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Difficulty of Learning Languages

  Tags: Talent | Difficulty
 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
25 messages over 4 pages: 1 24  Next >>
leonidus
Triglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
Joined 4558 days ago

113 posts - 123 votes 
Speaks: Russian*, English, French
Studies: German, Mandarin

 
 Message 17 of 25
17 April 2009 at 6:37pm | IP Logged 
Volte wrote:
I'm shocked by this post. If this were a discussion over a beer, it would be one thing - but this is a forum, and you have wikipedia and google access. In the same vein, it's one thing to ask a question, and another to come up with this kind of chain of postulates without doing any fact checking whatsoever.


Please don't be. Writing a chain of postulates sometimes provokes extracting hidden knowledge that no google or wikipedia can achieve :) Besides, at the time of writing it felt more like a beer discussion to me, hence the consequences. But someone brought up the concept of loanwords in languages. And I would like to illustrate the idea from my own experience.

After I've learnt English it was so much easier for me to learn other European languages, since they have a lot of loadwords in them. The time it takes to learn one language, even not in the same family group is much less, not only due to the fact that you have a learning experience, but rather due to some similar vocabulary base. That makes it easier to learn further languages. So when I said what I said in my previous post I meant that these Indian languages may have core vocabulary of their own, but many modern terms are shared between them in an assimilated form, and many of those come from English. I don't insist this is the situation, I absolutely have no experience with Indian languages. And those were not postulates, mere guesswork projected from related language experience. But I am still wondering if there are own words for many economic, political, scientific terms in these languages, or they are loan words.
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qklilx
Moderator
United States
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 Message 18 of 25
18 April 2009 at 2:36am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
The hard part is to find time. And if you can't find enough time and automatically get enough exposure (contrary to those who live in a multilingual environment) then you can compensate for this by using study methods which may imply a bit of hard work. And hard work here is not limited to the use of flash cards, wordlists, grammars and such things, - it is also hard work to keep reading 'comprehensible input' that is slightly above your level. The solution to this is to stop whining about having to study and instead enjoy what you are doing.


I could just have a different logic or reaction to such activities than you on this, but personally I find that reading and comprehending texts that are slightly above one's level isn't that difficult. It just takes time to look up new words and get a good explanation on new grammar. The comprehension takes care of itself as long as the text isn't too far ahead of you, and if it is, you should probably find another text.

Perhaps I should say that language learning is time-consuming and requires a certain degree of self-discipline, but I stand by my belief that it's not difficult.
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guesto
Groupie
Australia
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Studies: Italian, Spanish

 
 Message 19 of 25
18 April 2009 at 3:03am | IP Logged 
A lot of people are mentioning people who become multilingual living in a place where many languages are spoken. While it is certainly easier to become fluent in another language in such an environment, I often wonder how fluent these "circumstantial" polyglots actually are. For example, that Indian guy, is he entirely competent in all those languages, or does he just mean that he can buy food from the Gujarati vendor at the market and engage in basic small talk with his Gujarati speaking neighbour? It seems often these people have good passive knowledge and can speak conversationally quite well, but are not really fully literate in the language. It would be easy to convince yourself you knew a language well if you spoke it everyday at the market but had never opened a book written in the language, or never had a more complex discussion about more esoteric subjects. It seems like a reverse situation of the foreigner who has good knowledge of the written language but can't understand the spoken language. For example I knew people from the Baltic states who understood spoken Russian well enough to get around and communicate at a reasonable level since they were highly exposed to it since birth, however they felt very uncomfortable reading and writing in it and had vocabularies limited to everyday subjects, yet an outsider might well assume they were native speakers judging by the way they converse in it.
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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 21 of 25
18 April 2009 at 3:21am | IP Logged 
I agree. Not all of these "circumstantial" polyglots know all of "their" languages at an equally high level. Moreover, I've met my share of monolingual or bilingual Europeans who come from areas which contain significant communities of speakers of different languages and by the logic followed in this thread should be predisposed to being multilingual.

For example a lot of my friends in Slovakia are truly fluent only in Slovak and one other language (usually English or German). I have even met friends of friends whose English is virtually non-existent and they know only Slovak. This is not so different from a lot of Americans who have only a rudimentary (or at most an intermediate) grasp of Spanish. Most of these Slovaks can't speak or use Czech BUT have a very strong passive understanding of it thanks to the inherent similarity between Czech and Slovak and the fact that many of them grew up watching Czech television or listening to Czech radio. Some others have at most an intermediate level of passive understanding for Polish, and very few know or bother to learn Hungarian despite some of them having Hungarian parents or grandparents or living in areas where the Hungarian minority (about 10% of Slovakia's population) forms a near- or absolute majority in the village's or town's population.
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icing_death
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United States
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 Message 22 of 25
18 April 2009 at 8:42am | IP Logged 
qklilx wrote:
Perhaps I should say that language learning is time-consuming and requires a certain degree of
self-discipline, but I stand by my belief that it's not difficult.

When it comes to language leaning, my definition of difficult = time consuming. What's yours?
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
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Denmark
berejst.dk
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 Message 23 of 25
18 April 2009 at 10:24am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
... - it is also hard work to keep reading 'comprehensible input' that is slightly above your level ...


qklilx wrote:
I could just have a different logic or reaction to such activities than you on this, but personally I find that reading and comprehending texts that are slightly above one's level isn't that difficult. It just takes time to look up new words and get a good explanation on new grammar....



Reading something in Basque or Finnish is close to impossible if you haven't learnt those languages, - but you may have a guess concerning a few scattered loanwords, Making sense of this meager information IS hard work, at least for me.

Paradoxically, reading Chinese is not merely hard, but impossible if you don't know those pretty Chinese signs. Which actually makes it less hard because you just have to give up.

Reading something in a language where you have to look up several words in each sentence feels frustrating, and doing something that makes me feel frustrated also makes me tired, and then it is 'hard' in my book. But I still do it in order to 'crack the code' in a new language.

If it's a matter of missing a few words here and here in order to get the meaning then it isn't too bad, and only then I would use the term "comprehensible input".

And if I can read all of it without having any doubts then it isn't hard at all, but then I also wouldn't learn much from it.

You could say that 'hard' things aren't hard, they just take time. But if you spend one hour reading an easy book or magazine in your native language and compare this to one hour spent on trying to make sense of something well beyond your level in a target language (with or without a dictionary) then I predict that you will feel more tired in your head after this last activity. And if you had the intention of reading the same amount of text in the two situations it would take you far longer in the last one, and at the end you would feel more tired. So even though hardness can be overcome by taking your time, it still takes its toll on you, it is not just a figment of the imagination.


Edited by Iversen on 18 April 2009 at 10:36am

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Volte
Tetraglot
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Switzerland
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 Message 24 of 25
18 April 2009 at 4:11pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:

Reading something in Basque or Finnish is close to impossible if you haven't learnt those languages, - but you may have a guess concerning a few scattered loanwords, Making sense of this meager information IS hard work, at least for me.


I've got to disagree here. Reading arbitrary texts in those languages with no background in them is indeed close to impossible. For Basque, at least, I find some very restricted categories of texts quite comprehensible (I've never studied the language, but I have picked up some words and a notion of some parts of the grammar). Specifically, texts which are very structured (ie, lists of birth and death dates for, say, writers), or texts which are fairly structured and have a lot of loan words (ie, a fairly technical grammar) can both be surprisingly approachable.

It's not just a matter of recognizing loan words; you can infer a lot from structure. I learned the Hungarian word 'Tartalom' (roughly 'contents' - used above a listing of chapter titles) from seeing it in multiple books and inferring what it meant - I checked with an online translator, but this was only a confirmation of what I'd already figured out. Really common words also start to become obvious after a while, like 'and'.

Judging by my experience aligning Hungarian texts, Finnish would be marginally harder than Basque in this regard - but I haven't played enough with Finnish to be positive.

I do agree with you that this is both slow and tiring, though.



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