Professor of Linguistics and Education in the University of Southern California
Abstract: Compelling Comprehensible Input
Input must be comprehensible to have an effect on language acquisition and literacy development. To make sure that language acquirers pay attention to the input, it should be interesting. But interest may be not enough for optimal language acquisition. It may be the case that input needs to be not just interesting but compelling.
Compelling means that the input is so interesting you forget that it is in another language. It means you are in a state of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). In flow, the concerns of everyday life and even the sense of self disappear - our sense of time is altered and nothing but the activity itself seems to matter. Flow occurs during reading when readers are "lost in the book" (Nell, 1988) or in the "Reading Zone" (Atwell, 2007).
Compelling input appears to eliminate the need for motivation, a conscious desire to improve. When you get compelling input, you acquire whether you are interested in improving or not.
The evidence for the Compelling Input Hypothesis includes improvement as an unexpected result, the many cases of those who had no conscious intention of improving in another language or increasing their literacy, but simply got very interested in reading. In fact, they were sometimes surprised that they had improved.
An important conjecture is that listening to or reading compelling stories, watching compelling movies and having conversations with truly fascinating people is not simply another route, another option. It is possible that compelling input is not just the best form of input: It may be only way we truly acquire language.