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What is CI?

CI stands for ‘comprehensible input’, referring to Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Comprehensible Input, otherwise known as the ‘input hypothesis’. Briefly, the theory states that we acquire language when we understand messages and communicate within a clear context. Or, in other words, we acquire language by reading and listening to things that we understand, whether this is through graded language, paraphrase, gesture, illustration or other communicative aids. The theory of comprehensible input counters the classic model of language study that treats language as an ordered system of grammar rules and chunks of vocabulary. Instead, it argues that language is abstract, but that our brains are wired to acquire languages through comprehensible contextual communication.

‘CI’ as a term is often used within circles of language teachers who base their teaching on this theory. In practice, this means heavily limiting explicit instruction of grammar and vocabulary, and instead using techniques such as TPRS (collaborative storytelling), class dialog and free voluntary reading to promote natural language acquisition.

CI teachers have been criticised for being too dogmatic and focussing only on Krashen’s research. However, while Krashen was the first to formulate these hypotheses clearly, the key concepts of CI have been validated and expanded upon in the field of second language acquisition since the 1970s. A good overview of the history of the field and how these debates have been settled can be found in this paper, which explains the continued relevance of CI in the language classroom.

This is not to say that the critiques of ‘CI/TPRS people’ are completely unjustified. In our event we aim to be open to different approaches, but ultimately we will maintain a focus on CI research and methodology, since this area is underdeveloped in the UK.