Flow in language acquisition

How to build an everlasting knowledge-pool III.

3/12/20235 min read

The pivotal principle of comprehensible input

If I had to simplify language learning, or any skill for that matter, into a single rule, it would be: find the challenge that suits best your capabilities. To learn more about this theory, I suggest reading Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's book, Flow, because Flow-theory is in sharp alignment with the Input Hypothesis from Stephen Krashen.
Mr. Krashen claims that the only way to acquire a language is consume comprehensible input which is slightly (!!!) beyond your current level. If you see the chart on the right side, I would say, something ,,slightly above your current level" is located in the upper quarter of the Flow Channel. Everything what is your current level or slightly below your current level is still in Flow Channel, which means it still helps acquisition. However, if you want to maximise your development, you will choose content which is a little bit challenging but does not yet cause anxiety. On the picture it's a highway, but in reality it's a f*ck*g tightrope walk, and as such it is the art of language learning.
If you think about this theory very carefully, it suggests that life can be enjoyed even more by a person with no or little talent, who faces the right challenges at his level, than by the most talented person in the world, who can never reach the flow channel because almost every task is below his ability.
Which is quite a relief for many people, considering that the majority of people are not particularly gifted. Which at the end of the day means, you just have a better chance of staying in flow, than a super-talented person. Unless, dear reader, you are a super talented person. 😉

Unfortunately, I have often made the mistake of consuming content that is either too simple or too complicated. Overly complex content can be approached with static spaced repetition, but I only recommend this if you really can't find simpler material. Feel free to put that book aside, you will get to that level sooner or later. If you choose material appropriate for your level, then sooner rather than later. ✌️

Definition and synonym card types

In the previous article, I showed you the first two types of cards, if you haven't read it yet you can do so by clicking here : How to build an everlasting knowledge-pool.

It is a pretty easy card type. Basically you just copy the definition of the word and the answer will be the word itself. You still want to use those valuable visual clues, even if the description is 100% straightforward. It is technically a reward card, a reward for all those words that now help you guess the meaning of this word. You will need 2000-3000 thousands words to start to experience with these cards. But if you are on this level, you are basically unstoppable. With all the new word cards you passively review all the words, which are in the definition and you get a healthy dose of grammar. With these cards, you practically learn the language by the language. What a life hack! 😄🥳

All right! The word we want to learn now is: INTRUSION. You can use the good old context card, it looks something like this, with a cute little gif:

And this is what the same word looks like if you learn it purely with a definition card. Do you see how you receive passively more content while learning new vocabulary?If you can complete the sentence it means you got a 100% pure comprehensible input, some grammar and passive vocab-review.

And lastly, let's look at the synonym card, which I use when I accidentally type in the synonym of a word as an answer. In this case, the synonym is written in brackets next to the sentence. This both helps to guess the meaning and eliminates the possibility of typing the wrong word. Of course, since it is a synonym, this is not a "wrong word" either, but it is not the word we want to learn. And it looks something like this:

.... and, to complete the whole idea, we can add a card based on a purely visual hint with a cute gif

So that's what I meant when I wrote in the previous article about making a wooden dice into a wooden ball. It's the process by which we polish words to a beautiful perfection. With each failure, we create a new card to tweak the meaning of the words. This of course does not replaces the consumption of native language content, in fact I would prefer the ratio of Anki to comprehensible input consumption to be 10-90.



Scaling the Language Learning Staircase: Finding the Right Level of Challenge for Optimal Progress

In my view, the process of learning a language involves identifying materials that are comprehensible and appropriate for our current level of knowledge. This can be seen as a meeting point between Stephen Krashen's Input Hypothesis and Csíkszentmihályi Mihály's Flow Hypothesis, where we aim to find the right level of challenge to promote learning without becoming overwhelmed. It's similar to climbing a staircase, where we need to find the best step to take that is neither too easy nor too difficult, in order to continue making progress. Essentially, language learning involves identifying materials that are challenging enough to promote growth, but not so difficult as to impede it.

sun raise passing through palm trees near pool
sun raise passing through palm trees near pool