What is CI?

On Facebook Terry Waltz asked for a short, one-minute definition of TPRS/CI to use in a conversation when people are not prepared to listen to a long speech about it. I suggested: We do what people have been doing ever since the Tower of Babel: trying to communicate with others using simple vocabulary and context so that there is comprehension.

When there is comprehension, the unconscious mind acquires the language. That is how living languages are acquired. Dead languages are often taught using legacy strategies that were originally developed to teach Latin, a dead language. Yet there is a large and growing group of Latin teachers who are using TPRS/CI because … it’s more effective.

Krashen’s Comprehensible Input theory is based on a need to communicate. If there is no comprehension, there is no communication. TPRS uses student generated stories to create a need to communicate between a teacher and a class of individuals who may not be convinced that the teacher has anything interesting to communicate. For ages humans have been learning to communicate together by establishing a few comprehensible phrases and building on them. With time and repetition the phrases, and the rules governing their use, are acquired unconsciously. With enough high quality input we start to feel what is right and what is unacceptable. We shelter vocabulary in order to remain comprehensible, but we do not shelter grammar because grammatical forms rarely prevent comprehension.

Using stories has several advantages. The human brain remembers stories far more easily than it does lists and rules, which is why stories have been used for teaching in every culture known to man. The story gives context which helps comprehension. When language students remember the story, they remember the context and associations between the words. As a result, they often will be able to guess the correct meaning of words that have not been explained. Another advantage to stories is that they lend themselves to repetition. Children will ask for their favorite story over and over again. Adults will enjoy listening to repetitions if just a few features are changed.

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