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sfuqua
Triglot
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United States
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Speaks: English*, Hawaiian, Tagalog
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 633 of 1317
16 July 2013 at 10:51pm | IP Logged 
I continue to be a fan of your log and enjoy your insights :)
I had an explosive improvement in Samoan that happened at about your level (or a little lower). I was doing mostly input (reading) and vocabulary lists in my formal study, but I was living in country, although most of my language use was pretty repetitive. I wasn't conscious of pushing myself extra hard in my output, but all of a sudden I had a massive improvement in both input and output, literally overnight. To this day, I don't really know why, but all of a sudden I could sort of "squeeze my brain" and "fluent", accurate Samoan would come out. It is frustrating waiting for a sudden improvement, but they do happen.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think you can still look forward to some bursts of improvement, even at your advanced level.
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emk
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 Message 634 of 1317
20 July 2013 at 1:56pm | IP Logged 
sfuqua wrote:
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think you can still look forward to some bursts of improvement, even at your advanced level.

Thank you for the encouraging words, but I must admit I've never had a sudden burst of improvement that stuck. Instead, I get random fluctuations around a basic ability level, which improves very gradually. I've given up dreaming of breakthroughs; apparently that's not how languages work for me. Of course, I won't say no if I actually get one! :-)

Business role-play

Another great session with my tutor on Friday. We spent more time talking about copywriting and how you need to put yourself dans la peau d'un client. As I expected, the more I talk about this stuff, the easier it gets. Next we plan to move in a technical direction: servers, domain names, site hosting, and so on.

I think this is really worth emphasizing: At any time from B1 up, it's possible to speak quite competently about a familiar subject. If you need to be able to handle a certain situation, then all you need to do is spend some time reading and practicing. Sure, C1 gives you the ability to cope with unfamiliar subjects, and to keep up with groups of native speakers who aren't willing to cut you very much slack. But the basics are all there by B1, if all you need to do is talk about one of your favorite subjects to a reasonably sympathetic listener.

Lessons will be a little bit irregular from now until the end of August thanks to my tutor's schedule, however. Not that my schedule is any less crowded—consulting is going well, and I'm busy through October. Once things slow down, I may take some time off for French again.

Paul au Parc

A while ago songlines (and kanewai or garyb?) recommended the BD Paul au Parc. This is a story of growing up in Quebec, touching on such themes as family, young love, scouting, the news about the FLQ, and learning to play the guitar. This is a quiet book, without the revolution and stress that make Persepolis such a classic. But the very atmosphere of Paul au Parc is utterly enchanting. This series has won a very long list of prizes and awards for a reason.

Plus, if you pay careful attention, there's some great bits of Quebecois French hidden in the dialog. I even noticed one character using the -tu particle. Not to mention the Quebecois Boy Scout camp songs and hundreds of other great little details.

This is one of those works of art which I never could have experienced properly without learning French. I don't know if it's actually been translated or not. But I do know that the linguistic details, the camp songs and all that are part of this work's charm.


Edited by emk on 20 July 2013 at 2:10pm

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songlines
Pro Member
Canada
flickr.com/photos/cp
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 Message 635 of 1317
21 July 2013 at 2:43am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

Paul au Parc...
This is one of those works of art which I never could have experienced properly without learning French. I
don't know if it's actually been translated or not. But I do know that the linguistic details, the camp songs and
all that are part of this work's charm.


I'm so glad you like it! The English translation of Paul au Parc is
Paul Joins the Scouts .

And, from Rabagliati's website, some (though unfortunately not all) of his other titles have also been
translated into other languages: with English leading the way, then Spanish next, Dutch, and one title each
for German, Italian, and Croation: link .

The Song of Roland is the English title for Paul à Québec.

Also, re. the Québec French which Rabagliati uses, there are also (which you may know, but perhaps other
readers of your log not?) some brief samples in my log, post
205 and following. I have to confess that I hadn't picked
up on (nor, to be honest, even known about) the -tu particle which you mentioned, though. - Thanks!

Edited by songlines on 21 July 2013 at 3:30am

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sfuqua
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2812 days ago

581 posts - 977 votes 
Speaks: English*, Hawaiian, Tagalog
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 636 of 1317
21 July 2013 at 8:08am | IP Logged 
I'm not sure if the "sudden improvement" was all that sudden in terms of hours put in. I was in an absolutely perfect situation for receiving comprehensible input. There was a beautiful girlfriend that arrived in my life at about that time, who knows what the factor was.
My "sudden improvement" at that time my have misled me in my more humble learning experiences part time with Spanish, making me think that there is some "hidden formula" that I need to recreate that punches one through to C1, when the answer is simply more time, more input, more focus on form...

Edited by sfuqua on 21 July 2013 at 8:14am

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emk
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 Message 637 of 1317
25 July 2013 at 4:07pm | IP Logged 
songlines: Thank you for recommending the Paul series! I was a little surprised by the ending of Paul au Parc, even if it was based on an actual incident. But the overall quality of writing is just terrific. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for more of these.

sfuqua: I'm increasingly convinced that really solid C1+ speaking skills are only guaranteed by immersion and identification with a peer group. Look at young heritage learners: They have plenty of exposure thanks to adults and other random members of the community. But if their actual, same-age friends don't speak the language, their language outcomes are really unpredictable: Some kids will speak quite well, others will have solid passive skills, and still others will recognize just a few words—or lose the language entirely. Massive media exposure is helpful, but without a peer group and high "integrative motivation", nothing is guaranteed.

With adults, even if you look at talented, motivated learners with intensive training, it's hard to get people above a weak C1 in speaking with some kind long-term immersion. Sure, the FSI produces lots of ILR 3 speakers in an incredibly short period of time. But if you look at publications by FSI trainers, one of the most common student complaints is the difficulty of keeping up with multi-party conversations and gossiping effectively. And according to this book, it typically takes FSI students another 4 to 17 years to reach near-native levels. This is an atrocious result compared to the typical foreign post-doc who integrates into life at a US university in their late 20s: These people often make it from B2/C1 to near-native within 2 to 5 years, and they can all gossip just fine. Many of them never crack a language textbook or look at a flash card. (Although many of them lack the time for leisure reading and therefore may lag behind in writing skills.)

Now, some people without a peer group still manage to speak quite well; it's just not guaranteed. And as I mentioned earlier, Khatzumoto thinks that people should just get their listening skills up to C2 and then keep cramming themselves with more input. And of course, the other solution is to accept B2 speech skills, where you can do pretty much anything if you're willing to struggle a bit, and not worry about more advanced speech skills until you need them on a regular basis.

A personal media repository

I've been going through our family's collection of French DVDs (we have quite a lot!) and digitizing some stuff with Handbrake:

Quote:
9,6G     media/films
28G     media/series

media/films/banlieue13.m4v
media/films/battle_of_algiers.m4v
media/films/boncop_badcop.m4v
media/films/chocolat.m4v
media/films/district9.m4v
media/films/intouchables.m4v
media/films/ne_le_dis_a_personne.m4v
media/films/oss117.m4v
media/films/persepolis.m4v
media/films/taxi.m4v
media/films/taxi2.m4v
media/films/taxi4.m4v
media/series/avatar
media/series/engrenages
media/series/kaamelott
media/series/revenants
media/series/revolution_tranquille
media/series/sous_les_vents_de_neptune

I mostly haven't tried to digitize more than the first season of anything except Avatar, and I haven't tried to digitize series like Buffy or Angel at all, because there's a nearly endless supply of episodes that I only plan to watch once.

What do I do with this media? Sometimes I'll copy a few movies or episodes to a tablet, and watch it when I'm half-asleep. But mostly, I use it as background audio. As far as background audio goes, I find that streaming Internet radio is easy to get and useful, but it's not nearly as effective as replaying some recently-watched media a few times. The first time I actually watch these shows, I pay real attention, which temporarily boosts my comprehension. But if I replay them in the background a while after, I help cement that temporary boost with only a little extra effort. Background radio can be weirdly exhausting and distracting, but replaying media is somehow easier on my brain.

As for storing all this media, I use git annex assistant, which is sort of like a personal Dropbox. The clever thing about this software is that if I put some videos in a subdirectory directory named "archive", those videos will be migrated to my external drives the next time I plug them in, and then deleted from my computer. If I want my archived videos back later, the assistant can tell me what drive they're on. Unfortunately, this is still beta software, and it's hard to set up anywhere but on Linux (or a Mac, if you're a bit technical).

If you're going to be a packrat, I think it's more useful to accumulate cool native media than it is to accumulate 20 courses for a single language. :-)

Edited by emk on 25 July 2013 at 4:26pm

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geoffw
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
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1134 posts - 1865 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
Studies: Modern Hebrew, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian

 
 Message 638 of 1317
25 July 2013 at 4:25pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:


And according to this book, it typically takes FSI students another 4 to 17 years to reach near-native levels. This is an atrocious result compared to the typical foreign post-doc who integrates into life at a US university in their late 20s: These people often make it from B2/C1 to near-native within 2 to 5 years, and they can all gossip just fine. Many of them never crack a language textbook or look at a flash card. (Although many of them lack the time for leisure reading and therefore may lag behind in writing skills.)



Very interesting post. I'm left with some questions, though. For one, you are comparing Americans who learn a non-English language as adults, on the one hand, with non-Americans who come to the US as adults and improve their English here, on the other. Many of these likely have already studied and been exposed in some meaningful way to English their entire lives, including during the childhood years when the brain is still forming the basic language structures. That seems like it could be sufficient to explain any differences.

I'm also curious: do you know how "near-native" is defined here? Is there an objective standard we can relate to here? And on what basis do you give your numbers for the US-based post docs? Personal experience, or something you read somewhere?
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emk
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 Message 639 of 1317
25 July 2013 at 5:43pm | IP Logged 
geoffw wrote:
For one, you are comparing Americans who learn a non-English language as adults, on the one hand, with non-Americans who come to the US as adults and improve their English here, on the other. Many of these likely have already studied and been exposed in some meaningful way to English their entire lives, including during the childhood years when the brain is still forming the basic language structures.

This might be true for people growing up in Scandinavia or Montreal, but I think it's a bit overstated for many countries in Europe. In France, for example, it's rare to hear English on TV, and most movies are dubbed. And so, in general, many educated French speakers may be able to read English tolerably well (if not comfortably), but they certainly tend to have strong accents and shaky listening comprehension.

Personally, I suspect that if your English is clearly non-native at age 25, and if you make frequent pronunciation and grammar errors, that it doesn't really matter how young you started studying. You're still only B2/C1ish, which is a level that adults can absolutely reach from scratch.

The people who really do have extensive childhood exposure actually sound different. For example, near Montreal, it's often hard to guess whether people are English- or French-dominant by accent or prosody. There, you need to rely heavily on clues like vocabulary. You'll hear somebody who sounds like a native English speaker but who has all kinds of vocabulary holes for things like "escalator" or "booster seat". I'll happily concede that some of these people may have unfair advantages when it comes to reaching near-native levels!

geoffw wrote:
And on what basis do you give your numbers for the US-based post docs? Personal experience, or something you read somewhere?

My wife worked for years a research lab that attracted young researchers from all over the world. I've known many of these post-docs for over a decade now. In the beginning, I remember having to speak "ESL English" to several of these folks, carefully watching my vocabulary and speaking slowly, and I remember correcting things like the differences between "sheep" and "ship". For the most part, these young researchers lived in full-time immersion, and many wound up marrying Americans and starting families.

After 5 years, I could pretty much take it for granted that most of these people were near-natives. They generally had mild accents, but they spoke normally and never had any difficulty keeping up. Some of them were still weak writers, probably because they never had enough time to read, but also because 90% of what they wrote was scientific papers. Today, most of these folks have children, and quite a few of them are attempting "one parent one language" with the kids. A common complaint is "Why won't my kids speak Hebrew/French/etc.? It's all I ever speak to them."

So the parents arrived in their late 20s with shaky English, but they had a peer group. Today they all seem to speak excellent English with acceptable accents. Their kids have often been exposed to a second language from birth, but they have no peers to use the language with outside the home. And only a handful of those kids are actually growing up as true bilinguals.

This is the basis for my conviction that age matters a lot less, in practical terms, than exposure and what researchers call "integrative motivation."

If you want to speak a language well enough to be a tourist, or awkwardly defend a political idea, that's very much within reach. But if you want to speak quickly, convincingly and charmingly in a conversation between native speakers who cut you no slack, then I'm increasingly convinced that it really helps to spend time with those native speakers. Some people may reach a very high level without that, but I think they're the exception. I've met several non-native French speakers who are way better than I am, but as far as I know, they all spent time studying or working in Paris.

And if you go back and read Khatzumoto's stories from around 2007, when he was interviewing with Japanese companies, you'll notice his Japanese has still fragile—he had to get "warmed up," he didn't always have faith he'd be able to perform, and if he spent a week outside of his immersion environment, his Japanese got a little strange. So massive input will get you a very long way, but there's still something missing.

Of course, these opinions may just be artifacts of my level. Give me a few more years and who knows what I'll think. :-)
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geoffw
Triglot
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United States
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Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
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 Message 640 of 1317
25 July 2013 at 6:11pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
In France, for example, it's rare to hear English on TV, and most movies are dubbed. And so, in general, many educated French speakers may be able to read English tolerably well (if not comfortably), but they certainly tend to have strong accents and shaky listening comprehension.

Personally, I suspect that if your English is clearly non-native at age 25, and if you make frequent pronunciation and grammar errors, that it doesn't really matter how young you started studying. You're still only B2/C1ish, which is a level that adults can absolutely reach from scratch.


Thanks. I think your second point quoted above is the only one I suspect *might* be inaccurate. At age 25, that certainly described my German (at its best), but I also can tell that I have deeply ingrained German patterns from my childhood (which, I must note, was full immersion, and not classroom/pop culture exposure).

If I were to learn, e.g., Czech with the FSI, and then spend years improving, I would have absolutely no hard-wired Czech patterns from my childhood.

But I agree that it's practically an absolute requirement to have a social need to use native-level language on a regular basis to make the highest-level progress. How long it takes to advance to what level based on what you did at a young age is a separate question (and furthermore, one that as an adult it's no longer useful to worry about, since you can't change it--but interesting from a scientific perspective).


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