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Retaining and Confusing Languages

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Shinn
Trilingual Tetraglot
Groupie
India
gallery.takingitglob
Joined 4952 days ago

61 posts - 69 votes 
Speaks: English*, Hindi*, Oriya*, SpanishB2
Studies: FrenchB1, Japanese, Irish

 
 Message 1 of 9
11 January 2009 at 8:15am | IP Logged 
Dear Dr. Arguelles,

You may have answered a question like this before, but I really need your advice at the moment, so excuse me if this is repetitive.

I have a problem regarding language learning. It's not language acquisition that I have trouble with, but language retention. I find it far more difficult to retain a language once I have learnt it, rather than to learn it in the first place. I learnt my first 'real' foreign language rather late, and there are at least seven other languages that I wish to learn so this is something of a serious problem for me.

A little about my linguistic background: I grew up trilingual, if such a thing is possible. I learnt English, Oriya and Hindi at around the same time and I still use all three languages, albeit in different places and situations. However, English is the language I use the most and the one I am most comfortable with. My first foreign language was French, which I learnt (and forgot) in school. I started learning Spanish two years ago, when I was 19 and so far it's the only foreign language I can really claim to know. About five to six months ago, I started learning Japanese. While I am far from fluent, I feel fairly comfortable with the language and grammar and am often able to comprehend easy material, such as those in comic books or children's stories.

I also want to resuscitate my French and learn Portuguese (among others) but I decided to go with Japanese first because I thought that being so different from a Romance language, it would not interfere with my Spanish. However, I find that I sometimes do confuse Spanish with Japanese. For example, the other day, try as I might, I simply could not recall the Spanish word for corner (rincón); I kept saying "kado", which is the Japanese word. I could not understand how I could confuse such a simple word, when just days before I was happy about managing to read Mario Benedetti without a dictionary.

It seems that every time I learn a new language, the old one gets affected. Whatever little French I had retained was done with by the time I acquired a basic fluency in Spanish (although I can still read a little French) and now I fear the same will happen when my Japanese gets better.

As I said, I want to learn a few other Romance languages as well and was wondering if it would be possible to learn two of them at the same time (say, Portuguese and Italian together) but I'm not sure that is a good idea anymore. There are other, un-related languages I wish to learn, such as Irish Gaelic, Russian and Ojibwe, but I am afraid I will end up confusing those as well.

Is this normal? Or am I not paying enough attention to each language? How can I continue to build up on each language without mangling any of them? Also, would it be better if I waited until I achieved a high level of fluency in one language before moving onto another?

I will appreciate any advice you can give me. My Spanish skills really got a shot in the arm after I tried your shadowing techniques, so I hope you can help me get over this obstacle as well.

Thank you,
Shoma Patnaik.
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JonB
Diglot
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 4805 days ago

209 posts - 220 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Italian, Dutch, Greek

 
 Message 2 of 9
12 January 2009 at 5:50am | IP Logged 
I will also be very interested to see the professor's comments on this. It has long intrigued me as to how polyglots who have mastered a large number of languages (incl. closely related lanuages such as Spanish and Italian) are able to keep all of this knowledge fresh, intact and 'compartmentalized' in their brains!

Having said that, I wouldn't be overly concerned about the occasional 'black out' in the case of a particular word - I think that is completely normal and par for the course.

For instance, I myself read quite a lot of German and I am able to understand and enjoy even quite 'serious' titles with considerable ease. Yet it sometimes happens that I just can't recall to mind some simple little word or expression in German! (If I look these up, I usually get the feeling: "Ah, of course - how could I EVER forget that!?")

So I guess it's a minor irritation, but really nothing to worry about. What counts most of all is your ability to understand whole sentences - not isolated words!
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5796 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 3 of 9
13 January 2009 at 8:11am | IP Logged 
Dear Ms. Patnaik,

Thank you for your letter. Your problems are not abnormal, and as you yourself hypothesize, they are due to not paying enough attention to each language. Thus, if you do this, then you should hopefully find your cure - but how to do this?

When it comes to retention and making continued progress, you must quite simply actively use your languages after you learn them. Reading between the lines, I suspect that you have not done this adequately. It seems that you have acquired languages by working successfully through course material and then expected to retain the skills as you might reasonably expect to retain the ability to swim or to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, it just does not work this way. Learning a language is akin to building a life-long friendship, and just as actual relationships of this nature require contact in order to be meaningfully maintained, so, too, do languages. How much French did you read after you learned it? How much did you listen to? How often did you converse in it? I will wager that no such opportunities actively presented themselves to you and so you did very little if any of this. Well, you must seek out and make such opportunities. One of the most important things you must do is to learn to think in any language you study, and to talk to yourself in it, aloud or not. You can set aside specific private times for doing this, such as when you are doing your shower routine, until it becomes a fixed habit. This alone can prevent a language from rusting too much, but you will have to interact with some voice other than Shoma's if you want to make actual progress.

As for confusing languages as disparate as Spanish and Japanese: I believe this comes from having an inadequate categorization scheme in your head. You probably have but a single slot for "foreign language" in which you store everything. What you need to do is perhaps actively and consciously visualize having some sort of a cabinet with multiple drawers in your brain. One should be labeled for French, one for Spanish, one for Japanese, etc. When you begin a study session for any one, literally imagine yourself opening that drawer and taking out those elements. When you finish, see yourself putting them away. As you develop this ability, set aside some specific time for switching between drawers, opening one, taking things out and putting them away, then closing it and opening the next. After this becomes a fixed habit, you will not need to do it consciously any more.

Hold off on other Romance languages until you have solved these problems for French and Spanish, and until you have built them to the point where you can see specific analogies to them as you go about learning Italian and Portuguese. If you can successfully solve the problems of retention and confusion, then there is no reason why you should not be able to learn all the languages on your list in whatever sequence you please. You have discovered early on that the difficulty in becoming a polyglot lies not in the acquisition but in the maintenance, so try these techniques and see if they help. If they do, then I believe you have the makings of a true polyglot in you.

Best of luck to you and please write again after you have tried these techniques to let me know if they work for you.

Regards,

Alexander Arguelles
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Shinn
Trilingual Tetraglot
Groupie
India
gallery.takingitglob
Joined 4952 days ago

61 posts - 69 votes 
Speaks: English*, Hindi*, Oriya*, SpanishB2
Studies: FrenchB1, Japanese, Irish

 
 Message 4 of 9
14 January 2009 at 10:15am | IP Logged 
Thanks for your comments and advice, JonB and Dr. Arquelles.

After reading your reply, Dr Arquelles, I have realised where I went wrong. I will incorporate your advice into a more organized study plan and let you know how it goes. Thank you very much, once again.
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Olekander
Triglot
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 4423 days ago

122 posts - 136 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Russian

 
 Message 5 of 9
27 January 2009 at 10:33am | IP Logged 
I had a rather more bizare encounter, well actually it is ongoing. I find the more I learn in my foreign languages, the more I forget my mother tonuge. I know this sounds ludicrous but I constantly find myself forgetting the more complicated words in our language and have resorted to actually asking a foreigner to helping me out. Now the reason I feel this happens is because I am constanty thinking in french, and sometimes russian, but i'm still living in england.I still understand the words when I hear them, but just simply can't reproduce them. Bizare.
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 5243 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 6 of 9
28 January 2009 at 2:16am | IP Logged 
Olekander, I doubt that you are actually forgetting your English, especially as you live in an Anglophone country. What happens may be that you pose yourself "expression tasks" that are targeted towards the languages you study, and because you don't immediately find a simple way of expressing those ideas in English you feel that you are loosing ground in your native language. But try to analyze some of the cases where you feel that you have been in trouble, - if you can't express something in English then it might be because your original thought wasn't supposed to be expressed in that language.

I have just mentioned in another thread that there are evidence that some language
learners built each new language as a separate entity in their brains, while others built them as one big interconnected system of translations. Maybe you just belong in the first category, and then it wouldn't be surprising that a French or Latin or Russian thought didn't immediately evoke a response in your native English.


Edited by Iversen on 28 January 2009 at 2:17am

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Olekander
Triglot
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 4423 days ago

122 posts - 136 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Russian

 
 Message 7 of 9
28 January 2009 at 6:05am | IP Logged 
Thanks Iversen, I think I read that post actually.

So assumadly you have different "areas" in your brain for all those languages listen under you name; I think it's a must if anyone wants to speak them fluently. Language is NOT translation, contary to most school boys. lol.

SChool helped me nout in learning languages.
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Satoshi
Diglot
Senior Member
Brazil
Joined 4363 days ago

215 posts - 223 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese*, English
Studies: German, Japanese

 
 Message 8 of 9
30 January 2009 at 3:29pm | IP Logged 
Olekander, it happens all the time to me, too. And it is exactly as Iversen pointed out: I am thinking directly in such language and that specific construction or thought pattern simply does not have a equivalent.

I mean, it is easy to be like: house/casa/ie and dog/cão/inu, but it gets more and more complicated when you come across things like: how ya holding up?/daijobu?/aí, beleza? and tries to express that thought in another language without proper adaptation.


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