The principles of Teaching with Comprehensible Input are adapted from motherese:  “The simplified and repetitive type of speech, with exaggerated intonation and rhythm, often used by adults when speaking to babies” (definition from Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition).

Let’s examine this caretaker speech definition phrase by phrase, starting with ‘simplified and repetitive speech.’

Picture this.  You’re getting ready to feed your 9-month old in his high-chair:

“Jakie, do you like peas?  Mommy has peas for you!  Mmmmmm!  Peas!  Open up!   Aaaaahhhhh!!”screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-1-38-41-pm

(You scoop up a tiny spoonful of the dull green puré, and fly it around the air with great fanfare, while holding your breath…that smell!!  You introduce the peas into your child’s eager mouth.  His brows furrow.  His lips part again.  This time with a great loud raspberry, the pea mush comes flying back in a warm noxious spray all over your sweater.)

“Ohhhhh.  You don’t like the peas?  Jakie doesn’t like the peas?  Jakie…  Mmmm, let’s try again…Mommy thinks you’re gonna like these peas…..”

Not only slow, repetitive and simple, with short sentences devoid of complex clauses, this exchange is rich with supportive facial expressions and gestures.   Can you hear the ‘exaggerated intonation and rhythm’ in your head?  As in, ‘Ohhhhh.  You don’t like the peas?  Jakie [pause] doesn’t like the peas?’

The caregiver (in this case, mom) has intuitively adapted the rate and quality of her speech to match her baby’s needs.

Mom didn’t plan to target the verb-containing structures, ‘you [don’t] like;’ or, ‘open your mouth.’  But she knew better than to overwhelm her 9-month old with long utterances or extraneous verbiage, as in, “Jakie!  Daddy picked these delicious organic peas from the garden and steamed them just for you!  If you’d please open your mouth, I’ll feed you….”

Mom employed a minimal amount of the simplest, most hi-frequency and direct language to feed her child.  This is what we’re after for our beginners.  Short, slow, modified comprehensible input with lots of permutations and repetitions.  We’re sensitizing our listeners’ ear to the sounds, cadence and patterns of the language.  We’re supporting our words with facial expressions and gestures, and, with any luck, the utterance is compelling!  (Eating is always compelling for me!)screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-04-05-pm

As for rate of speech, Mr. (Fred) Rogers, of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood acclaim, aimed for 124 words per minute, for his young, mostly native-English-speaking audience.  Why?  Well, according to an article based on the work of audiology professor, Ray Hull, the average adult speaks at a rate of almost 170 words per minute,  while an average high schooler processes at 140-145 words per minute, and a 5- to 7-year-old processes speech at a rate of only 120 words per minute.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-3-58-52-pm  Processing a new foreign language takes the brain even more time!  So teaching youngsters a new language?  Whoa!  Slow it wayyyyyyy down.  Fellow Canadian Comprehensible Input blogger Chris Stoltz offers this rule of thumb on his blog:

‘The right speed?  My estimate is about 110 words per minute.

Get a stopwatch and say the following sentence aloud.  Time yourself:

     “I am going to school tomorrow with my friends John and Mary.”

This should take you ten seconds to say. If so, the speed is around 110 wpm. Yes, it’s slow.  But that is the speed of comprehensible input.’


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