Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Three C's of Comprehensible Input

These past few months, I have given a number of CI-related presentations, and in each, I have included a brief explanation of Comprehensible Input theory. If you are remotely familiar with CI, you know that this is no easy task. Luckily, my Latin colleague Rachel Ash has come up with a quick way to give an overview of the topic: she calls it "the Three C's of Comprehensible Input." NOTE - I am assuming that Rachel is the one who devised this. By no means is she trying to oversimplify Krashen's Hypotheses on Comprehensible Input, nor do I believe that the hypotheses can be reduced solely to three words. However, I do like this explanation, because for those unfamiliar with CI, it gives a great, focused, brief, easy-to-remember synopsis. 

I do realize that for ACTFL, there are the 5 C's (Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, Connections), and if you are familiar with Instructional Technology, there are the 4 C's (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking). Hopefully, you will not dismiss the Three C's of CI as just another set of acronyms.

The Three C's of Comprehensible Input - Comprehensible, Compelling, Caring
(I have taken some of this information from a presentation which Bob Patrick has given on the basics of CI and consolidated it here)
  1. Comprehensible - We acquire language subconsciously through the delivery of understandable (and of understood) messages. We only acquire that which we understand; therefore, that which has the most meaning is acquired first. In order to achieve this, we need to implement the establishment of meaning early. It is important that we as teachers constantly facilitate comprehension checks in order to determine the comprehensibility of these messages. We must focus on the message, not on grammatical forms; as a result, a grammar-based syllabus has no value in language acquisition. Progression in language acquisition occurs when messages become one step beyond a learner's language competence (i+1). Output is the natural overflow of receiving comprehensible messages.  
  2. Compelling - We want to hear and to read that which is personally interesting to us. Because a message is understandable does not necessarily mean that it is interesting. When a message becomes interesting, language becomes secondary; learners become "lost in the moment" and are no longer focusing on the language but rather on the message. Grammar is not compelling or interesting to the normal language learner. 
  3. Caring - When one's stress level (affective filter) increases, learning decreases, even if the message is comprehensible and compelling. As a result, it is important that we establish a safety net for learners, whereby they can communicate to the teacher incomprehensibility of messages and their rising stress levels. Being an external monitor (corrector of form) to learners only raises their affective filters. 
I know that these explanations do not fully encompass Krashen's Five Hypotheses, and I am certain that there are folks who will say that I have left out key components in my explanation here. I do hope that Rachel's Three C's helps some folks understand CI better, because it has certainly has helped me to explain it better.


  1. This makes an excellent elevator speech, Keith. Thank you.

  2. What a good litmus test. Quick and simple.

  3. I very much like this explanation because it explains CI in a nutshell to those who may be unfamiliar with it. We language geeks can get more information if we want to..