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victorhart
Bilingual Tetraglot
Groupie
United States
mandarinexperiment.o
Joined 1871 days ago

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

 
 Message 17 of 170
05 October 2014 at 6:35pm | IP Logged 
Wow--a lot of intelligent and challenging posts! This is what I hoped for when I
posted on this forum and in undertaking my experiment, and I appreciate the thoughtful
way many posters have responded to my idea. Thank you!

I am tracking my entire experiment in detail and have a blog in which I share results
and all sorts of reflections on many of the issues mentioned in the replies. I am not
including a link here out of respect for forum rules.

What I will try to do instead in the coming days and weeks is respond as best I can to
each of the issues that you have mentioned, drawing on my specific experience and my
theoretical understanding about language acquisition.

As a quick first reply, I would say a few things.

1) I am really enjoying my experiment, especially watching Chinese movies.

2) My progress is certainly slow, as you would all predict, but 9 months (150 hours)
into the experiment I have no doubt that I am making progress and will eventually
learn to understand spoken Mandarin this way.

3) I am doing a couple of things that emk might call "cheating"—a very interesting and
well-explained concept that I enjoyed reading about in the specific topic he created
on this forum. I call it, in one of my blog posts, "proxies for interaction and
mediation." The main one is generally using English subtitles on films, which does
help me decipher words from time to time. Eventually, I will get rid of the subtitles,
however.

4) I have found and written a lot about one specific show that does allow a zero
beginner to decipher a lot of words naturally. It is made for Chinese toddlers, who
are just acquiring Mandarin as well. Apparently, it is originally a Japanese show but
a Chinese version is produced extensively. The Chinese version is called Qiao Hu and
countless episodes are available on YouTube.

5) Like many of you, I am also a seasoned language learner. I speak two languages at a
native level, a third at an advanced enough level that I often fool native speakers
into thinking I’m native, and I am fluent (if extremely rusty) in a fourth. I was an
EFL teacher for many years, founded a language institute, and have developed an
original methodology for beginning students of English and collaborated on the
production of a French version (including professional quality books, CDs, and
original games). So, although none of this guarantees I’m right about anything, and
since my languages are all Western European, they do not help at all with Mandarin, I
did not get into this experiment with total naïveté.

6) As I mentioned in my original post, I do not claim this is the best method, and
outside experimental purposes, I would always advocate a more balanced and flexible
approach, as many of you have suggested. On the other hand, I personally think that
studying grammatical rules and using any type of translation will also slow you down
significantly, and more importantly may hamper one’s ability to achieve a high level
of fluency down the road. I have come across countless students that spent many years
using traditional methods, including grammatical study and translated terms, and
despite a large vocabulary, they were hobbled by a mental translation habit, constant
mental reference to grammatical rules, and a general stiltedness and slowness in their
communication. Ironically, their grammar-in-use tends to be very poor. By contrast,
throughout my life, most of the very successful language learners I have come across
are those that have immersed themselves in natural communication. Good grammar, both
as native speakers and second language learners, is almost always a function of
quantity and quality of reading and the educational level of the people with whom one
generally uses the language. Formal grammar study generally has nothing to do with it.

7) To the objection that we should not emulate small children’s approach to language
acquisition because they take many years and perhaps 10 to 20 thousand hours to get to
a high level of (native) fluency, I would offer the example of a 5 or 7 year old who
is suddenly immersed in a new language. They often achieve native-level mastery in a
matter of months! So, although I think posters are right that we can and should use
our advantages as adults, we can and should also avoid pitfalls that are also inherent
to adult learners, and certainly copy a lot of strategies employed by small children.
We have a lot more neuroplasticity than was once thought!

10 persons have voted this message useful



patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2697 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 18 of 170
05 October 2014 at 6:52pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for the very interesting reply to comments.

victorhart wrote:

7) To the objection that we should not emulate small children’s approach to language
acquisition because they take many years and perhaps 10 to 20 thousand hours to get to
a high level of (native) fluency, I would offer the example of a 5 or 7 year old who
is suddenly immersed in a new language. They often achieve native-level mastery in a
matter of months!


Of course, it matters how you define "native", but my understanding (from a post of perhaps EMKs a year ago) was that children thrown into these sorts of situations don't actually become native in a matter of months, but actually require years to catch-up with their native peers (at least if you do formal tests of language ability). That's not to say that they don't suddenly develop some sort of language mastery, but their grammar/vocab is simply not as good as their peers for many years (the figure I remember reading was that it took 4-5 years for children to match native children's abilities).

But even native children take years to develop their language skills. It's commonly estimated that they learn about 1000 words per year, so even for them it takes some years before they get to a good C1 level.

Edited by patrickwilken on 05 October 2014 at 6:54pm

2 persons have voted this message useful



patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2697 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 19 of 170
05 October 2014 at 6:59pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
This is a very enjoyable and effective method starting around B1. But I've never heard of anybody starting from zero and succeeding.


Well as I mentioned there is this:

TV method, or how I learned Italian

Whether you believe it or not is of course up to you, but for that doesn't sound totally impossible.

He apparently spent about 3000 hours watching TV and Italian is perhaps one of the easiest languages to learn for an English speaker, and he was watching children's programs.

Whether it is the most efficient way that's certainly another question, but I think we all agree that the big issue is getting to some sort of comprehensible input. Once there, immersion will work given enough time.

Edited by patrickwilken on 05 October 2014 at 7:07pm

3 persons have voted this message useful



YnEoS
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2418 days ago

472 posts - 893 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: German, Russian, Cantonese, Japanese, French, Hungarian, Czech, Swedish, Mandarin, Italian, Spanish

 
 Message 20 of 170
05 October 2014 at 7:53pm | IP Logged 
Sounds like if there is any proper way to do this thing, you're doing it. I've been experimenting with similar methods with my Japanese studies in conjunction with my usual course methods and find it quite enjoyable and rewarding. One resource I'm using is the Berlitz Basic Course and Berlitz Think and Talk courses with use sound effects and situational context to allow you to understand the meaning of simple sentences. It's quite a rush to figure things out from context alone at a low level, and I find stuff I learn this way ends up sticking really well.

The problem I face of course, is finding enough of this content graded at the right intervals, which is where I turn to L-R and coursework to help bridge the gaps. Thanks for the show recommendation, I'm checking out the Japanese version, Shima Shima Tora no Shimajirō, and it seems really useful and I will probably start incorporating it into my studies. Best of luck with your Mandarin studies and please continue to follow up with your progress.

Edited by YnEoS on 05 October 2014 at 7:58pm

2 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 4761 days ago

9753 posts - 15776 votes 
4 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
Studies: Danish, Romanian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Slovenian, Catalan, Czech, Galician, Dutch, Swedish

 
 Message 21 of 170
05 October 2014 at 8:23pm | IP Logged 
victorhart wrote:
On the other hand, I personally think that studying grammatical rules and using any type of translation will also slow you down
significantly, and more importantly may hamper one’s ability to achieve a high level
of fluency down the road.

There's a huge difference between doing translation exercises, using a translation (parallel text etc) and using bilingual dictionaries. I personally avoid translation courses/exercises and use L2-L3 dictionaries. I also study grammar as a linguist and not as a learner.

I'm not questioning your experience as a teacher, but I think the learners you're talking about would struggle with most methods if they don't have enough input. Within the range of comprehensible speech we could argue for hours whether it's better to speak more accurately or with more fluency/fluidity. I also don't believe the damage of constantly translating is long-term - it's just pointless.


That said, I agree with pretty much everything else you said and I was the one who voted for the original post :-)
2 persons have voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 3696 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 22 of 170
05 October 2014 at 10:17pm | IP Logged 
Thank you for the interesting responses!

victorhart wrote:
I am tracking my entire experiment in detail and have a blog in which I share results
and all sorts of reflections on many of the issues mentioned in the replies. I am not
including a link here out of respect for forum rules.

You're contributing to an interesting discussion, so a link is certainly permitted under the rules. Is this it?

victorhart wrote:
2) My progress is certainly slow, as you would all predict, but 9 months (150 hours)
into the experiment I have no doubt that I am making progress and will eventually
learn to understand spoken Mandarin this way.

I know that speed isn't really your goal, but it seems like 150 hours of subs2srs (or Listening/Reading) should be enough to take you pretty far, and both are purely "boosted" versions of extensive learning. With raw, native TV, you have to fight for every scrap of "i+1" input—because even Sesame Street is aimed at 3-year-olds, and native children get 3 to 13 million words of input per year, much of it interactive. I suspect you can find more efficient ways to get comprehensible input at the A1 and A2 levels than just plain TV.

Once you reach a point where TV actually does provide large quantities of i+1 input, it can work ridiculously fast. I started Buffy with ~40% comprehension, and I was at 75% comprehension within a season, and 90+% within three seasons. Granted, a lot of this was simply turning reading skills into listening skills. But a lot of other people on HTLAL have tried watching TV series with great results.

victorhart wrote:
On the other hand, I personally think that
studying grammatical rules and using any type of translation will also slow you down
significantly, and more importantly may hamper one’s ability to achieve a high level
of fluency down the road.

I have complicated feelings about this claim. I study grammar only rarely and haphazardly, I avoid mental translation almost completely, and I've spoken French at home for a few years now. But if you ask me to talk about the Ebola epidemic or discuss whether Doctor Who is science fiction, my English is still much better than my French:

1. When speaking English to somebody who shares my interests, I can participate in long, animated conversations. Until I started learning French, I never appreciated just what I could do in English.

2. When speaking French, I hunt for words, botch gender agreement, and generally annoy listeners who expect me to perform like a native. I'm far past that nice B1 level where everyone encourages me, and not yet near a level where I can be treated as "approximately native."

On a good day, sure, I can explain basic Keynesian economics in French. (I cheat and use a famous child-care analogy, which plays to my strengths.) But in English, sometimes people actually enjoy listening. Sometimes. :-)

So do I botch my French because I occasionally studied grammar? Or am I just harsh about my French because I'm comparing it to my English, which I've used heavily for decades?

victorhart wrote:
7) To the objection that we should not emulate small children’s approach to language
acquisition because they take many years and perhaps 10 to 20 thousand hours to get to
a high level of (native) fluency, I would offer the example of a 5 or 7 year old who
is suddenly immersed in a new language. They often achieve native-level mastery in a
matter of months!

I really think that people romanticize childhood language acquisition. Here's a description of what it can feel like from a 6-year-old child's perspective:

Quote:
But if you're going to learn a new language you should expect a fight and gird yourself accordingly. You should even expect it to be hard if it's your child. My tutor here in the States learned French when she was six at an immersion school. Her recollections of picking up French are bracing: long periods of not knowing and knowing you don't know; French teachers yelling at you for doing something wrong, and you not being sure what it was.

Many children can socialize effectively in their L2 within the first six months. But socializing in a language is a relatively easy skill—any immersed CEFR B1 student should be be able to muddle through it. Which just leaves all the hard stuff:

Quote:
Social communication skills – a.k.a. playground English – should not be confused with academic English, the cognitively demanding language that children need to succeed in school. While playground English tends to be acquired rapidly by most children, academic English is typically acquired over a longer period. This explains why it takes second-language learners five to seven years, on average, to catch up with English-proficient peers on tests given in English (Cummins 1989).

Can adults master their L2 to a "playground" level in 6 months? Of course. For example, FSI students reach ILR 3/3 "Professional Working Proficiency" in French in that amount of time. Admittedly, English->French is a best-case scenario for FSI, but ILR 3/3 is also overkill for the playground.

I think a lot of people's intuitions about language learning are "off", because they tend to compare:

1. Fully-immersed children learning the community language, and
2. Adults learning an L2 part time, with no social immersion and very little L2 media.

To make this comparison fair, I argue that you need to add two more groups:

3. Children learning a home language with a few hours per day of input, and nowhere to use it in the community.
4. Fully-integrated adult immigrants who live and work professionally in the language.

I know multiple people in each of these groups, and people in (1) and (4) do quite well, and people in (2) and (3) often struggle. See the heritage learner tag here at HTLAL, or just talk to parents trying to raise bilingual families. Childhood language acquisition is only guaranteed to succeed for the community language(s).

I completely agree that adults can learn languages, and that they can make enormous gains in comprehension with nothing but a big stack of DVDs and trashy novels. My only objection to TV in the beginning is that it seems like a rather poor source of "i+1" input, because it doesn't provide sufficient interaction and simplification to replicate the input kids actually get. But I'm very interested to see if you find a way to bypass this.
4 persons have voted this message useful



victorhart
Bilingual Tetraglot
Groupie
United States
mandarinexperiment.o
Joined 1871 days ago

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

 
 Message 23 of 170
05 October 2014 at 11:14pm | IP Logged 
emk, that is it, and since you've given me permission:
www.mandarinexperiment.com

My results so far tend to confirm your view that it is a less-than-ideal source of
"i+1" input, if I understand that correctly. Since I am making some progress and
enjoying it, however, I will plug away.

Regarding second language acquisition among young children, my comments are not based
on research (I haven't delved into it), but rather personal experience. For instance,
my brother (who did speak some English, but poorly) moved to the States at age 7 and
was indistinguishable from a native speaker and performing above grade level within
months. I spoke zero French at 4 years old, and learned in the streets of Niamey and
at with a few hours per day at French schools. Literally in a month I was interacting
normally with "playground" English, as you call it, and then did quite fine in
preschool and kindergarten. In different countries and contexts I have seen that
children from well educated families who are truly immersed in a second language (i.e.
not put in bilingual programs) pick it up and perform like natives at school within
the year. If this is not backed up by the literature, I will be curious to look into
it and try to understand why. (I have seen cases where the first few months, when
communication is still difficult, are quite traumatic for the children socially).

I look forward to rereading several of the posts here and the many fascinating issues
that were raised.
1 person has voted this message useful



luhmann
Senior Member
Brazil
Joined 3497 days ago

156 posts - 271 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese*
Studies: Mandarin, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Persian, Arabic (classical)

 
 Message 24 of 170
06 October 2014 at 12:43am | IP Logged 
Try another experiment: Learning high frequency vocabulary. Just add 20 words a day in addition to your 30 minutes of television, I am pretty sure that your listening comprehension will be about 70% in two months.

You should not deprive yourself from learning Mandarin just for the sake of an experiment.

PS. You say you want to "isolate the variable", but that is taking out of it its most important function. Television does a great service to language learning, that is sewing together all the bits an pieces that you have learned into a huge web of logical associations, committing it to memory permanently.

As you have already proved, you don't learn much from it alone.

Edited by luhmann on 06 October 2014 at 1:33am



3 persons have voted this message useful



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