Lesson 4: Input vs. Intake

What's the Difference?

One of the great benefits of technology today is the ability to expose ourselves to real foreign language. Think of how hard it was, just a generation ago, for people to actually hear a foreign language. For many learners, the only option was to listen to a teacher's repetitions. Today, however, anyone who has access to the Internet has instant access to other languages.

Researchers in second language learning have long touted (and debated) the importance of listening in a new language. There was an initial research wave that focused on simply hearing lots of samples of a foreign language. The term "input" referred to all the exposure to foreign language that is around us. However, as years went on, researchers realized that input was not enough. If the learners were not noticing or concentrating on the incoming flow of language, comprehension would be limited. So today, researchers in second language acquisition commonly make a distinction between input and intake. Simply put, input is all the written and spoken target language that a learner encounters, whether it is fully comprehended or not. Intake is limited to the comprehended input that impacts the learner's developing linguistic system. For our purposes, we suggest that technology provides ways to

  • increase the foreign language input that learners are exposed to and
  • enhances the process of how input is converted into intake.

Filtering the Input

In today's world, a simple click on a computer sends us to online newspapers from almost any major city in the world, video clips of television commercials in hundreds of languages, radio stations that play every assortment imaginable, and books and articles of any of the world's classic and less-known literature. Our access to information is practically instantaneous. In fact, our challenge is no longer how to access samples of a foreign language. Our challenge is more related to how to sift through it all and figure out how best to utilize what is available for our language learning purposes.

The following video clip relates to the advantages of accessing and interacting with information online. As you watch, think of how this story correlates to the idea of input in foreign language settings.


A discussion of the process of gathering information online.

Duration: 01:14

Consider the skimming and reading for information that goes on as part of the process of gathering information online. Imagine also the give and take and sharing of information that goes on among peers. This is all an interesting twist on the idea of intake because gathering information online requires users to filter through all of the input on the Internet and choose for themselves what is important. Compare this process to a simple worksheet assignment.

In this lesson we take the same concept and apply it to the use of technology in language learning. Our challenge as language educators is not simply to provide input via technology, but to teach students to filter through all of the input and help them be conscious of the foreign language exposure that they are receiving.