This post began as a footnote to one of my own remarks here, where I said that:
Even “burn-out” is, IMHO, almost always bogus – you’re not “burned out”, you’re just “being lame”: you need to get more creative about the immersion process.
Looking back, “creative” was the wrong word. “Active” might be more appropriate. Now what do I mean by “active”? In my case I mean just turn up the “sheer quantity” dial on your immersion. What this often meant for me was tons of “weeding out”. I would get Japanese/Cantonese stuff: movies, music, comics, whatever. And watch/read them. And if, after 10 to 120 seconds I did not like it, I would simply delete/throw away and move on…sort of like channel-surfing — just jumping from one thing to the next, until I found something that drew me in. In fact, I do this even now. Remember, the only “obligation” with immersion is the language. Everything. Else. Is. Negotiable. No one said you have to read that particular book or watch that particular program. Even if you were enjoying it 5 minutes before, the instant it gets boring, it needs to go.
What are the chances you would enjoy a randomly selected piece of media in your native language? Slim, right? Maybe, what, 1%? 10%? The same goes for the language you’re trying to immerse in. So just weed the mothers out. I mean, think of great shows like Family Guy, or South Park — if you had to watch them all day every day, even they would get old, and even CSPAN might start to look attractive.
Judging from my personal experience, I think when most people say or think they’re “bored” or “burned out” with a language due to a lack of basic fluency, it’s not really the language that’s bugging them, nor is it their apparent lack of fluency: it’s the materials they’ve got in the language. The solution to this problem is (very American): more. More stuff. More quantity. More acquisition. More sampling. More weeding. More throwing away. More putting aside. More deleting. More replacing. More turnover. More. More. More.
This intense sampling will do at least three things — (1) it’ll keep you feeling busy and active, while (2) being immersed, and (3) you’ll start to figure out what you like, there will be a core of shows, actors, writers, musicians whose work you will enjoy: you can start to use this core for further exploration — find other stuff by the same screenwriter/director/author/band. Example: the guy who directed Trick also directed Ikebukuro West Gate Park (IWGP); the screenwriter from IWGP also wrote Tiger and Dragon. Quality tends to group. If you liked one Stephen Chow movie, you’re likely to enjoy his others.
And this is why, I think, people blame sucking as a reason to stop immersing and therefore continue sucking. From my observation, there are at least three things that early beginners do wrong, that unnecessarily and inevitably lead to a sense of “burn-out”:
(1) They listen to the target language dutifully but indiscriminately. This may seem diligent, but the fact is even babies have taste. Even a near-languageless baby would rather watch, say, Teletubbies, than reruns of Matlock [except a possessed baby?]. You have taste, too. Even in a language you don’t know or only know a very little of, there a things you would rather watch. The key is to find these things.
(2) When they do find something they like, they repeat it beyond enjoyment. It is beautiful and honorable to repeat only as long as something is being enjoyed. I never have and never will re-watch movies because I have to, only because I want to. When your skin/emotions start to chafe, please cease use and consult your media library.
(3) They do not yet know what they like. Most people who have basic fluency also happen to have spent long enough on the language to start gravitating to what they like, if only unconsciously. I am suggesting you make this a conscious process of “取捨選択”/しゅしゃせんたく: consciously taking in vast amounts of stuff, throwing out what is chaff to you and leaving the wheat. And there is always a lot of chaff. The good news is that even the chaff [in the little time you watch/hear/read it] gives you information, teaches you something, serves a purpose. Just don’t hold on to it for too long: it will hurt you, bore you and trick you into thinking that “this language that is as yet a mystery to me” bores you, when in fact it’s just those particular materials that are boring you.
(PS) All of which is another reason why watching L2 dubs of stuff you do like from L1 can be such a great starting point.
Don’t think you’re not “good enough” yet at the language to be picky. You are always good enough to be picky. There are things you will be able to appreciate more later when you are fluent, just like there are Japanese rappers whom I appreciate more now that I can fully understand the depth of their wordplay, than I did before. But I have no regrets about having ignored them earlier in the process, back when I was less proficient.
Your personal taste is always valid. Even if it is merely a noob taste; it is your taste right now, and that is all that matters. When I was 9 years old, I thought Tiny Toons was the height of satire and self-referential humor. So I watched it. Now I think it’s goofy. And that’s fine. I grew up, my tastes grew up. Same with you. And you’re going to be doing some mad-fast growing up. So just…keep acquiring materials, keep selecting, keep doing 取捨選択. Massive acquisition, massive rejection, massive turnover. Think of all materials in a language as existing to be cut through, leaving only materials that you like. You are a sculptor, carving out the subset of L2 that appeals to you. We’re not talking about euthanizing baby seals here, we’re talking about getting rid of crud, so feel free to be brutal.
You aren’t drawn to English stuff because of the magical beauty of your native language. You are drawn to English stuff because you already know where to find the good stuff, from years of experience. No one gets tempted away from immersion in L2, by sucky material in L1. So I am saying this — keep spending time in L2 finding, sifting for the good stuff in L2. And that means lots of taking in accompanied by lots of discarding. Do you hate that L2 show? Throw it away. Do you “vaaaaaguely sort of like” that L2 show? or feel like you “should” like it or that that might be “good for you”? Still not good enough — throw it away; keeping things out of obligation is a nasty habit; get used to interpreting “could learn to like” as “don’t like”; people who have gotten good at keeping their homes clutter-free apply the same basic principle: you don’t keep stuff you might could use, keep stuff you do use. Are you in love with this L2 show? Good. Keep it.
You might conceptualize ($10 word!) yourself as a little “fun factory” that takes in vast amounts of media as a raw materials, keeps the good ones to produce enjoyment, and throws out the crappy ones as waste. Do not be alarmed by how much you have to throw away, just keep getting new stuff. Throwing away crappy stuff is only a good thing: it opens up physical, electronic and mental space for good stuff to take its place.
That concludes this post-sized footnote. Anyone with good selection strategies, feel free to share.