The best way to learn languages, focus on input.

Input based language learning is a familiar theme here. Recently there has been some lively discussion on this subject. I want to set certain things out.?? Let’s ask some basic questions about language learning.

Why learn a language? If you don’t know I can’t tell you. You have to be motivated to learn.

When learn a language? Now. Don’t worry about whether younger people are better than older people. It does not matter. Just start now, whatever your age, if you are interested.

Where should you learn?

In all issues affecting language learning there are various positions, all reflecting the experience, preference, or personal interest of the proponents. When it comes to where to learn, some people claim you can only learn in a classroom, some say you have to go to the country where the language is spoken. I say, it does not matter, you can learn anywhere.

What to learn?

The language you are most interested in.

How to learn?

Here again there different points of view, all of which have been defended here by people commenting at this blog.

There are extreme grammarians. To them grammar is not only logical, like math, but elegant like music, and necessary to understand a language and build up their competence.

At the other end we have the extreme speak to fluency people like Benny who claims to be able to speak his way to fluency in a new language in three months, with only a 2 hour warm up on the flight over from Dublin, using a phrase book. His staunch supporter Joop claims he spoke his way to fluency in Portuguese, but then he has a Brazilian wife.

Or we have the input people, like Stephen Krashen to some extent, and Beniko Mason, and Professor Sakai at tadoku, all of whom really promote reading and listening with plenty of research to back it up. Add to the list Igor the Macedonian and long list of polyglots who learned that way.

There are the Anki and Supermemo fans who focus a lot of time on vocabulary review using flash cards.

Where do I stand? Closest to the input people but not all the way. The main reason I favour input is because it works and is easier to do than trying to arrange people to talk to, or studying grammar. You cannot speak if you have no one to speak to. You can control when you read or listen, and you can choose content of interest. You do not have to travel, nor go to class. And it works. You can also speak when the opportunity arises and when you feel like it. You can refer to grammar when you want, either in a small book or by googling on the web. You can also review flash cards when you want.?? Input activity need not exclude these other activities, it just treats them as secondary.

The MP3 player, the Internet and now the iPad or similar tablets that I am sure will inundate our markets in the near future, will take input based learning to a new level. Roman school kids took their clay tablets to school before we had printed books. I see the new electronic tablet eventually replacing school books as well as the three ring binders where kids have to keep the many handouts they get from their teachers.

Mobile learning is coming at us fast, and this will make input based language learning more powerful than ever.


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