Increase comprehensible input to boost language learning

March 14, 2023

Foreign-language teaching is ever-changing. We’ve gone from translating classic texts to learning languages on our smartphones and studying abroad. And we’ve seen grammar translation, the audio-lingual method, and total-physical response all fall by the wayside. But one thing has remained constant since the 1970s — comprehensible input. For almost 50 years, teachers all over the world have recognised the importance of comprehensible input for second-language learning. And they still make it a key element of their classes. With the wide range of online resources available to teachers now, it’s never been easier to make sure your learners are getting the input they need.

But what is comprehensible input and how can you make sure your students get enough of it? Read on to find out.

What is comprehensible input?

Comprehensible input is language input that matches, or is slightly above, your students’ level of understanding. Although students might not understand all the words and structures present, they can understand the gist. So, let’s say your student reads at mid-elementary level. Comprehensible input for them would include language at that level and the one above, high-elementary. Providing comprehensible input is a proven way to encourage language acquisition.

Comprehensible input is a key part of Stephen Krashen’s input hypothesis. He claims comprehensible input is all we need to learn a second language. And that students can learn the language naturally without direct instruction when they have access to enough of it.

Other researchers argue that comprehensible input alone is not enough. They say students also need comprehensible output to learn a second language. Or that comprehensible input is just one of four key elements to successful second language learning.

How to increase comprehensible input

Whether Krashen is right or wrong about comprehensible input being all learners need, it’s undeniable that it should be a big part of your language lessons. Here’s how you can make sure your students are getting enough access to comprehensible input.

Understand your students’ level. It all starts here. Without knowing your students and their capabilities, you can’t find input at or slightly above their current level. First, evaluate their level. Second, find suitable resources.

Review before sharing. A word of warning — levels vary between publishers. A level-2 graded reader from publisher A could be much easier than a level-2 graded reader from publisher B (see Rob Waring’s website for a breakdown of graded-reader levels). Review the content to make sure it’s comprehensible.

Share graded materials. Gone are the days when you had to share a “library” of 10 graded readers in a class of 25 students. You can find loads of digital resources that are full of comprehensible input. For example, digital libraries of graded readers, graded news websites, and YouTube videos.

Help learners understand the content. For example, include visuals with your reading materials. This gives students a chance to connect unknown words and concepts. You can use videos instead of old-school listening activities for the same reason. And why not let students read the transcript when watching a video. By doing this, input becomes more understandable.

Make it extensive. By giving your learners lots of appropriate content, you guarantee comprehensible input. This is one of the reasons extensive reading is a popular teaching method. But it’s not only about reading books. Make sure your students have access to as much content as possible. Of course it could be graded readers. But it might also be social media posts or YouTube videos. Quantity is as important as quality when it comes to comprehensible input.

Giving your students the input they need

Increasing comprehensible input in your classroom has proven benefits for second-language learners. And when you combine it with meaningful output and direct learning of grammar and vocabulary, it makes for a successful learning environment. The best kind of comprehensible input depends on your students, their interests, and their capabilities. So every time you get a new group of students, it’s vital to evaluate their needs and abilities.Then you can start giving them the content and input they need to make gains in their language learning.

When you’re ready to boost the amount of comprehensible input in your lessons, ZenGengo can help. With its Lesson Library, not only do you save time planning your lessons, but there’s a ton of comprehensible input just a few clicks away too. Get access to hundreds of lessons filtered by level. Integrate them with 10 assignment types for unlimited variation of classroom activities. Add to that a powerful text-to-speech engine and your learners get tons of written and spoken input.

Sign up for a free trial of ZenGengo to get started creating comprehensible input practice activities.


What is ZenGengo?

ZenGengo is an online second-language learning platform built by language teaching experts. Through its extensive lesson library and assignment types, learners get more opportunities to engage with the target language. And teachers have more convenience and control. 

Can ZenGengo help speed up my lesson planning?

Yes! You can use pre-made lessons from the ZenGengo library and use them to make assignments. Or you can use the ZenGengo Lesson Wizard to make lessons from scratch in just a few clicks. But the help doesn’t stop there — ZenGengo isn’t only for lesson planning. It marks and grades assignments for you. You can finally say goodbye to your red pens. 

Can ZenGengo help my students improve their second-language skills?

It sure can. ZenGengo is one of the only platforms around that integrates all four language skills. You and your students get access to reading, writing, listening, and speaking assignments. And ZenGengo was built by experienced language teachers to face the challenges faced in second-language classrooms. They took what worked in their lessons and made ZenGengo.

How does ZenGengo help with comprehensible input?

ZenGengo has a library of lessons you can access. These include written and spoken texts categorized by CEFR levels. You can also make video assignments yourself. Just copy and paste a YouTube link and ZenGengo creates gap fill assignments automatically. Your students get a ton of comprehensible input and you save a ton of time.

Does ZenGengo only focus on input?

No way! Although some academics think that’s all you need, here at ZenGengo we take a more practical approach to learning a language. With ZenGengo Video Recording assignments, students can deliver speeches or presentations. And with Written Reports, students get to practice their writing skills. We understand comprehensible input is a key factor in second language acquisition. But we prefer a balanced approach to teaching that gives equal importance to input and output.