Monday, January 24, 2011

breaking the silence

Here it is! My first time to speak after an extended silent period.
I'll refrain from criticizing myself and let you all criticize me instead.

Of course, I've kept my promise to record the first conversation. I will record more when I can.  This video is what I call a language time capsule. I'd like to thank Rony Gao again for allowing me to record and upload my very first Chinese conversation. You'll be seeing him again. I should also mention he is a tutor at LingQ.

Yes, LingQ saved the day! I could not find many new contacts on Skype. The search function of Skype has become useless for finding new friends, as you cannot limit it to online people only. I sent out a bunch of hellos, and all of them went "pending..." because the people in the results list were not online even though I set my search function to search for people in SkypeMe mode. In fact, I learned that Skype has recently removed SkypeMe from it's PC version.

The reviews are already pouring in on YouTube (sort of.) I look forward to someone bashing me and telling me they aren't impressed. I haven't put this video up to impress anybody. It just says this is where I am on January 24, 2011 with my Chinese. Let's see what the next few months bring. Happy New Year!


  1. I respect your bravery to try this experiment and to put yourself under public scrutiny. However, I think we can say that this experiment hasn't had the effects you have wished for. You would have made much more progress if you had used some other study methods to compliment your TV learning. But the experiment itself is very valuable and should put an end to factless speculations on whether just watching TV does or doesn't work in order to learn a language.

  2. Phyrex, the wished-effects are having! I am much further along than if I had spent my time looking for other study methods. I will write more blog posts in the future to explain why. Thanks for watching and commenting!

  3. Do you think so? I started maybe learning Chinese maybe half a year before you did, and I understood everything the other guy said, and probably would have been able to answer as well. Your pronunciation was actually pretty good, but you apparently didn't understand most of what he said? Well, I'm looking forward to your explanations.

  4. Correction: I understood most of what he said, but not all. You have to be able to understand ALL to be able to answer. You also have to know the words you will use to answer with. I don't know how to say what my job is nor anything that is related, so I couldn't answer that question even though I knew exactly what was asked. This is just the first conversation I've had. If I had started at say the 1500 hour mark instead, then my speaking would be different today. But I'm not in a hurry like most. There's no rule that says you have to wait for 2,000 hours before you start speaking. That was just my decision and I stuck with it. If you feel that judging the TV-method or any other natural language learning approach based upon the first conversation a person attempts is justifiable, then please go ahead. I won't remind you of it later when you change your mind. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Keith, you are not further along. No way. Not even close. You are still at a beginner level, even in your comprehension. This should not be happening after two years. To me, this is more than ample proof that this experiment failed. I did 1 year of Mandarin, over 15 years ago, and I understood some of the questions you didn't get. How can that possibly demonstrate the effectiveness of a method after 2000 hours?

  6. I am sure Alexandre did not see my comment I posted just before he posted. I am just as sure it wouldn't change his mind either. Even though I like Alexandre so much, he has trouble understanding what I write. I said I am much further along. I have over 2000 hours of listening to a wide variety of Chinese. I would not have this many hours in if I had been studying. I would not have even half. I would be lucky to have completed one-fourth as much time on Chinese.

    Alexandre tries to make it sound like he can understand more Chinese than I do. He does not possibly comprehend my Chinese comprehension. I do not know his either.

    All I can say is that I enjoy watching TV dramas in Chinese. I have acquired a good level of comprehension. I do not worry about my speaking skills. I am quite satisfied with where I am.

  7. i am peter, according to my experience, i think face to face vedio conversation is the most effective way to learn chinese/english or any other language online.

  8. Keith, there is indeed a point I didn't understand until now. Perhaps this had been made clear in previous posts that I didn't read; sorry if that's the case.

    If I'm not mistaken, your point is that had you not used this method, you'd never have put in 2000 hours. In other words, you are not claiming to be better at the language because of the method, but rather that no other method would have allowed you to put in so many hours.

    Whenever people discuss language methods, the goal is always to maximize the results as per a given number of hours. What you are implying is that putting in more hours -- whichever the nature -- will inevitably bring in some magical advantages that will surface later. This is also what many other posters seem to expect.

    The problem is that it doesn't work like that. Dedicated study is more effective than passive listening. Having a conversation is more effective than passively listening to another conversation. I don't have references or experiments to prove what I'm saying, of course, so claiming this from experience is not a very strong argument. However, it should be very easy for you to prove me wrong. Which is why I'm following your experiment.

  9. Alexander, as far as I know this isn't a passive against active approach. It is an order question.

    If I understand, Keith is following this order:





    This is more natural. However, the ALG approach uses 800 hours of experiential listening and not 2,000 hours listening. Keith approach is much more extreme.

  10. Keith, I think you have a great accent which is what I would expect from this TV method. I think that's why I have a good Arabic accent. That can only be achieved with lots of listening. I'm not sure what the next step is from here, but I believe that you understand a lot more than you are able to reply to. I think if you were to start doing other things with the language at this point your acquisition of the language would be very quick and everything would be very logical to you after having been exposed to it for so long.

    Maybe if you watched some shows intended for children you would pick up a lot of the more basic vocabulary that shows geared toward adults don't focus on.

    Let me tell you that I've very glad you made this video and I hope you will continue to make them as you progress! If you keep this up I think one day Chinese will be as natural to you as English is. Thanks very much for doing this!

  11. Keith,

    I am a lingq member and have commented there on your thread. Again, I respect your courage and passion but I really don't think your method is that effective. I do think that I have a pretty good sense of your comprehension. You already had a problem with Rony's opening question regarding your afternoon plans, you didn't understand when he asked you whether you had lived in China, you even didn't understand when he asked you which city in Japan you live in. You seemed not familiar with the very basic Chinese word for city (城市).

    I started to learn Chinese in summer 2008 and have been living in China since October 2009. I am sure I have put in much less listening time before I came to China, with much beter results. It really is hard to understand for me how you can have a good understanding when watching Chinese TV.

    I think the most effective listening technique is using transcripts to really get at those unknown sounds and memorize them. And of course saving words and phrases and reviewing them helps a lot.


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  13. Hi, Keith. I'm a native speaker of Chinese from Taiwan. I've been using pretty much the same method you used to learn English. After watching this clip, I have some comments.

    Congratulations! You have a good Beijing accent. It sounds like you've lived in China for a long time. The China guy spoke slowly. However, you coudn't uderstand several basic phrases he said.On top of that, you made several mistakes, and you didn't speak fluently. I think that's because you watched too many ancient costume dramas. I must say these dramas are very difficult and formal. We don't speak that way. People in China don't, either. You didn't watch Shakespeare dramas or something when you were a little kid, right?

    Although your speaking skill is still in infancy, I'm sure your method actually works!

  14. Hey Great Job! This is a great. You did great. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I don't think any amount of listening will let you start talking without any problems (ever hear an infant talk? they stink!). I DO think that you've laid a massive foundation for yourself, and if you now begin speaking as often as you were listening I bet you'll rapidly surpass most other learners in accuracy of speech. You certainly know exactly how you should sound now.

    Just my 2 cents.

  16. Firstly, kudos on having the balls to do this in public. I know your hard work and willingness to share is very helpful to fellow language learners like me.

    As someone learning by immersion in Japan using all four inputs and outputs, I've always wondered which combination is the most effective for improvement. For example, a lot of time gets invested by Japanese students studying English, primarily by reading and listening. Often the results don't get to the level you'd expect, given the time involved.

    Not speaking Mandarin but reading the comments here, it sounds like your first showing was not as impressive as you might have hoped. Still, here's hoping that once those synapses start getting solidified with more speaking practice, you might see faster-then-average improvement. I'd love to see another video after 10, 20 and 30 conversation attempts.

  17. Congratulations! What you have done is impressive! I am not saying your level of Mandarin. I am talking about your achievement in completing this experiment.

    Your accent is not bad. This confirms the study done by ALG. Your comprehension level is still low. This concludes the TV method cannot produce good comprehension skill.

    We have to be careful here. Keith's TV method is not the same as watching TV. I still believe watching TV is a good way to learn a language (far better than studying). But Keith designed the experiment such that everything has to be figured out from the context right from the beginning. I doubt the effectiveness of this approach.

    I think this is a very important experiment. As a counter example, it reconfirms the importance of comprehensible input in language learning.

  18. "I said I am much further along. I have over 2000 hours of listening to a wide variety of Chinese. I would not have this many hours in if I had been studying."

    Who says you couldn't have studied at the same time? You could have listened to content while reading along (even movie transcripts), having a glance at a the vocabulary, even the occasional grammar explanation...

    To me, this "supposed" shortcut seems to be a long way, but to each his own.

  19. Hey Plumflower, I have never ever stated that it was a shortcut. Don't let other people mislead you. I realize there are a lot of readers who don't understand what this is all about.

    So, you're suggesting that while I was watching TV shows, I could have distracted myself by looking at words. Sorry, natural learning doesn't work that way.

  20. Friedemann, in your comment you said that: "You seemed not familiar with the very basic Chinese word for city (城市)" Is this really proof that the TV method does not work?

    Right now Keith has listened to enough Chinese to be compared to at most a 2 - 3 year old in China. When you were 2 could you have answered what city you lived in? Well, possibly yes. But would you blame a 2-year-old if he didn't know what city he lived in? No. Well, I should think not, he's only 2!

    You would never say that a 2-year-old has failed at learning his native language because of a lack of understanding of how to use the language. So why has Keith failed? To the looks of it "Everything is going according to plan Muhahahahaaa!" His experiment is not over, it's not even half way over!

    I think the next step for Keith should be to go out on the town with a bunch of Chinese people and see how much Chinese ends up flowing out of his mouth after a few drinks. It's always exciting when something comes out that you didn't know you could say.

  21. @Josh -- Now, that's just ridiculous. A one-year-old doesn't talk yet, and any language learner can speak more than that after a year. In the case of closely related languages, a lot of people succeed at being fluent in a language in less than a year. You're comparing incomparable things in an effort to justify an ill-conceived method.

  22. Ok, it's true that someone learning a second language cannot really be compared equally to a native speaker. But, the TV method is following the same way of learning as a native speaker. The two language learners will definitely not have the same experience while learning a language, and in the end the native speaker is more successful. But natural language learning methods try to come as close to a native speaker's learning path as possible. So I don't see why they shouldn't be compared. One is modeled after the other. A model always compares it's results to the real thing.

  23. The TV method is NOT "following the same way of learning as a native speaker" --- kids do NOT learn a language if you just sit them in front of a TV. They need human interaction, lots of it, and a humiliating amount of trial and error.

  24. I used the TV method to learn thai a few months ago, and I failed quickly. 50 hours of listening to learn maybe 15/20 words was too frustrating for me. That's why I've developped my own strategy to learn a language.
    But I'm sure that the TV method is very powerful!
    Keep talking with tutors at Lingq (a great website btw!) and record another video in a few weeks.
    I guess some people will be amazed.... ;-)

  25. josh,

    if this is only one big experiment and Keith has the time to spare he is free to do whatever he wants to do. But as Alexandre said, I don't think we learn as a child even if we try to recreate an environment similar to what a child finds itself in when it learns. One big difference between a child and an adult is of course our intellect which we actually can and should take advantage of when we learn as adults.

    I spoke Chinese like Keith or better after only 3 months of learning (my routine included focused listening with transcripts and simple conversations with my teacher). I don't see how anyone can seriously consider using the TV-approach based on Keith's results. I even go so far as saying that I don't think he is able to understand more than 10% from the audio of authentic Chinese content (TV-news, reports, movies etc.). He might be able to infer something from hints in the video or be the actors acting but I would bet money that his comprehension of authentic content is almost zero, which is kind of sad after that investment of time.


  26. Everyone knows that anyone can study a language for three months and be pretty good at it.

    Results from the experiment so far: Straight after watching a bunch of foreign TV, you will not be as good as someone who has intensely studied the same language for three months.

    Your Hypothesis (not to be confused with a result):
    I don't think we learn as a child even if we try to recreate an environment similar to what a child finds itself in when it learns.

    This is what Keith is trying to find out. He's "done" with the TV watching part of the TV method. If he were to put in 3 months of intense studying or conversation now, how much better or worse would he be compared to you after your three months? He has forced himself to learn similar to an infant, now will this help him in the future? All I'm trying to say is that, it is too early to prove or disprove the method, especially when he hasn't even finished it yet. We are using science here man. Science!

  27. @Keith, phyrex, Alexandre & Friedemann,

    Laufer (1989) and Nation (2001), and many others
    have shown that unless we have about 98-99% coverage of the vocabulary of the other words in the text the chance that an unknown word will be learnt is MINIMAL. This means that at minimum there should be one new word in 40, or 1 in 50 for the right conditions for learning unknown language from context. The figures for learning from listening appear to be even higher due to the transitory nature of listening.




    Meeting a word once is not enough for acquisition to take place. To really learn a word you'd have to meet it say 20-30 times. To meet all the 5,000 most frequent words in English for example, 20 times, you’d need to read or listen to 2,642,857 words (10,571 pages). Can you do all that, can you meet them 20 times in a different context to acquire not just words and phrases but the shades of meaning, the nuances, the word’s collocations and colligations (the semantic or grammatical relationships between words, for example why we say a beautiful woman but not a *beautiful man, or why we say blonde hair, not *yellow hair; depend on someone to do something not *depend of someone doing something, and be obsessed
    with something not *do obsessed by something) etc, by "using transcripts to really get at those unknown sounds and memorize them. And of course saving words and phrases and reviewing them."?
    You'll reach HSK Elementary C ( and fossilize on that level for the rest of your life. Unfortunately.


    while I don't agree with Laufer (1989) and Nation (2001) that we need about 98-99% coverage for acquisition to take place, I'm quite sure that we need at least 95%. I've successfully acquired the most common 3000-5000 words in Italian, Russian, Spanish and French reading extensively easier texts (about 10 unknown words per page) and "successfully not acquired them" in German reading more difficult German books (20-30 and even more unknown words per page). The tragical thing is that I've spent 5 times more hours on my failure with German than I've spent on any of the other languages mentioned above.

    At last, I don't know any Chinese :o), so all these explanations are based on the critical comments of the visitors here like: "Keith, you are not further along. No way. Not even close. You are still at a beginner level, even in your comprehension.", "You seemed not familiar with the very basic Chinese word for city (城市)", "I don't see how anyone can seriously consider using the TV-approach based on Keith's results."
    If you can deny those then forget about my comment, I withdraw it. I don't understand any Chinese. :o)

    All the best

  28. @josh,

    we DO NEED science in the second language acquisition, regardless of those negative characters on the blogosphere who try to deny that all the time.

  29. @Igor,

    I agree entirely with your second paragraph (the one directed at me) so I don't really know which statement of mine you took issue with. In learning Chinese without a transcript transcript you cannot even isolate and look up unknown words. Of course afterwards you need to hear them over and over again in many different contexts in order to really internalise these words.

    I also agree that science has its place in second language acquisition, I only doubt that the TV approach is a meaningful scientific experiment.

  30. Hi Igor. Nice to see you back here at my blog. Yes, I do deny all of the judgments that have been made. I don't mind though, because I understand where they are coming from and I realize that they don't have the necessary knowledge to make an accurate judgment.

    Thanks to josh for posing the arguments that I was thinking. The words that Friedemann thinks are basic words are not. They are not the first words that one would learn naturally. Naturally, you would first learn the words and phrases that you encounter most often. That's why I have a good understanding of TV dramas, not TV news, which I have never watched and would not make good beginner material.

    As josh has said, I am in the early age range of a Chinese speaker. Say, 2 to 4 years old. Do they understand news? Of course not. Do people ask them what they do for a living or if they have ever lived in this or that country? No, and this is not the kind of topic repeated on the dramas I have been watching.

    I wanted to learn words or phrases in a natural order, not a forced textbook order. I do not claim that this is a scientific study, nor a perfect setup. Can anyone learn this way? Well, obviously I am. If my rate of progress doesn't please someone, it's not my problem. I am not disappointed with it at all. I kept all of this time just to when I was paying attention to what I was watching so that any learning could be directly attributed to the one activity.

    Now I have started speaking, and as my ability improves I am sure other people will make their own claims.

    I hope Friedemann and I both keep learning Chinese. I look forward to seeing what he has to say next. Thanks to everyone.

  31. Keith,

    thanks for your comments. Kids don't understand the news because of their intellect. We cannot dissociate our adult's intellect from our language acquisition process.

    In what kind of TV-dramas/movies would words like "town" or "language" or "life/live" or "family" (all Chinese words you didn't know) be considered rare ones? If these are rare, which are the common ones that you must all know then?

    Here is a sample of phrases/questions you didn't understand:

    Where do you live?
    What languages do you speak?
    Could you say again please?
    ...then we can more often chat like this.

    All Chinese phrases Rony used were extremely basic, high frequency phrases and were spoken as slowly and clearly as it gets and you still didn't understand them. It is an impossibility for you to have any significant degree of comprehension of Chinese dramas/movies and I am willing to bet money on that.

    There are two possibilities here: One is that you are fooling yourself about the degree of comprehension you have or, two, that you fooled us all with this video, pretending you are much weaker than you really are.

    One final question: Why did you wear those glasses?

  32. Keith,

    here is the challenge: We connect via skype and I play back a sequence of a Chinese drama from a genre of your choice and you tell me what they said. Are you up for this?

  33. From an English word frequence list compiled from TV-scripts and movies:

    life: 139
    family: 250
    town: 403

    According to that list the word "town", ranked #403 in English is even more frequent than words like: word, sit, everyone, party, between, fun, sister...

    Would a typical patriotic Chinese WW2 drama be ok for our comprehension challenge?

  34. This is beginning to sound a lot like a religious debate.

    On one side, people keep waiting for the linguistic Messiah to show up, saying those who don't believe will be smitten, and that they must hold on to their faith. They've invested so much, they can't imagine being wrong.

    On the other, there are those who claim that it defies common sense, that there is no proof, that you are wasting your time.

    I can't help wonder why you thought this would work in the first place, why you resorted to such extreme measures to learn something you could have learnt through ordinary means.

    You are free to conduct your own experiments, but the problem is that, such as a preacher would, you are insisting that this is the best method and that it works, despite having nothing to offer but proof of the contrary.

  35. Hi Keith,

    I have never ever stated that it was a shortcut.

    OK, maybe not a shortcut, but supposedly "better" than studies - you're saying that TV got you further than if you'd studied (a statement I just can't believe).

    So, you're suggesting that while I was watching TV shows, I could have distracted myself by looking at words.

    Not while watching TV shows, but while listening. I don't know how much language content there is during one hour of TV, but definitely a lot less than during one hour of podcasts/lessons/interviews/etc. So, while listening to that kind of content, you could also have been following a transcript, a translation (even a Google translation could have helped), a vocabulary list.

    Sorry, natural learning doesn't work that way.

    The last time I checked, TV didn't give any feedback (which is what kids get from their family), so I highly doubt that TV is "natural learning".

  36. I'm also struggling to see the immediate connection between watching TV series and natural language acquisition. For a beginner, and often even for an intermediate learner, TV series are largely incomprehensible. Acquisition, however, takes place when we have a good comprehension of what's going on. The ALG guys work hard to make sure that their students have 80%+ comprehension from day 1, which is certainly not the case with watching TV series. If you watch one of the beginner videos they put up on youtube, it's pretty obvious that this is entirely different to watching TV series. Since there's so much native material out there that is suitable for natural language acquisition, I have a hard time to understand why you need to focus on TV series.

  37. In response to Alexandre's "I can't help wonder why you thought this would work in the first place, why you resorted to such extreme measures to learn something you could have learnt through ordinary means."

    The idea is that normal learning methods usually produce linguists with bad accents and who have to go "through" their first language to say anything in their new language. They don't think in the second language. The idea behind learning the way Keith is learning is to make the new language very natural and actually experience the language instead of making 1 to 1 connections with flash cards and vocab lists. I think we'd all agree that memorizing that x = y doesn't cement the word in your mind the way seeing the word used does.

  38. Real life exposure usually allows people to break free from their mother tongue. Watching TV does nothing to expose learners to real life situations where there is a need to express onself. You don't become fluent by sitting in from of a TV or a textbook. You do it by talking to real people.

  39. Alexandre, have you ever tried to educate yourself on this topic or Benny's blog is your only source of info, kind of "bible" as you prefer to say?

    "You don't become fluent by sitting in from of a TV or a textbook. You do it by talking to real people"

    Yeah right, and we should buy THAT? Especially me, a typical example of the effectiveness of "the TV method". I write this now, thanks to the Hollywood movies you know, no classes, no courses, nothing. ;)

  40. Keith, I didn't know what to say when I first watched the video. So I kept silent for a while and listen to your and people's respond. But now I think it's time for me to say something.

    If the video is to demonstrate the result of 2,000-hour input of TV, I think it would be a pretty negative one. Some commenters do spot out the comprehension problems you have with some very simple and common questions the Chinese speaker poses. BTW, I don't really fancy the blind encouragement the he is giving. (Is it because he is a teacher?) This is not a language classroom, no need for the tricks we usually use on sucking students. And I don't like how he slows down when you don't understand. If you don't understand the first place, you won't. It's simply not the problem of speed. And slowing down like that makes his speech much less authentic and natural, which goes against the belief the whole method is based on.

    If the video is to only to show a true state of your capacity in listening and speaking, It's an honest performance. I applaud for your courage.

  41. Yes, because EVERYONE knows that the results of the FIRST try determine the results of all subsequent results. We also ALL know DIFFERENT ROUTES going to the sae place should have the SAME RESULTS at the same time stage. Throw your hands up, its over. TV Method fail!

  42. Blackbrich, just to make it clear that I never said TV Method failed. You said that. And I didn't say anything about sub-sequent results. As long as Keith is enjoying his method and learning, I think he is doing just fine. But it doesn't mean that we are forbidden to even realize the fact that we suck from time to time at any stage of our acquisition process. On the other hand, I wouldn't have had the courage to show myself on this imperfect stage, which is why I admire Keith.

  43. No, matter which side Alexandre takes, I think he does spot out the issue: some people are looking at Keith as the Messiah. They want to believe in the method but are not getting the result they want from Keith. The thing is that this method is something you have to actually try by yourself before you know the result. Everyone who experiences TV-method would have a different process in details, such as the genre and times of repetition. Nobody can exactly copy everything Keith went through in the 2,000 hours. I tend to believe that people fail in language learning only because they give up too soon on whatever method they use. And I also think Keith's purpose of promoting the TV-method (Keith, corrct me if I'm wrong) is to provide an alternative for the group of people who give up too soon because they havn't found the method suit them.

  44. The video is not to demonstrate the result of 2,000 hours of TV input. It is just to show how I did on my first try at having a real conversation. How many of those kinds of videos do you see?

    I didn't ask nor want Rony to slow his speech down. I knew that wouldn't help.

    The TV method is not just for the purpose of learning a language. The TV method aims to get as much input as possible without creating any bad habits that you would need to break later on. Natural learning takes place from observing what is going on. Interactivity or feedback is not necessary to learn. Just watching and guessing enables us to learn. If it didn't, I would still be at the same point as I was when I started the TV method.

    My intention is to learn Chinese in such a way, that the final result allows me to effortlessly speak the language exactly the same as a native. I believe that watching what is going on is very important along with the massive amount of exposure to the spoken language.

    I think people who have a tendency to give up too early will not be suitable for the TV method unless they hold the beliefs that I do. If you're looking for quick results, the TV method is not going to be able to satisfy you. In my case, I am thinking about the final results. How good can I be at Chinese? Most other people are just looking for the quickest route to communication.

  45. Keith,
    While people are debating, I would like to know more about your progress since your first conversation. Have you had your second conversation yet? What is your criteria in speaking going forward? Eg., How often? Must be with native or not?

  46. Edwin, I have spoken a little bit since the first conversation. I have found it difficult to find people to speak with. Like I mentioned, Skype search has not been useful for this, as nearly no one replies. I will speak as often as I can but that does not mean it will be a lot. I want to speak to someone who does not want to translate things for me. At this stage, I think a native would be best since it would be frustrating for the other person since I can't speak well.

  47. Keith, I hope you are not referring to me when you talk about people who are looking for quick results, cus I'm not one of them.

    I thing some people are having so strong reaction (very often negative) about this video is that they can not feel what you have learnt or the progrress you have made unless they are in the method.

    I knew very well that when I passed my 1,000 hour in French, I'd learnt so many words and expressions which I could never have otherwise (to a degree that you could pick out the completely new words from a very fast yet native speech).This is a very subtle but clear sense of achievement that only belongs to the person in the method.

    However, 1,000 hour (or 2,000 hour for Chinese) is not enough to take you everywhere. You still can not speak with ease, you still can not comprehend other kinds of topics. What's holding you on is the progress (which again is enormous) you have made. Of course, whether you care to explain this to people who havn't tried the method, it's all up to you, Keith.

    Finally, I do agree that people looking for quick results are not suitable for the method.

  48. And slow results are better than quick results how?

  49. Herman, also to clear up things. I've read down to your comment, and some people have called it a failure. I commented on the overwhelming tone of the replies that I did read, which were in fact all of them. I apologize for replying directly below you and making it seem as if you had said it when you in fact did not.

    As a matter of fact you had one of the more reasonable criticisms.

  50. If you don't have a certain timetable then quick or slow results won't matter. Though it's not proven slow results MAY be higher quality than the quality of quick results. That is what this experiment will find out.

  51. Alexandre,
    There's an old saying that I learned when I was like five years old:
    "Slow and steady wins the race."
    In real life, this does not apply to everything, but it does apply to some things. Let's wait and see if it applies to learning languages.

    Also, if you were to read the Ancient Bable Scriptures of Aradamius written by God himself, you would know about the following prophesy. Srat, chapter 3, verse 29 says,

    "Of all who speak, one man will acquire a the new tongue of the oreint. This gift shall be granted from a box. This man will be called Keithazoride of Nihondromadus. He shall come fourth and the whoathing of others will become unwaffled."

    It's not LIKE a religious debate, it IS a religious debate.

  52. Well the watching TV method DOES work for certain people!

    My wife can speak extremely accurate and fluent Mandarin all from watching TV dramas and could do it very well after about 2 months.

    How? She is from Hong Kong, can speak Cantonese natively, can read the sub-titles perfectly, and she is simply associating a sound with the chinese sentences she can already produce with a different pronunciation.

    In this situation, the TV method works! That's why tons of Chinese people will tell you to watch TV to learn X language, since it's the method they used to learn other dialects.

    Now, I admire Igor's comment. If this is Igor from Makedonija, then thanks, you've taught me something new today.

  53. @Milan


    You won't tell me to f... o.. again?! I'm so surprised!

    It's so strange that people are listening to what I have to say on some blogs even if I don't try that hard like here and abuse me no matter how hard I try, no matter how much time I spent collecting materials to support my claims on others. I guess it all depends on the host and his "level".

  54. Igor, what do you mean, "it all depends on the host and his 'level'"? Sorry, I have not replied to your material support.

  55. I meant on blogger's level of tolerance, open mindedness, politeness etc, etc. Not at all criticism to you, I feel free here. Also that "we DO NEED science in the second language acquisition, regardless of..." sentence wasn't meant to Friedemann at all, thanks for his response anyway. Sorry for being unclear at times, I was in a rush so I typed quickly.

  56. Thanks, Igor, for mentioning the studies on reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. I've just read through a number of papers by Paul Nation (Wellington, NZ; available on his university website for download). Very interesting. I see his results as a strong argument for carefully selected graded input providing high levels of comprehension all the time. If his studies generalize, then reading stuff that provides less than, say, 95% vocabulary coverage, is inefficient. The same applies for watching TV and videos, but there we need to include visual and other clues in the 95%. (There may be other reasons why a second language learner has to or chooses to use such input, like lack of suitable material, personal interest etc.) I can't help but see these results as an argument against methods that are purely based on watching adult media like TV series. Not necessarily in terms of achieving language proficiency in the long run, but certainly in terms of efficiency.

    Igor, I'd appreciate it very much if you dropped a few more (academic) names. You seem to be very familiar with the relevant research.

  57. Paul Nation, Robert Waring, Julian Bamford, Timothy Bell, David Hirsh, Richard R. Day, Schmidt, K, Tom Cobb and my favorite ones: Jeff McQuillan, Stephen D. Krashen and Beniko Mason.

    Some related articles: (check Rob Waring's comment)

    Websites, Books: (Great source) (Extensive Reading) (Extensive Listening)

  58. The experiment was a success in the sense that he did indeed learn quite a bit of Chinese, however the only mistake that Keith has made is thinking that he will be able to speak well after just 2000 hours of input! I have spent 7000 hours acquiring Spanish and still have the occasional hiccup. I imagine that you'd need at least 10,000 to speak well and more than 50,000 hours to really speak at the exact same level as a native speaker. I wish Keith all the best with his studies, although if it's true that he has spent two years getting 2000 hours worth of input I would recommend he get a move on! lol. Good luck! :D

  59. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at anything in life. 2,000 is a good first step.

  60. That should make Keith 1/5th of the way to total mastery of Mandarin.


  61. Igor, thanks again for the links. I've read through a number of papers. Very interesting results, and mostly consistent (which is good).  One of the findings applicable to this discussion here is that incidental vocabulary acquisition is most efficient in the 98% vocabulary coverage ratio range, as already pointed out by you. In my opinion, this is a strong argument against the effectiveness of the TV method, and I would like to hear Keith's opinion on it.

    I've just put up a brief summary of some of Nation's research on my blog, and I mention you as my source.

  62. No problem Bakunin, but my intention was not to criticize the TV method because although I don't find it most efficient, still it works. As I've mentioned before on some of the posts on this blog, I have a good friend who had a good experience with this method. The story goes something like this: when he was like 14-15 years old he lost his father, he fell into depression unwilling to socialize, eat, drink or study, he isolate himself from the world for 2 years, but when he came out after 2 years he spoke a fluent German! His explanation was: "I have been watching RTL for 8-10 hours a day, I was too screwed to do anything else". Now, since I know him well I'm sure that he knew only few hundred German words before the tragical event.

  63. @Alexandre

    Language learning is not a linear process. Knowing one word can let you learn 10 more, which can let you learn 60 more, which can let you learn 600 more etc. The more you know the faster the acquisition; the process will keep accelerating. At 2000 hours my Spanish was complete rubbish. At 7000 I can almost pass for a native.

  64. I know, Igor, that the TV method works, I've read about several cases like your's. I don't doubt that the TV method works, but I think it's an inefficient model of natural language acquisition. It's very interesting to see what Keith is doing and how he's progressing, no doubt about that. I've learned a lot from him and appreciate his attitude. But the research quoted by you, the set-up of the ALG courses for natural acquisition of Thai at AUA Bangkok, Krashen's comprehensible input hypothesis, they all emphasize that for natural acquisition to take place you need to have high levels of comprehension (verbal, visual or otherwise) at any point in time. With adult material like TV series and historical dramas, this is close to impossible at the beginner and intermediate level. (Your experience with German is another case in point.) I'm not sure why Keith restricts himself to that kind of input, and I wish he would elaborate. My apologies for using your comments as a criticism of the TV method, but it is just such an obvious conclusion to draw. I hope that Keith understands that in the broader scheme of his argument (input/output, natural/study etc.), I'm completely on his side.

  65. It would be foolish to claim that simply watching TV is the most efficient way of naturally acquiring a language. A specially designed course based around Krashen's "i+1" idea would obviously be much faster. (Which is the reason why many people supplement natural acquisition with spaced repetition flashcards.)

    The initial stages of the TV method are slow because the learner must build up their knowledge before they can get large amounts of comprehensible input.

    However, if a high level of comprehensible input is achievable from day one (for example a Spanish speaker watching TV in order to acquire Portuguese or Italian) then the TV method is very fast and also provides real language as opposed to the sometimes stilted examples offered by a textbook.

    I acquire German at a far higher rate than I acquired Japanese because German has a much more similar vocabulary to English.

    This can be a double edged sword though, as similar words are not always used in the same way between languages. So I have to be extra careful not to apply English word usage to German.

    The TV method is a great method because:

    1. It's fun.
    2. It's easy.
    3. What's the hurry to learn? Who cares if it takes 12 months longer? Is that really a big deal?

  66. Good on you for putting your state of language knowledge up for public scrutiny. It takes some guts!

    I am somewhat confused by what you are demonstrating in this video, but perhaps that's more to do with confusion from the other posters who seem to think that all you did to study Chinese was watch TV. A quick look through your blog archives gives the following brief timeline of your Chinese studies:

    * August, 2006: Mandarin listening period started. You also later mention doing the FSI Chinese course
    * December, 2007: Started Assimil's Chinese with Ease, in your own unique way - with the goal of 1000 plays through of each lesson. Apparently you got up to at least Assimil lesson 64 (along with listening to lesson 1 1,000 times!), which is quite a long way, and could explain the little bits of spoken chinese you demonstrated in the video.
    * August, 2008: First mandarin time capsule - 10 seconds of conversation (is it?).

    Then the 2,000 hours of watching TV, as we all know. Would that be a fair assessment of your studies so far? To my mind this explains how you might be able to make some progress through just watching TV - you already had some base.

    I've known people who've used TV as a natural part of learning another language, in addition to social interaction in the language (which, after all, is the purpose for most of us, right? Actual students of linguistics may not really care about this aspect of course). I knew a Maltese man who spoke fluent Italian because there are more Italian TV channels in Malta than Maltese-language ones, and Maltese shares a lot of vocabulary and some grammar with Italian due to a long period of contact, but he also had lots of contact with actual native Italian speakers.

    Anyway Keith, good luck with your future studies, and keep up the language time capsules. I'm sure everyone's keen to see whether you experience the explosion of ability that some believe should result from your massive input!

  67. This has become beyond ridiculous. Come on people! Can we face reality for a second here?

    If someone was claiming to have a special language learning method, any method at all, and this (the video) was the result they got after a year, I'd say their method had lost ALL credibility.

    But to study 2 years, then use a "special" method for another 2 years, to claim that the method is awesome, and to show this as a result? It's just beyond ridiculous.

    Somehow, there is a strong desire for a lot of people to believe in a sort of promised land where languages are learned without effort.

    You can choose to dream, but while you do so, I'll be studying.

  68. Alexandre, you're the one being ridiculous, by judging and evaluating the efficacy of the entire method based on the initial attempt at a new part of the process. He hasn't practiced output yet, of course his output is going to suck. What he's got right now is an enormous passive vocabulary, which he can't yet demonstrate because it is not yet active vocabulary. We know this happens. Someone using traditional study methods, but focusing on, say, reading comprehension, and not doing any output, would experience the same difficulties when they initially began to speak, even if they could read whole novels. They are two seperate (but related) skills. It seems some of you seriously miss the point here. It's not to be fast. It's to be good. No, at this point in time, Keith's efforts haven't produced the same VISIBLE results as someone whose studied using traditional methods even half or a quarter of the time. But, whereas the person using traditional methods, especially if they output early on, is going to hit a wall in terms of their growth in the language and they may acquire fluency (although far too few do) but they will never approximate natural, native-levels of speech. They will always have an accent, and probably continue to repeat the same grammatical and word choice mistakes for years or even decades. Meanwhile, those using natural methods such as the TV method, will be capable of going much further with the language. So, no at the end of one year, or two, Keith may appear outwardly to be at a much lower level than you think he could be if he'd studied using traditional methods. But, in reality, he'd be far behind, because he'd have crippled his ability and set up a ceiling for himself that is only very rarely broken through, and then with much difficulty.

    Do I think there are improvements that could be made on Keith's method? Yes. I think there are even some ways to apply certain types of studying that can speed up the process without creating that ceiling. But, does that mean the TV method doesn't work? Not at all.

  69. If I didn't know several other people who learned second and third languages in similar ways, I might also be skeptical, but I do. The reading I've done about ALG, which has some important differences from Keith's method, but some important similarities also, further gives me reason to at least be patient and watch Keith and his progress with an open mind. And, in fact, we've heard from a number of other people in the threads who claim to have learned English in a similar fashion, by watching American television, so if some of you weren't choosing to be so close-minded, you might see the evidence right before your eyes that it's at least worth giving Keith the benefit of the doubt.

    What I want to know is, why do some of you doubters have such a deep-seated vendetta against Keith and his method? Seeming to actually take glee in what appeared to you to be his failure here? Is it because you have so much time and energy invested in the methods you have been using that the possibility someone could learn in a far more enjoyable and easy way frightens you? Or makes you angry?

    If you want to doubt, go ahead, but before you write him off completely, let the man finish the d*mn process. He's said repeatedly he's not done, this is just one stage in the process, and that he is satisfied with his results so far. How will we know if the experiment is a success or failure? Well, if Keith quits, or if given a fair amount of time, and sufficient practice with output, there is no visible improvement, we can call it a failure. I'd say that in six months to a year we should see a vast improvement, even if he's nowhere near finished at that time.

    But, if Keith ever, even if it takes several years, reaches a level of Chinese that is nearly indistinguishable from a native, then we've all got to call it a success. Maybe that's too slow for some of us, but that's a completely separate issue.

    So, feel free to doubt, and keep studying, if that's what you think is best, but if you really want to improve at the language, it might be wise to make sure and turn on the TV a bit too.

  70. This is pretty frustrating to read the comments. I wrote a post the other day about language experimenters getting bashed using this as an example.

    We should be encouraging people to use different methods to further our knowledge of language learning. It's strange that some people are so insecure that they feel the need to bash other people because they don't feel they've put in the same about of "work" that they did.

    I look forward to seeing Keith's progress after a year of practicing output.

  71. I'm just a passing traveller (I came here while looking for Krashen's articles) but I think my two cents, as someone who learned Arabic to fluency despite having no relation at all to the Arab world, will be valuable:

    Learning via input is a method that works on slow burn. It takes a long time to show its results. After 2,000 hours of listening, you'll probably be at a frustratingly neonatal stage where you understand perhaps a third of what's being said but not enough to totally grok what's going on. Your production will be extremely basic, if at all.

    But bear in mind that 2,000 hours is not really a lot. It's a few months worth of listening. The average native (whose competence should always be the gold standard) clocks god knows how many hours just in their infancy. To imitate that level of language, you have to put in the time.

    I do think that what you're watching can have an effect, but it does depend on the language. With Arabic, most of the core vocabulary and the grammar is the same between MSA and colloquial material, but the latter has a key matrix of heavy duty words that you have to learn to have a hope of understanding it. The only way to get at this matrix is to hear the words in a native context; the only way to hear this context bar moving to the country in question is to watch television. (I found TV was a far superior substitute to radio and music-listening; while the latter certainly did no harm, the former gave me the visual cues a native gets for free that are necessary to making links between words and their meaning).

    To wit: you cannot learn Arabic purely from books, or even from transcripts (?). You might have an impressive accent or a good handle on conversation, but that's the upper limit: you'll have a set series of patterns you'll understand, along with a set vocabulary (I've noticed this in almost every other non-native Arabic speaker I've ever met, especially diplomats) but you'll always be essentially "off" somehow. Many Arabic words don't even translate to English: "meen", "3a", "3la", "tool", "lu", "hata", etc. If you haven't heard them a million times in their respective contexts, you won't know what's going on.

    I'm not too familiar with the blog author and his experiments (although they seem very close to the method I used) but I think one has to do a careful audit of the time he's actually put in. It might take him "two years" to get this far, but if he's only had 2,000 hours of input (again: an impressive-sounding number, and nothing to sneeze at, but it's honestly the first step on the road to competency) then it's really taken him 2,000 hours to get this far.

  72. "And slow results are better than quick results how?"

    Alexandre, I'm not sure what you mean by "quick results" (?) but there's no shortcut to language learning. You have to hear what it is you want to know, and you have to hear it often. Without fail I can spot non-natives who've been memorizing lines from a textbook ("Where are you from?", "What's your occupation?", etc.) because once the conversation gets colloquial or goes left-of-field, they're utterly lost. That's not to scrub on what they've accomplished (they've often got those lines down pat) but it's really no substitute. Do let me know if I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "quick results", though.

  73. Terra --

    Keith said: "If you're looking for quick results, the TV method is not going to be able to satisfy you. In my case, I am thinking about the final results."

    Keith was either implying that quick results would not be optimal, or that a slower method like the TV method would yield superior results.

    If there is a best way to do something, it will inevitably offer the best results in the fastest, most efficient way. Keith's implication is that this slower method will eventually give results otherwise unattainable.

    Hence my question: how could a slower -- less efficient -- method yield better results in the end?

  74. That's a somewhat bizarre question given we're talking about language acquisition. Do you mean "slower" in the sense that more absolute time is elapsed? If so, there is no "quicker" method: even were you in possession of a perfect human memory, you'd still have to hear, read or see every single word you'd like to learn at least once. That's a lot of words. One way or another, you have to spend the time.

    So it is with the whole of language learning. No one would reasonably doubt you can reach a higher level quicker via other methods, but you'll just as quickly reach am impermeable plateau; there are only so many stock phrases and rules of thumb to prepare you for every contingency.

    Personally, I think Keith phrased it quite well: if native-level proficiency is your final goal, there's no substitute for hearing thousands of hours of native speech and you have to put in the time one way or the other (to belabor a point). Efficiency really has nothing to do with it.


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