“Language teachers hate it when you do this!”
I couldn’t resist starting this post with some click-bait text. 😬 Recently I saw this post on Twitter:
This leads to a heated exchange on Twitter, including the following:
Basically, the point here is is that if you want to learn a language and communicate smoothly, you need A LOT OF INPUT. Like, a sustained, overwhelming amount of input. It will not make sense at first, but gradually you’ll start to piece together the ineffable patterns in a language, and without thinking, you’ll know how to correctly speak your mind, or respond to someone else’s words.
It took me a long time to realize this, after I had wasted countless hours cramming and studying. The studying does serve a purpose, in so far as it helps get you on your feet, but if you’re starting out on a language, the sooner you prioritize input, the easier you will pick it up and improve. It’s not only stimulating for your mind (great for old folks like me), but also it helps bridge the gap between the “textbook” examples you first learn and real life ones, and the real life ones are the ones you should be imitating the most.
What does input mean here? Any kind of exposure you can find: movies, podcasts (my personal favorite), TV shows, just listening to other people speak in real life, etc. Soak it up like a sponge, and don’t get discouraged if none of it makes any sense even after 3 months, or 6 months. If you are learning classic languages like Latin and ancient Greek, just keep reading. Bit by bit, it’ll all become second nature.
I realized that comprehending adult conversation in real time is like catching a school of fish. If you try to reach out and catch it with your bare hands, the fish will swim away, but if you relax and just let the fish swim around you, they’ll get closer and closer and you can easily catch them. Language comprehension works an awful lot like that.
Hard to explain, but if you’ve ever learned another language well, you’ll realize that you’re mind has somehow transitioned to a state where it fluently comprehends it without having to mentally translate from your own native language, which is what a lot of new students tend to do. No conscious thought here, just comprehension.
Enjoy and happy language learning!