The pampas of ennui

Being Leonardo Boiko's online Journal, featuring Long & Very Sporadic Essays on any Subject.

07 November 2011

Everyone knows that grammar-based language learning (of the kind traditionally taught in “foreign language” courses) doesn’t work, and that immersion methods are better. But currently there are at least two different immersion strategies:

  • Comprehensible input aka Krashenian: Input before output; huge quantities of self-selected, compelling input; long silent period; everything done at the pace of the learner, and at will. Besides Krashen, this is the method of AJATT and Antimoon & their sphere of influence. It’s also the method of everyone who, like me, learned a language by reading books or playing games.
  • Interaction-oriented: Michael Long’s theory; outside the ivory tower, the method of “Fluent in 3 months” guy. Put yourself in a situation where you must interact with people in the L2. No input/output separation, emphasis on spoken language conversations with feedback.

I’m thinking the relative merits of these strategies are more apparent when we think of language as a means, not as a goal (in other words, when we stop trying to learning a language and start using it to do things at once, even if poorly at first). If my uneducated guess is right, couchsurfers and immigrants who want to socialize with other people would benefit most by socializing with other people, while philologists and lit students would probably do best by staying at home with their dictionaries.

I think the master rule is the “keep in contact” metamethod that’s been proposed by a lot of people (Chomsky, Krashen, Khatzumoto et al): You have to do something that 1) you want to do and 2) needs the L2. The theories and methods are of secondary importance to this; no matter how well-researched, if you find the method boring you’ll give up midway. An important point that I missed at first is that, if I wanted to do something just because it would improve my L2, I probably didn’t want to do it strongly enough. The desire to learn a language in itself is a very fine thing & I admire it immensely (—as in, it’s probably a deal-breaker in my heuristic to evaluate sexual partners), but at this conscious level it’s really a desire to learn about the language (that is, it’s the impulse of a linguist). It isn’t enough for the same reasons that the academic desire to learn about the philosophy of martial arts isn’t, in itself, enough to become a fighter. We might be curious about a few hundred quirky words or funny kanji, but I think no one actually want to drill & memorize ten thousand combinations of the same articulated parts. The best motivation to learn the ten thousand is not wanting to “own” the language like a prize trophy, but wanting to crash through it; it’s when you want so hard to read this specific book & language is a barrier getting in your way.


Comments (5)

  1. “An important point that I missed at first is that, if I wanted to do something just because it would improve my L2, I probably didn’t want to do it strongly enough.”

    Same thing here. I find most of the Japanese input I have within hand-range right now either uninteresting or not really the stuff I want to go through in the first place, probably because this particular point of language acquisition wasn’t so intuitive to me as I thought.

    What becomes clear to me now is how I can understand concepts such as “language acquisition” and “comprehensive input hypothesis” and relate them to my own experience (I practically preach Krashen’s and Khatzumoto’s ideas to my fellow language students, I’ve become increasingly proficient in English simply by doing fun things in English, the American professor at the local university praises my style etc.), but I can’t efficiently put them into practice.

    In fact, I guess reading Krashen’s articles has in itself been much more profitable in terms of language acquisition than trying to use his ideas with this Japanese endeavour of mine that I’ve been struggling with for a couple of years now.

    But I get by. :)

  2. O problema com esse método (aprender por que você quer ler algo interessante) é que quando você aprende inglês a maioria das “coisas interessantes” fica automaticamente disponível pra você.

    Ai quando você vai aprender a sua L3 a maioria das coisas já está disponível, e você tem que ficar procurando novas fontes de material pra estudar na língua e etc. o que eu acho um pouco difícil.

    Ex: eu aprendi inglês pra estudar computação e jogar videogame, hoje em dia se eu for aprender francês ou japonês eu acho um pouco mais difícil de usar esse método já que a maioria das coisas que eu quero já está disponível em inglês.

    Pra resolver isso será que tenho que estudar uma área completamente desconhecida só que na lingua-alvo?

  3. É, eu tinha comentado sobre isso esses dias:

    encontrar compelling input talvez seja a tarefa principal pra aprender uma língua. talvez o segredo seja inverter o ponto de vista: ao invés de pensar “eu quero aprender japonês, que material posso ler para isso?” pensar por que eu quero aprender japonês em primeiro lugar, e ir lá fazer isso de uma vez.

  4. Oh, I should mention for people following this blog that I think this is working. It’s still early to tell, but I do think my move away from flashcards and systematic grammar towards a more purely Krashenian method is really stepping up the pace of my Japanese acquisition. The other day I read a volume of Rurōni Kenshin in one afternoon! (with skimming of course!) Also I found out I can play Hirameki Puzzle (Japanese-language Scribblenauts) and Professor Layton (friendly edition with furigana) without any major trouble in parsing the puzzle goals.

  5. (I find generally I’m uninterested in manga I already know, or that are easily available in English. But Kenshin is an exception; his mannerisms of speak are really untranslatable & I get a major kick out of them; and that alone makes the manga worthy re-reading to me.)

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