The first stage involves understanding authentic conversations and texts that have been slightly adapted if the "naturally occurring errors were" were too distracting (a normal occurrence, even for native speakers).
A unit starts off with exercises focussing on general understanding; the general or basic content. It then goes into more and more detail, and when the learner can truly demonstrate that they understand every detail and every nuance (which is essential for instance when negotiating an offer or when dealing with a complaint), the exercises switch to the source language. In this way, learners avoid merely remembering what was said without effectively understanding (this is one of the many benefits of the contrastive approach to self-study).
We start out with vocabulary, followed by phrases (collocations), then sentences (syntax) and finish with the entire document/complete dialogue and its construction (discourse).
At a sentence level (or fixed formulas and politeness formulas), extra attention is paid to pragmatics and the cultural differences between the source and target culture (this is not always explicitly explained but is implicitly reflected in the exercises). After all, language is heavily influenced by culture. The French, for example, "use" French in a different way than, for example the Walloons and Québécois, and this transcends the level of vocabulary or syntax.
Implicit or explicit language use, allusions in politeness formulas (or the absence thereof), are some examples of measurable cultural differences.
For more information on the impact of culture on verbal and non-verbal behavior, we refer to research carried out by, among others, CTL-Hasselt University in the field of cross-cultural research.
Publications on cross-cultural research (CTL-Hasselt University, BE)