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2A: Comprehensibility Index

Every media source you immerse with is a combination of three possible input channels: reading, listening, and visual context. By combining these channels, you can improve your comprehension of target media. We call this “hybrid input”.

TV shows with TL subtitles are the maximum form of hybrid input: the visual context provides a coarse level of comprehension which may be enough to follow the story. The audio provides a finer level of detail. And the subtitles remove any ambiguity from the audio. Leveraging all three channels at once maximizes your brain's ability to comprehend while giving you practice with reading and listening together.

Other hybrid input sources are useful for targeting improvement in specific abilities.

  • Comics/Manga: Combines visual context with reading. Builds reading ability.
  • TV w/o subtitles: Combines visual context and audio. Builds listening ability.
  • Audio w/ transcript: Combines auditory and reading. Builds a feedback loop between listening and reading.

Single-channel input like reading a novel or listening to a podcast is called “pure”; pure listening and pure reading.

In this article, we explain how different hybrid and pure media types compare in terms of their comprehensibility.

Comprehensibility Levels by Media Type

Below, we provide a leveled ranking system of various media types. We recommend bookmarking this page because this ranking system will serve as a reference for your immersion throughout 2B.

We’ve arranged 10 media types based on their difficulty and explained what factors increase or decrease the comprehensibility of the media. Please note, it does not take into account every factor, just the ones that seem most relevant.

Level Media Pros Difficulty
1 TV shows with subtitles · 3-channel input maximizes comprehension
2 TV shows without subtitles · 2-channel input of visual context and audio dialogue reinforce each other. · Audio is ambiguous until you’ve practiced listening a lot.
· May be too fast for your brain to keep up during free-flow immersion.
2 Comic Books · 2-channel input
· Visual context makes dialogue more comprehensible
· Can take your time to read
· Can easily look up words and definitions
· Before knowing what the language sounds like, reading is very slow.
3 Pure reading: Simplified (children’s novels or graded readers) · Novels aimed for a child audience have low linguistic complexity.
· Novels have high narrative predictability.
· Can consume at your own pace with many lookups
· Higher linguistic complexity than TV and comic dialogue because of descriptive vocabulary.
3 Pure reading: single domain (blog posts) · Short
· Easy to become familiar with the domain
· Less literary vocabulary than novels
· Consume at your own pace with many lookups
· Most blogs assume domain familiarity.
· Low narrative predictability.
4 Pure reading: literary novels · High narrative predictability
· Consume at your own pace with many lookups
· Huge expansion in domain size. Each novel should be treated as its own domain.
4 Pure listening: Narrative podcasts/audio dramas · Structured.
· High narrative predictability
· Moderate level of ambiguity in audio
4 Pure listening: single-topic talk shows · Easy to become familiar with the domain.
· Dialogue only; no literary vocabulary & grammar.
· Unstructured: low narrative predictability
· High level of ambiguity in audio
· Can’t check listening against transcript.
5 Pure listening: audiobooks · All the complexity of literary novels
· Moderate level of ambiguity in audio
5 Pure listening: multi-topic talk shows Dialogue only. Little literary vocabulary. · Unstructured: Low predictability
· Visual context doesn’t help
· Requires familiarity with multiple domains.
· High level of ambiguity in audio.

Comprehension Hacks

Remember, acquisition happens when you comprehend the meaning of sentences. Every piece of media can be manipulated to artificially increase your comprehension.

These hacks are fine to use in the early stages of developing comprehension. However, the goal is to eventually understand your TL without any assistance or support. As you level up, gradually move away from using these supports.

Use a Dictionary

This one is pretty obvious, but if you look up the definition of unknown words as you go, you can greatly increase your comprehension of a piece of media.

Familiarize Yourself with the Story

The more familiar you are with the content you are immersing with, the easier it will be to understand. There are many ways you can increase your familiarity:

  • You can consume content that you have already seen before in your NL
  • You can read a summary of the story on Wikipedia before consuming.
  • For books with adaptations, you can watch the adaptation first before reading.

Manipulate Time

When using recorded media, you can manipulate the timing of the media to give yourself more opportunity to comprehend.

  • Pausing a TV show to read the subtitles gives you all the time you need to process the message.
  • Re-listening to audio repeatedly can help you perceive the sounds more clearly. You should already be doing this as part of your passive listening, but you can also re-listen in the moment by rewinding the content to hear things again.
  • Slowing down audio can give you time to process it. Note: we don’t recommend doing this too much. Slowed down audio introduces artifacts that can interfere with your brain’s ability to parse real language.

Adding Input Channels

As described above, the more input channels, the more comprehensible a piece of media. You can hack comprehensibility by adding additional input channels to a piece of media.

For instance, if you are listening to a podcast, you can increase your comprehension by also reading the transcript. If you are watching a TV show, you can turn on TL subtitles.

Listening is inherenty more difficult than reading because there is ambiguity in audio. Your brain needs to parse the sounds into words before it can make sense of the language. When you add a transcript, you remove that ambiguity. Adding a transcript to any listening activity reduces it’s difficulty by one level.

The reverse situation of adding audio to reading does not significantly reduce the level of difficulty. Reading with audio isn't much easier than reading without audio. In fact, some people find it distracting.

Move Forward. Refer Back.

The rest of the Stage 2 guide refers back to 2A: Comprehensibility Factors and this article on the comprehensibility index. These two articles are the framework for how to master your first domain. Bookmark both of them for easy reference.