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10,000 Sentences: Input Before Output

April 25, 2007
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@Update: 10,000 Sentences is Dead. Let the MCD Revolution Begin! | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time is.gd/AWLzAv

OK…this is embarassing to admit, but: I didn’t invent this method of learning language. A couple of very sharp Poles learning English did. And a very sharp American linguistics professor says they’re right. I merely put two and two together and applied it to Japanese.

Theirs is the hypothesis that input (reading, listening) matters more than output (writing, speaking), and that input of high quality and quantity naturally leads to high quality output, without much effort. In English, that means stop talking before you hurt yourself.

When you learn sentences in Japanese, do not force yourself to use them. Don’t try to remember them in order to say them. It’s too hard, and too failure prone AND, if you say the wrong thing, you might start building a bad habit, and on top of that, there might not be anyone there to correct you. Ever notice those people who live in an English-speaking country for 30 years but still don’t speak grammatically? That’s what happens when you force output too early. When the time comes for you to use those sentences, you’ll know. You won’t have to think or “work” at it as such; you won’t have to rack your brain. They’ll just come to you. Like when you’ve seen a movie so many times that you start to know all the dialogue.

So keep watching, keep listening, keep reading, keep observing. If your output worries you, then just watch, listen to and read even more. Don’t worry that you understand so much more than you can independently reproduce, that’s only natural.

For further reading, I refer you the following sterling pages. Tell them Khatzumoto sent you.

Donate to AJATT. It's so simpo'

The Emotional Sentence Pack
The MCD Revolution Kit

38 Responses to 10,000 Sentences: Input Before Output

  1. JDog on April 29, 2007 at 10:36

    I have a question, and I didn’t know quite where to post it. Khatz: I have recently been reading (can’t remember the post) about your suggestions on choosing which sentences are “worthy” to go into the SRS. I was thinking about that and also reading your recent comments on getting to know a little grammar and basics at first. (Trying to get to the point, sorry…) I was thinking about these things and wondering: how do you know you’re getting a good, solid translation and/or a well-constructed sentence when you’re a complete beginner? I know you’ve said to mine sentences out of books with lots of examples. My problem/question is how do you type those in if you don’t know the readings for the kanji in the book? OK, so I guess you should get a more “beginner” type book that has the readings included. I love the idea of visiting Japanese web sites but I don’t see, at my very beginning stage, how I can mine sentences out of anything other than books. Also everything I want to know is not going to be in books (obviously), so how can I get into other stuff like websites and still get a good translation? Also I prefer websites for the speed of copying and pasting and the cheap-factor (free), being a college student. I just don’t see how anyone is supposed to translate the sentence they’re supposed to be studying if they don’t have the knowledge to do so, and if they do have the knowledge to do so, then why are they translating the sentence in the first place? I know – woah killer, calm down, this sounds pretty attacking of your method, but please help me understand how one can get an accurate translation out of just looking up words in a dictionary and piecing them together. (Phew, sorry for the borderline ranting/rambling)

  2. khatzumoto on April 29, 2007 at 20:22

    Thanks for your question.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    > I was thinking about these things and wondering: how do you know you’re getting a good, solid translation and/or a well-constructed sentence when you’re a complete beginner?

    Yeah. Use
    1) Beginner books with readings on all kanji, and
    2) Dictionaries with example sentences. There are good online dictionaries to make your copy/pasting possible.
    By the way, as far as translating: don’t translate your sentences (i.e. don’t do your own translation). In the beginning, you’ll probably be doing Japanese-English from simple sources. so the sentences should come with a translation, therefore all you need do is use it. After a little while, you’ll be doing Japanese-Japanese only, so the very concept of translation will become moot.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    >So how can I get into other stuff like websites and still get a good translation?

    Like I said, don’t translate your sentences. While you’re still at the stage of depending on English to learn Japanese, use a bilingual source/website.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    >I just don’t see how anyone is supposed to translate the sentence they’re supposed to be studying if they don’t have the knowledge to do so, and if they do have the knowledge to do so, then why are they translating the sentence in the first place?

    So, to repeat. don’t translate your sentences. But, how do you branch out from your safe, simple sentence sources like beginner’s books, into websites? Well, what’ll happen is, given the solid foundation of a good beginner’s material, you’ll quite soon understand enough about the structure of Japanese to know what function a word is carrying out (what it is doing in a sentence), but often without knowing what that word means and/or how to read its kanji; in other words, if you see:「資料を配る」, you’ll know that 資料 is a noun and it is the direct object of 配る, which is a verb. In other words, the 資料 are being 配るed.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    > I don’t see, at my very beginning stage, how I can mine sentences out of anything other than books.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much true. At the very beginning, all you’ll have are books and beginner websites. Those will be your springboard to more varied and interesting material.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    On another note. A lot of your work in Japanese will be what you might call: “一敗万勝”–”one failure, myriad successes”. The first time you do not know the reading of a word/kanji, or the first time you do not know how to say something, that’s what we’ll call a “failure”. But, what you do is learn the reading of a word/kanji, learn the way to say something and (thanks to your SRS) remember it. Thereafter, as far as that particular word is concerned, you will have a “myriad successes”, in that you’ll know the reading of the kanji, or you’ll know the way to say something. Eventually, you have so many “successes”, that we call it fluency.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Thanks for that. Keep your questions and comments coming ;)

  3. JDog on April 30, 2007 at 02:51

    OK, thanks for detailed answers! I will keep all of this in mind and look into some online dictionaries that you have already put in a different post.

    Thanks again!

  4. JDog on May 5, 2007 at 13:32

    So in addition to this method being much faster (than classes and traditional rote memorization), it also develops a more intuitive sense of the language? This is cool because I’ve been studying Spanish for four and a half years and I still don’t feel like I could carry on a conversation with a native speaker at normal speeds, and when I have, they slow down for me and I am fumbling with my words, really thinking hard about what’s the “correct” way to speak. They tell me that I speak so correctly that I speak more correctly than them! I am like, well, thanks high-school teachers, but I can’t even understand this stuff at normal speed, so what was the reason to learn such perfect Spanish? Spanish was a piece of cake to learn, though. It was so easy! So this is just a testament against regular classes in a way, and I just love how the method here on this blog is all about getting people listening to the REAL language at hand, because I can appreciate how sounding natural can be so much more important than sounding correct! Also, I believe a big reason why I excelled in Spanish was because I was a Spanish freak in that I listened to Spanish radio online, some TV when I could, and tried to understand the local radio stations when they used speech in the breaks. Also I’m sorta embarrassed to admit to people that I like Spanish music a lot and used to listen to it a lot more than anything else(embarrassed because I’m a white gringo and it’s just weird that I don’t know any of the American English pop artists). ANYWAY, for the record I don’t try to make my posts this long, it just happens. My question is: so you’re saying (Khatz) that someone who goes through this process will learn Japanese so intuitively that they won’t have to rack their brain just to have a conversation? I love it!

  5. khatzumoto on May 9, 2007 at 19:14

    >so you’re saying (Khatz) that someone who goes through this process will learn Japanese >so intuitively that they won’t have to rack their brain just to have a conversation?

    Absolutely. That is what I’m saying.
    The one thing I did rack my brain about a lot when I first come here was what “register” to use. I found myself speaking to (older) people too politely. But that’s a sociocultural thing rather than a linguistic thing. It’s a matter of “how do I behave”?, and not “how should I say it?”.

    >I like Spanish music a lot
    Do you like Sergent Garcia?

  6. JDog on May 10, 2007 at 00:32

    Great!

    I know what you mean about the politeness thing. Spanish obviously doesn’t have it to the extent that Japanese does, but I always am confused about whether or not to speak politely to Spanish-speaking people I meet in the factory I work in. Like I just met a guy and he was like 10 years older than me at most. I didn’t know whether to address him as an elder or just as a friend/person my age. Other than that I live in a very very white community so there’s almost no one of a different race here. It’s kinda sad.

    >Do you like Sergent Garcia?
    I had not heard of him (embarrassingly after I just said I like Spanish music) until you just mentioned it, but with a quick Google search I found a snippet of a song. Sounds good, I’ll have to check him (them?) out more. The name sounds French, and a lot of info I found was in French and Spanish. Is it a French person? I have to admit by saying I like Spanish music I have tried to find music that is more “rocky” and some rap, too, not so much the traditional-style Spanish music. I honestly don’t care for the music that they play on the local radio stations (3 radio stations in my area and they all play the exact same music). I don’t even know exactly what the genre is called, but it all sounds pretty much the same to me!

  7. Tony on September 10, 2007 at 19:52

    <<Ever notice those people who live in an English-speaking country for 30 years but still don’t speak grammatically? That’s what happens when you force output too early.>>

    I’d been living in Japan for about a year at the point when I found this and all I could think was “oh my god I’m screwed!” because I’d been speaking since about October. Since I’ve started doing this though and getting into the repetitions I’m finding I hear a lot of words/sentence structures (like 。。。親切かどうか。。。) that I would be amazed if people hadn’t been saying the whole time and I just hadn’t heard them. But along with that I’m finding that the way I’m saying things is changing with the repetitions. The kids where I work used to make fun of me because I always, always say/said (sentence…(だ)から) but now I’m learning a lot of other things. The point of my post is: I’m not sure the damage is irreparable like I first though, so don’t get all frustrated (I did) and think you’re doomed.

  8. Tony on September 11, 2007 at 15:51

    Out of curiosity, when you were learning to program (you might have written this elsewhere but I’m reading a book now that says it and I can’t remember if you said it or not) did you read a lot of code? The first thing in the book for what I’m trying to learn says “You must read and write code…a lot of code. I show you code, you type it in and see what happens.” I see a correlation between that and the input method for this, so I’m wondering how the two correlated for you.

  9. khatzumoto on September 11, 2007 at 15:56

    I have heard that advice before, from Matz (who’s from Japan), the creator of Ruby. And maybe one other place “The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master” [not sure about this reference]. I do see that correlation. And, for many professional programmers, the ability to read code is as important as writing it, since they often inherit so much old stuff.

    But…I don’t think I’ve read that much code thus far :(. Not consciously, anyway.

  10. [...] of this method goes to Khatzumoto, the author of the wonderful blog All Japanese All The Time. In his words: … the hypothesis [is] that input (reading, listening) matters more than output (writing, [...]

  11. Dazyrue on December 23, 2007 at 10:57

    I completely understand the input before output. But is there a happy medium?? Im lucky enough to have a lot of japanese friends who speak mostly always in japanese, input that way is easy, But . . They also want me to speak in japanese (especially my boyfriend). I tell them I will, and mainly stick will the small things I know for a fact, but I usually dont ever talk in japanese. Also I work at a hotel and I have so many guest from Japan who speak no english. I am the only one who speaks any japanese. I guess then I kinda have to, but because I dont speak it a lot I get mixed up and it takes forever to get out a sentence even if I know it. Understanding them (thanks to input input input) is VERY easy, I just cant talk back. Does doing the sentences and things really help you actually get the stuff out that you want to say? Or do I just really need to wait until the sentences “kick in” and not worry about it?? I guess what Im trying to ask is when does the speaking part actually come in?

  12. khatzumoto on December 23, 2007 at 11:58

    @Dazyrue
    I can’t give you a date and time. I’ll just say it’s like you reach a critical mass. Like, when you watch a movie or TV commercial or listen to a song in, say, English. You understand it fully. But you don’t know the from memory. But you keep watching/listening — it keeps getting played. Until suddenly, you can sing along or speak along effortlessly. So, when you do start speaking, it will come in whole chunks that are correct and effortless.

    It’s like that.

    So keep patiently inputting. Output will come. And give yourself some credit — you understand Japanese, dude! You’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to speak once you’re able. Until then, just enjoy your input. Remember, that you’re still a baby, Japanesewise. No one takes an x-month old baby and goes: “why aren’t you speaking yet? you need to earn your keep!!”, and neither should you to yourself.

  13. Amanda on January 15, 2008 at 13:30

    To J-Dog, the first guy who commented on this thread: regarding not knowing a kanji or a way to look it up – the delightful Canon V90 electronic dictionary, light of my signs-and-letters life, lets you write in kanji to look up. First, learn the basic stroke order for writing kanji. Then you can just write them in and get the furigana (and, if you want, the English definition).

  14. Mad Japanese Mnemonics « Polyglot To Be on January 28, 2008 at 15:14

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    [...] led me to All Japanese All The Time Dot Com which led me to Input and 10,000 Sentences and SRS. The 10000 Sentences method of language learning is similar to an assimilation-based [...]

  16. Top Thai Language Learning Resources on August 21, 2008 at 23:04

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  17. Guest on November 9, 2008 at 08:20

    At what point does one start to mine for sentences and begin SRS with them? I have just began the Kanji phase but have read most of the articles in this “Blook”. When I do begin I am slightly confused as to how you proceed to start mining if you have no idea how anything is pronounced or how a phrase/sentence is supposed to look, since RTK focuses on being able to produce Kanji from memory.

  18. Chris on December 21, 2008 at 18:02

    Interesting point Khatzumoto. I grew up watching Cantonese series daily on TV with subs for about 12 years. Spoke it less than 20 times during all that time. When I moved to Canada at 17, I met friends from HK, and I was surprised that I was actually able to speak Cantonese with them.

    • Otacon on January 18, 2013 at 02:22

      That’s basically how I learned English, I spent my childhood watching Cartoon Network for hours every day and just picked up the language from it.

  19. Kira on March 29, 2009 at 07:47

    I’ve been listening to Japanese songs for a long time, and picked up a few phrases here and there.
    I haven’t remembered all the kanji yet, so don’t kill me!
    But it just came, naturally, just like you said. I listened, and it came to me. Now when I listen to songs, I can point out a few words/phrases. It’s a small amount, but a good beginning I guess.

    I’ve actually learned how to speak all the Japanese I know from watching Japanese shows and listening to Japanese music.

  20. Richard V on April 10, 2009 at 11:16

    Hi Khatz, I’ve only learned the kana, and I’ve got my first few dozen kanji down (and of course, Japanese environment is currently engaged). But I’m just thinking forward to when I start sentence picking. For someone just starting, I’ll be going from Japanese to English. I’m still not sure where to find these sentences though.

    Where do you find a good bilingual source for sentences? I saw you recommended a Japanese-English dictionary, but won’t that just have translations of individual words? I can’t really get them from my music, as the romaji lyrics are everywhere, but there’s none with Japanese script. and I take it, for a beginner, converting romaji into Japanese script would be a bit crap? Same goes for anime, apart from where you posted the script to GitS, which I will devour :D

    And, if I were to get the sentences from some source other than audio/video, would it not be dangerous to go around pronouncing it, without hearing a native speaker say it? I don’t have a native Japanese speaker to check all the sentences I’d need to input, so what’s the best course to chart?

    Also, for a beginner, I take it running through an anime series with subs on is OK, then rewatching without subs?

    Cheers for any help! And thanks for making the site, it’s complete win.

  21. Richard V on April 17, 2009 at 12:03

    Oh, I just checked your FAQs (this time a bit more thoroughly… aka reading the very first one).

    Hey, I don’t know the kanji yet, but I have this question about sentences…
    STOP. Learn the kanji first. Kanji first. KANJI FIRST. KANJI FIRRRRRRST!!!!!! I’m not even talking to you any more until you learn the kanji. Go…No, go. Go, and come back when you know them. Listen to and read (look at) as much Japanese as you want, but don’t do sentences until yer dun with ye kanjees.

    Point taken. I’m at 200 now, so it’s just a matter of time :D

  22. [...] led me to All Japanese All The Time Dot Com which led me to Input and 10,000 Sentences and SRS. The 10000 Sentences method of language learning is similar to an assimilation-based [...]

  23. [...] in the Input Hypothesis of language learning that Khatzumoto discusses at AJATT in this article: 10,000 Sentences: Input Before Output. The idea in languages is that mammoth exposure to the language being learned will eventually allow [...]

  24. Natalie on January 16, 2010 at 12:26

    I’m sorry to contradict what you’re saying (not to be rude, but..) I’ve gotta put my two cents in here before someone gets hurt. >.<;

    Ask any exchange student (or my now quad-lingual Sweedish friend): the best way to learn a language is to TALK.. You need to practice putting thoughts in your head into words. (not matter what the result is!) It is proof of what you are really retaining/can use on the fly.
    At the beginning of my stay in Japan, I tried the input-before-output method (I thought the same: If I can think things in Japanese, I will definitely be able to say them later!), and it failed miserably (MISERABLY!!!). I only began becoming fluent when I made daily efforts to produce sentences and messages. So what if my grammar was a little off? I was always monitoring what I was hearing and saying, and listening to how native speakers word their sentences and use certain words. It didn’t take longer than a week for me to be able to fix a mistake I had been making for the past few months.

    I don’t speak English perfectly some of the time (everyone makes mistakes; even after being immersed in perfect English nearly my entire life), and I speak Japanese perfectly much less than that; but the point is I am making an effort and in turn making an improvement.

    ps. I learned the kana before the kanji, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. There will always be more kanji to learn, but being able to write in kana is a giant step towards being able to fully immerse yourself in Japanese. (being able to write the words you don’t know)

    • Mr Dax on June 10, 2011 at 17:49

      “I’m sorry to contradict what you’re saying (not to be rude, but..) I’ve gotta put my two cents in here before someone gets hurt. >.<;"

      Natalie, believe me , no one is being hurt here. As you see, people are enjoying in their L2,L3 etc…

      "Ask any exchange student (or my now quad-lingual Sweedish friend): the best way to learn a language is to TALK.. You need to practice putting thoughts in your head into words. (not matter what the result is!) It is proof of what you are really retaining/can use on the fly."

      So basically one can talk about things one doesn't know? Is there some kind of language source that we don't know (apart from the brain)?
      Also, I am now in a foreign country and I am surrounded by exchange and foreign students, 99%of them were required to have at least intermediate knowledge of language (German) and then they were sent to special preparatory schools to reach C1 level in German. Four months, 5 days/week, 4h/day plus self learning.So you see, that is a lot of daily input.

      "At the beginning of my stay in Japan, I tried the input-before-output method (I thought the same: If I can think things in Japanese, I will definitely be able to say them later!), and it failed miserably (MISERABLY!!!)."

      So you decided to come to this site to warn others, not to make your mistakes and it is possible to think in a foreign language and not being able to speak. That is something new.
      How much input did you put? 10 000 sentences. All Japanese All the Time?

      "I only began becoming fluent when I made daily efforts to produce sentences and messages. So what if my grammar was a little off?"

      So what is the difference between your method and AJATT? 10 000 sentences, most of them written also with the hand.

      "I was always monitoring what I was hearing and saying, and listening to how native speakers word their sentences and use certain words. It didn’t take longer than a week for me to be able to fix a mistake I had been making for the past few months."

      Again , explained several times on this site , how to imitate Native speaker.

      I don’t speak English perfectly some of the time (everyone makes mistakes; even after being immersed in perfect English nearly my entire life), and I speak Japanese perfectly much less than that; but the point is I am making an effort and in turn making an improvement.

      Everyone is making effort. The difference is that with AJATT you don't feel psychologically abused compared to regular classes, grammar drills, output pressure etc… You feel happy and in turn make better progress than "monitoring" obsessed individuals.

  25. Shadowing « Mikoto's Adventures in Japanese on September 25, 2010 at 04:14

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  26. Ken on November 20, 2010 at 15:47

    Natalie said: “Ask any exchange student (or my now quad-lingual Sweedish friend): the best way to learn a language is to TALK..”

    Actually, every single person I’ve ever asked who’s learned to speak my L1 (English) fluently has told me they’ve learned it from watching lots of TV. :-)

    The one downside I see is the occasional awkward moment. I was trying to read a Japanese book in a coffee shop recently, and some random guy comes up and asks (in Japanese) if I’m studying Japanese. I understood everything he said *perfectly*, but didn’t know how to answer! I stood there and nodded my head like an idiot. 「uh, はい?」

  27. [...] key thing I want to grasp is being able to natrually say some of these sentences over time through hearing/seeing/observing the accurate sentences over time. This benefits me a lot more than just writing sentneces. I won't say much right now, since [...]

  28. [...] (so to say) whole sentences and dialogues from books in the target language and learn them. Here, the method is explained, and right over here you can read what the best sources for sentence [...]

  29. [...] in the Input Hypothesis of language learning that Khatzumoto discusses at AJATT in this article: 10,000 Sentences: Input Before Output. The idea in languages is that mammoth exposure to the language being learned will eventually allow [...]

  30. [...] in the Input Hypothesis of language learning that Khatzumoto discusses at AJATT in this article: 10,000 Sentences: Input Before Output. The idea in languages is that mammoth exposure to the language being learned will eventually allow [...]

  31. [...] (so to say) whole sentences and dialogues from books in the target language and learn them. Here, the method is explained, and right over here you can read what the best sources for sentence [...]

  32. The Input Hypothesis « Korean Diary on August 17, 2012 at 22:15

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  33. [...] seems like a powerful tool for vocabulary and grammar acquisition. See AJATT’s articles (1, 2, 3), Japanese Level Up’s posts (1, 2) on how (for Japanese)…and Living in the Middle [...]

  34. Keep on Hacking, Samurai! | Samurai Mind Online on February 17, 2013 at 21:27

    [...] studying words in isolation is not the most efficient way to learn vocabulary.  Both antimoon and ajatt have both clearly laid out why using sentences and engaging content are the best way to acquire [...]

  35. jkypark90 on July 18, 2013 at 20:27

    Hi! I just read some of your articles and just wanted to say that I’m really glad I finally found someone with whom I think I share all the thoughts about language learning acquisition. There is just so much BS out there… you know.
    I’ll probably end up reading all your articles these days.

    Just wanted to say that for now.
    Thank you!

    • jkypark90 on July 18, 2013 at 20:28

      language acquisition*

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