Input only

General discussion about learning languages
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Iversen
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Re: Input only

Postby Iversen » Tue Jan 12, 2016 9:05 am

My main input channel for a new language will always be its written version, and then the spoken one will come later - provided that I have access to a TV channel or some reliable source on the internet to deliver interesting content. The problem is that I start out not understanding the new language, and therefore I can't just plunge into genuine sources and read them for fun. In the beginning while I'm busy trying to 'break the code' I even have to do slow rebus solving while I'm getting through ordinary magazine texts or Wikipedia articles WITH a translation, and at that stage I'm not in a position to produce utterances myself - not even in my head. For most language learners the solution is to get some morsels from a textbook or a teacher which they can piece together to very simple sentences - and if they get good at this they will be active much before those who stick to the original genuine texts or speech. But only with utterances based on those simple componensts, and some of us aren't happy about that kind of tarzan language.

OK, time passes and with time you can understand genuine stuff with the help of a translation, and at this time I start getting sentence fragments and even complete sentences forming in my head almost by themselves - but any attempt to use them with other humans would interfere with this process so I prefer NOT to speak at this stage. But writing is OK because I can make pauses to look things up, and I can correct errors (insofar I spot them, otherwise not). And after that I'll arrive at the third stage where I still may like to have a translation ready, but I don't use it much and could live without it. At that stage I should be able to write at a decent speed, but it depends on totally irrelevant factors (like the availability of TV channels in target languages) whether I can understand speech. If not I'll just carry on in the expectation that an epiphany moment will occur at some point.

The whole process could be seen as the reflection of a growing knowledge of the language - more words leave less holes. But the problem is that active production also presupposes some practical training in retrieving information and putting it together, and that's where the problem is if you are too focused on input. Those who start speaking early will of course get some training which you won't get by keeping your mouth shut, but it is an open question whether they will retain this lead forever. But if those who emphasize the input phase stick with it too long then the early birds WILL keep the advantage - though only when it comes to language production, not necessarily with complicated input. So the art of the input afficionados is to know when they have to do some production training - even though their basic instincts tell them to keep silent and doing the thing they are good at, which is understanding input.
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Re: Input only

Postby reineke » Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:58 am

My first, main input channel for any new language will always be its spoken version and the written one will come later. Speaking and writing will come last - provided that I have the patience or need for it. Although my first sentence is the exact reverse of Iversen's I think that he offers some great advice. Also, while he does not need praise, I have noticed a remarkable improvement in his Italian from three years ago and that's only one of his many languages.

"Input only" may suggest that the learner is being forced not to produce. While there are such methods, input-only is also a personal choice. If you look past the initial learning phase, production requires a considerable effort solely for the sake of getting ahead in the language. After one's second or third language, advanced speaking and writing skills may look like an artifice that's very difficult to justify or sustain. The more you insist on input as the sole approach to fully learn the language, the more it presupposes interest and a great luxury of time. No one will spontaneously burst into a fluency of speech and writing in a short period solely based on exposure. In the meantime such student will be mostly judged based on what he is able to produce. Input only also works best not only over longer stretches but also in intensive gobs of time that few people, especially adults, are able to afford. Assuming that the learner needs to communicate ASAP, common sense dictates a short silent period or a combined approach. A learner may also be unwilling to explore materials he cannot fully understand or have other special needs. I would not force a long silent stage on such learners.

It would be very presumptuous however to say that input-only learners are totally unable to communicate, that they are comparable to beginners or that they are wasting their time. A massive amount of exposure to speech and writing will increase their vocabulary immensely as well as their comprehension skills. It is by no means easy to start producing language even after a very long silent period. However, from the very start of the active effort no such learner will be the guy with a big question mark over his head.
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Re: Input only

Postby IchBinEinPoly » Wed Jan 13, 2016 11:08 pm

I don't think there's anyone in the world who thinks you can achieve fluency just with input; people just disagree on relative ratios.

There's a maxim by this fitness dude called Johnny Pain who keeps a blog called Strength Villain: "The effectiveness of a given stimulus at producing a desired adaptation is inversely proportional to the frequency with which it can be performed." He's talking about physical stimuli and adaptations, but the principle applies to other things. In my experience, it's easy to listen to lots of stuff all day long, while doing other stuff. Perhaps it's only a fraction as effective as concentrated study, but concentrated study both burns you out quickly and can't be done while doing many other things, like walking the dog or washing dishes or taking a shower. You can listen to music or an audiobook or a radio while doing all of those things.

Logically, it is far better to do something that is 10% effective for 12 hours than something that is 100% effective for 1 hour.

Consequently I fall into the AJATT school of thought on this subject: learning should be 80-90% input based.
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Re: Input only

Postby reineke » Thu Jan 14, 2016 7:05 am

IchBinEinPoly wrote:I don't think there's anyone in the world who thinks...


You've made some very good points. Your introductory sentence is your undoing, however, for this theory and just about any other subject under the sun. I believe Richard Boydell is cited as an example of a person who acquired language from input alone.

"Richard Boydell was born with a first-class brain, indomitable and resourceful parents"... Unfortunately he was born also born with cerebral palsy.

Richard Boydell: "I acquired an understanding of language by listening to those around me. Later, thanks to my mother's tireless, patient work I began learning to read and so became familiar with written as well as spoken language..."

See: Case Histories and the Comprehension Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen

http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/skrashen_case_histories.pdf
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IchBinEinPoly
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Re: Input only

Postby IchBinEinPoly » Thu Jan 14, 2016 7:32 am

reineke wrote:
IchBinEinPoly wrote:I don't think there's anyone in the world who thinks...


You've made some very good points. Your introductory sentence is your undoing, however, for this theory and just about any other subject under the sun. I believe Richard Boydell is cited as an example of a person who acquired language from input alone.

"Richard Boydell was born with a first-class brain, indomitable and resourceful parents"... Unfortunately he was born also born with cerebral palsy.

Richard Boydell: "I acquired an understanding of language by listening to those around me. Later, thanks to my mother's tireless, patient work I began learning to read and so became familiar with written as well as spoken language..."

See: Case Histories and the Comprehension Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen

http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/skrashen_case_histories.pdf


First of all, it was a rhetorical flourish for the most part. You can find exceptions for just about anything (even for this rule , yes, you get the picture). Boydell happens to be such a marginal case.

But marginal cases aside, people tend to misinterpret what a lot of the arguments for input-centered learning. For example, you cited Krashen here, who I am a fan of. The quoted text is not his opinion but rather simply the words of someone he interviewed. Krashen doesn't believe only input will produce 100% productive fluency, but that input alone can take you a lot further towards oral fluency than people believe. Even babies are not fluent orally when they end their 100% input period and begin to speak; so it is with people. That's all Krashen and others like him are arguing (AJATT, etc.).
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Re: Input only

Postby reineke » Thu Jan 14, 2016 7:34 am

There was an old owl who lived in a tree
And the more he heard the less said he
And the less he said the more he heard
Now wasn't he a wise old bird!
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Re: Input only

Postby James29 » Thu Jan 14, 2016 12:02 pm

IchBinEinPoly wrote:
Logically, it is far better to do something that is 10% effective for 12 hours than something that is 100% effective for 1 hour.

Consequently I fall into the AJATT school of thought on this subject: learning should be 80-90% input based.


Regarding your first sentence, how do you quantify "effectiveness" into precise numbers? It seems to me that numbers do not work that way. What does it mean to say something is "100% effective"? Additionally, do you think doing the "100% effective" thing for one hour and then the "10% effective" thing for 11 hours would be better than both?

Regarding your second sentence, are you suggesting that everyone is the same or are you open to the idea that other people might learn more effectively with 50% input based?
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Re: Input only

Postby Montmorency » Thu Jan 14, 2016 4:39 pm

IchBinEinPoly wrote:[...]
In my experience, it's easy to listen to lots of stuff all day long, while doing other stuff. Perhaps it's only a fraction as effective as concentrated study, but concentrated study both burns you out quickly and can't be done while doing many other things, like walking the dog or washing dishes or taking a shower. You can listen to music or an audiobook or a radio while doing all of those things.

Logically, it is far better to do something that is 10% effective for 12 hours than something that is 100% effective for 1 hour.


Like James29, I don't think the numbers work like that.

One could alternatively do shortish bursts of concentrated study throughout the day, with suitable breaks, which might include some physical exercise. Professor Arguelles has described his typical working day, where he works on many of his languages throughout the day, in order to maintain them (although I'm not sure that his "bursts" are all that short).

In any case, I'm not at all sure that it's the concentration that burns you out. Many people work at jobs which they are good at for 8 hours per day or more without burning out. I think burning out is to do with things like working at too fast a pace, trying to do too many things at once, continually working against a deadline, and simply being overloaded and working too long without a break.
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Re: Input only

Postby James29 » Thu Jan 14, 2016 4:59 pm

Maybe just think of it like a cup of coffee... different things "work" for different people. I like the vast majority of my cup to be caffeinated light roast (input), but I add a dash of non-lactose cream (conversations with natives) and two sugars (grammar study). In a pinch I don't mind having regular milk instead of non-lactose cream. Other people like to have half coffee and half milk with no sugar, etc, etc. There is not a "right" answer for how to make the most "effective" cup of coffee for everyone. We are all different in what "works" for us in coffee and we are all different in what "works" for us in language learning. There is nothing wrong with being different. There is no reason why different things can be effective for different people. Benny's all talk right from the start is just as "good" as those who swear by silent/input periods. Life would be boring if everyone had to have the same cup of coffee simply because someone determined for us what was the "most effective" or "best" cup of coffee.
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Re: Input only

Postby Serpent » Thu Jan 14, 2016 5:23 pm

James29 wrote:Regarding your second sentence, are you suggesting that everyone is the same or are you open to the idea that other people might learn more effectively with 50% input based?

I tend to think it's mostly a question of motivation, mindset and goals/needs. Someone like Cristina is unhappy if you limit her interactions with natives, especially if you force grammar books on her instead. I'm unhappy if you make me speak before I'm ready (and also unhappy with grammar books). Someone else will be unhappy if they aren't allowed to get any grammatical explanations (I do prefer to have the option if needed, but it's nowhere near as bad as the other kinds of torture for me :))
In coffee, what works in terms of keeping us awake is always caffeine. You can take a caffeine pill and have the same effect. But where's the fun in that?
Fortunately, as a language learner you can generally add as much sugar and syrup as you need without any ill effects :)
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