N+1 input comprehension hypothesis -- Stephen Krashen

Hello guys,
Have anyone of you actually learned any new language by following this hypothesis? For example, if you are a beginner, first of all, expose yourself to easy stuff then work your way up and finally to the real native level stuff. And, you have the proof in the pudding that this N+1 hypothesis really works. Since I started learning English in my home country Pakistan so I had no direct access to native speakers and was not surrounded by the language 24/7. So I started reading graded readers and then non-fiction books etc and watching movies. I learned the language through these resources and no language lessons with native speakers. I was also not surrounded by the language outside my house.

Now I have been in Germany for 2.5 years. Before coming to Germany I had no formal contact at all with the German language. However, that has changed when arrived in Germany. I have contact with the German language when calling to Bank staff over the phone or ordering something at a bakery or borrowing books at a library.

Some incidents took place in a day to day life that had forced me to think about my previously held language learning beliefs. For example, I was a follower of Stephen Krashen’s n+1 language hypothesis since he was a linguist even though he did not speak many languages. Like first you need to learn basic grammar then read graded stuff and listen to easy stuff/comprehensible inputs etc Do narrow reading.etc

However, during those incidents when German speakers talked to me even though I could reply/answer either in yes or now but my brain had figured them out AUTOMATICALLY. And, these sentences were spoken at a normal native level. I did not even listen to anything or study any grammar or read anything in the German language FORMALLY. My only direct contact with the German language is through these intermittent conversational encounters with native speakers.

How was my brain able to figure out the meaning of those sentences without knowing any grammar(I do not even know how many subjects and objects and pronouns are there and how verbs are conjugated etc). These native level conversational inputs are definitely not N+1 because they are quite advanced in meaning and still I have a hard time following the meaning of basic sentences.

That begs the question also impels me to start this thread to know your views about this phenomenon. "Exposing to TV series/Native level stuff is not the right way to start learning the language right off the bat and only following N+1 hypothesis is the right way to go about it."Where is the solid evidence to support this argument? Another follow up question, without knowing any grammar whatsoever (no knowledge of subjects, pronouns etc). No conscious effort of learning either in the form of looking up words in a dictionary, spaced repetition, grammar rules etc)- Is it possible for your brain to figure out the meaning of sentences by simply relying on the real context that comes only in the form of listening - only children are living proof of this). That being said, sometimes I come across such uncanny situations where I am simply amazed by the ability of my subconscious mind to figure things out in a new language like German.

To supplement this, I am also sharing the video of another language polyglot who learn languages by just watching TV series and letting her brain figure out the meaning itself.

Alexandra Stepien - Netflix and chilll like a boss: How to learn languages the lazy way - PG 2017 - YouTube

Your feedback please based on your own learning language experience.

Thanks
Asad

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Yes, a lot of us here have learned trough input, and a lof of us here are fans for Krashen and his teachings. And the whole N+1 concept is kinda the base of Assimil and similar language courses, witch some more Grammar thrown in. It all works.

As an aside from that, I’m starting to develop a real pet peeve with the whole “I learned from Netflix” fad. TV is an ineffective use of active study time as compared to books with audio, but a lot of people are jumping into it because they’re too lazy to read. I do watch a lot TV shows in different languages, but that’s separate form my primary study method of reading and listening.

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So this is interesting because people have been trying for ages to get a perfect definition of N+1 or the question of what exactly is comprehensible input. You clearly were able to get comprehensible input in the above scenario where you’re interacting with German people. This was comprehensible for you for a number of reasons, but I doubt anyone in the world could tell you all of them. Visuals are incredibly helpful, and if you’re in a particular setting, you have a whole lot of context for your brain to weave through in your subconscious. The idea here behind N+1 is that you’re only making progress when you’re understanding messages, therefore it’s better to get messages that you can understand as much as possible to make progress as quickly as possible. The native material is miles more entertaining, but you’re not able to understand 98+ % of it. I have watched the video that you’ve listed, and I think the important part to remember is that she’s seen these shows many times. She probably already knows what they’re going to say before it comes out of their mouth. I believe that makes it much more comprehensible. Another example of this is everyone grabbing Harry Potter in their target language. They already know the story so well that they can almost predict the words in many situations. Krashen speaks about this tough to pin down concept of comprehensible input. He doesn’t have a good way of describing exactly what makes something comprehensible to a person in a given situation. I think he’s even talked a bit about this in a video with Steve from 2017. :stuck_out_tongue: I think he said something along the lines of “all polyglots have different ways of making content comprehensible to them, but they do not all use the same method.” This supports his idea, but I think it holds up very well.

I definitely have found a lot of my learning to correlate with Krashen’s hypothesis. It’s not perfect, but I think graded readers and graded content will speed up your learning process more than jumping straight into harder content. I’ve been on the other side this input vs skills debate as well. I did ancient Greek and Latin for YEARS!!! I don’t think I’ll bother worrying much about grammar explanations anymore though. I don’t think knowing the rule consciously really helps all that much. It seems more important to understand what meaning is being construed in sentences/phrases containing that bit of grammar. I really think you can have the grammar rule memorized, text right in front of your face, audio of that text, and still blank on the meaning 100%. It’s a bold claim, but it seems to be my experience. I don’t think my experience is unique, but I definitely have had a grammar rule right in front of me while looking at a sentence containing that grammar rule and ended up just scratching my head in disbelief that I still don’t know what the sentence means.

I believe this is the video of Steve and Stephen Stephen Krashen: Comprehensible Input - YouTube
If you like languages, it’s just entertaining to here how passionate they are about making new advancements. Lastly, remember that Krashen DOES speak many languages. I believe he bases a lot of his theory on his own experience with German

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I am one of those who swear by Krashen’s whole “comprehensible input” concept. However, I also think that this “N+1” thing is the weakest part of his method. In practice you can’t expect to proceed smoothly by optimal steps. You can achieve the N+1 in the very beginning, when it is still possible to program your learning but that ends very fast. Even Assimil stops being so smooth after a while in the case of more difficult languages, Japanese being a very well known example. And once you’ve gone into native content you can simply forget about the whole N+1 conceit.
So, what can we do as leaners? IMO the main point is to expose yourself to content that you find interesting and that you can kind of understand. This changes from context to context but it often boils down to you being able to follow the general outline of a story (novel, series, whatever) or argument and being able to pick up glimpses of the details here and there. For example, say you’re watching a piece of a movie: can you understand what it is about? Can you pick up some of the “exchanges”, pieces of information? Do you find it engaging? Then you’re golden, even if you miss about 40% of the actual information, which is common and way off the N+1 standard. How do you manage to understand? Depending on your level, it’s a combination of your previous knowledge of the language, context, predictability of the material, visual clues, reading transcripts and so on and so forth. Knowledge of grammar is one of those: it can help but it’s absolutely not required.

The way I think about the process is like this: consider that your “brain” is a young and temperamental child. You want to prove to it the following idea:
“Hey, I know this movie/novel/… is in a foreign language and I know it’s hard to concentrate on it, but I swear that if you give it a go you will a) understand more than you think you can, and b) will actually enjoy it because it’s so cool”.
Get that on a regular basis and your brain/child will learn. Fail often to do so, either because you in fact you get so lost that it becomes gibberish or because the content is dull and pointless, and you’ll get stuck and probably end up quitting.

To answer your question: yes, I have learned a few foreign languages following this exact method.

P.S. I absolutely agree with T_harangi’s opinion on the Netflix fad, and my post has made it clear why this is so.

Regarding Netflix:
First of all, I see nothing “lazy” about it. If that is what works for someone, why is that a problem?

Also, and far more importantly: I find it far easier to understand an audiobook reader than spoken language on Netflix. Audiobook readers have very clearly pronounced and separated words, and it easy to adjust to any idiosyncrasies of a single speaker. In addition, written language is different than spoken. Even in dialogs. If someone says. ‘We are goin’ tada Bah tahdah" it is written “We are going to the bar today.”

This is how one encounters language in real life. Words are slurred, omitted, conjoined, skipped, and all the other things one does with a native tongue. Video such as Netflix brings you closer to the way language is really spoken.

Netflix might not be for you, but to dismiss it as “lazy” is shortsighted and needlessly condescending.

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I see both points. I agree with him that it’s not an efficient use of time to try and learn from Netflix. I see people talking about it on Reddit, but I suspicious that any of them make any real progress from trying to learn from Netflix. Reading and listening is far more efficient in acquiring vocabulary.

However, I think your point is well taken that to finish things off it is helpful to listen to content like that is on Netflix and hear “everyday” speaking. You can get this from podcasts though, or interviews or something else that is much more word dense. Movies do not have a lot of words as compared to the equivalent audiobook, podcast, interview, news program or documentary.

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Yes, what eric said. Of course we supplement our studies will all kinds of media input, and using Netflix subs to up your comprehension can be fun. But I’m talking of the people who think they can start using Netflix as their primary method from day one, simply because they saw someone on YouTube do it. As eric points out, Reddit if flooded with newbies asking dumb questions about this method laden with a weird sense of entitlement, expecting to get the same results from it as experienced polyglot might. It gets really annoying.

I think the watch netflix and learn goes hand in hand with the “just go to the country” bit of advice. In both cases you don’t get much that is comprehensible until you have a solid foundation. People do need to stop suggesting this to absolute beginners. Videos with deliberate clues for meaning are great comprehensible input, but native material isn’t going to move you forward quickly because it’s that much harder to understand. When you don’t understand, you don’t learn. I really think this is the most accurate theory to date about how people actually acquire the language. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to include this when they talk about visiting the country or watching tv shows to supplement their learning. A lot of people that have successfully learned languages over simplify the beginner to intermediate process because comparatively it’s such a short period of time when you do it correctly. It’s a huge problem for those navigating the process for the first time.

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I am open to more effective methods. Our university provided a German language course with a native German for beginners. The whole teaching methodology confused me more than anything else. Those different forms of articles and pronouns, cases etc. Apart from a few greetings, I did not gain at all. It was a torture at best. The teacher - she was literally dissecting the language.

I have been working with Television series intensively for 8-12 hours. What I notice is that given enough context and repetition of phrases within that enough context, your brain has the ability to pick up phrases here and there. The big question that needs to be answered, is for the value of time that I am putting in, does output of such level(learning phrases here and there) justify the number of hours I am spending on comprehending television series. I could spend that time with much easier materials and work it through. To achieve some kind of breakthrough in the language learning process, at least you need to spend 1000+ hours. And I need to decide where and how I should spend such hours.

That’s why I ordered those story books(briansmith.de) that come with mp3 files and are meant for learners. Let’s see how this active learning activity goes coupled with the fact that I have been watching TV series. I am seeing an improvement at least an empty noise submerging into words and then phrases and then sentences.

The nice thing about LingQ is that you can actually measure your progress. Just watching Netflix, unless you are likewise keeping track in lingq by importing the Netflix content and going through the LingQ motions of marking words know, is hard to gauge.

Another problem with the shows on Netflix…like Dark or Dogs of Berlin…If you are using the subtitles…they don’t match the actual spoken dialogue. For one thing, I think in the Berlin ones they may be using Berlin dialect in some parts, but the subtitles are shortened, or they use simple past vs. present perfect so even that cue can be hugely distracting (maybe I should just turn off subtitles and try).

I am watching a TV series on Amazon Prime. I am watching them purely in the German language without relying on subtitles (even though I have German subtitles option). As a student, I have Amazon prime account for free for one year so I am making a big use of it. I am done with watching 4 seasons of Anger Management and now I am watching Family Guy.

Asad, I couldn’t reply directly to your last post as there seems to be some limit on replies…Let us know how it goes. Are you watching Anger Management and Family Guy in German on Amazon Prime? Not sure if we have that option in the US, but I might check it out for other programs.

The language options on Amazon Prime are super lame in the US. They don’t offer language tracks for any of their original shows, even though they make them available for the overseas markets. Why they wouldn’t at least make a Spanish dub available in the US for their original shows, when they already have it, and it’s already payed for by our subscription, is beyond me. Also, on Amazon Prime, most foreign films have baked in English subtitles which you can’t turn off – some newer films luckily are showing up the newer, closed caption style subs that one can disable. But it’s a luck of the draw as to which ones.

Given that both Apple TV+ and Disney+ launched with massive multi language support for their originals, I’m really baffled by Amazon’s lack of effort in this department.

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Ich denke das du eine gute, bis sehr gute Veranlagung hast Sprachen zu lernen, so dass du in der Lage bist bald jede Unterhaltung in Deutsch zu verstehen. Du hast es ja auch geschafft Englisch zu lernen. Jeder hat da seinen eigenen Weg.
Ich habe meine Englischkenntnisse vorwiegend damit erworben, indem ich seit Jahren täglich morgens und abends BBC 4 (digital radio station) höre und somit mittlerweile fast jeden englisch sprechenden Menschen gut verstehen kann.
Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich ca. 85 Prozent dessen verstehen, was im Radio gesagt, bzw. präsentiert wird.
Falls du mein geschriebenen Text nicht lesen kannst, könnte ich mich auch mehr im englischen Schreiben versuchen.
Desweiteren habe ich auch englisch sprechende Freunde ( Deutsche die als Zweitsprache Englisch sprechen) mit denen ich mich einmal die Woche getroffen habe und auf Englisch diskutiert habe… Das ist jetzt natürlich wegen der Pandemie (ich sage nur Covid 19) nicht möglich.
Dieser Englisch-Club wurde von einem älteren Ehepaar geleitet, die selbst mit ihrem Hund zuhause Englisch sprechen.
Ich habe wegen der augenblicklichen Krise schon seit Monaten kein Englisch mehr gesprochen. Ich strebe dies aber bald wieder an.
Ich höre bestimmt von dir, oder ?

Gruß Gerfried (the german guy, from lower saxony)

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Yup, on Amazon Prime. They have both audio and subtitles in German that go with it. There are so many American Television series that are dubbed in German language for example Rouge, Six, Tread stone etc. For the last couple of days, I am experiencing something different. After going through this immersion thing (I literally spend from 10 AM to 10 PM). My subconscious mind is fully awaken now. What it seemed gibberish or simply empty noise to my ears a few days ago and I could not make sense of it. Now after this immersion thing- My mind is noticing a lot of phrases when I am going out for a grocery shopping. Like the light-bulb moment shines up! Hey, I heard this phrase in the TV series and now these old German ladies are speaking it up when doing grocery shopping. Before this self-immersion thing, I felt like my subconscious mind was in the hibernation period and not making any sense of real conversations. It is a positive sign that my listening skills are improving bit by bit.

Off-topic, but if you are an enthusiastic user of this site, and are from Pakistan originally, is there any chance that we might be able to persuade you to have a go at getting some of the mini stories translated into Urdu, or indeed Punjabi if you speak that?

I’m studying Japanese and on Netflix they now have option where narrator describes the scene, meant as a help for those with bad eyesight. I think that kind of material is very useful for language learners. Another great resource are youtube videos that contain subtitles, which you can then import to lingq. With those you can listen to natural speech with a transcript (that you have first read in lingq making it comprehensible).

I added some more netflix (only those which have exact subtitles in Japanese, I think just listening is too difficult) and these youtube videos to my normal program of reading (and listening, however most interesting material is just written), just to get in touch with natural speech.

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I speak Urdu as a native language. Actually, right now I am busy with my university studies in parallel. However, I can do this during my semester break. My exams will start from July 7 till August 14. Presumably, if campus opens by then. Creating lessons for Urdu language is one of my business ideas for e-commerce as I am currently studying it as a subject. I am more of the opinion that I should record real conversations with my brothers in Urdu and transcribe the speech in the script and sell lessons at a low cost. I would like to do this as an experiment venture in the future.

Well, that would certainly be useful once I get good enough to understand it. (I’m actually involved in trying to do very much that sort of thing with some Breton speakers right now.)

Although my chances of reaching that point are a lot higher if the language is available on LingQ, for which the mini stories are a pre-requisite. I wonder … even if Urdu may not be a high-priority language for the LingQ staff themselves, if there were enough people among the userbase who are interested in getting it supported here that they’d be willing to contribute to hiring your services as a translator, once your exams are finished, would you be interested in that?

I learned to read Spanish fluently largely through this method (I was specifically not trying to learn to speak and only slightly working to “hear & understand”.)

This was over a decade ago without tools like LingQ being available.

But to be explicit I also take a short cut by using a 3000 to 5000 word frenquency list to boost myself into more complex (and interesting), but still comprensible input.

It took about 1 month to start reading ordinary juvenile novels, and about 3 months to get to a fully adult and reasonably speedy reading level.

(Early on I read all, 6 at the time, of Harry Potter, and then “The DaVinci Code” without having first read it in English or seeing the movie at that point.)

My study of grammair was practically nil. I would glance through grammar books to get a rough idea of what tense or even which verbs I was seeing but that was about it.

This is a key distinction for me in using Anki or any flashcard system: I am initially NOT trying to “learn the words” but rather to learn to recognize enough of them to make interesting material comprehensible.

I have now repeated this for French (though French is more difficult in my opinion than Spanish) and now I am trying to add “hearing and listening” fluency through an elaboration of the method. (Also speaking).

At 4 1/2 months I am not quite hearing ordinary French at full speed (the news, movies, and TV) but can generally follow podcasters who are speaking French only to those learning French.

(They speak slower and more carefully so it’s analogous to using simpler books.)

Audio books fall somewhere in the middle of these ranges for me right now.

I still don’t “study” grammar much, but I read a lot, listen a lot, and do vocabulary and speaking drills.

This may not be “the best way” but if there is a better method or a modification then I am always looking for it and pretty much willing to try even if it is a lot of work.

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