If you want to learn a language, being lazy and not studying is the most effective way to learn one. This sounds crazy. I know. But the effectiveness of this method can all be explained by this thing called comprehensible input.
This is a concept I came across during my (what feels like) billionth attempt to learn Spanish, and it has completely transformed the way I approach learning a language. This theory helped turn me from a struggling language learner into one that is finally starting to see real progress.
Using traditional study methods like studying grammar and memorizing vocabulary never worked for me, and if you feel the same way, then I recommend you listen up. Let me tell you what comprehensible input is and how this concept can help you learn literally any language lazily.
What The Hell is Comprehensible Input?
I was observant as a child.
I knew there had to be a better way of living.
It seemed like every corner I looked… people were unhappy.
Unhappy with their careers, boss, spouse, children, colleagues, self, mornings, nights, everything.
This may just be the environment I was exposed to or what my mind gravitated towards, but something made me want to avoid this “default” lifestyle like the plague.
Complaining about the cards I was dealt wasn’t going to change my future.
Taking matters into my own hands was the only option.
Personal responsibility, self-education, and the pursuit of sovereignty is what I dedicated my sub-20-year-old life to.
If everyone was told to watch the news, go to college, get a job, retire at 65, and do as they’re told — would that not lead to everyone getting the same results?
Is that not the cause of this global unhappiness?
There was only one option: Do the exact opposite of everyone else.
While everyone glued their eyes to the TV, I drowned my mind in the information from people who were doing what I wanted to do, creators (who actually had results for it unlike most professors who teach something they’ve never done, they are taught to teach, not do).
Introduced by Dr. Steven Krashen, a notable American linguist, comprehensible input is a foundational concept in how we learn languages.
Krashen suggests that every single one of us acquire languages in one way, and one way only: by understanding messages. That means we pick up a language when we’re exposed to it, but only when exposed to input that we actually understand. It’s really that simple.
He also believes that real progress happens when this input is just a notch above our current understanding. He calls this “i + 1,” with “i” indicating our current language proficiency, and “+1” indicating content slightly more advanced than our current level. This basically means that when getting input from a language, it should be challenging, but not too challenging. The goal should be to understand at least 70–95%.
It’s important to note, however, that when Krashen says “acquire” languages he makes a big distinction between the process of learning a language, and the process of acquiring one.
Learning a language involves the not-fun stuff like memorizing, grammar, testing, and so on. You know, all the traditional methods you used when learning a second language in school. While acquiring on the other hand, happens subconsciously, without any deliberate memorization.
According to Krashen, acquiring a language is actually much more effective than simply learning one, as it lets you internalize the grammar and vocabulary of a language as you’re exposed to it, rather than actively studying it.
Meaning: spending time drilling grammar and memorizing vocabulary using flashcards is actually not that effective. What I found especially shocking is, according to this theory, even talking in your target language isn’t really considered practice. As Krashen explains, you can’t output your way to language acquisition. Only input.
Anything that makes input comprehensible, helps language acquisition. Which luckily for us lazy people, is extremely low-effort to achieve.
To Increase Comprehensible Input, Be Lazy
Language inputs are things that you can hear, as well as things that you can read.
This means if you want to increase comprehensible input, read and listen more in your target language. Instead of learning grammar rules and memorizing vocab, do this: watch movies, read books, play videos, listen to podcasts, or put on a guided meditation for all I care. As long as you read or listen in your target language, anything goes. Embrace the lazy side of you and you’ll begin to acquire languages.
I am not even f**king with you. The research has been done on the effectiveness of comprehensible input. Learning another language can literally be done from your couch. All you have to do, if you want to you want to truly learn a language, is build the habit of spending a lot of time with the language. I’ve seen 45–60 minutes a day recommended. But in general, the more you can immerse yourself with the language, the better.
Just remember though, you can’t read or listen to whatever you want to improve your language skills, as I mentioned earlier, you have to read or listen to things you actually understand. Remember “i + 1”? That’s what we’re going for here.
Comprehensible Input Mistakes to Avoid
Although ensuring language input is understandable, it is equally as important to ensure it is compelling. This means it should be interesting to you. If the input is boring, it won’t be very effective in helping you internalize any grammar rules or vocabulary. So if something is making you doze off, simply skip it and find something else.
As Krashen says,
“To make sure that language acquirers pay attention to the input, it should be interesting. But interest may be not be enough for optimal language acquisition. It may be the case that input needs to be not just interesting but compelling.”
It is important to realize, however, that when you first start out learning a language, almost nothing will be comprehensible. This means you‘ll probably have to make a tradeoff with interest for something a bit more simple. This could be children’s books, TV shows, or any content geared toward beginners whose vocabulary is 10 words.
When just starting out, you should focus on a small amount of content and listen to it many times, focusing less on what you don’t understand and more on simply letting the sounds of the language enter your brain. When you listen to the same content over and over, you get better and hearing where one word or phrase ends and the next one begins. This is incredibly important in language learning.
All in all, the key is to acquire a foundation by increasing input that is both enjoyable and slightly challenging, and then use them as building blocks. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself immersed in more complex input that you can actually understand and speak, all by just learning the language “lazily.”