In my view, there are three divergent approaches to language learning, divergent in terms of their emphasis or principal focus. This is true whether we learn in the classroom, online or on the street. One approach focuses on input, another on output, and a third on what I would call shortcuts and some people call language-hacking techniques. These techniques include grammar study, studying vocab lists and phrase books, heavy use of flash cards, "deconstructing the language", memory techniques, and so forth.I don't think Steve's division has it right at all. As I noted in my last post, output is input. In other words, it's all just exposure. From there, the only thing you need to think about is what kind of exposure you need to get in order to burn the language into your brain as efficiently as possible.
And efficiency leads me to one of my main points of disagreement with Steve: grammar.
In a nutshell, here's my understanding of Steve's approach to grammar:
- Spend lots of time getting input.
- If you figure out the grammar rules, great. If not, don't worry about it.
- When you feel like it, try to fill in those gaps in your knowledge by looking up the rules.
This is a close adult approximation of the inductive "learn like a child" method. Children get years of exposure to a language and still make lots of grammar mistakes, until years of schooling finally iron out the wrinkles. Without extra efforts beyond mere exposure, they end up being able to understand just about everything, even while they may still be speaking incorrectly. Steve's results seem to match that pattern.
And, after all, is it really surprising that a method that focuses on input results in you having a good understanding of input without being able to produce accurate output?
I think a different approach can get you much better results. Here's the rough outline of how I approach grammar:
- Get the rule in your head.
- Get exposure to the rule in use. Because the rule's in your head, you're seeing the rule in action rather than trying to puzzle out what the rule is.
- If you forget the rule, or if you're exposed to something that doesn't fit into your understanding of the rule, go over the rule again.
As a final note, I'd also say that I think Steve's and my divergent approaches to grammar may stem in part from our divergent goals in language learning. Steve's goal seems to be enjoying literature and whatever else he feels like enjoying in the language. For me, that's a means to an end while my actual goal is being able to prepare business documents, contracts, etc. I need to obtain a higher degree of accuracy in a shorter amount of time that Steve's method will allow, while Steve can quickly reach his own goal of jumping into content he enjoys without worrying about whether he's producing correct grammar.