Language Acquisition, As Simple As A Game

Language Learning Game

Linguistics theory aside, language acquisition is a simple process, which can be facilitated by language courses designed to learn through comprehensible input.

Language Acquisition

A screenshot from Stefano’s course on Udemy on how to learn foreign languages.

Comprehensible input and language acquisition

In linguistics, comprehensible input is language input that can be understood by listeners despite them not understanding all the words and structures in it. It is described as one level above that of the learners if it can only just be understood. Giving learners this kind of input helps them acquire language naturally, rather than learn it consciously.

Language learning is the process whereby a student actively tries to gain understanding. This is different from language acquisition, which is the process whereby a student naturally (passively) gains understanding. This process is similar to the process that children undergo when learning their native language. Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language, during which the acquirer is focused on meaning rather than form. Comprehensible input is necessary for language acquisition.

In order for comprehensible input to work, a student should be exposed to a language that is intelligible but just a little more advanced than the student’s current ability to understand it. This means that the overall message of the language is clear even though some words and grammatical structures might be unfamiliar.

Comprehensible Input In Monkey Island

After all this linguistics theory, I’ll share with you an overlooked example of language acquisition through comprehensible input that comes from a video game from the 90’s called Monkey Island.

At one stage of the game, the main character, a young pirate, faces various veteran pirates in a singular duel. You beat your opponent not by fencing, but by exchanging witty lines. In the beginning, you’re typically at a loss as what to say and quickly lose the first fights. However, once you’ve heard a witty line, you can use it against your next opponent. You know it’s the right thing to say because you saw the reaction that followed when they used it against you in the earlier round. If your opponent answers correctly to some of your lines, you may still lose, but will also learn how you should answer next time. This style helps you rapidly expand your repertoire until you’re able to outwit all your opponents. If you’re not a pirate, your opponent will be your conversation partner and your witty lines will be normal conversation. It’s still the same game of acquiring a language.

Applications To Language Courses

There’s plenty of self-study resources that train your listening and speaking skills by giving your comprehensible input. I personally use and recommend three courses that share a focus on speaking practice and teach through listening and repeating sample sentences: Pimsleur, Glossika, and Ripeti Con Me.

Conclusion: Acquiring A Language Is Simple With The Right Resources

Linguistics theory aside, language acquisition is a simple process. This process can be facilitated by language courses designed to learn through comprehensible input. Simply put, they show you how to say things. There’s little or no need for guidance in your native language like grammar notes.

Too simple to be true? Yes, like a game!

Stefano Lodola

I was raised speaking only Italian, and now I speak nine foreign languages, mostly at an advanced level, several of which I learned without going abroad, some in only a few months. I’ve taught Italian to adults in language schools and universities. I work as an independent translator from Japanese, Korean and Chinese into Italian. I’ve lectured in polyglot clubs about my method. I share my tips to learn foreign languages in the course “Fluent. Simple.” on Udemy. I developed my own Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!”.