A word every language learner should know

07.29.2010

in Beyond the Basics, Tools & Techniques

There’s no question. None at all. Fluency in any language comes from what we read and what we hear. This is what the research tells us. And this is what the experience of many language learners – like Adrian’s – tells us.

The most important principle of language acquisition is very simple: we acquire, or pick up, language when we read or hear interesting and comprehensible, or understandable, input.

When you read what I have written on this page, you receive input – ideas about acquiring language. If you understand what I have written, the input is comprehensible. If that is true, something is happening to your English now while you are reading. Maybe your vocabulary is growing. Or perhaps you are picking up a new way to organize written ideas in English. There are many possibilities, but it is changing or improving in some way. The process is automatic and you don’t usually notice it when it happens.

Now there’s a new word to help us think and talk about this process.

The word is …

com pel’ ling (adjective) – (1) so interesting or exciting that you have to pay attention; (2) input that is so interesting that a reader or listener temporarily “forgets” that the input is in another language.

Example sentences:

  • That article was so compelling that I forgot what time it was.
  • The book was so compelling that I didn’t realize I was actually reading in English!

Why is compelling such an important word? It’s important because if what you read or listen to is compelling, the conditions are ideal for acquiring more language. So, if you want to be sure to acquire more English – or any other language – find something compelling to read or listen to.

A compelling way to improve your English

There is another way to use the word compelling. When something is compelling, we have to act or do something about it. So I encourage you to take action. Find some compelling input – a book, story, article, podcast, or video – and read it or listen to it. When you finish, do it again. And again.

If you make this process a habit, your English will get better. And – if I may use the word one more time – that’s a compelling thought.

Warren Ediger

Acknowledgement: The idea for this article came from a brief speech Dr. Stephen Krashen gave at the International Forum on Language Teaching in southern California on July 28th.

Related reading:

Oscar August 2, 2010

Thank you very much Mr. Ediger. What a compelling article! I always enjoy reading what you write.

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