The Input vs. Output Debate

When learning a new language, is input or output most important? While this is a common question for linguists to ponder, it remains unanswerable because it is based on a flawed argument. For adult learners especially, input and output are not mutually exclusive elements of language learning. Both are necessary – in the correct order and doses – in order to master a second language.

Those of you trying your hand at learning a language are probably familiar with certain problems associated with an input- or output-only approach. With regard to the former: listening to podcasts, watching movies and reading magazines in the target language will not magically allow you to meaningfully interact with a native speaker of this language. In fact, you would be lucky to string together the most basic of sentences without stumbling over your words. Proper pronunciation requires the constant training of one’s articulators (by producing output in the L2), a never-ending process for the typical language learner.

Likewise, those who stick to producing the language rather than absorbing it will be hindered by incorrigible mispronunciation habits. Exposure to input from native speakers allows us to eliminate the assumptions that we initially form about how words should be pronounced. It also serves as a humbling reminder that there is always room for improvement when learning a language.

For more insightful comments about the Input vs. Output debate, read the article by John Fotheringham that inspired this post.

Image: Telephone Game by Norman Rockwell

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3 Comments on "The Input vs. Output Debate"

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Well said! And good point on “training one’s articulators”.

Here is an updated link to the article (some of my domains changed slightly when I relaunched the site):’s-2¢

Thanks, John! I’ve updated the post with the new link. The new site looks great, by the way!

Thank you very much!