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Arabic/ Quechua queries

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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B04DE1CLG
Bilingual Diglot
Newbie
United Kingdom
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6 posts - 7 votes
Speaks: English*, Welsh*
Studies: French, Arabic (classical), German, Latin

 
 Message 1 of 11
04 February 2009 at 10:50am | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles,
I have been reluctant to contribute to this forum, preferring to remain anonymous (virtually) and to read your and others' (highly interesting) posts, comments and arguments.
Nevertheless, I have decided to let curiosity get the better of me, and would like to ask a few questions about languages in general and your experience of them in particular.
I suppose I had better introduce myself to a certain degree first though; I am a native Welsh speaker, brought up in a Welsh speaking environment in the family, school, chapel et.c; I also speak English to a native language, although I would never call it my 'own' language; perhaps here the distinction between 'mothertongue' and native language becomes useful.
In childhood I was acutely aware of language issues generally; my grandmother is a native french speaker, and my father, who learnt french in school in england, would read french storybooks to me from a young age (I regarded myself as relatively proficient in french by the age of 15) At school I encountered German, and as a result of many visits to Germany and many friendships made with Germans, became very eager (awyddus?!) to learn the language.
I must say, no language has ever given me more pleasure, in its speaking or reading.
I also persued Latin to a good basic standard, and commenced with the learning of Arabic.
And here comes my first query; my pedagogical method for arabic is that of two parallel learning tracks, as it were; the first being Arabic through the Qur'an (with the arabic bible as a supplement to that) and the second consisting of an audio course in MSA. I was wondering to what extent you think I could make progress with these two parallel tracks, with reference to the fact that I have low to zero chance to engage in intercourse with native arabic speakers and that the the two courses rarely overlap. I am also curious as to the degree of difference between MSA and dialect.
(I have good learning techniques and can use my time well, although I'm lucky to have one hour every evening to study)

Lastly, some queries; would you include the Bible, Qur'an etc in your great books program ?(accepting that many would quail at the labelling of them as literature)
How long do you think it would take you to learn a language such as Quechua from scratch? (with 1 hour every day in which to do so)
What variety(s) of Irish Gaelic did you study? Medieval/modern/dialect(i.e native spoken)?
To close, thank you for your presence on this forum; it is a great help, and an inspiration!

C.L.Graves

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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 2 of 11
09 February 2009 at 7:43am | IP Logged 
Dear Mr. Graves,

Thank you for your letter.

I believe that your approach of using the Qur’an as a means of learning Arabic is probably the most time-tested and truly traditional method there is for the study of this language. As you mention that you use an Arabic Bible as a supplement and that you have no opportunities to engage in actual conversation, it is quite obvious that your main motivation must be cultural and religious interest in the civilization. As these texts have been the unchanging linguistic well-spring for the language as well, you simply cannot go wrong. You do not describe the nature of your “two parallel tracks,” so I can only assume that you must be simply reading and/or listening to the abundantly available recordings of these sacred texts on the one hand as you actively study the grammar and the structure of the contemporary language through your MSA course on the other. Assuming that you keep this up on a regular basis over the years, you will most certainly make a great deal of progress indeed in the formal/official/standard written variety of the language. Thereafter, should you ever have the occasion to engage in colloquial conversations, you should be very well positioned to acquire spoken dialects.

I would most emphatically regard such texts to be an integral part of any great books program, in which I think it would be most appropriate to group them together as a distinct sacred scriptural track.

As for how long it would take to learn Quechua from scratch given an hour a day: given that you must be considered an experienced language learner already (being a bilingual native speaker who has already learned three languages well and is also well underway with a fourth), and given also again that you obviously have a cultivated or scholarly interest in the ancient language of the Incas, I believe that the alien aspects of its grammatical structure should prove a source of fascination for you rather than of any particular difficulty. That said, to learn any utterly new and totally different language to any degree of thoroughness is always a question of many years of labor, even given a good systematic and regular hour a day. While it would always be possible to learn a language like this directly from the speakers in true immersed missionary fashion, quite obviously you are speaking of learning it as a scholar in your study. In that case, then, a “delaying” factor is that you will inevitably have to systematically study Spanish first before you can contemplate any such conquest of Quechua, for almost all of the serious reference works and other such resources are in Castilian. Given that you have French and Latin already, Spanish should open herself to you within a year given that hour a day, and thereafter you should certainly feel your progress in Quechua within the next year, given that same hour, though I do not know how many more years it will be before you will feel that you have attained a sufficient degree of mastery.

As for my own Irish Gaelic, yes, I have explored all the learning resources I could find and for which I could make time for in all forms – Old Irish, medieval and more modern texts in any dialects in which they may have been written, as well as in both written and audio materials for contemporary conversational forms, although, alas, I have never yet had the opportunity to use it and bring it alive.

Yours with best regards,

Alexander Arguelles

Edited by ProfArguelles on 09 February 2009 at 8:04am

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B04DE1CLG
Bilingual Diglot
Newbie
United Kingdom
Joined 5078 days ago

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Speaks: English*, Welsh*
Studies: French, Arabic (classical), German, Latin

 
 Message 3 of 11
09 February 2009 at 3:27pm | IP Logged 
Thank you for your comprehensive and helpful reply. To expand on my study of Arabic, the nature of the 'parallel tracks' I described is that of a Qur'anic course, as I mentioned, and a purely audio-based, conversational coure in MSA; what I mean by parallel is that I devote time to both regularly, but the content of the one rarely touches upon that of the other, although the target language is to all purposes the same one.
I'm sorry, I didn't express myself well in my second question, although your answer is fascinating. What I in fact intended it to be though, was a personal question; how long do you think it would take you, personally, to learn a completely alien language i.e Quechua, Inuktitut or Chichewa from scratch, given an hour a day, to the standard where you could succesfully pass your 'airplane test'? (And here I bemoan the fact that English has only you for German's 'du, Sie, ihr and man!')_
Finally, congratulations on learning Irish; from what I know of the language, a mastery of it would be very difficult without at least a good grounding in another celtic language - I hope you get the chance to visit the Gaeltacht and activate the language sometime in the not too distant future.
Regards
C.Graves
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JonB
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Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Italian, Dutch, Greek

 
 Message 4 of 11
10 February 2009 at 4:41am | IP Logged 
B04DE1CLG wrote:
What I in fact intended it to be though, was a personal question; how long do you think it would take you, personally, to learn a completely alien language i.e Quechua, Inuktitut or Chichewa from scratch, given an hour a day, to the standard where you could succesfully pass your 'airplane test'? (And here I bemoan the fact that English has only you for German's 'du, Sie, ihr and man!')
C.Graves


I would also be very interested to see a clear-cut answer to this question (if, indeed, there is a simple and clear-cut answer; there does seem to be a certain ambiguity as to what it means to 'know' a language...)
----------------------------------------

Professor Arguelles,
You recently made a Youtube video in which you asserted that it would be possible to master French, German, Spanish and Italian within a 5 year timescale - using 1960s Linguaphone, 1960s Berlitz, and the 'Practice and Improve' series. It was, however, not entirely clear whether you were saying that one could thereby reach the level of the so-called 'airplane test' for these languages?
Elsewhere it has sometimes been stated by you that the goal of complete mastery in reading must be regarded as a long term project - one taking literally decades to achieve! Therefore, there would seem to be a possible inconsistency here?

(I appreciate, of course, that there is a distinction between Western European languages and entirely exotic languages in terms of the amount of time and effort required to achieve mastery - although I also suspect that this distinction is often somewhat exaggerated...)

I would be interested to hear your comments on this.

--Jon Burgess
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 5 of 11
15 February 2009 at 2:37pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Graves:

I did misunderstand. How long would it take me to learn a language like Quechua well? Well, on the one hand, I think there can be little doubt that my broad exposure to a wide variety of linguistic structures as well as my overall experience in studying languages would facilitate the task considerably. However, I would still have to work at it, and in actuality I would be very hard pressed at this point to find that hour a day to devote to something new, having already bitten off more than I can chew. What I would need in order to do this is a situation that I can easily imagine but which I have never yet experienced: an actual requirement to learn a language. If I truly needed to get a grounding in a new tongue by a certain date (or ASAP) in order to accept a certain assignment, such that I were to give it not just an hour a day but all of my concentration (8+ hours a day), then I do imagine that I could work well on my own over a period of weeks to build myself up to the point where I could then work profitably one on one with an informed native tutor over another couple of weeks so as to bring it alive, at least to the level of respectably polite conversation. To go from there to the true comprehension in deep conversation or in “airplane test” reading (and here I have to point out that the languages you specify generally lack the requisite literature) would be a much longer trek. To make a long story short, I do not really know how to answer your question. It only stands to reason that, with all of my philological baggage, I could now learn to communicate with the natives as a castaway on a remote island faster than your average person, but I really would not know how to quantify the degree: 4X? 8X? 12x???

Mr. Burgess,

What I meant in the video is that it should certainly be possible to get past the “studying” stage of using programmed didactic materials of the type I suggest for these materials within that 5 year period. Whether or not you would be able to read the most difficult quality of texts I do not know (and I rather doubt), but the transferable overlap in vocabulary between English and the Romance languages is such that one might well be able to do begin doing so, if perhaps in a fog of sorts. Even with German, I myself have experienced both as a student and as a teacher that approximately 360 hours of well-planned and delivered formal instruction are sufficient to begin reading literature. That said, I stand by my assertion that it takes not only considerably longer but an actual lifetime’s engagement to develop and maintain the ability to read the most difficult kind of text with near-native understanding and enjoyment. Not with these languages but with exotic ones, even approaching this is indeed generally on the scale of decades.

Alexander Arguelles

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JonB
Diglot
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United Kingdom
Joined 4805 days ago

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

 
 Message 6 of 11
15 February 2009 at 3:06pm | IP Logged 
Dear Prof Arguelles,

Many thanks for this reply. I must say that it is very depressing to think that it could take dacades to reach a decent reading level in an exotic language! For some time I myself have been thinking of learning Arabic. But since I am 33 (and since I would therefore be a rather old man before reaching the desired level!) the whole exercise does begin to seem a little pointless :-(

Apropos German, I must say that it took me considerably less than 5 years (from scratch) to reach a very strong reading level in that language...
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blindside70
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polymathisthegoal.co
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Studies: Spanish, Polish, German, French

 
 Message 7 of 11
15 February 2009 at 4:58pm | IP Logged 
I would also be interested in hearing your comment on this.
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ProfArguelles
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United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5796 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 8 of 11
17 February 2009 at 10:36pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Burgess,

I do hope your response was at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for I certainly did not mean to discourage your from pursuing Arabic! If you are truly interested in the language, then I think you need to approach the proposition from a totally different perspective. Yes, even if you work systematically at it for several hours a day every day from now until then, it will probably be 10 years hence before you can sit down and read something like one of Naguib Mahfouz’ novels or Ibn Khaldoun’s Muqaddima in the original with anything like the facility with which you could do so in translation. However, you will begin to read and enjoy easier materials much sooner than that. So, do not think of the goal as being 10 years away, but rather think of the path of progress towards it as being filled with 10 years of enriching discoveries. I suppose you must enjoy the process of study and learning in and of itself in order to think this way, but even from a more utilitarian temporal calculation, should you not attain your goal until about age 45, you can still statistically expect to live to about age 75, and so you will gain 30 years of use from 10 years of construction, which does not seem like a bad ratio to me.

Alexander Arguelles


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