as looking up a word in a dictionary is quick!) as there are many words you simply can’t deduce from context. However, the benefit of extensive reading is really solidifying that vocabulary, and increasing your reading comprehension, as you end up reading more. That said, there are definitely proponents of extensive reading as a means of vocabulary acquisition though, such as Paul Nation. If anyone has any studies they’d like to reference or experiences, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

@ericb100 As a side mention, with regard to intensive reading as a means to learn vocabulary, I’d say you also want to throw in there also learning the verb conjugations and most important prefixes/suffixes. Then you can really just learn the word family and transform them into their various forms, instead of having to learn every lemma separately.

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