Researchers have long studied the processes of child language acquisition and have applied these theories to second language acquisition. In the 1970s and 1980s, linguist Stephen Krashen proposed a series of hypotheses about language acquisition. He argues that the comprehensible input to which learners are exposed is of primary importance.
How does a child learn its first language?
Generally speaking, a child acquires a language through exposure. In the early months and years of its life, the child is exposed to large amounts of linguistic input. The child gradually manages to organize this chaos into a working system which permits the processing and acquisition of new input.
Comprehensible input-driven theories propose that language learners make progress when they comprehend language input that is slightly more advanced than their current level of competence. Like the child acquiring its first language, the learner can integrate the comprehensible input into his or her existing system. This article describes the concept of comprehensible input and examine how it applies for those using Clozemaster for language learning.
Language acquisition vs language learning
Krashen distinguishes between acquisition of language and learning a language. According to Krashen, acquisition is an intuitive, subconscious process of which the learner is not always aware. The process of acquisition is comparable to the process which children undergo when learning their first language. Acquisition results from meaningful interaction in the language –meaning is the focus for the learner, rather than form.
By contrast, learning a language is a conscious process, whereby learners are continually introduced to new forms. This is typically how students learn a language at school. Students must understand these forms within the context of the rules or grammar of the language.
Clozemaster and comprehensible input
The Clozemaster app presents learners with comprehensible input in which some of the key information is missing. These cloze learning exercises require learners to complete the missing information. The app does not give detailed explanations of the forms of language which are the focus of the exercises. In this, language learning with the Clozemaster app replicates the acquisition process. Users encounter new language in context and it is up to them to decipher the meaning, based on their current competence. Exposure to comprehensible input in this way facilitates language acquisition.
The language on the Clozemaster app comes from the enormous Tatoeba dataset, which comprises 6 million sentences in 319 languages. The top 13 languages have more than 100,000 sentences each. Clozemaster does not divide language into levels of difficulty, in the way that a more formalized language course would. Rather it divides language forms according to the frequency with which they occur in the dataset. A beginner focuses on the most commonly occurring vocabulary, before moving on to less commonly occurring, more specialized content.
In this way, Clozemaster mirrors the acquisition process which children undergo when acquiring their native language. Children learn commonplace vocabulary first, before learning more complex, less frequently occurring forms. It also mirrors the acquisition process in that learners must decode the meaning of the target forms from the context.
In Krashen’s theories of language acquisition, the monitor hypothesis states that the learner’s acquired system acts as a monitor while they are speaking. Before the learner speaks, they scan their proposed utterance for errors. They also self-correct once after they have produced the utterance.
Krashen’s monitor model specifically refers to a speaker’s live assessment and reassessment of how well they have acquired a particular element of language while speaking. Although the Clozemaster app does not allow you to monitor your progress in a live interaction, it provides opportunities to monitor how completely you have acquired a particular linguistic form.
The app produces a series of sentences (comprehensible input) which require the learner to complete a key piece of missing information. In completing the exercises, the learner acquires new vocabulary items by encountering it in its linguistic context, rather than in a list or a vocabulary flashcard.
Regular exposure to comprehensible input
Clozemaster is calibrated so that key vocabulary recurs at regular intervals as the learner progresses through the exercises.
For example, if a learner completes a new sentence correctly, the sentence will reappear within one day. If the learner responds correctly once again, it will reappear in 10 days. If there is a correct answer at this point, it will reappear in 30 days. Should the learner answer correctly at the 30-day point, then the form is 100% acquired and it will not occur again for 180 days. If the user ever answers incorrectly, it resets to a status of 0% acquired and the acquisition process begins again.
This review system is comparable to the ‘monitoring’ of Krashen’s theory. There is spontaneity to the items which occur in a Clozemaster exercise, which is comparable to that of live speech. The Clozemaster user must respond appropriately to the stimulus within a narrow time window, as they would in a live interactive situation.
Conclusion – Mirroring natural acquisition
We have seen that the design of Clozemaster mirrors natural language acquisition in a number of key ways. Clozemaster produces comprehensible input, which is at the heart of Krashen’s acquisition theories. It also provides a robust review system which allows learners to monitor their progress. Through regular use of the app, learners can replicate the natural acquisition process and progress quickly towards their learning goals.