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Senior Member
United States
Joined 3897 days ago

361 posts - 921 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese, English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, French
Studies: Mandarin, Danish, Russian, Norwegian, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Greek, Latin, Nepali, Modern Hebrew

 Message 137 of 170
17 December 2014 at 3:45am | IP Logged 
victorhart wrote:
According to the Foreign Service Institute's 50 years of experience, seasoned,
capable, and highly motivated language learners using best methods take about 4,600
hours, including one year in-country, to reach ILR Level 3 in Mandarin. I have thus
far put in 4% of those hours with a one-sided experimental approach. Why don't you
give me a little more time before calling in the jury?

Where are you getting the 4,600 hours figure? I am seeing 2,200 hours
) but I can't find the original FSI source.

How many hours in do you suppose those learners are before video watching is comprehensible input? I would
say that your goal of 1,200 hours seems like a good number to go for; if your comprehension is still under 25%
by then I would conclude that the experiment is a failure. If it is higher than that, you could conclude success in
that your method at least gets you in the ballpark of standard techniques, as at that point you would be able to
find input that's mostly comprehensible, which everyone agrees is the foundation for advancing towards
mastery--and you'd have incurred less than 1000 hours disadvantage by forgoing other kinds of studying.

I do agree that Spanish is a poor comparison. For instance, you claim to have reached 6% comprehension so far.
I've never studied Romanian before, but if I listen to the news I get over 10% just from cognates. It sounds to me
like .... ... premier ... internal... defense.... ... president.. ... Ukraine... ... photo... ...decided...
Learning Mandarin through video is not like that at all.

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Senior Member
Russian Federation
Joined 5435 days ago

9753 posts - 15778 votes 
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Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
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 Message 138 of 170
17 December 2014 at 4:37am | IP Logged 
These are classroom hours though. And 1 hour at home for 1 hour in class is the bare minimum really, for such a difficult/different language.
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Senior Member
Joined 4268 days ago

2704 posts - 5425 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 Message 139 of 170
17 December 2014 at 5:29am | IP Logged 
Teango wrote:
It's a brave and fascinating project you've got planned here, victorhart, and as long
as you're having fun with it, I look forward to following how you progress over the longer term.

I particularly like that you provide personal insights and reflections in your weekly blogs alongside the
more quantitative graphs, and share ongoing findings, links, and recommendations with readers. For
example, my wife and I will be taking you up on one of your suggestions this evening by watching "Eat
Drink Man Woman". We've been watching a lot of movies in Hindi with English subtitles more recently
(my wife loves Bollywood), but I don't think we picked up much more than the word for "brother" and
the phrase "Let's go!" I think it's about time for a Chinese romcom now. ;)

With regards to methodology, the first real step I guess is to notice useful words, either through
repetition or some other salient feature that helps them stand out from the crowd. Once the much
smaller set of commonly spoken words and phrases declines to a withering epic tail of low general
frequency content words, watching movies you already know well, or that offer lots of repetition within
a closely knit segment of dialogue on a specific topic, could be a way to boost comprehension a little
further and help encourage uptake. Repeated watching could also be particularly helpful in this respect
with enough time elapsing between viewings to let emerging structures settle in and subtly interact
across different contexts. Good luck in finding these types of resources and staying positive and
motivated throughout your experiment!

Although this was not framed as an experiment as such, this posts tells us that after watching X
numbers of hours of Hindi fils with English subtitles, only two words of Hindi were learned. What is
certainly possible is to isolate words that correspond to very isolated actions. For example one could
learn how to answer the phone (the equivalent of Hello) simply by looking at enough instances of this.

Similarly, one could learn basic greetings and the names of objects when they are clearly delineated.
That is why the Mandarin-learning videos aimed at children are so useful for the experiment at hand
here. They were designed to isolate and highlight specific words.

The problem is how to go beyond this sort of identification of isolated units. Let's say for example that
we can figure how to say butterfly in Mandarin from a video that teaches that very word. That's a start,
but how do you move to something with a bit more grammar such as I like butterflies or The butterfly
is beautiful? And how do you get to even more complex structures such as Did you see a butterfly like
this yesterday.

Even though something can be learned, however slowly, in this modified experiment, and there may be
some other social benefits of this activity, I don't see how a bit of formal study using any one of
various high-tech or low-tech solutions could not enhance this learning experience. No language
school, least of all the the American FSI, will plunk their students in front of incomprehensible video
and nothing else.

It seems to me that with a bit of formal work up front, this video-based learning will be even more
enjoyable and efficient.

Edited by s_allard on 17 December 2014 at 3:36pm

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Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 4074 days ago

881 posts - 1812 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, French, Mandarin

 Message 140 of 170
17 December 2014 at 12:19pm | IP Logged 
@s_allard - Don't forget this is defined as an Experiment. Experiments can and do fail. The failure of an experiment can tell us as much or more than a successful one.

Personally I wouldn't hold out much hope of learning Mandarin just watching films, I don't seem to be able to learn it and I'm actively using textbooks and all the classic methods! :)

Good luck victorhart with your experiment.
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Bilingual Tetraglot
United States
Joined 2545 days ago

66 posts - 155 votes 
Speaks: English*, Portuguese*, Spanish, French
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 141 of 170
18 December 2014 at 1:55am | IP Logged 
Thank you all for the thoughtful and encouraging replies.

robarb, I came up with the 4,600 hours as follows (a bit more detail in
this thread). As you correctly recall, FSI states 2,200
classroom hours are needed to reach ILR 3. They also say 3-4 hours of directed
self-study are done per day and 1 year is in-country. I did not include any hours for
possible immersion in-country, but calculated the independent study on the higher end,
i.e. 4 hours a day * 7 days a week * 88 weeks = 2,464 hours. So summing classroom and
self-study—about 4,600 hours.

s_allard, you're right about the subtitles and the children's shows. They certainly
make my experiment different than if all I did was watch non-subtitled movies for
adults from day one. So I now understand your opinion better. Also, I agree with emk
both about the utility of incomprehensible input to prepare one's brain and about the
need for comprehensible content to actually learn and master the language (the ancient
Egyptian example is to the point).

However, s_allard and emk, it's also important to keep in mind an obvious fact: I'm
using video, which provides a great deal of rich visual cues (the "hook"). As
relatively incomprehensible as Mandarin may have been for me in the beginning,
watching even regular non-subtitled movies is a far cry from listening to pure audio
or staring at hieroglyphics. For example, there is no way you can watch Mandarin
movies for a while, with serious interest in learning the language, and not figure out
the word "hao" (used to express concurrence, admiration, etc.). You eventually cannot
help figuring out "ni" and "wo" ("you" and "me") as well. And you then start picking
up verbs. For example, in a climatic love scene the hero kisses the girl and says, "Wo
ai ni", so you realize "ai" likely means "to love." Or when people are about to fall
off a cliff they always say, "Chu wo", so you figure "chu" means "to help." As you put
more pieces together, grammar begins to emerge.

Finally, s_allard and ari, I don't believe my methodology is "best" and I agree that
my learning would get a boost from a little formal study (and certainly from a lot of
conversation classes with corrections). However, as rdearman recalls, this is in fact
an experiment, and, though I’m working hard to prove the viability of the method, to
the extent that it is shown not to be viable or efficient, I hope that result will
also provide a contribution to the understanding of language acquisition, however

Edited by victorhart on 18 December 2014 at 1:57am

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Bilingual Tetraglot
United States
Joined 2545 days ago

66 posts - 155 votes 
Speaks: English*, Portuguese*, Spanish, French
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 142 of 170
08 January 2015 at 5:17am | IP Logged 
I have reached 240 hours of Mandarin movies and shows after nearly a year of my
experiment. I have assessed that I now understand about 8% of word occurrences on
first viewing of an unfamiliar show. This is unimpressive because it includes repeats
(I understood 29 unique words and 76 total words in 15 minutes of viewing), but
represents significant progress, since after 120 hours I estimated less than 3%

In my latest post, I extrapolate projections
from that result and, while acknowledging that doing so is extremely tenuous, conjecture that

- my 1st and main hypothesis, that I can learn Mandarin in this way, will prove true
- my 2nd hypothesis, that this method is more efficient than traditional, old school
methods, may prove false
- my 3rd hypothesis, that I will attain an intermediate level of comprehension after
1,200 hours, may prove false

More importantly, I'm glad to report that, for me anyway, this method continues to be
a lot of fun!

Edited by victorhart on 08 January 2015 at 6:09am

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Senior Member
Joined 4268 days ago

2704 posts - 5425 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 Message 143 of 170
08 January 2015 at 2:53pm | IP Logged 
As I contemplate the reported results of this experiment so far, things seem to fall in line with what
can be expected. I think it should be emphasized that the experiment does not consist of watching
only movies in Mandarin without subtitles. In its current form this experiment has three components:
the movies in Mandarin, subtitles in English that will eventually decrease in use, and a Mandarin
learning video Qiao Hu aimed at children. From what I gather this last component is the key to picking
up new words that can be recognized in the full-speed videos aimed at adults.

In its current form, this experiment can work, unlike what seemed to be the original idea of looking
only at movies in Mandarin with no subtitles. Can one learn to understand spoken Mandarin using the
method of this modified experiment? I think so, although I believe that progress will be extremely
slow. In that sense I consider this method very inefficient.

There is a debate to be had, but not now, on how one can calculate understanding a language, as
opposed to recognizing words. I have argued at great length elsewhere here at HTLAL that we tend to
confuse counting words we recognize with actual complete understanding. For example, I don't see
how one can comprehend 10% of a text. But one can certainly recognize 10% of the words. A more
recent version of that debate will have to wait.

That said, this can be a very enjoyable way of passing time with one's family. As a means of reinforcing
family bonding and values, this can be a great experiment. As a means of learning Mandarin however,
it is, in my opinion, much too slow when compared with other methods that are readily available.

Edited by s_allard on 09 January 2015 at 3:00am

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Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 4074 days ago

881 posts - 1812 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, French, Mandarin

 Message 144 of 170
08 January 2015 at 8:58pm | IP Logged 
As an experiment I think this trial is good, but there are some problems if your attempting to make it a controlled experiment.

- Lack of a control group, you can't compare yourself against others using other methods.
- Not statistically significant. You only have a dataset of 1.

So what you have here is a natural experiment. A natural experiment is also called a quasi-experiment. A natural experiment involves making a prediction or forming a hypothesis and then gathering data by observing a system. The variables are not controlled in a natural experiment.

So you have a valid experiment, but of course as you point out you'd learn faster using more methods. However what I find interesting about this is how it might work as a gauge of this portion of language learning. It would be nice if we could find some way to break down the typical methods of language learning; immersion, course-books, native material (films), native materials (books) to find out how long it would take a person using only those methods to reach a B2 level, as compared to people using all of the methods combined.

Is it (as I suspect) the sum is greater than the whole? Would someone with combined resources would move faster than someone else. It would also give some indication of which method might be the one to concentrate on. Films, books, course-work, etc, one of which might prove more effective than others.

Of course you'd need a much larger dataset than just you doing it. :)

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