We know that we can’t communicate with someone if we don’t understand them, and we know that language acquisition cannot happen if comprehension does not occur… but just how well do we need to understand someone or something in order to communicate? How comprehensible does something have to be in order to be ‘comprehensible’?

To find out for yourself, watch me try to talk to Elicia Cárdenas (who is off-camera) about something that happened to me recently!

The impact of text coverage

Text coverage refers to the percent of words in a given piece of discourse, oral or written, that an interpreter understands. If you understand 180 words in a 200-word article, you’re looking at 90% text coverage.

When I ask “How comprehensible is comprehensible?”, Text Coverage is one of the biggest factors that impacts your level of understanding, but it is not the only factor. Figurative Language and Background Knowledge, for example, also impact your understanding of a given piece of discourse.

As you think back on this video and have the opportunity to sit in on lessons and conversations in languages that you do not yet speak fluently, think about how well you understand the discourse and how it impacts these areas:

  • Communication
  • Your ability to negotiate meaning
  • The feeling of connection
  • Your emotional and mental state
  • Incidental vocabulary learning

Through this experience, I think you’ll come to understand why I am so passionate about ensuring comprehension at a deep level!

6 replies on “How comprehensible is comprehensible?

  1. Whoa. Watching this video as a follow-up to today’s ACTFL 2020 session with Martina, I am … blown away.

    Gulping back years of regretting trying to “d r a g ” my Ss through comprehending a passage, wondering “well… they should know this!” and feeling great about myself when those same 15-20% of kids were chiming in comprehension verifiers, while the others were silently chekcing out one by one and, no wonder they were not able to perform on the Interp. reading assessments let alone the presentational … and … and… !


    Gonna do some real soul searching in how I revisit :

    1) S L O W
    2) Constant comprehension checks (to EVERYONE, not just the ones that I know I can always count on to “kill the crickets”
    3) Carefully choosing the texts that I present.
    4) Become more adept at recognizing even the slightest “unease” on the part of the Ss in order to see when I need to build in more comprehension supports to help them not feel overwhelmed!

    Like Elicia talked about “trust” near the end, I feel that my Ss generally do trust me, but that trust can get seriously chipped away at if I am not helping them UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGE.

    I never want them to feel the despair & give up.

    Gosh… Thanks for all of the simplicity in this example to powerfully illustrate what our learners feel like … and NEED from us language acquisition facilitators.

    1. You are so welcome! Thanks for taking the time to watch this and the ACTFL session, and so glad that this content resonated with you <3

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