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How to Learn a Language: INPUT (Why most methods don’t work)

Language. It’s a pretty cool thing, quite useful. I can still remember back when I was a toddler,
about 2 years old learning my first language, English. My Mom taught me how the order in English
is subject verb object, and helped me make flashcards so I could memorize vocabulary
and helped me for hours and hours to get the different verb tenses right. Fast forward several years and In college
I came over to Japan on a foreign exchange program where I would learn another language. About two years after arriving in the country,
I took and passed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. To be fair, I did live in the country, but
the concepts I’ll discuss in this video will be effective even if you don’t have
access to native speakers. Lately there are all kinds of great resources
and techniques on language learning. In particular, spaced-repetition system-based
virtual flashcard programs like Anki are popular and very useful, but… is that really the
most efficient way to sink language into our brains so it can be used on the fly? After all, how many parents have to give their
child a deck of flashcards for review to help their kids reach fluency in their mother tongue? Of course I was kidding earlier and I learned
English through magic like every other baby. In this video I’d like to discuss four not
too often discussed points that I think are important when it comes to language learning. Acquiring language efficiently through context
Two is Maximizing input Three is Practicing your listening and pronunciation
at the same time And four is Making sure the experience of
learning is positive First allow me to take a moment to demonstrate
something, so just listen for now. If you already speak Japanese, it might be
harder to get my point, but hopefully you’ll still see what I mean. Timu o shoukai shiyou. Timu wa neko janakute kaeru janakute hito
da. Hito no karada ha ironna bubun ga aru. Tatoeba atama, mune, ude, ashi ga aru. Ok, so Just listening to me, how much Japanese
did you learn from this? Maybe 0%. What if I repeated it or spoke slower, would
you learn more Japanese? Most likely not. Let’s try it one more time, but pay attention
to the screen. Timu o shoukai shiyou. Timu wa neko janakute kaeru janakute hito
da. Hito no karada ha ironna bubun ga aru. Tatoeba atama, mune, ude, ashi ga aru. Mushi ja nai kara me wa mutsu toka janakute
futatsu ga aru. Ude mo futatsu, Ashi mo futatsu, Mimi mo futatsu
ga aru. How about now, maybe 10%, 20% or even just
one word? This is the simple difference between acquiring
language and not. What I’m trying to demonstrate is the concept
of comprehensible input, as did second language acquisition scholar Stephen Krashen did in
this lecture of his. “das ist meine Hand. fristenzidast hand(??)” “In my opinion, we all acquire language the
same way. We acquire language in one way and one way
only, when we understand messages, or when we understand what we read. We call this comprehensible input. We’ve tried everything else, we’ve tried grammar
teaching, drills and exercises, computers, but the only thing that seems to count is
getting messages you understand, comprehensible input. So anything that helps make input comprehensible
– pictures, knowledge of the world, realia, helps language acquisition.” In the 1970s and 80s Krashen put forward a
group of hypotheses about language learning. The first claim of his we’ll look at is
that there is acquisition and learning and Krashen says improvement in language ability
is only dependent on acquisition and not learning. The difference between acquisition and learning
is tricky but it’s kind of like the difference between getting a joke and having someone
explain the precise reasons why that joke should be funny. For example, a horse walks into a bar and
the bartender says… “Hey, why the long face?” Or a whale walks into a bar and the whale
says “Woo…oooo…woooo”. If you thought this was funny, you didn’t
have to consciously work out why it was funny. the processing was done on a subconscious
level. In Krashen’s book Principles and Practice
in Second Language acquisition, he says “Acquisition of language is a natural, intuitive, and subconscious
process of which individuals need not be aware.” Similarly, you can learn words by having someone
tell you “The Japanese word for Persimmon is kaki.” On the other hand, what’s necessary for
acquisition is sufficient comprehensible input. Something like this: Ringo o taberu. So, even though you might not know any of
the words I just said, you could comprehend the pictures I supplied, and based on that
context, you could acquire the meaning of Ringo and Taberu. When I provide you with another example, Biiru
o nomu, you may have deduced something about Japanese grammar as well. That’s right, the verb comes at the end. The point is, you have this massive pattern
recognition device jammed into your head and when you understand the meaning of the message,
your brain will naturally pick out vocabulary and deconstruct grammar patterns based on
the context – and this is not something you actively and consciously perform. Okaikei senroppyaku nanajyuu hachien ni narimasu. Kane aru Kara!
Kane Nee yo… This leads me to one of the most helpful things
– simply watching television series without English subtitles with focused attention even
though I couldn’t understand most of it. “And today, I wanna talk about dictionaries. You can look up the word ‘get’ in the dictionary
and you get 8 or 9 different definitions… and you can read that, close the dictionary
and you won’t remember much of what was there. Before I went to Vietnam, I got this phrasebook
and dictionary. I came away able to use one word. Kaman, which means thank you. Nothing else stuck, zero. This was essentially useless.” A bit later on, I tried my hand at plenty
of books but refrained from looking up every word. This is a really simple but important concept,
how many new words, phrases and grammar structures can you feed your brain when you’re looking
up every word as you read a book? You’d take about half an hour to get through
one page. For the same amount of time, a television
show can blast you with far more words, phrases and grammar. A book can too if you’re not so trigger
happy with the dictionary. And, it might not feel like it, but these
bits of cloudy information can stick in your head at the subconscious level just waiting
for the right context to reveal their meaning. Engineering Professor Barbara Oakley explains
here that we have two modes of thinking – the focused mode and the diffuse mode. The focused mode is where you’re racking
your brain trying to use your focused awareness to figure something out, whether it be a math
problem or what’s going on in a TV show in a foreign language. The diffuse mode works in the background where
you’re relaxed and not straining on one thing, it can see the big picture and make
connections. This is thought to be why people so often
get ideas in the shower – you’re relaxed, probably not focused on anything in particular,
so your subconscious starts turning its pattern recognition gears to give you insights your
conscious mind couldn’t see. You might not have any luck picking up many
words or phrases while watching or reading something, but when you go off and do something
else, your brain relaxes into the much more flexible diffuse mode and uses its powers
of pattern recognition to piece out some meaning from the heaps of language information you
were just exposed to. Now I’m not saying that the fastest way
to become fluent in a language is to never open a dictionary, but you’ll want to invest
a majority of your time on inputting a bunch of content into your head from media, books
or just paying attention to people around you. Earlier we saw that according to Krashen,
acquisition, but not learning can trigger improvement in a language. But, it seems deliberate “learning” can
trigger language “acquisition” – for example let’s say you had watched this before: “omae,
ore no keeki kuttaro.” “iya”
and you knew that “ore no keeki” just means “my cake,” but for the life of you couldn’t
figure out what kuttaro means. You were guessing it means steal. Then you learn from a textbook or dictionary
that kuu is a very casual way to say eat! Then it all clicks, you realize kutta would
be the past tense of this verb and you figure kuttaro must be the same as kutta darou. Now you’ve acquired a new word and a new
colloquialism and put all the pieces together to fully understand what this guy was saying. “Omae, ore no keeki kuttaro.” “iya.” This is the “Aha!” moment indicative of
new language acquisition – similar to a joke, it just happens at the subconscious level. Another key to this is watching television
without English subtitles. A study from Barcelona looking at Spanish
speakers trying to learn English found that the worst way to learn was by putting Spanish
subtitles on an English movie. This resulted in 0% improvement in their English
ability. Watching with no subtitles provided a 7% improvement,
but watching the show in English, with English subtitles provided a 17% improvement. Now You might be thinking how are you ever
going to learn anything if you do all this input without any any speaking practice? This is where another part of Krashen’s
theory comes in. “And this may come as a bit of a surprise
to some of you. Certainly came as a surprise to me. Talking is not practicing. It means if you want to improve your spanish,
it will not help you to speak Spanish outloud in the car as you drive to work in the morning. I used to think those things help, now I think
they don’t.” You don’t technically have to open your
mouth to acquire the language. This was demonstrated in 1962 when E. Lenneberg
described the case of a boy who could not speak due to congenital dysarthria. When Lenneberg tested the boy, he found that
the child was able to understand spoken English perfectly. With that said, …you should open your mouth
at some point. Pronunciation is of course very important. But pronunciation is… hard. Some noises in the language you’ll notice
you just can’t make because you never have before. “That’s not tool bro. That’s n… That’s not tool bro.” This brings me to a technique called Shadowing:
What you do is basically listen to some audio of a native speaker talking and you just mimic
their pronunciation and intonation. Not every word though – depending on your
level it could be two syllables at a time, three at a time or two words at a time and
so on. Shadowing is generally thought of as an advanced
technique you should use to master intonation and polish up your accent. But, even from Day 1 it can be a super efficient
way for improving your pronunciation and at the same time your ability to recognize phonemes
in natural language. That is to hear natural language. And being able to hear natural language is
important. Because when people speak naturally, there
are certain phrases where their speech gets run together. Like “What are you doing” becomes “W’t’ya’doin’” Watch how in this scene, Abe Hiroshi turns
tokoro ga kou yatte into “tocolocuerte” “tocolocuerte…” A 2015 study from Japan looking at two groups
of English learners found that indeed, shadowing made a statistically significant improvement
in phoneme perception for both groups. Look in the description for some tips on shadowing
so you can get more out of it without frustrating yourself into hating the language. So That’s it – Three things. Focus on learning from context, Load up on
the input and get plenty of content in the target language and you can use the same audio
source to practice listening to natural speech and pronunciation. I realize this leaves many questions regarding
language learning and that this there’s tons of useful techniques and approaches for
learning a language that I haven’t addressed here. So please leave a comment if you have any
questions and and check the description for more information .

100 Replies to “How to Learn a Language: INPUT (Why most methods don’t work)”

  • Ok we have videos now days DONT LET YOUR YOUNGINS HAVE A PHONE a couple years ago my two nieces now like 5 languages from YouTube videos that weren’t English they know no joke 5 but they know what the words mean but they don’t know that that’s not English and they don’t know the full language

  • So basically right now I am trying to jam all japanese grammar into my head an then watch a lot of series and movies. I heared it does help if you have allready watched the movie in your native language before because you know what is going on in the scene.

  • 7:53 yo I just realized
    Why would she have her hair in a bun when taking a shower
    What the fuck
    I realized this 10 minutes after watching

  • I did aquire basics of my mothertongue from my family but I still had to learn phonetics, grammar and spelling for 10 more years at school. Same as most of the people I guess.
    So, no, I don't think this acquisition is enough to learn a language on a good level.

  • Great video ! Basically how I learned English.

    I had one good teacher in highschool from whom I learned the grammar and pretty much everything else was from media consumption. Especially when you're into niche market as a kid and not everything you want is translated to your language (French in my case), you just settle for english subs or no subs at all and try to get everything regardless.
    I came to the same conclusion when looking back on how I "magically" learned English, I mostly never spoke english to anyone for any extended period of time, so my mouth sometime struggle to make it sounds right but speaking was never really needed.

    On to Japanese now, the issue with it is that it's much more difficult to read Japanese subtitle to ease you into it like you would do with english subs.

  • To this very day, at the age of almost twenty, I have no fucking clue what a verb is, I mean… I'm trying to write a book, man…

  • What works for me is listening to the audio of a language whilst reading both the language itself and it’s English translation. I’m currently doing this with French. There is a video online called 1 hour of comprehensive French listening. So my first 3 days, I only listened to it and didn’t read anything. What I learned was je mapelle (don’t mind my spellings) meant my name. That’s all. But on the 4th day, I listened to it while reading everything. Did this on the 5th day as well. On the 6th day, I could understand the entire conversation without looking at the text. Slowly, I picked up words and now after about 2 weeks, I can totally understand and speak that particular convo. Yes I’m still way off from the actual language but this method worked so well for me. This may help someone. Have a good day.

  • I didn't learn english(? through school but, through internet
    Sometimes I don't even know when and where I learnt some words xD It's very amazing, not me, but the fact (probably I have a lot of things to improve

  • I'm trying to find the article Understanding Language Without Ability to Speak but I can't seem to find it. Am I able to find it on the internet? Can anyone provide the link to it?

  • I have learned the English language from games, movies, tv shows, internet, etc… Now I'm an Online English teacher, working from my own office from the comfort of my own home, and making good money :).

  • Comprehensible input works for acquiring conversational language, but it's all intuitive.
    Someone who learns language through intuition alone won't have a thorough understanding of grammar.
    It's the reason why despite English being my second language, I'm completely fluent in it and have a complex understanding of its grammar and construction, as opposed to my first language; Serbian, which I couldn't explain anything about and constantly make grammatical errors.
    Also it's practically impossible to learn writing systems intuitively, especially one as complex as Japanese.

    Examples you gave such as "ringo o taberu" and "biiru o nomu" are all fine and dandy, until the learner tries to replicate that pattern and end up with mistakes like "mise o iku" or "enpitsu o kaku".
    Unless you grew up in Japan, grammar like this is something that you need to learn.
    My point being that learning and studying are necessary for a conscious understanding of the language. Intuition will only get you so far.
    If you want to pass the JLPT at any level, comprehensible input will do absolutely nothing for you, but it's fantastic for conversational fluency.

  • You need to work with it all the time… throw me to the wolves style… you HAVE to rewire your brain to use the new language… whether you know a lot or a little… you build a base however meager and you expand on it FORVER … everything is a language… math is a language… you have to rewire your brain for all of them its the only way it will work

  • i kinda slightly disagree with: dont watch without subtitles in your native language. i mean if you read fast like i do and then do what you would as said in the video to make it the learning experience more enjoyable which is also significant for habit building. because i have other things to do but i also wanna learn japanese but also wanna enjoy japanese shows by understanding what characters are saying. and i also feel like doing other things, so i gotta make it economical which brings the most return in my life.

    good video on showing how we can abuse our human machine to its fullest in a time where society lacks behind in implementing those kind of empirically proven theories!

    ok now i see the part with the study you are showing while typing the answer. i forgive u 👍

  • I would like to see some more info on that Spanish study that said watching stuff with subtitles (Spanish translations) did not improve their language at all. I think that might hold true for being who were only at A1 English or below. It certainly hasn't held true for me and Swedish, at around B2. I listen to the Swedish AND read the English, often not needing to read the English but occasionally needing it. I have memorised and been reminded of entire phrases in Swedish; and just because the English subtitles are there, the learning does not stop.

  • I learned english completely by watching youtube videos on english with subtitles on english, it is great, i only knew some words before, then i started reading a lot on english on reddit and sites like that and learned grammar (it kinda sucks sometimes, but i'm getting there)

  • Well, school gave me a baseline but I learned more english through songs, videos and games. Later on trying to read mlp fanfictions, after that reading more complex books. It made me fluent in both speaking and understanding pretty much any English input.

  • Oh my N1 passer 🙀🙀🙀.,., i've remembered in my elementary years when i have this English Dictionary that has alot of pictures on it, with the word indicated on those pictures . I can memorize the english word by just remembering the pictures.,

  • i know a lot of people ave learned english from games and videos, do you guys have any recommendation for doing that in korean? id appreciate it 😔💪🏽

  • This was fascinating 🙂 I am a native English speaker, but have been studying French for several years. I very much enjoy watching French movies and tv shows, but also Korean shows. I also watch A LOT of UK shows, and I find that their intonation and vocabulary is creeping into my American language. On another note, I homeschool my kids, and the method I use involves "gentle" learning, where you don't do so much textbook and sitting down, but more experiencing things, I think this is the best way to learn concepts. Makes you rethink how we learn things.

  • I think, learning language is a complex process: it's not enough to write in proper textbook grammar, because you might lack speaking. It's not enough to speak, when you need to write something bigger, than a comment on YouTube. So start with anime, then find a japanese course. Embrace the culture, study it from different sides.

  • I basically learned English through watching a shit tone of videos in English and playing video games in English. So this would technically support your thesis

  • I don't know what other people's experience is, but I really feel like the word "subconscious" is probably way overused. What on Earth is unconscious about randomly figuring out what something you heard before means after you learn the missing info? Usually when I get ideas in the shower I know I was consciously thinking and arrived at the idea through those thoughts, even if I got to them by free association. In those cases, I often wasn't particularly straining to solve any problems (my mind was just free to think about what I really wanted to think about), but I would definitely call that conscious thought. I probably would have difficulty remembering the exact details of my thought process a few minutes later (or even a few seconds later sometimes), but I was definitely aware of and focusing attention on each thought as I was doing it and connecting it to the next thoughts. I notice that I've never read any psychological definition of "consciousness" which used memory (like my personal definition does, i.e., "If you remember thinking it right after it happened it was a conscious thought.") and it makes me wonder if some of the thoughts I think of as conscious are often considered unconscious.

  • I’m not sure if I agree that speaking isn’t practicing. I think a language can be divided into four activities – speaking, listening, reading and writing (or at least two – creating information and receiving it), and developing one of them doesn’t necessarily mean the others will improve as well. I’ve been learning Spanish on my own for some time now, and I can read pretty well – I understand around 90%+ of the articles, posts, anything I read, really, but when it comes to speaking, I struggle a lot to create sentences I understand perfectly well while reading/listening, without putting any effort into it. I do write okayish, too, I’d say, so I really doubt I’d be able to improve my speaking without actually practicing it. Anyways, really interesting video!

  • Thanks for the video. I do have a question, though. I learned Japanese through large amounts of input (including living here in Japan for a long time). But…the JLPT is a completely different beast. How did you pass Level 1?

    I can communicate just fine in Japanese, but the JLPT eludes me. I've watched literally hundreds of Japanese shows, and read thousands of pages in regular Japanese books, but it hasn't helped much for passing that test. So beyond just input, I'd like to know if you did anything else (like a language school, actually studying kanji or grammar, practice tests, etc.) that prepared you for the JLPT.


    Ken Seeroi

  • hears Japanese
    Weebs: "Watashi wa mitemashita, anata wa CULTURE no otoko desu"

    Non-weebs: "He's speaking the language of Gods"

  • I learned English through SpongeBob. I watched so much SpongeBob when I was little that I managed to learn the damn language

  • I'm native spanish speaker and I learned english with almost no intention lol.
    I want to apply a similar techniche for japanese but instead of learning in seven years, like i did with english, I would like to learn it faster.
    The key of learning a lenguage is simple: exposure. I learned english without wanting to because I was exposed to it with just Internet and general culture (and also vocabulary similarity with spanish). I also have to say that even with the shitty educational system of my country, the classes helped me a lot for conjugate verbs.

  • I loved the US culture when I was a kid (cuz you know, burgers) and whenever I watched cartoon network or nickelodeon there were always those weird words that I couldn't understand. So I spent most of my time looking for them in every episode. That's how I started learning English words, without even knowing what they mean.

    Then there was this thing called "YouTube" and I started watching English youtubers (mostly pewdiepie), there weren't any subtitles, so I didn't understand anything but I started to learn how to pronounce words.
    6 months later, I learned English… and since then, every time I see a new word, I google it and remember the meaning, that's how I expand my vocabulary.

  • I learned English and Spanish by reading books and watching series/movies and gaming mostly, only thing that I really stopped to "memorize" was some verbs. My mother-tongue is Portuguese and now I'm on my biggest challenge (and dream) that is the Japanese, thanks for your video, it's always helpful to see other people methods and insights, peace!

  • I learned English by watching Game of Thrones in English because I didnt like the German synchronisation xD first with English subs, then without.

  • I remembered more the first time by just listening… But that's just me, I guess that's how I pick up Swedish 🤷🏼 I listen to the word a few times and then I remember xxx

  • yo, can someone explain why the whale walks into the bar joke is funny? is it because whales cannot say anything or is there some hidden message in the whale murmur?

  • Americans in most states take a minimum of 2-3 years of a foreign language in school yet are most monolingual, especially if you did not have immigrant parents from a non-English country.

    Meanwhile, people abroad know english as a second language better than an american knows spanish or french simply because they probably consume american media….which is admittingly quite pervasive throughout the world.

  • People think just because they know a lot about a language they'll be speaking like a native from nothing. Speaking is practicing because you put into action all the things you have gotten so far (through reading and listening), also, speaking is also something you have to learn by speaking as much as you can.

  • 100% agree. Learned English (as my third language) in 2 years by watching anime with English dub and English YouTube channels like Extra Credits, Wendover production, Crash course as well as this channel

  • I have been studying japanese for a few months now, and I cant understand a lick of spoken japanese. But that part at around 2:00 I got 100% of it. I feel a little vindicated, but sad at the same time.

  • How does this explaing the ability to recognise the letters of words in a foreign alphabet ? Should we first learn the alphabet of the language ?

  • For those of you who said you learned English or another language by watching shows, I bet you still have to look up meaning of every word you don't understand or someone show you the meaning. If not, how did u learn the meaning of words you didn't understand.

  • I am not buying into this. Little children and babies surrounded by a foreign language do not count. The question should be which nationalities are the best language learners. I would guess Northern Europeans. Why?

  • I put off this video for like a year now because I thought I knew what it was about … but as I started learning a new language I started asking my self "how did I ever become so fluent in english even though i never used the methods to learn it as I do now" and I remembered that I basically solidified my english right here on youtube I watched soooo many american youtubers without subtiltes ( not like the feature existed back then) and not understanding what they were saying but it basically turned me into a native english speaker … I moved into turkey 6 years ago and I cant for the life of me get rid of my stuttering in turkish even tho it is close to my native tongue
    I can confirm that language is indeed all input

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