the input hypothesis and the fallacy of antimoon and AJATT 2

This is the second post in a three part series: The Input Hypothesis and The Input Hypothesis 3 are also available for your reading pleasure.  🙂

All Japanese All The Time is an inspirational language learning blog – Khatzumoto, the author, has a great writing style, and there’s plenty of useful language advice. Actually, it’s more than that – it’s a fully-fleshed language learning method.  Discovering AJATT was a huge revelation for me – it was as though a previously locked door to fluency in another language had been thrown wide open. I’d been struggling along with Japanese for a couple of years, wondering just when the hell I would get fluent: the whole exercise was completely depressing.  I adopted his method, and lo and behold, my Japanese didst improve!  Quickly, too.

Anyway, fast-forward a few months, to when Cantonese is the order of the day.  Unsurprisingly, I was completely taken aback when happened upon another language blog of titanic proportions – Benny the Irish Polyglot. I think the first thing I read on his site was “speak as soon as possible“. “What. The. Hell.” I thought – surely this must be wrong! Surely this is the cause of so many crappy second-language speakers! Stop making people suuuuuck!1!!1!!

It dawned on me a few days later that my speaking of Cantonese was really not very good. Not reading mind – the words of others were easy to read out. Putting my own thoughts into Cantonese was near impossible though.  Furthermore, my friends suggested that maybe speaking and listening would be a better use of time (since then they could actually hold a conversation with me, as opposed to a monologue), and so I figured I’d give it a go.  This was about… a month ago.

Since then, the vocabulary I have produced talking to native speakers are by far the words I remember most clearly. Whilst there may be an element of a virtuous circle here (you can use the words so you do use them so you keep using them…), I’ve started to be able to speak.

Unsurprisingly, I do make mistakes when speaking, I do say things that my friends don’t understand right away – but they correct it right after, and then I’ve learned something I didn’t know before (in a way I’m likely to remember). This too is how children learn – through constructive feedback.  They may not get it right away, but they sure as hell do a couple years down the line.

Incidentally, this leads on to something else – how do you get feedback as an adult? Social awkwardness tends to ensue whenever foreign language learners make a mistake.  One solution I’ve tried (from Benny’s highly recommended Language Hacking League – giving credit where it’s due!) is to turn feedback into a game.  For every (say) ten mistakes corrected, the correctee buys the correcter a drink.  Genius.  Kills the awkwardness dead in its tracks, improves someone’s language skills and gets someone else a free drink.  Everyone’s a winner.

I’m not saying that language learners out there should focus solely on speaking: that is a road to ruin.  You will end up with speakers with bad accents and grammatical errors all over the place if all they study at school is speaking.  I think the reason fossilization persists in second language learners is either a) that they either don’t want to sound native (their accent is their identity), b) they think talking like a native makes them sound like an idiot (this is exactly what my Hong Kong friend said the other day), or c) they’re just satisfied with being able to communicate and don’t want to put in any more work into sounding more authentic.  It’s not that they couldn’t pass as a native if they tried, they just don’t want to.

On the subject, I also have some evidence as for why fossilization is bogus: I didn’t start learning Cantonese by trying to master the tones. I purposefully ignored them, on the grounds that learning just the sounds of the words would be easier to start with; I planned on figuring out the tones later. You know what? I can say words (with tones) correctly now, despite not saying them right at all to start with – and that was for a good couple of months.  Fossilization schmossilization.

Anyway, the bottom line is that speaking is probably just as important as listening for mastery of a language. To be fluent, both massive exposure to native material and practice at speaking are needed – and it’s okay to sometimes screw up at either, since focused practice can resolve mistakes later.

So there’s one man’s brain dump on the subject.  What’s the general consensus on input and output?  Do you think it’s a good idea to largely ignore output when learning a language (AJATT-style), or do you think speaking sooner is a good idea (polyglot style)?

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15 thoughts on “the input hypothesis and the fallacy of antimoon and AJATT 2

  1. Why not balance both? Speak as you see fit, and at the same time don’t speak a word until you actually here it. Or least be careful about saying certain words until you’ve a pretty good idea of how to say it.

    You’re right about the using the language. When you use the words it becomes easier to remember and then you use them more. But for the AJATT method, I think he [Khatzumoto] use to play out conversations in his mind. The idea was to produce the conversations in his head.

    Also, Khatzumoto, has been saying for a while now, do what’s fun. Do something. Whatever works just do it. Stuart Raj Jay said the same thing about finding one’s X-factor and learning a language that way.

  2. Cheers for such an insightful comment 🙂 I do think a balance of both is best – I’d neither want to do just one or the other. And also, I still wouldn’t want to be outputting right away – only after you’ve got a good idea of using it, as you say. I think it’s about 6 months between starting listening to Cantonese and starting to speak – reckon that’s not too bad a balance?

    I’d forgotten that Khatz played out conversations in his head, which is something I’ve been doing unconciously I think – I guess that a good way of getting production practice.

    Also, you’re right about doing whatever’s fun. Dunno, just always got the impression that fun stuff involved input, but thinking about it, it must include output too… if appropriate.

  3. Great write up Eldon! 🙂
    A good balance is always best; I’ll be talking to those promoting more input-based methods to see if I can give a more rounded view on this, since I do indeed have to do some solitary study to make sure that I’m progressing in my understanding of the language (however, this is a minority investment for me in comparison to actively using the language and improving it on the go).
    I also agree about fossilization. It’s just another excuse with little to back it up. If someone fossilizes their mistakes it’s because they are not seriously working to constantly improve their level, simple as that 🙂

    • Hey Benny, cheers for the comment 🙂

      Definitely agree that a balance between input and output is best, although it’s obviously still possible to achieve fluency with a much heavier emphasis on one or the other (you and Khatzumoto are both living proof!).

      And I also totally hear you about the excuses. It’s so frustrating to stand talking to someone telling them why they can do something when all do is reply with bogus reasons why they can’t. I wish I knew why some people seem to be so afraid of success…

  4. Pingback: Notes on “How To Learn Cantonese” #2 « thousand mile journey

  5. Pingback: All Cantonese All The Time « thousand mile journey

  6. Pingback: All Cantonese All The Time « thousand mile journey

  7. “Social awkwardness tends to ensue whenever foreign language learners make a mistake.”

    Get a thick skin, and friends with a good sense of humor. 🙂

    “fossilization is bogus”

    Agreed. Ask any 4-year-old a question in their L1, and hear how much nonsense they spout. If fossilization was true, nobody would ever learn to speak any language half competently.

    • “Social awkwardness tends to ensue whenever foreign language learners make a mistake.”

      Get a thick skin, and friends with a good sense of humor. 🙂

      Haha, I can’t tell you just how many mistakes I made while in HK, it was hysterical. Like, virtually every sentence. But I was understood anyway so it was okay.

      “fossilization is bogus”

      Agreed. Ask any 4-year-old a question in their L1, and hear how much nonsense they spout. If fossilization was true, nobody would ever learn to speak any language half competently.

      Yes, yes and yes. As a matter of fact, I babysit for my neighbour’s four-year old quite often, and he never stops spouting rubbish. This too is hysterical. But he’ll speak English perfectly when he’s older, and besides, it’s expected. 🙂

  8. Hmm, having taught VERY young kids English, I wouldn’t agree that ‘fossilisation is bogus’, for ESL young learners. L1 kids are different as they have far far more correct, comprehensible input. Young L2 learners generally don’t, and it’s very difficult to get rid of these errors later.

    For adults, it’s certainly an excuse, though!

    • “Bogus in theory” is, I guess, what I’m after. My understanding is that the theory says that no matter what you do, native-level fluency is unattainable… I guess I’m seeing if that’s the case 😛

  9. Well, I have met a handful (in a 15 year career!) of native-level fluent speakers and it’s certainly possible, but the conditions which support that are generally nothing that is easily controlled or created by either the learner or the teacher. They’ve tended to be Germanic language L1 speakers, bi- or multilingual as children, have spent some time being educated in an English L1 country, and have certain personality, social, and cognitive characteristics.

    And, well … ‘native-level fluency’ is nice, but not essential, unless you want to be a spy. 😉

  10. Pingback: The Input Hypothesis and Various Fallacies #3 | Thousand Mile Journey

  11. Pingback: the input hypothesis and the fallacy of antimoon and AJATT | Thousand Mile Journey

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