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Alexander Arguelles

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Sprachjunge
Diglot
Senior Member
Germany
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368 posts - 548 votes 
Speaks: English*, GermanC2
Studies: Spanish, Russian

 
 Message 25 of 71
17 May 2005 at 5:08pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, may I first say what an inspiration it was to read your posts. I offer my profound respect as a tribute, a salute to one who has done so much.

Among other things, your comment about ''language affinity'' certainly resonated. You have articulated what I have long suspected: if one is seriously contemplating long-term fluency and use of a language, it´s not just about said language. It´s about embracing the culture and tradition that comes with it, and if such a culture is fundamentally incompatible with your personality, political leanings, etc., then you probably won´t be successful. Once again, in the long-term sense of language acquisition and maintenence.

Edited by Sprachjunge on 17 May 2005 at 5:08pm

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Nephilim
Diglot
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Poland
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363 posts - 368 votes 
Speaks: English*, Polish

 
 Message 26 of 71
22 May 2005 at 5:36am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, I was absolutely fascinated by your biography (and I'm sure I'm not alone here) and I would like to ask you a couple of things about - this if I may.

1.     You mention that you were at one point leading ‘a monastic existence, obsessively studying languages all day, every day.’ What does this mean in terms of hours? Where you studying in, say, 1 hour blocks and then taking frequent breaks or were you working for hours on end without a break? Does there not come a point when the brain just can’t take in any more information in one sitting? Is there not some point of diminishing returns whereby greater effort yields fewer results?

2.     In terms of words/lexical phrases etc. would you say that for your reading languages (western ones) you know receptively somewhere around 20,000 words for each of them? I'm not exactly sure what the ‘literature’ point is for languages. I’ve heard that with a vocabulary of 10,000 words a person should be able to read 99% of all written (non-technical) material in a language. Would you agree with this figure based on your own experience or does it depend on the language?

3.     Do you think there is a physical cut of point for the amount of languages a person can learn and recall i.e. can the brain just become ‘full’ or are we only limited by our short ‘three score and ten’ life spans?

4.     With all the languages you have in your brain, how does this affect the way you dream? Do you mix languages up? Do you switch languages in the middle of a dream conversation? (This last question is from a student of mine who has just started dreaming in English and Polish)

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5770 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 27 of 71
23 May 2005 at 8:26am | IP Logged 
My monastic existence:
During my Korean years as a language monk, I rose at 2:00 AM and immediately began studying. At the crack of dawn, I would go for an hour’s run along the beach, during which time I would simultaneously listen to a language tape, and I would do likewise as I ate breakfast and got ready for the day. I went to my office at 9:00, so I got in seven hours of solid study before that. Preparing for and teaching my classes also involved language work, as did my research projects such as compiling a dictionary and writing grammars. I would go home at 5:00 and study on my own for another three hours until I went to bed at 8:00 PM. On a few occasions I was studying one language (Russian or Persian or Arabic) exclusively, and at other times I was reading a particularly engrossing book, but for the most part I divided my time into segments and adhered to them. One hour time blocks are too long for efficient concentration because you are right, the brain can only take in so much at one sitting. I used 15, 20, or 30 minute segments. I did work continuously, without breaks in which I did something other than study. Switching between various languages was enough to keep my brain fresh and stimulated. On weekends I would not go to my office but would only study at home. Sometimes I could study straight from 2:00 AM to 8:00 PM, but sometimes I would need to stop around 5:00 or 6:00.

Number of words for literature:
We have addressed this elsewhere on this forum, and there is no real way of counting the exact number of words you know or need to know. As with statistics for numbers of native speakers of various languages, I have seen widely disparate numbers cited in various statistics. The numbers that I feel most comfortable with are about 5,000 words as the active vocabulary of a native speaker without higher education and 10,000 for one with one, with double each figure as passive vocabulary. Thus, yes in order to read a work of literature such as a lengthy novel with ease, pleasure, and understanding, you need about 20,000 words. I believe this figure is probably accurate for most European languages, but for a language like Korean, you probably need somewhat more because there are many synonyms that are not interchangeable, so you need to know them all (this is due to the “respect levels” that are an inherent part of the language).

Can the brain get “full” of languages?
No, there is no physical cut off point for the number of languages a person can learn and recall. However, we are limited not only by our mortality, but by the inadequate number of hours in a day. Thus, there is inevitably a limit on the number of languages that an individual can actively know and use. Efficient time management is the key here. I can maintain languages by tending to them for only a few hours each month, but while this is satisfactory, it is not satisfying. In order to “profit” from linguistic knowledge, I feel a need to read literature in a language for about an hour at a time. I don’t need to read a language every single day, so I can put them on cyclical rotation schedules that average out to about every third or fourth day in order to give them enough hours to get through a book in about a month’s time. Thus, I belatedly figured that I could not usefully know more than about 30 languages (belatedly because I had already studied more than that), but this is because I learn them to read for edification and instruction. I don’t see why a “talking polyglot” who worked, e.g., the information booth at an international airport, could not manage to actively used twice or thrice this number (i.e., 60 or even 90 languages).

Languages in dreams:
For several years before I embarked on the path of the polyglot, I kept an active and detailed dream-log. I remembered five or six dreams each night and I spent several hours each day writing them down. Writing my dissertation and then becoming obsessed with learning languages put an end to this kind of subjective pursuit, however, and now I rarely if ever remember my dreams, so I cannot answer precisely, but I do not believe I switch languages in the middle of dream conversations or that I mix languages up, even while sleeping.
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lola
Groupie
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 Message 28 of 71
23 May 2005 at 3:07pm | IP Logged 
Now, that's monastic!

It's amazing. That is what I would call dedication (3000+ hours a year on top of a full time job).

It may be a little bit off topic, but I would love to feel rested with only 6 hours sleep instead of 9. Do you make use of some particular technique to be fully rested or is a natural thing for you?

thanks

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5770 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 29 of 71
27 May 2005 at 2:54am | IP Logged 
Since the ability to study and know many languages depends more on effective time management than on anything else, I do not think your question is at all off topic. I do not use any special techinque to feel fully rested with 6 hours of sleep. However, I have made special efforts to find and maintain my natural sleep cycle rhythm.

Both my own observations and a number of articles that I have read indicate that probably more adults are "sleep deprived" than are not. Thus, they sleep too long on some nights in order to compensate for not sleeping enough on others, and consequently always feel tired. The responsibilities and the distractions of adult life generally do not permit the luxury of what I believe to be the most natural sleep cycle, namely going to bed when it gets dark and waking up by yourself when you are rested. I have both studied and experienced that it is not six hours of sleep that I need, but rather that I need to sleep from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM. If I go to bed at 8:00 on a perfectly regular basis, I simply do awaken at 2:00 feeling perfectly alert. However, if I try to sleep from 9:00 to 3:00 or any other permutation, it just does not work. I have to make an effort to get up, am groggy for a while, and want to go back to bed or take a nap later on. If you can arrange your life so as to go to bed as soon as you feel tired in the evening and to awaken naturally on a perfectly regular basis, you might find that you actually need fewer than 9 hours of sleep.

As long as I was a bachelor, this worked just fine. Even getting married did not disturb the pattern so much, as my wife knew what she was getting into luring a philologist hermit out of his cave. Having small children has naturally made it harder to keep a perfectly regular sleep pattern when they cry during the night, but still I generally manage it by not simply putting my two year old to bed, but by going to bed with him. In the evening, he will say "Daddy, it's dark, time to go to bed," and so off we go. Thus, I can still get up at 2:00 and read for about four or five hours until the others begin stirring.

I do believe that the pre-dawn hours are the best time for studying. There is a reason why people in monasteries all over the world arise at that time to begin their devotions and the practice of meditation. For me at least, becoming and being a polyglot did and does require the same kind of religious dedication.

Edited by Ardaschir on 27 May 2005 at 2:56am

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Raistlin Majere
Trilingual Hexaglot
Senior Member
Spain
uciprotour-cycling.c
Joined 5666 days ago

455 posts - 424 votes 
7 sounds
Speaks: English*, Spanish*, Catalan*, FrenchA1, Italian, German
Studies: Swedish

 
 Message 30 of 71
27 May 2005 at 3:08am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
I do believe that the pre-dawn hours are the best time for studying. There is a reason why people in monasteries all over the world arise at that time to begin their devotions and the practice of meditation. For me at least, becoming and being a polyglot did and does require the same kind of religious dedication.


Ardaschir, if you have such a "monastical" dedication to keeping your polyglottery; did you decide to become a polyglot just for the sake of being so? Or was it just one side-effect of learning languages for some other purpose?
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lola
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 Message 31 of 71
03 June 2005 at 9:27am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir,

I think you mentioned earlier in this topic that you had some ideas of what an 'educated' should (ideally) know. I know we have to be careful when using such a term, but I don't have an alternative right now, and I think we can agree that your views are not intended to be dogma of any kind, not the unique right way, etc...

I've been fond of the Renaissance concept of 'all-rounded' education, and I'm thriving for this myself, not as a 'finished' process but as a guidance in my 'what next' learning choices. Coming from an academic and technical/scientific background, my focus of attention is more artistic and linguist these days (and near future). However, I am very interested in knowing what you considered the essentials of an 'ideal' well rounded western education...

- Maybe this should be in another topic (do we have a misc section?)


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Raistlin Majere
Trilingual Hexaglot
Senior Member
Spain
uciprotour-cycling.c
Joined 5666 days ago

455 posts - 424 votes 
7 sounds
Speaks: English*, Spanish*, Catalan*, FrenchA1, Italian, German
Studies: Swedish

 
 Message 32 of 71
03 June 2005 at 9:56am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
My monastic existence


Ardaschir; why and when did you begin to lead this monastical and language-devoted life-style, and why and when did you leave it?


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