One of the hardest and most frustrating parts of language learning is that initial leap between learning individual, isolated sentences, and being able to understand what you’re reading or hearing. As much as I’m in favor of learning proper grammar and syntax, when it comes to comprehension and expression, there’s only so much a course and teach you. This is where it becomes critical to have some type of exposure and immersion in the language.
The way to develop this immersion is through input. “Input” is written or spoken material all in the target language, that is (ideally) only one step above your current level. Personally, I always had a hard time judging where that “one step” really is. But in general, you don’t want it to be so easy that there is no challenge, but not so difficult that you’re relying on keyword to keyword to have minimal comprehension. There should also be a lot of input. In many language learning circles, the thought is that having enough input will help in making you able to produce speech.
Once I realized I had passed through the initial “beginner” stage in German, I realized I needed to have listening material, especially because I don’t have a German speaking community in my area. I ended up choosing the tv series “Roseanne” and am now almost finished with the series. To better show what you can look for in choosing listening material, here are my reasons for choosing this particular series:
-I love the show! I’ve seen this series in English so many times that I have particular dialogues memorized. This is perhaps the most important part; the input should be enjoyable given the amount you need.
-There are 9 seasons. Having 9 seasons provides a lot of material. Again, because most of my listening opportunities are through watching tv or movies, 9 seasons provides a great amount of material.
-The dialogue is in standard speech without a strong regional accent. In some languages this will be more important than others, but having a neutral accent makes comprehension much easier. There are also minimal pop culture references needing to be dubbed into German.
-The show discusses many interesting subjects. One of the reasons I enjoy this series is because it has episodes discussing a lot of interesting issues that don’t always get brought up on tv. It discusses domestic violence, religion, racism, and several other subjects. Having these topics exposes you to critical vocabulary that you don’t necessarily use, but every educated native speaker will most likely know.
Now, you might be wondering why I chose a dubbed series instead of a native series (perhaps with subtitles). There are a few reasons for this. With a dubbed US series, I’m choosing material that is already familiar and entertaining to me. This might not automatically happen with a real German tv show. First, I would be taking a chance with the entertainment factor. Sometimes it’s hard to automatically become interested in a show when you don’t have first hand experience with the culture. I’m also incredibly picky about tv shows in English, and I can’t imagine I would be any better in German! As for choosing dubbed material over subtitled, my reason is mostly due to my desire to improve listening. I have a lot of reading material, so my focus for the year was to have better listening skills.
I hope that this entry has provided some insight into what input is, and what you can look for in determining the right input.