(Picture courtesy of Free Digital Photos.)
Before we get into today’s post about the importance of input, I want to state very clearly that I do not think that input is the be-all, end-all. I believe that the quickest way to learn a language is to simply use it by speaking and writing in it.
That said, input is important. There is no “THE way to learn a language.” Everybody claims they have THE way, but they’re feeding you lies. I love all different blogs and sites about language learning and if you saw my list you would think that it was quite contradictory. This is because each of the sites specializes in a certain aspect of language learning. Some of them are arrogant enough to claim their way is the right way (or even the only way) to learn a language. Frankly, I just ignore those parts. When it comes to learning a language you have to cherry pick your style. Pick and choose from different methods what works. I like what Khatz from All Japanese All The Time (AJATT) has to say about taking advice: 1. Listen to it and 2. Do whatever you want with it. So I encourage you to read about as many different methods as you can, but take all of them with a grain of salt. And for heaven’s sake, if something isn’t working for you then don’t do it. Making yourself do it will only make you miserable.
So, to the main point of this post: why input is important.
So this last week I’ve been having trouble speaking Japanese and keeping it and Esperanto separate. I know that both of these problems can be solved by speaking and using them both more. And if you find you are having trouble with this as well, I highly recommend you try to speak in your languages as often as possible. It will help with this. But I believe that input will also help with this.
When I was learning Japanese last year I was constantly listening to media of some kind, whether it was my audio Bible, music, movies, or TV I tried to listen to Japanese as often as possible. You know what happened? Even if I wasn’t listening to it actively and learning from it, it helped me get used to the language. Soon the fast pace of Japanese wasn’t intimidating and it was becoming easier for me to pick out words and understand things. Since I stopped doing that last October it has once again become a jumbled mess of foreign syllables that I don’t understand. But I’ve started listening again and (surprise!) it’s becoming less intimidating and easier to understand.
One of the reasons I am a proponent of input is because that’s how you learned your native language. Most of us that learned English as our native language (especially in the USA) were surrounded by media when we were little. My dad loves watching TV, so there was always a TV on in the house. This means I was getting a constant stream of English, even if no one was talking to me. It didn’t matter if I didn’t always understand it, or if I didn’t listen to it actively, I was getting used to English. I think this is especially important for a foreign language. You’re mind isn’t used to hearing those sounds put together like that (or just those sounds period!), it needs to adjust. And, of course, the best way to do this is to listen to your target language.
And please don’t listen to stuff you don’t like. Pick something you like. This isn’t punishment, so stop torturing yourself with crap you wouldn’t listen to in your native language! Most languages are going to have something you can listen to that you like. Even if it’s only one song. Put that song on repeat JARVIS1! I have a set of about 20 songs (because I’m too lazy to look for others) that I like that I put on repeat often. I also like to listen to news and an audio Bible in my target language in the background. They’re not quite as distracting as music.
I also highly recommend watching movies and TV shows you’ve seen before but translated into your target language. I personally love Disney movies and have several in Japanese. (Lilo and Stitch is my favorite in Japanese, even though it isn’t in English!) These are great because they’re geared for kids so the vocabulary is really simple. And don’t think that just because you already know what’s going on that you’re not learning! This is a great way to learn! (Of course I also have Halo: Legends2, a Halo anime like the Animatrix, because you can only watch Bambie so many times before you need some, well, action! :D)
Remember, there’s only one of you and 7 billion other people on the planet. I think that makes understanding your target language (spoken, written, whatever) pretty darn important! So listen, listen and listen some more! Just remember that only listening won’t make you fluent, it’s just one of those tools to help you along. Speaking is probably the most important thing you can do. But that’s for another post.
So, like you did when you were little, let your brain get used to hearing you target language. And make sure you’re having fun! If it’s not fun to listen to, ditch it!
1. Inconsequential references to Iron Man? Oh yes. 😀
2. Don’t look at me like that. I am not a nerd!! … okay yes I am. XD