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German: massive input in Berlin

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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
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1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 65 of 295
17 January 2014 at 11:59am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

So what does all this mean? Well, as you probably remember, I think Krashen's Input Hypothesis is hugely important, but I suspect that it overlooks a few critical things. One datum that's poorly explained by the Input Hypothesis is the existence of people with very strong passive comprehension and virtually no speaking ability whatsoever, which is quite common among heritage learners in bilingual families. For example, I've got a friend who watches police dramas in Hungarian without any problem, but who doubts she could produce a grammatical sentence. She can even read Hungarian! At the very least, some people need to actually speak if they want to activate their speaking skills. This would tend to support a weak form of the Output Hypothesis.

The other datum that's poorly explained by Krashen's Input Hypothesis is that fact that "French teachers or even those who take an interest in the language itself" ultimately outperform many of their peers on tasks like gender, even after very long periods of total immersion. This would tend to support some version of the Noticing Hypothesis (not that anybody has ever rigorously stated the Noticing Hypothesis, but hey).

Of course, none of this would invalidate your general approach to German: There's no reason you can't start with huge amounts of input and see what happens. Indeed, I think that "more input" is almost always a good thing in terms of language skills.


I have to admit that although I did a double-major in psychology, the one class I didn't attend was psycholinguistics, so my understanding of these topics is pretty limited. So while I like to read papers, I am just armchair theorizing.

I guess I am just not convinced that there is a distinction in kind between passive and active skills. To me passive skills are just weaker representations in the brain that gradually become stronger and eventually active. Trying to recall some information will make a representation stronger, whether that is by speaking or reading. I don't have a sense that one approach is better than the other at strengthening a particular representation - though reading does have the advantage of allowing you to strengthen representations that are simply too weak to actively use.

It seems completely reasonable to me that I am currently, say, B2 for listening/reading, and B1 for speech. At some point I'll expect to be C1 listening/reading and B2 for speech. And so on.

My wife grew up in NW Germany and her parents spoke Platt to each other as a sort private language, but of course all their children learnt to understand it, though only one of them can speak it. At this point I can watch most movies and TV shows in German and can understand them. However, I can't speak anywhere near the level that I can understand, and of course wonder if your friend's Hungarian is bit like this.

What worries me a bit about the Input approach is that you really don't need a full grammar to understand text. So "mit die Mutter" or "mit der Mutter" or even "mit das Mutter" can all be understood as "with the mother". Or likewise "eine schöne Kind", "ein schöner Kind" or "ein schönes Kind" all can be read as "a beautiful child".

My worry is that with the Input Approach you are mostly extracting information from the text, so you can be relatively blind to the both the declinations and genders of words as you read.

It's unclear to me whether, as my German becomes stronger, that the finer structure of the the language will become more obvious to me or not. I think it's just too early to know.

So for me the big, open question is whether the Input Approach also leads to strong productive language skills.

It obviously does lead to some productive skills, but you may well need to supplement this approach with output that gets corrected, to fine-tune your output.

For me speaking is close to useless as a means to get good grammatical feedback. People won't (and I don't think should) correct your terrible grammar mistakes during a conversation. I also have no time during a conversation to think about grammar rules. Speech is simply too fast to worry about grammar if you want to have a conversation.

Writing, however is something that really allows you to think about the broader structure of a language and try to get the grammar correct, which
is then relatively easy to get accurate feedback on. This feedback may well prime you to be more sensitive to the more global structures in language when go back to reading/listening.

I suspect that some of the L2 French speakers who still make lots of grammar mistakes after long term immersion, do so because they have never done lots and lots of writing with corrective feedback.

I think a good question, perhaps without an answer, is when it is useful to start writing. Some people like to do so from the very beginning, others wait until it starts coming naturally and they have a stronger feel for the language. I don't know in terms of efficiency of learning when the best time to begin is; given learning time on any given day is finite.

Bakunin wrote:
Patrick, thanks for the link. Unfortunately it's not free. I looked through some of the abstracts of papers quoting your's, but I didn't see anything relevant for our discussion.


The paper I mentioned is free: I downloaded the pdf.

I am sorry I can't find the relevant paper I scanned a couple of weeks ago. In the introduction it referred a number of papers that discussed this gestalt learning of gender by native speakers.

There is clearly something odd going on when 5-year-olds are able to correctly identify gender and long-term L2 learners cannot. I don't believe there is something intrinsically special about young brains that makes them more sensitive to grammar. So it must be something about how we approach learning languages that is different.

Edited by patrickwilken on 17 January 2014 at 12:31pm

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Bakunin
Diglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
outerkhmer.blogspot.
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 Message 66 of 295
17 January 2014 at 12:31pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
Bakunin wrote:
Patrick, thanks for the link. Unfortunately it's not free. I looked through some of the abstracts of papers quoting your's, but I didn't see anything relevant for our discussion.


The paper I mentioned is free: I downloaded the pdf.


It's USD 30 for me, or I can rent it for USD 5.99 for a period of 24 hours. Maybe you still have a subscription to that particular journal or are accessing the journal through your university or employer? Anyway, it doesn't really matter, the abstract is pretty clear. Thanks again for checking!

patrickwilken wrote:

There is clearly something odd going on when 5-year-olds are able to correctly identify gender and long-term L2 learners cannot. I don't believe there is something intrinsically special about young brains that makes them more sensitive to grammar. So it must be something about how we approach learning languages that is different.


Indeed. I'd love to know as well. One obvious difference is that kids don't just get input but are engaged ("Can you bring me the ball?", "Which car would you like, the red or the blue one?") and have to react. Then there's a lot of that kind of communication, reinforcing grammatical structures and collocations:
Kid: Ball.
Parent: Ja, das ist Dein Ball. Willst Du mit ihm spielen?
Who would put up with this in their L2 learning? :)
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2832 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 67 of 295
17 January 2014 at 12:34pm | IP Logged 
Bakunin wrote:
patrickwilken wrote:
Bakunin wrote:
Patrick, thanks for the link. Unfortunately it's not free. I looked through some of the abstracts of papers quoting your's, but I didn't see anything relevant for our discussion.


The paper I mentioned is free: I downloaded the pdf.


It's USD 30 for me, or I can rent it for USD 5.99 for a period of 24 hours. Maybe you still have a subscription to that particular journal or are accessing the journal through your university or employer? Anyway, it doesn't really matter, the abstract is pretty clear. Thanks again for checking!


Check out this link: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/235645679_Assignment _of_grammatical_gender_by_native_speakers_and_foreign_learne rs_of_French/file/504635159108e228c5.pdf

I am not sure the paper is so interesting, but the introduction may lead you to some other papers. The paper I saw previously suggested that there are a number of researchers looking into this question currently, so it's probably a fairly active area of research.

EDIT: Actually this link leads you to ResearchGate and you need an academic email address to join. However, if you search for the paper on Google Scholar you'll get the same pdf link, but from Google Scholar you can freely download the paper. Google must be caching the paper separately on their site, and so bypassing the sign-up criteria.

Edited by patrickwilken on 17 January 2014 at 12:40pm

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emk
Diglot
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United States
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 Message 68 of 295
17 January 2014 at 2:40pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
I guess I am just not convinced that there is a distinction in kind between passive and active skills. To me passive skills are just weaker representations in the brain that gradually become stronger and eventually active. Trying to recall some information will make a representation stronger, whether that is by speaking or reading. I don't have a sense that one approach is better than the other at strengthening a particular representation - though reading does have the advantage of allowing you to strengthen representations that are simply too weak to actively use.

It seems completely reasonable to me that I am currently, say, B2 for listening/reading, and B1 for speech. At some point I'll expect to be C1 listening/reading and B2 for speech. And so on.

It's true that you've been progressing quite nicely along a B2/B1 -> C1/B2 path. And you're definitely not alone: plenty of people seem to have a tight link between understanding and speaking, ensuring that their speaking never drops too far behind.

But like I said, it only takes one counter-example to disprove the strong form of the Input Hypothesis. And I have that counter-example: my friend is essentially native/nothing in her home language. (It's entirely possible that she's really >C1/<A1, but I'm quite certain she's not B2/B1: she understands gritty police dramas without a problem, and she's convinced she can't produce entire sentences. She'd love to have B1 speech skills.) In her case, she had full native skills up through about 6 years old, and then lost her ability to speak through disuse. But she's never stopped hearing her home language.

But as I said, this is by no means a universal phenomenon. Plenty of people have a reasonably tight link between passive and active skills, and never see a divergence like this.

In my own case, I could understand my wife's home French almost completely, but I could only speak a few phrases spontaneously, and express more complicated ideas very laboriously. But then I decided to stop speaking English at home, and literally two weeks later my speaking skills had improved considerably, and four weeks after that, I could produce ungrammatical French fluently and communicate most basic ideas given a patient listener and enough time.

patrickwilken wrote:
My worry is that with the Input Approach you are mostly extracting information from the text, so you can be relatively blind to the both the declinations and genders of words as you read.

It's unclear to me whether, as my German becomes stronger, that the finer structure of the the language will become more obvious to me or not. I think it's just too early to know.

So for me the big, open question is whether the Input Approach also leads to strong productive language skills.

It obviously does lead to some productive skills, but you may well need to supplement this approach with output that gets corrected, to fine-tune your output.

For me speaking is close to useless as a means to get good grammatical feedback.

I have a half-baked hypothesis that the primary feedback loop is internal: I open my mouth, I say something, and my brain immediately says, "Huh? That is so not French. I know what French sounds like, and it doesn't sound anything like that." In this hypothesis, there are two "modules":

1. French comprehension. Critically, this module also tells me whether an utterance sounds odd.

2. French production. This can splice up various bits of remembered input and make substitutions, but it's basically just a hypothesis-generating module.

So module (2) tries to splice something up, and module (1) says "Sounds normal" or "Dude, you sound weird." Sometimes this process is sub-vocalized; other times I need to actually speak aloud.

So if module (1) is really strong, it's possible to tune up module (2) quite quickly. And in some people, I think this actually happens entirely sub-vocally without any particular conscious effort. But in other cases, it's necessary to actually use module (2) in earnest.

The other place where this whole process can break down would be an underdeveloped module (1). Imagine, for a moment, that an adult English speaker can't really hear the difference between "-on" and "-onne" in French (a common enough problem). In this case, they can't accurately perceive all the gender information in the input.

patrickwilken wrote:
There is clearly something odd going on when 5-year-olds are able to correctly identify gender and long-term L2 learners cannot. I don't believe there is something intrinsically special about young brains that makes them more sensitive to grammar. So it must be something about how we approach learning languages that is different.

Neural "critical periods" do exist, and some of the biology is actually well-understood. There's even this clever paper, where scientists actually reopened a known critical period in humans via administering Valproate. And for a preliminary study, it actually looks fairly well done.

As far as language-learning goes, many linguists believe that there's a critical period for accent which starts closing as early as 6 years old for some people, and finishes closing by puberty in 95% of the population. And then there are the anglophones who've been immersed in France from age 18 until retirement, and who speak the language very proficiently, but who still mess up gender to a much greater extent than a native child.

But I think that most people, especially in the English-speaking world, overstate the importance of these critical periods. You don't need a flawlessly native accent to speak a language extremely well. And the gender problems are certainly not insurmountable, especially given a bit of active attention from time to time. So if there are critical periods, I don't think they're major obstacles.

(And it really pains me to resort to "Just So" stories, but let's talk about evolution. Adult language learning is adaptive, if only because so many band-level societies kidnap their "brides" and—among people like the old Norse—their house-slaves. Under these circumstances, it would be a enormous evolutionary advantage for adults to be able to learn a language to a very respectable level.)
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2832 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 69 of 295
17 January 2014 at 3:30pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

But like I said, it only takes one counter-example to disprove the strong form of the Input Hypothesis. And I have that counter-example: my friend is essentially native/nothing in her home language. (It's entirely possible that she's really >C1/<A1, but I'm quite certain she's not B2/B1: she understands gritty police dramas without a problem, and she's convinced she can't produce entire sentences. She'd love to have B1 speech skills.) In her case, she had full native skills up through about 6 years old, and then lost her ability to speak through disuse. But she's never stopped hearing her home language.

But as I said, this is by no means a universal phenomenon. Plenty of people have a reasonably tight link between passive and active skills, and never see a divergence like this.

In my own case, I could understand my wife's home French almost completely, but I could only speak a few phrases spontaneously, and express more complicated ideas very laboriously. But then I decided to stop speaking English at home, and literally two weeks later my speaking skills had improved considerably, and four weeks after that, I could produce ungrammatical French fluently and communicate most basic ideas given a patient listener and enough time.


I am not sure what the Strong Input hypothesis is exactly. That everybody could get to C2 without ever speaking or writing but only by listening/reading?

That seems almost like a strawman-type argument. I don't think even Krashen would argue for that.

My background makes it very hard for me to take single case examples too seriously. I don't trust even interesting peer-reviewed papers that come out of labs until they are replicated by different people under different circumstances. But I am happy to grant there is a small subset of people who can apparently comprehend a language at a reasonably high level but not speak it.

There are lots of uninteresting reasons why your friend might not be able to speak Hungarian, but follow crime shows.

Perhaps she isn't as strong as you think? Today I just finished watching the first season of "The Sons of Anarchy" without any problem, but spoken production is not that great and I would rate myself at about B2 in comprehension. In other shows/movies I get something like 98% comprehension - or at least it feels that way.

Perhaps she is shy? I taught a class in English some years ago in Magdeburg. The students could understand my fast Australian English lectures in cognitive science, are were at least B2 and mostly (perhaps all) at C1 level in English. However, I could hardly get them to talk (seriously 3 out of 30 for a whole semester - despite constantly begging them to speak - to the point I tried to condition them with chocolate rewards whenever anyone opened their mouth to ask a question). They didn't speak because they didn't want to appear stupid or were too shy, not because they couldn't - in other situations they spoke English fine.

Or perhaps more interestingly your friend has comprehension, but really hasn't developed good production skills for the reason I said before: she doesn't need a fine grasp of Hungarian grammar to understand what people are saying - you need a weaker grammar for comprehension than for production.

I think this third reason is the most interesting, and I think it would also undercut a strong Input Hypothesis for different reasons than the one you've given.

Or perhaps you are right that you need to speak for some period to convert passive comprehension into active output skills, but I don't know how we dissociate any of these possibilities without real research.

And of course, in terms of single-case trials there is the example of Richard Boydell who because of paralysis couldn't write/speak until late in life, but was able to learn English to a high-level, and once he had the means to communicate was able to do so at a high-level: http://antimoon.com/how/input-boydell.htm which seems to run directly opposite to your friend's example.

-------------

For the record: My own belief (which is open to revision) is that you'll never get to C2 without massive input. Every C2 speaker I know (and I have met quite a few) all were exposed to lots of and lots of input and many, perhaps all, were avid readers.

That's not to say that output is unimportant. I think it is, I just don't know how much and when.

-------------

A pure form of my own study program would be: read/listen as much as possible to get comprehension to a high-level in reading/listening and then see what sorts of problems I have with production and work on these problems actively.

High-level comprehension would be to be able to read a newspaper/novel with 99% comprehension of words.

I say "pure" as I not following this program exactly: I am already starting to speak and will start to write fairly soon. However, I am not super-worried about the output side. My emphasis is strongly on comprehension.

Edited by patrickwilken on 17 January 2014 at 4:02pm

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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2832 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 70 of 295
17 January 2014 at 11:13pm | IP Logged 
By chance yesterday I was walking past a new bookstore and went inside, and started talking to owner and he mentioned that they were having a reading the next day of the German translation of a 1933 book on the lyrebird. It's quite a weird coincidence as I have seen lyrebirds three times in my life - they are relative rare and shy - and live in the Dandenong Hills around Melbourne where my father was born. They are remarkable creatures, the male looks something like a peacock with a beautiful feathered tale (it's called a Leierschwantz in German - and the 'Lyre' in English name refers to the tale's appearance). The male imitates extremely accurately lots of other birds as part of a love song to lure a mate.

Taking this as a sign I went to the reading tonight, and was surprised that I was able to understand the reading very well, even though the reader was speaking at a fast rate, on a somewhat specialized topic.

Apart from this being a fun night, this shows that my German is finally getting to a point where I go out and really start engaging in the society, which is a great relief and encouragement.

Interestingly in the talk there was a discussion of the lyrebird in Aboriginal mythology. According to myth in the Dreamtime a party of all the animals got out of hand, and ended in a brawl with all the animals fighting each other, all except the lyrebird who tried to keep peace, and because of this fight all the other animals forgot each other's tongues and could communicate only in their own language - all except lyrebird who retained the ability to speak to all, which is a neat variation of the Tower of Babel in Aboriginal mythology. I realized later this makes the lyrebird the ultimate polyglot. Perhaps the Leierschwantz would be a good symbol for aspiring polyglots worldwide.

The book can be bought from Amazon.de:

Menura: Prächtiger Vogel Leierschwanz (2011) - Rainer G. Schmidt (Herausgeber, Übersetzer), Ambrose G. H. Pratt (Autor)




You can hear the real thing here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR_KqWzx_sU

Edited by patrickwilken on 17 January 2014 at 11:32pm

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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2832 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 71 of 295
20 January 2014 at 2:36pm | IP Logged 
For the last 20 months I have been using the Collins German-English pop-up dictionary on my Kindle. For 8 Pounds this was easily the best investment (along with the Kindle) I made towards my language learning.

I've just made the big switch over to the Duden mono-German dictionary that comes bundled free with the Kindle (they also include good English, Spanish and French mono-dictionaries).

It's a great feeling to finally not have to continually switch to English every time I don't know a word in a book I am reading. While I found the Collins dictionary relatively non-intrusive, looking up words in German while reading German really has a qualitatively different and better feel to it.

Edited by patrickwilken on 20 January 2014 at 3:08pm

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ummagumma
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IrelandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*
Studies: German

 
 Message 72 of 295
20 January 2014 at 4:45pm | IP Logged 
Snap!

I have a Kindle and the Collins pop up dictionary. I find it great and makes the whole
reading process easier.

Thanks for bringing our attention to the Duden mono German dictionary. I will consider
transitioning but obviously for this to be practical I have to be confident I can get a
proper understanding, repeatedly, of the German translation. But as you mention, with the
dictionary being free, I have nothing to lose by trying it out.

Thanks for the tip.


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