How to Teach Yourself a Language

The three stages of comprehensible input

Matthew Kent
9 min readMar 20


Foto de Wes Hicks en Unsplash

Languages are incredibly complex, but learning a language can be incredibly simple (albeit, time intensive).

You don’t need classes, textbooks, or flashcards. You don’t need to study verb tables. You don’t need to know grammar words like aorist or subjunctive or pluperfect. All you need to do is look, listen, and read.

1. Look

Have you ever heard that most communication is non-verbal? The exact percent doesn’t really matter, what is important is the general principle that visual cues are incredible aids to understanding.

When you first start learning a language, you don’t know enough to just listen to someone speak and figure out what they are saying, even if they are speaking slowly.

The best way to make the input more comprehensible is with the strategic use of visual imagery. Gestures, pictures, and drawings all aid comprehension. As Stephen Krashen has famously said, we learn languages when we understand messages. Any visual aid that helps you understand is helping you learn.

Take a look at this short video from Comprehensible Russian. Even if you’ve never heard a word of Russian, you can figure out exactly what she is saying because of her drawings and gestures (it doesn’t hurt that she speaks slowly and repeats herself either):

In this video, she did such a good job that you might have actually understood every word. Unfortunately, most of the time when watching content (even beginner content) in your target language, you won’t understand every word. But if the visual aids help you understand the gist, you’re learning.

If you’re a complete beginner, you should be searching the internet for beginner videos that take full advantage of the visual medium. Pictures, drawings, and gestures are what you are looking for.

If you want to learn by having a conversation with a native speaker, there’s an even…



Matthew Kent

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