We Need More Half-Baked Readers!

I just wanted to talk about a few thoughts I had regarding a recent video interview with Stephen Krashen and Steve Kaufman. Steve Kaufman is the man behind LingQ and is a very accomplished polyglot. He mostly advocates extensive reading and the idea of collecting massive amounts of words (very similar to Krashen). If you don’t know Stephen Krashen, I highly suggest looking him up. He has put together some very interesting ideas on second language acquisition that have had some incredible impact on self-studyers like you and I. Krashen’s main theories require “meaningful interaction in the target language” through comprehensible input.

“The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” –Stephen Krashen

If you’ve talked with me or read any of this blog, you’ll probably realize that this is the particular ‘method’ (if you want to call it that) of language learning that I subscribe to, and I’m not alone. Many of the self-study language learning blogs out there regard Krashen very highly and take inspiration from his ideas.

Stephen Krashen

Back to the subject of the interview. There was one particular point during the conversation that stuck out in my mind. It’s something that Kaufman says at 19:45 – 20:10. To give some context to their discussion, Kaufman and Krashen are talking about the level of comprehension when reading things in your target language. As long as what you are reading is compelling enough, you shouldn’t be worried about finding completely transparent material (ie material that you can understand 100%). Kaufman says that it’s perfectly okay to deal with things that are fuzzy, or things you don’t understand completely.

“I always resented in language classes these comprehension tests. Nevermind the comprehension! I’ve got my half-baked understanding of what was there. I’ll revisit it in three months and understand it better.” -Steve Kaufman

This is the interesting part. When you’re extensively reading native text, don’t aim for complete understanding because you’re never going to get there. Aim for staying interested in what you’re reading. Read, skim, look at the pictures (if you’re reading manga), and make assumptions! Concoct a patchwork of understandable dialogue and fill in the rest of the story. It’s more about finding little nuggets of information that you can understand and then moving on. Maybe you don’t understand a lot of the story, highlight some interesting words or phrases and then put the book away for a few months. When you come back to it, you’ll probably be surprised by what you know.

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