quarta-feira, 10 de agosto de 2011

Why your input should be fun

© Tomasz P. Szynalski, Antimoon.com

Reading a boring text for the sake of learning English is not a good idea. When you do so, you're not just reading a boring text — you're reading a boring text that's hard to understand. Nobody's going to put up with that sort of torture for very long. You can go like that for a few days, if you're highly motivated, but not for a month.

And you don't need a way to learn English for just a few days. You've already studied English for a few days on a couple occasions and you probably know these irregular, one-time efforts don't work. You need to make a permanent change to your lifestyle to ensure steady improvement.

That is why you need super-fun, thrilling and funny sources of English. Your sources should be so cool that you will look forward to reading, watching or listening to them. You need something that will make you get your English input and develop your English every day.

Which sources of English are super-fun? The answer will be different for every learner. For example, I like watching Futurama and Desperate Housewives, movies by the Coen brothers and Alejandro González Iñárritu, the music of Radiohead and Pink Floyd, LucasArts adventure games, TED, and The Onion, among other things.

Suppose you're a big fan of The Matrix. (If you're not a big fan of The Matrix, insert the name of your favorite movie.) When watching The Matrix, you can learn much more English than if you watched some random movie you don't care about.

You are more likely to watch the movie scene-by-scene, listening carefully to every line (or reading it, if you have a version with subtitles) and thinking about how it is phrased.
You are more likely to look up difficult phrases in a dictionary and add them to your SuperMemo collection.
You are more likely to practice your pronunciation by imitating lines said by your favorite characters (for example, Morpheus's "Unfortunately, no one can be told what The Matrix is.")
You are more likely to repeat your favorite lines to yourself, which means you'll be constantly reviewing the grammar and vocabulary contained in those lines.
Attitude to English
Finally, fun input lets you change your attitude to English. At first, you may think of learning English as a necessary evil — sort of like getting up and going to work every morning. But when you find enjoyable English-language books, movies, TV shows, websites, etc., learning English will become a way to have fun every day by reading a funny book, watching a cool movie, or communicating with someone you like.

When this happens, you will find it easy to study English, even in ways which are not strictly "fun", such as reading about English grammar.

Content or form?
Now you may have noticed that elsewhere on Antimoon I tell you to read with the goal of learning grammar and vocabulary. I tell you to analyze the grammar in the sentences you read. And now I seem to be telling you to read stuff because it is cool.

Of course, what I'm actually telling you is that you should read with both goals in mind. More precisely, when starting reading, concentrate on how fun the content is (e.g. how much you like the book). Starting is always the hardest part, which is why you will need compelling content to overcome your laziness.

However, once you start reading, do your best to read for form. Don't turn page after page in order to find out what happens next. Instead, read as slowly as you can, thinking about the phrases and grammatical structures used. Repeat them to yourself. You want to learn some English, remember?

What if you're a beginner?
When you are a beginner, you have a small vocabulary. In this state, reading books or watching movies is too difficult. Even if your content is extremely fun, the number of unknown words may make it impossible to enjoy it. You need input which will teach you new things, but not input in which everything is new.

Being a beginner, how can you take advantage of the benefits of fun input — regularity, dedication and improved attitude to English? The answer is "simplified books". These are popular books re-written in simple English especially for English learners. Thousands of titles are available at various difficulty levels. A well-known series is the Penguin Readers, available in bookstores worldwide.

I believe these books are the best way for a beginner to quickly develop his/her vocabulary and grammar skills. First, you can choose something you will love, because thousands of titles are available. Second, you will not get frustrated, because the number of new words and phrases will be limited. If you read these books regularly using the "pause and think" method, the progress you can make is amazing.

Some fun input ideas
English-language culture is extremely rich and very expansive, which, luckily for you, means that you should find it relatively easy to find enjoyable sources of input.

Here are some examples of content that you might possibly enjoy:

Simplified books (see above)
E-mail messages from a native speaker you know
Books: Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, Lord of the Rings, current bestsellers ...
Movies: The Matrix, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, current DVD bestsellers ...
News: Google News, BBC, CNN, The Independent ...
Encyclopedias: English Wikipedia, Simple English Wikipedia
Movie reviews: Roger Ebert, IMDB ...
Internet discussion: Reddit, Digg, Antimoon Forum ...
Video games with a lot of dialogue: Grand Theft Auto, The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Half-Life, Mass Effect, Fallout ...
TV shows: talk shows (Leno, Letterman, Conan O'Brien), Top Gear, The Colbert Report, Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live ...
TV series: Desperate Housewives, House MD, Dexter, Futurama, The Simpsons, Californication, South Park ...
The Good News Bible (written in simple English)
Technology sites: Joel on Software, Tom's Hardware, Wired News, Engadget, Ars Technica, Eurogamer ...
Humor sites: The Onion, Dilbert, Something Awful ...

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