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3A: Starting Output

After months or years of immersion, some learners wake up one morning able to speak their target language (TL).

Check out these videos of Japanese learners speaking for the very first time:

They're not perfect, but they can express themselves. What's awesome about these videos is that these learners are speaking from their subconscious. They aren't translating from their native language.

However, we've observed in our community that not everyone has this experience. Some people wind up on a treadmill of indefinitely getting input without ever feeling "ready" to output.

We hypothesize that this issue is caused by psychological blockers rather than differences in how acquisition functions.

After months or years of religiously following the guidance of “don’t output early or you’ll cement your mistakes”, these learners feel intense pressure to only output correctly or not output at all.

Language acquisition produces an intuition of what sounds right and natural, and this intuition can be so strong that it becomes a barrier to beginning to output. When you are first starting to output, your ability won’t live up to your intuitive understanding of the language, which can create a jarring experience. You will be able to notice many errors, but not yet be able to correct them.

As you enter the next stage of your learning process, know that it is OK to make mistakes.

Am I Ready for Output?

If you have level 5 understanding of the native content you’ve been immersing with day-to-day, then you are ready for output. There is a large chunk of the language you've already acquired; you just need to activate it.

How to Start Outputting

We recommend starting with writing rather than speaking. Writing gives you more time to think and lets you express yourself without worrying about your accent.

If you're feeling output anxiety, the best thing to do is to just start writing. The goal at this stage is to get the output gears turning and activate the language that you have acquired.

Any writing that isn’t stressful is a good option at first. This could be writing emails to yourself or writing in a journal; anything that helps you get the words flowing.

Pretty quickly, you should find a way to engage in text conversations with native speakers. Interacting socially signals to your brain that outputting is important. Chatting with real people turns writing into communication, rather than simply practice for the sake of practice. We provide more detailed instructions for getting started in the next article.

As you write, try to stick to phrases you are confident in. Don't try to use advanced words that you haven't acquired just to impress people.

For now, don't worry about making mistakes. Your intuition should be strong enough to prevent mistakes from becoming bad habits. We’ll go into more depth about handling mistakes in Stage 3B.