The concept of “input” may be familiar to a lot of language learners, but I didn’t know the word “input” until I discovered the website Antimoon. Antimoon gives advice to English learner, but of course, they can be applied to any other language.
The authors of Antimoon stress the importance of input through several enlightening articles that I recommend any language learner to read. Even if I didn’t call it “input”, I knew that a lot of exposure to a language was essential to learn it, but the Antimoon method gives detailed and concrete advice to increase the quantity of input and learn how to use it to integrate new language patterns.
When describing what input is, the author says: This is the only difference between a learner and a native speaker — the amount of input.
This gives the encouraging feeling that reaching a native level in a foreign language is possible. After all, there are people who can speak a second language at a native level. It might take many years to reach this level in Japanese, but it is doable.
Increasing the amount of input to improve the output?
I have always thought that to improve my speaking skills, I should practice speaking. Similarly, to improve my writing skills, I should do writing exercises. The input method, however, shows that collecting a lot of patterns through listening and reading is crucial to be able to produce something in the language we are learning.
This seems to be the solution to one of the major problems that self-taught learners come across: if I make mistakes while speaking alone in my room or if my writing is full of errors, no one will correct me.
Of course, if we keep using the same wrong pattern, again and again, our speaking or writing practice might end up being more harmful than beneficial. The solution lies in the input. Instead of waiting for a correction that would come afterwards, we have to make sure we use correct patterns by collecting them beforehand. When we collect enough patterns and revise them often, they are ready to be used anytime we need to produce something. We will know that what we said or wrote is correct because it directly comes from something we read or listened to.
My input material
As the Antimoon site suggests, reading is the easiest way to get input. My main source of input is the novel I am reading in Japanese. I plan to read 1 novel per month this year. Apart from novels, I try to read as much as possible in Japanese on the Web. This means that I try to make my researches in Japanese when possible and relevant. I don’t always apply this method because I sometimes just need to reach the information I need quickly. I also read news articles and sometimes magazines in Japanese. Finally, I play games in Japanese that have a lot of writing contents.
I also add a new way to increase my input amount without much time consumption. Since I got my electronic dictionary, I got into the habit of systematically reading 2 or 3 example sentences for every word I look up. Generally, reading the first 2 or 3 sentences gives a very good idea of how the word is used. When I was using online dictionaries, I only looked at the word’s meaning. With a serious dictionary, you can gain a lot more information every time you look up a word, thus maximizing the time spent searching the dictionary.
Is reading in Japanese enough to be able to write in Japanese?
As I was going through the articles of Antimoon website, I started having doubts about this method. Even if I read a lot in Japanese, I still don’t feel confident in writing at all. That’s when I reached the article How to get the most out of English texts that totally erased my doubts.
When reading in Japanese was such a struggle that I almost analysed each sentence to understand what grammar was used, I certainly improve a lot. At that time, I was paying attention to the grammar and re-read several times certain patterns where I had recognized a grammar point I had learned. But after some time, reading certain novels has become easier and I just “read for contents”, focusing mainly on words whose meaning help me understand the story. I don’t see the grammar anymore, I don’t take the time to pause, look at the language and reflect on it.
If I can read a little more comfortably in Japanese now, I also stopped actively collecting grammatical patterns when reading. I don’t pay attention to the language anymore. From now on, I will apply the “pause and think” method described in the Antimoon article. Of course, I will not read the entire book like this, but I will try to stay attentive to interesting patterns and apply the kind of reflections suggested in the article. The truth is that I was not able to fill in the blank in the little test they provide… even if I am able to read their article in English without problems.
Reading the Antimoon website really convinced me and motivated me to work on input by using the “pause and think” method and by doing it often to avoid forgetting the patterns I have collected. Maybe I will feel confident to write in Japanese one day? If 2018 is clearly a “reading year”, I will maybe make 2019 a “writing year”… Anyway, I will apply the Antimoon method to all the books of my reading challenge and we will see the results at the end of the year!