The Input Hypothesis and Its Flaws #3

This is the third post in a three part series: The Input Hypothesis and The Input Hypothesis 2 are still kicking around.  They ain’t going anywhere.  🙂

Today’s post is a short follow-up to two posts I wrote a long while back.  Basically, my premise was to happily include speaking as part of your language study program and try not to worry about fossilisation errors.

And, to those guns, I am damn well going to stick.

However, a caveat I’m now going to introduce is:

All the time you’re learning, regardless of your ability, you should make an effort to memorise and revise L2 words and sentence patterns, without necessarily creating your own.

What does this mean?  You can go round and speak with other people as much as you like (although you may wish to not do so at first) provided you’re always making a conscious effort to memorise how natives speak – it’ll give you automatic error correction.

On Fossilisation

Constant L2 memorisation destroys all chances for fossilisation to take place:

Fossilisation occurs not because of insufficient input, but because of insufficient memorised input.

  1. Learning a second language takes a long time.
  2. Deliberately memorisating that language also takes a long time (although it gets faster as you get better).
  3. Speaking like an L2 native is seldom required or desired by the learner.
  4. L2 learners give up before having thoroughly memorised enough of L2, causing fossilised errors to appear.

On Speaking Like a Native [most important thing you’ll ever read on this blog!]

Consistent memorisation, if structured carefully, allows the L2 learner to grasp all the vocabulary and sentence patterns that they need.  Luckily, there’s a simple trick to structuring it:

All you need to do in consistently identify aspects of L2 that you can’t yet use, and invest enough time into them that you become able to use them, using decomposition, chunking and massive repetition as your main tools.

This is really simple.  It’s like when you’re learning a song – if you learn it like most people do (inefficiently), you play the whole song over and over again and end up knowing the chorus and bits of the verse.

If you do it efficiently, by repeating only the bits you don’t know, over and over, until they become bits that you do know, you can learn all the verses and the chorus in a relatively short period of time.

In summary

  • There should be a constant flow of L2 as produced by natives being etched into your brain.
  • You need to do lots of repetitions in context for every item.  (Pictures or actions are best!  Watch TV!  Read manga!)
  • The items you memorise should all be initially unknown.  The things you revise should all have been memorised thoroughly before.
  • You should never stop doing this.

Input Hypothesis etc. for Music

Incidentally, the above points go for music as well.  Here are two of the main points from above, edited slightly:

  • All the time you’re learning, regardless of your ability, you should make an effort to memorise and revise patterns and phrases, without necessarily creating (writing/improvising) your own.
  • All you need to do in consistently identify aspects of pieces that you can’t yet play the way you want to, and invest enough time into them that you become able to play them properly, using decomposition, chunking and massive repetition as your main tools.

Final comment:

If you realise you learnt something wrong before, the steps you need to take to correct it are very simple:

  1. Practice the new, correct way many times.
  2. Don’t do it the old way again.

Here, our ability to forget works to our advantage: if you stop doing something completely, you’ll forget how to do it.  At the very least, you can just choose to do it the right way each time after enough practice, even if you still remember the old way.

Do you agree – or disagree – with the snake oil I’m pushing?   Comments are ever so welcome below!

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6 thoughts on “The Input Hypothesis and Its Flaws #3

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

  2. Pingback: the input hypothesis and the fallacy of antimoon and AJATT 2 | Thousand Mile Journey

  3. This is a really, really good post. I’m going to recommend it to others.

    I think your musical talent has given you a great insight into language learning. My brothers are musicians and describe learning songs in the same terms you have, by breaking them into parts and playing the hard sections again and again. Lately, I’ve stared to use music as a metaphor for learning language, but you are a true authority in this regard.

    Constant attention to native patterns is really an essential skill. I often have friends learning English who take what I say to them and “process” it somehow so that when they say it back, they change things like adding “s” or deleting “the” or whatever, I suppose because they are “reproducing” the sentence with fossilized errors rather than repeating EXACTLY what I say even if it isn’t familiar to them. I’ll try to explain it this way.

    • Hey Kieran, thanks a lot for the kind words 🙂

      I got the same thing with my students all the time, although it is fixable by recording lessons (students could listen to them again at home) and lots of time spent making sentences on any given grammar point.

      I’m sure it’s because they’re trying to process too much information at once – new words, new sentence patterns, new pronunciations – and without the ability to repeatedly listen to what they’re supposed to be learning, they can only take in a very limited amount.

      Best of luck to you, your brothers and your friends with your various endeavours 🙂 🙂 🙂

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