What do you think about Refold's **CONTROVERSIAL!** advice to delay outputting until you can "understand pretty much everything" in your target language?

Refold is an online community with hundreds of members that aims to promote input/immersion-based language learning and guide language learners through the process. Much of the advice on there seems sound enough to me.

However, the Refold guide suggests waiting until stage 5 (where you can “understand close to everything”) before outputting - regardless of the language being studied. It provides examples of learners who allegedly were able to “wake up one morning able to speak their target language” having never outputted before.

I am not in a position to judge whether this could work for Japanese. For Mandarin that advice seems unwise. I don’t know of a single success story of anybody who followed it and went on to become fluent.

On the other hand the internet seems to be full of Mandarin Refolders who regret not outputting earlier in the ridiculous hope they would one day magically wake up and be able to speak fluent Mandarin. Learners such as this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl3VUsF7vaI

I can’t comment for other languages, but every single successful Mandarin speaker that I have ever encountered or interviewed on my podcast outputted from early on. Speaking with good tones requires simultaneously training yourself to hear tones correctly and while reinforcing this with accurate mimicry.

In my experience if these are not done simultaneously, major problems occur and the tones are internalised incorrectly (this can of course be corrected later on but many people give up when the realisation hits them that their tones are terrible despite working so hard to learn Chinese.)

Can anybody point me to success stories/ cases that contradict my point of view?


A link to the guide in question: https://refold.la/roadmap/stage-3/a/starting-output

well learning languages IS a simultaneously process, only for entirely talented can not we reach that by mentioned things. Now I have been struggling with Japanese study for which I can not output early times for some private reasons then here I came to the forum

My question to you is what exactly do you understand and what exactly do you speak with little language exposure?

I am currently attending a formal language course at a language school where early speaking is encouraged in terms of asking questions about the language itself and about some randomly chosen topics. My experience over the months of observing these students speaking German is that 9 out of 10 times they can not string together a coherent sentence and moreover they are internalizing mistakes/sounds heavily influenced by their native languages. The teacher is too lazy to point out their mistakes and is under time pressure to complete his syllabus.

Your early speaking approach is like a suicide bomb ready to detonate if there is no “feedback loop” at all on offer as was the case in the above-mentioned formal language course.

Not everyone can find a patient native speaker friend who can provide nonstop feedback about their mistakes and then they are constantly making sure to fix them in their spare time.

With massive language input exposure, it is not that hard to convert your passive knowledge into active knowledge and develop some sort of spoken fluency. And you develop a clear mental image of your foreign language.


Agree on the point of hearing tones – it’s important. And I don’t believe for a second the people linked on that page just started speaking for the first time.

But I have not done much output over three years and I don’t regret it. A hard policy of -no- output is obviously not a good idea, but depending on one’s personality waiting may be better.

My comprehension is C1 - C2 (I attend university level German language philosophy courses) but my output is B1 - B2. Sometimes I can still stumble in the simplest situations at a restaurant or something.

But here’s the thing: I am only interested in real conversations with real people about real things. While learning I have not burdened my friends with “what’s your favorite color” style conversations, nor have I engaged in much role playing where I pretend to call a hotel to make a reservation. Maybe this has stifled my growth, but I don’t mind. It depends on your personality, and your friends, but if you want to talk about real things, it will take a while to learn the necessary vocabulary and expressions in the domains you aren interested in.

Another benefit of waiting is that I feel like I am not dealing with everything at once. I’m at the point where I understand almost everything I hear. So conversations for me are purely an output struggle, I’m not struggling at the same time to understand the other person and form sentences.

This all depends on personality. Some people would enjoy language class style roleplaying and that’s ok. But for some waiting a long time to output works better.


I’ve already covered this extensively on my podcast and blog.

Find me a single example of a sucessful Mandarin learner who waited until they could “understand everything” before outputting.

Tick tock, tick tock…

As I said, I can’t speak for other languages.

For Mandarin? DISASTER.

And anyone who disagrees please find me a single example of a successful Mandarin learner who waited until they could “understand everything” before outputting.

I have done both, but I am not really certain what conclusions to draw:

“Speaking Early”
I started speaking Swedish and Norwegian (and German, but that was in school a long time ago), before I even knew about the input hypothesis. I talked about this before, but my first Swedish conversation in August of 2020, I Googled how to say my name and how old I was, and the proceeded to say it wrong.

During those first two months I read a lot about the grammar in Swedish and Norwegian and could have talked about nearly any concept in their grammars. But I’d say 99% of my “conversations” were me talking in English. When I learned about input, bought books I was familiar with, and forced myself to read them, my progress was rapid, and there was very little divide between things I could understand and things I could say.

“Input Only”
In May of 2021, I became curious on how much Danish I could understand, and then read “Den lille havfrue” one random night. I tried to also start reading Dutch but that turned out to be too much. I continued with Danish for 30-60 minutes of input from May until having my first conversation December of 2021. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life, because I understood the entirety of what was said to me, and was almost incapable of saying things in Danish, my mouth had no idea what to do and everything was some weird “svorsk”. I kept up with it, selecting tutors that do not understand Swedish or Norwegian (very well), and my progress week over week was unrecognizable.

I have never “studied” Danish grammar, but I have noticed over time the differences between Swedish and Norwegian. I also did not practice any Danish pronunciation before my first conversation.

In December of 2021 I picked Dutch up again, and read roughly 30 minutes a day, and had my first conversation 3-4 weeks ago. I did study some Dutch grammar (in Dutch) through that time and I did practice pronunciation of words I had a hard time hearing (e.g., graag gedaan). And my first conversation was possibly worse than Danish. Again, I found it very hard to not speak German or English. After week 1, I made a cheat sheet showing random words and phrases I like to use and their conjugations and have that up on a monitor to peak at in an attempt to not speak accidental German. Weeks 2 and 3 were much easier and I expect it to progress just as rapidly.

I did “speak early” with lots of corrections in tandem with mass input before learning a similar (mutually intelligible) language using input only. Even in that case, I did not wake up one day with a magical ability to speak that new language.


I like the idea, but I always say to start talking whenever you feel like it and you shouldn’t force someone that doesn’t want to talk yet. If you want to talk early and have willing interlocutors, go for it. If you prefer to wait until your level is higher, that’s good too. Imo, I’d say around the B1 to B2 threshold is about right.

Other than a 1 minute convo with a guy selling tamales (and unless you count babbling to myself, practicing pronunciation) my first conversation in Spanish was a complete conversation 30-45 minutes long. I wasn’t necessarily at the level of understanding every single word all of the time but I was at the level of using anything as comprehensible input (no problem understanding telenovelas, news, etc, much of the time word for word, but still using context to fill in often). So I’d say a high B1. If B2 is “regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.” I’d say I wasn’t far from that, definitely not fluent but certainly able to “get by”.

I have zero interest in talking too early, it’s like trying to run with my shoe laces tied, it’s just too frustrating. I did the exact opposite in French, I tried speaking every chance I got before I had any business trying to talk (despite good grades after years of traditional skill-building classes), I was absolutely fearless, and it was just disaster after disaster after disaster (I was studying abroad at the time). I was a pain in the butt for every French person I interacted with. With Chinese, I’m just gonna chill, get my input, get at least a few Chinese TV series under my belt and someday I’ll do some talking (or maybe not, not a lot of Chinese people around where I live).

I don’t buy into any language being more or less special than any other one. So maybe this is a sort of middle ground between refold and talk on day one, although I think I definitely lean towards the refold view.


Well that’s fine, you’re not that bothered whether you can eventually speak Chinese fluently or not. But for the majority of people who do want to speak fluently, it might make sense to pay attention to what people who have achieved that goal did.

And as I keep repeating: I have seen zero success stories for people who followed the Refold Chinese method of only outputting once they could already understand everything.

“I don’t buy into any language being more or less special than any other one.”

WHat does that mean? No language is more “special” than any other languages. But different languages clearly come with distinct challenges and cannot be approached in exactly the same way.

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I think the recommendation to not output early is less ‘avoid output at all costs until you understand everything’ and more so because Refold mostly aim their advice to those living and working/going to school in one country while learning another language, without much access in their environment to native speakers.

During those stages where you understand relatively little of the language in the first place, I think their suggestion is that for most people in that position - given the conversations you are likely able to have - it’s probably not worth the time/effort/money it may take to find native speakers to talk to when those resources might be better spent on getting good input, which is what will facilitate learning anyway.

I think they’d say that if you did happen to find yourself in a bar with a bunch of spaniards, say, during those early stages there definitely won’t be any harm in attempting a conversation and having a good time with what you have. Different circumstances apply to different people.


Apologies in advance if I’m miscontruing some things (and I haven’t watched the video yet, but will try to).

I think the question is whether speaking early or speaking late should be a MANDATE–or one approach considered “better” than the other. On this point I agree with jahufford. Do it when you feel like it. One can argue maybe which is more efficient or “better”, but I think that will depend on the person frankly. If refold is saying it is better to wait until some defined timeline, then they are wrong. If someone is saying one should start speaking from day one or that you need to speak early, I believe they are wrong…

I personally want to speak German fluently at some point myself, however, I’ve chosen to wait until I can understand more meaningful conversations, or I have enough words to express something at least mildly interesting. This isn’t to say I’ve not spoken in German at all, or had basic conversations or interactions, but any bit of speaking I do is on my own timeline of comfort. I also speak to myself occasionally as practice mostly. Occasionally to my gf. I will certainly start to transition into it more and have done so already…but again on my timeline.

Of course, caveat…I don’t HAVE to do anything. So if there’s the question of what’s more efficient, my approach might not be as efficient possibly, although I don’t know that it isn’t either. Again, I think it’s up to the individual mostly.


“If refold is saying it is better to wait until some defined timeline, then they are wrong. If someone is saying one should start speaking from day one or that you need to speak early, I believe they are wrong…”

Right, I totally agree. People have different goals. But people are going to refold for a specific purpose. Refold claims to offer a roadmap for the most efficient way to learn a language to a high level.

“I’ve chosen to wait until I can understand more meaningful conversations,”

That sounds like a totally sensible and reasonable choice.

But waiting until “you can understand close to everything” in the hope that you will one day magically wake up and speak fluently? I’m sorry, let’s call a spade a spade: that’s extreme. People are entitled to hold extreme and unfounded views but the rest of us should be free to describe those views for what they are. I think it’s bad advice and I’ve never met anyone who followed that advice and got good results for Mandarin.


I agree with it. I reached a high level of Spanish without having to have many conversations. Each time I would have a conversation after listening for a ton of time, my ability to converse would be so much better. When it boils down to it, language really feels like just repeating phrases and grammar structures that you hear. To me, that all comes from extensive listening.


“they are internalizing mistakes/sounds heavily influenced by their native languages.”

That’s the main reason I think early output is a mistake. You literally can’t say anything of substance without resorting to the structures of your native language, activating improper neural pathways… Whether this has lasting negative effects, I don’t know.

This sort of thing can go to ridiculous levels, I remember speaking French with another American at a French meetup and he was having trouble understanding a word I was saying (I’ve worked very hard on my French pronunciation and it’s pretty decent, not perfect of course), so I said the word with a thick American accent (basically say it how it’s spelled but with English phonology) and then he understood. Clearly, he’s someone that hasn’t listened enough, his phonological development just wasn’t there. He had the wrong mental picture, so to speak, of what the word sounded like. If you can’t recognize the word when it’s spoken, how could you even hope of pronouncing it correctly on your own?

On the flip side, I think output can make you notice things you might have just passed over before, since there’s so much redundancy and context in language. So I think output does play a role, Of course, outputting requires developing the neurological structures to do that, and to an extent you have to output to do that. But again, how can you output something if you don’t already have the understanding of it?


Cool, someone else that talks to themselves!
Along with my babbling practice, I found that as I was watching my telenovelas, I’d just start spontaneously forming sentences in my head, and started doing a little talking to myself. Eventually I got to a point where I felt like if I get an opportunity, I should try talking with someone. So it’s not magically starting talking, I was practicing the muscle movements to pronounce things, and doing some talking to myself, so I guess you could say I was talking, but I wasn’t forcing it. It was completely stress-free and just sort of spontaneous. Sounds similar to your approach.


I think this credo of output-delay goes back to a website call antimoon, this message was then picked up by AJATT and is now in its third incarnation over at refold. The purported reason for output avoidance was, if I understand correctly, that it might do irreparable harm, especially to one’s accent. But I have not seen or heard of any evidence bolstering this claim.

I assume that people who prioritize output don’t choose refold as their language guide. Why would they? Output as in communicating with other using the target language is clearly only a marginal issue in the guide. I’m certain that people who just want to get talking asap are better served following a guide by someone like Benny Lewis for example, a guide who puts output at front and center.
I’m also entirely unsurprised that few people following a delayed output approach reach high levels of output proficiency. Because output cannot be a high priority for them, else they wouldn’t have avoided speaking for x years.
And not prioritizing output will naturally result in weaker results in that domain. While people who actually care about output will most likely start earlier and allocate more resources toward their goal than their peers in the output-avoidance camp.


But people are going to refold for a specific purpose
I assume that people who prioritize output don’t choose refold as their language guide.

For many of us “hobby learners” who are doing this later in life for personal interests, the refold method is a good starting template for self taught people who have never learned a language on their own before (and on the website I think it mentions that there aren’t any hard and fast rules, except to prioritizing enjoying oneself to avoid burnout.) And again, the refold discord is full of cool people that are trying out different strategies and sharing what works and doesn’t work for them.

Yes, if you need / really prioritize speaking, you should practice speaking. But if you 1. don’t live in your TL country or have plans to go there, 2. don’t know any native speakers, 3. don’t have time or money (or are really cheap like me haha) to spend on classes or tutors… why force speaking from the beginning if you don’t feel like it? You can master the other domains being self taught, and it turns out a lot of fun happens consuming content and interacting on the internet anyway - I’ve been enjoying shit posting comments on the danmu screens which is enough output and interaction I need for now.

People are really different, no one size approach fits everyone, it’s important to take advice from various people who have achieved what your specific goals are - I don’t recommend telling everyone that “You Will Regret Not Speaking!” - it’s kinda offputting…

(You won’t regret learning to get to a high reading comprehension… books are super nifty)


It worked for you in Spanish and therefore you conclude it’s sound advice for any language, including Mandarin? Despite the fact that there seem to be zero sucessful cases of learners taking this approach? I literally don’t understand this line of reasoning.

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“I assume that people who prioritize output don’t choose refold as their language guide. Why would they?”

Because many people look at success stories like Matt Vs Japan who speaks incredible Japanese and think…I want to achieve that but for Mandarin. Large numbers of Refolders ultimately want to speak near native level Mandarin.

And they are told that the best way to do that is to not output for the first two years until they can understand “everything.” A strategy which for Mandarin has, as far as I know (any nobody has yet contradicted me on this point) never worked in the history of language learning.

And I am literally the ONLY person here who sees this as in any way problematic?

The mind boggles.

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