Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comprehensible Input is Real

Folks, comprehensible input is real, and it works. I know, because I have experienced it first hand. It has been about a week since I have taken a 4-day Fluency Fast Mandarin class taught by Linda Li (see my post here about that experience), and I am surprised at how much I am still able to remember, to understand, and to use. 

In many ways, some may say that Linda's class was not rigorous enough, because we did not practice oral drills in Mandarin, conjugate verbs, nor complete any grammar worksheets. As Linda stated on the first day of class, all we as her students had to do was to pay attention to her, to listen to her, to respond when she asked questions, and to take part in activities. In other words, the burden of us acquiring Mandarin was on Linda, not us if we did what she said.

As I wrote in my last post, during those four days, we did so many different comprehensible, compelling activities involving Mandarin: TPR, answer her circling questions, read and draw, story listening, Movie Talk, and LOTS of reading. Linda focused on high-frequency words, as well as on a number of incidental words - believe me, there was TONS of repetition, but quite honestly. nothing seemed repetitive in the class.

In my last post, I showed just a few of the many readings which we did in class. If you were to read them, you may think that they were "stupid," because they were about people in the class wanting chocolate and their attempts to get it; Catwoman involved in a love triangle with Superman and Batman; a son giving his father lots of water to drink; and a classmate wanting to buy a bikini from another so she goes to see him and steals it. I have heard many teachers dismiss TPRS and using stories to teach the language, because they view these stories as nonsensical. On the surface, I would have to agree with you, but these "nonsensical" stories have an actual purpose: they are crafted in a very deliberate way in order to continue the implicit language acquisition process.  

So why am I able to say that CI works? Yesterday in response to a tweet which I had written, Linda Li wrote the following funny message to me in pinyin (a Romanticized version of Mandarin):

(Linda wants to see Keith, but Denver does not have Keith. Linda cries. Linda wants to go to Atlanta. Keith is located in Atlanta, yes or no?)

I was able to read and to understand what Linda wrote perfectly and without much thought, I tweeted her back the following:

(Yes, I am located in Atlanta. I want to see Linda, because Linda has chocolate, and I like to eat chocolate!)

Here is Linda's response:

(I have chocolate. I have a lot of chocolate. I also have iced coffee. I want to give you chocolate and iced coffee). NOTE - i love to drink iced coffee!

One week ago, I was not able to do any of this, but yet in those series of tweets, Linda and I actually communicated in Mandarin as a result of the Fluency Fast course! Albeit, it was at a low register, and I am sure that there are some grammar errors, I was able to create new meaning on my own and to respond to her in comprehensible Mandarin. Like I said before, NEVER in class did we do oral drills involving these forms, nor did I EVER have to create flashcards to learn these words. Linda just had us listen and interact with the language in so many different ways. For me to write that response actually was not that difficult to do, but at the same time, I am absolutely blown away that I was able both to read her messages and to respond. Quite honestly, I cannot even explain it other than there is Mandarin inside of me that had to have gotten there implicitly, because I did not put it there. What I wrote to Linda had to be an overflow of all that Mandarin input which she gave us, of which those stories played a major role!

Although I have been an advocate for CI, never before have I felt so strongly about it and that it does indeed work. As I said in the beginning, comprehensible input is real, and it works. I myself have experienced it first hand!


  1. What a pleasure to have you in FF Mandarin class. Thanks for blogging your experience. And thanks for showing me how to tweet. I am learning... slowly though! :)