Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

General discussion about learning languages

Which of the following are you most likely to agree with? To get good at conversation requires:

Lots of input and lots of output
30
60%
Lots of input and little output
20
40%
Little input and lots of output
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 50

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leosmith
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Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby leosmith » Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:29 pm

This poll was inspired by the thread Has anyone gone from massive input to massive output?

I was surprised by responses that implied little output is required to get good at conversation. To my way of thinking, if I were to wait until I was so good at reading and listening that conversation only required a little bit practice, assuming that would be possible, then I would have done it wrong. Here are my reasons.

Listening is difficult. However, listening during conversation, a real native activity, is significantly easier than listening to other real native activities/materials. To not allow conversation at an earlier stage would be to restrict myself to less comprehensible material, or to non-native material. I find comprehensible real native activities/materials more interesting, so not conversing at early stages would be a minus for me.

My primary reason for learning languages is to converse with native speakers. It’s my main motivation. Forcing myself not to converse would dampen my motivation. You see a lot of articles these days implying that if you don’t have motivation, you can just manufacture it. That doesn’t work for me, at least not for something that is going to take thousands of hours. My motivation is strong, but it is finite, so I avoid doing things that dampen it, such as delaying conversation.

I chose option 1, lots of input and lots of output. You might be wondering why I didn’t choose 3. I’m not sure I could pull off 3. I feel that becoming good at reading, while much less time consuming than listening or acquiring the necessary vocabulary, is extremely convenient, if not required, for language learning. I can’t imagine trying to visualize words, study grammar, do flashcards, etc. without having passable reading. And many of my languages use non-roman scripts, which require much more time to get comfortable with ime. So while I might, in theory, get enough listening via a lot of conversation, avoiding reading would probably significantly stunt my learning.

One last thing regarding conversation. Although I start it early, I do not like to start it from day one. I could probably exchange greetings or something, but attempting a one hour conversation (standard length for me) with no previous knowledge would be frustrating to myself and my partner. I find that 2-3 months of self-study gives me enough of a base to jump into one hour conversations. I suck at first, but usually in a few weeks I feel that I have a “useable” level. And of course, the comprehensible listening practice that I get during conversation is a big boost to my learning from that point on.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby jmar257 » Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:46 pm

I chose both, although I must confess I haven't exactly had a ton of output with my Spanish. Input (particularly reading) is integral for me so I can't go little input, and I can imagine lots of output would only help me as well since I'm mainly confident with reading and a bit less so listening but not as much with writing and speaking, although I think I can get my point across well enough in many cases. The question then becomes one of time allocation and when to switch over from input to output, or better put, when to scale down input to focus on output. I don't have enough experience to give a great answer, but I definitely have felt in the past year (after finishing FSI and in the midst of a Super Challenge) more of a desire to use Spanish rather than just passively consume it, so I try to write it in my log/chat online and speak to myself in it when I get that desire, and it's definitely much easier to flip the switch and use it than it was prior to FSI and the SC. I have yet to get that with French, which definitely lags behind my Spanish.

Edit: I was thinking about it and wondering why anyone wouldn't choose Option 1, unless given some kind of constraints (it makes sense that more of both is better to me), but then I realized it probably depends on goals to an extent. If I wanted to know enough for small talk on a vacation, I'd learn a little (input) then drill it way more, and if I were going for just passive skills (say, wanting to read Latin), deemphasizing output makes sense. In my case, I want to have several languages I can use when traveling but also use when not traveling to read and watch TV/YouTube/etc., so in general I emphasize passive skills but before a trip would then put more of a focus on producing (although I'd still want to practice beforehand, so it's more reviving rather than learning for the first time). So that still leans more input, but not neglecting output as well. Who knows, I'm still trying to figure this out :D
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby Cenwalh » Tue Apr 06, 2021 2:26 pm

I chose lots of input and little output, although I am not sure it really matters. The way I see it, to end up with good speaking there are a few options:
  • Get tons of input (and I really mean tons), then jump into some speaking with no grammar study
  • Get input and output what you feel you're ready to, but have a native speaker to correct most of your mistakes
  • Get input, study grammar, output what you've learnt

I really feel you need one of tons of input, a native to correct everything you say, or lots of grammar studying to sound good. I am not at all convinced by some input, then chatting to random people who likely won't correct you which is a technique that seems to have become quite popular on the internet. I think that would lead to lots of fossilised errors.

My personal experience is with lots of input and then some output, and it's going/gone pretty well. YMMV.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby Le Baron » Tue Apr 06, 2021 2:33 pm

Has to be number one. The other two don't make sense. There's nothing to output if nothing has been put in. And if one is only inputting and not ouputting then one can't possibly be getting good at 'conversation'.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby smallwhite » Tue Apr 06, 2021 4:03 pm

To get good at conversation requires:

Lots of input and lots of output
Lots of input and little output
Little input and lots of output


Do you really mean CONVERSATION, or do you mean SPEAKING? Conversation includes listening so Little Input simply won't cut it.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby golyplot » Tue Apr 06, 2021 4:18 pm

IMO, practicing output is a waste of time if you haven't already gotten good at passive skills, so I went with option 2, but you do still have to practice output specifically to get good at it.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby lichtrausch » Tue Apr 06, 2021 5:41 pm

I answered "lots of input and little output", with the caveat that I mean relatively little output. Something like a 9:1 ratio of input to output. So if the input you need to get good at conversing in a given language is 900 hours, the necessary output would be around 100 hours.

leosmith wrote:My primary reason for learning languages is to converse with native speakers. It’s my main motivation. Forcing myself not to converse would dampen my motivation. You see a lot of articles these days implying that if you don’t have motivation, you can just manufacture it. That doesn’t work for me, at least not for something that is going to take thousands of hours. My motivation is strong, but it is finite, so I avoid doing things that dampen it, such as delaying conversation.

I think the relative difficulty of a target language might be important for figuring out how long the silent period should be. It's one thing to put off speaking for 6 months as a Spanish learner, it's quite another to put off speaking for 2 years as a Vietnamese learner. In terms of pure efficiency both of those might be equivalent, but things change once you factor in staying motivated.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby leosmith » Tue Apr 06, 2021 6:13 pm

smallwhite wrote:Do you really mean CONVERSATION

yes
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby leosmith » Tue Apr 06, 2021 6:25 pm

lichtrausch wrote:I answered "lots of input and little output", with the caveat that I mean relatively little output. Something like a 9:1 ratio of input to output. So if the input you need to get good at conversing in a given language is 900 hours, the necessary output would be around 100 hours.

Good point - I was intentionally vague. I didn't want to say "50% of the time on input and 50% of the time on output" because for most people that ratio starts out as infinity and decreases with time. I'm probably doing 2 or 3:1 in my languages now. But I still feel like I do a ton of both input and output.

lichtrausch wrote:I think the relative difficulty of a target language might be important for figuring out how long the silent period should be.

(edit) Agreed, for the people who want to do a silent period. The 2-3 months period is pretty constant for me.
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Re: Poll - Lots of input vs lots of output

Postby lysi » Tue Apr 06, 2021 6:40 pm

I voted #2 because I didn't read the poll title and I thought it was just asking your personal time distribution, but I would vote #1 if I could recast my vote. I really wish I could talk with more people in my TL but in my experience it's either really finnicky or costs you money/time in your native language, so I just prefer reading and listening.
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