Comprehended vs. Comprehensible

We talked about the term “comprehended” a year ago here. Here is part of that discussion as a review:

Mark Knowles’ term of comprehended input was referred to by skip a few days ago and supported by others. So I sent Krashen this email about it a few nites ago:

A few people on my blog are talking about how comprehended may be a more accurate word than comprehensible, since then we know that the learner got it and only needs more and more reps to acquire it. You probably heard about that long ago but if you have any comments on it please let me know what you think. 

He responded:

Attached is one page about whether being literate in one language helps with a second language (it does). It is from a book I did with Jim Crawford, English Learners in American Classroom. There is tons of good research on this topic. in case you have too much time on your hands I can send you the source and even some of the research, including an article in IJFLT (Pauline Dow is the first author).

Comprehended, yes, this is more accurate. This came up a few years ago. We want acquirers to have comprehensible input, but to acquire the input has to be comprehended.

(I’m working on how to get the attachment copied here.)



13 thoughts on “Comprehended vs. Comprehensible”

  1. Completely unrelated to the discussion above, but perhaps of interest to the Latinists here, is another part of that email from Krashen responding to a question I had asked him in the same email about Latin readers. His response:

    …Latin: Oh yes. The problem is finding easy and interesting texts. Cambridge Latin Course latest edition is a big improvement over earlier ones, but not nearly enough. It’s a job for TPRS. Thanks to the internet, Latin teachers can create and share lots of interesting texts they create with their students….

      1. Bob and I were just talking about a few readers we discovered, chapter books in Latin, using a small number of high frequency vocab, written in the 20’s 30’s and 40’s by teachers at “the laboratory schools” run by U of Chicago. Here is a quote from a preface by Mima Maxley, to her 1933 reader “Cornelia”:

        “The credo upon which this book is constructed runs somewhat as follows:
        Things exist written in the Latin language that are worth reading today.
        Latin should be so taught as to develop power to read those things in Latin
        One learns to read by reading.
        Material for reading in the early stages should be easy and repetitious, and should introduce new vocabulary in self-evident situations.

        The acquisition of the language itself is a sufficiently large task for the beginner. He should not be called upon to deal with situations outside his own experience or to acquire knowledge though the new medium. Neither should the problem be complicated by the necessity of learning a formidable grammatical nomenclature or a science of grammar that the Romans themselves managed to do without until its introduction by Dionysius of Thrax, who was born 166 BC.”

        We may not agree with every statement here, but it is significant to notice that almost 100 years ago these scholars (Latin teachers!) were calling upon their colleagues to change their ways.

        1. We have seen over the years on this blog, that some few teachers, professors, linguists, and researchers through the years have espoused ideas consonant with what we know about second language acquisition. Unfortunately, their voices have, for the most part, been drowned out by strident tones of the prevailing view.

          Just in case you’re interested, you apparently can get audio of someone reading another of her works:

        2. “Neither should the problem be complicated by the necessity of learning a formidable grammatical nomenclature or a science of grammar that the Romans themselves managed to do without until its introduction by Dionysius of Thrax, who was born 166 BC.”

          Nonsense! We are Latin teachers! We teaching declensions, conjugations, ablative absolutes and gerundives of obligation! I’ll stop teaching the nomenclature and science of grammar when women wear blue jeans, automobiles replace horses, slavery is abolished, and mankind creates flying machines. Now if you’ll excuse me I must apply leaches to my chest to rid me of my cold.

  2. YES! and AMEN! to this. Over and over I am smacked upside the head by the reality that Robert brought up in some other thread recently. That is, we are so immersed and saturated in what we do that we forget that the world outside this community has no idea what we are talking about!

    I have learned this over and over this fall, presenting at a conference where I made WAY too many assumptions. And also in general conversations with people, even close friends who know I am nutty and obsessed with CI but who still just have this vague idea, because the only way to “get it” is to experience it. No way around that.

    Yesterday I was visiting a classroom / impromptu guest teaching. The awesome fun eclectic teacher said to me before class “we have to speak only spanish…” Yep. Got it. And then when we went to class, of course she is speaking only Spanish. Way too fast. Way too much. Way too wide. Kids staring wide-eyed, smiling politely, laughing, etc. I even heard one girl mumble under her breath “I have no idea what she is saying.” But yeah. They have an immersion class. OWL.

    I just rolled along with it and did a little movie talk. The kids visibly relaxed into that esp with the establish meaning step, using gestures, etc. I don’t think the teacher “gets it.” So yes. Long ramble to confirm “comprehended” is a better descriptor.

    1. Hi Jen,

      By OWL you mean the Organic World Language approach? You have the same take on it every CI teacher I’ve heard has. It’s not comprehensible, or at least not comprehensible enough.

      1. Yes Diane. They are into Organic World Language. I get the enthusiasm for this, and not having experienced it (workshop, etc) I can’t truly make any statements, but I remember posting on here wondering about it. Grant and others confirmed that it is not comprehensible or comprehended.

        I don’t understand what is so evil about our comprehension checks. “What did I just say?” plus a quick answer literally takes less than 5 seconds. And you get the true assessment in real time and can adjust accordingly.

        Anyway, that was my observation this week. Kids are smiling and nodding and not truly understanding or in a flow. Interesting for sure.

        1. It seems to me that CI people are the only ones truly concerned about students comprehending the language they hear and read. Immersion and Helena Curtain seem to feel a general sense is enough. OWL seems to, too.

          Related in my mind: This week I was asking a class to sit where I could see their faces clearly since some were behind classmates. At the same time I asked if their other teachers look at their eyes and faces. The answer was generally no, they don’t, and if a teacher does — you’re probably in trouble or will be called upon to speak, so they avoid eye contact if they don’t feel they know what to say. I said I hoped they knew already that wasn’t why I look at their eyes and ask for eye contact with me (if speaking) or on the board (if reading or looking at something else). That’s the major way I now assess comprehension. I’m seeking to see if they understand. I mean for them to all understand, or to clear it up right away. I think this is really radical in education.

          What happens to me if I can’t understand, but I’m ‘supposed to’ for a grade or something – I get really frustrated and then angry at the teacher for not making things understandable. As a younger person I’d thought something was wrong with me, though – I was supposed to understand, so what was wrong with me? Then I felt dumb. I am thinking more about my calculus class in high school than language classes. I felt I had a right to demand that it be made understandable to me. I gave my calculus teacher some grief especially if the word “obviously” ever was used in the textbook about some concept. NOT OBVIOUS TO ME.

          Apparently many people just don’t care and tune out!

          1. When I conference with students individually I need to emphasize with them more that one most important means for communicating: eye contact. Thanks for highlighting that, Diane.

  3. There are degrees of comprehended/comprehensible. What we do in TPRS is maximize/optimize the chance of perfect comprehension. Any method that does not translate unfamiliar words cannot claim to maximize/optimize comprehension. And the only way to be completely sure the kids comprehended correctly is to ask “What did I just say?”

  4. Processing. Another way to explain what we do. Blaine says his goal is to turn slow processors to fast processors (in other words – make fluent). Taking fast processing to be my goal changes the game. The focus is not on how much, but on how fast. We work (TCI) the language items until they are automatic. We should not worry with covering a bunch if the kids can’t process it in real-time (I think also called processing “online”). Traditional classes do NOT do this.

    We start super slow with tons of scaffolding (gestures, pics, etc.) and gradually get faster with less and less extralingual support. I need to remember that my goal, especially with beginners, is to take the language targets and work them until they approximate first language-like processing – probably what Blaine means by “mastery.”

    Can’t we say that we’re building the skill of listening comprehension? And this transfers to other skills. If we speak slow enough and the kids get visual CI, then I would think this helps to unconsciously process the form, while they focus on the meaning.

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