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United States
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2615 posts - 8806 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 25 of 170
06 October 2014 at 1:30am | IP Logged 
victorhart wrote:
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

That's really impressive. The research I've seen on this subject gives a pretty wide variety of numbers—I've seen claims that typical students catch up to native peers academically within 5–7 years (which I linked above), and within 3 years, and also that some individual students perform at grade-level within a year (there's pretty huge individual variation). Other researchers claim that teachers are frequently fooled by a child's good accent and high conversational proficiency, and tend to overlook academic weaknesses until students wind up struggling.

Many of the families that I know personally are actually struggling with the other side of this problem: Keeping a family language alive without a surrounding community that uses it. Even if a language is used extensively within the home, the kids often struggle with it.
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Bilingual Tetraglot
United States
Joined 3580 days ago

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

 Message 26 of 170
06 October 2014 at 3:04am | IP Logged 
luhmann wrote:
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.

Luhmann, I agree that learning high frequency vocabulary would be an effective
addition to my Mandarin acquisition strategy. I have written a coursebook and
developed an entire methodology for Brazilians learning English as beginners, and one
of the premises is the use of word corpora to ensure that the highest frequency
vocabulary is taught to these first semester students. We have developed a French
coursebook and methodology along the same lines.

However, there is something very interesting about digesting a large volume of
authentic material in a natural way. You won't learn terms that you hear once or
twice. Rather, you will assimilate terms that you hear repeated again and again. I
tend to only learn a term that I hear repeated dozens or hundreds of times. These
terms are, of course, your high frequency vocabulary.

So, it's not a question of learning Mandarin or conducting my experiment. Yes, I am
probably sacrificing speed of learning for the sake of the enjoyment that my method
provides and for the other benefits of conducting such an experiment. But it's not
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Senior Member
Joined 5206 days ago

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

 Message 27 of 170
06 October 2014 at 3:16am | IP Logged 
ok, you seem to know what you are doing, but I had to be sure :)
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Senior Member
Joined 6455 days ago

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Speaks: Swedish*, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese
Studies: Czech, Latin, German

 Message 28 of 170
06 October 2014 at 8:25am | IP Logged 
You've argued well and obviously have some experience, so I'll take off my "this is
just silly" glasses. :) However, I don't think your argument comparing people who
learn using "traditional" methods with people who are immersed holds up very well.
That sounds like a false dichotomy to me. I completely agree that immersion and
massive amounts of input are keys to getting comfortable in a language, but that
doesn't mean that nothing but input is the right way to go.

Have you heard about the L/R (Listen/Read) method? It's a method where you read a book
in your native language and at the same time listen to the corresponding audiobook in
your target language. That's a sensible way of doing massive input learning, though
also not possible for a complete beginner not aided by cognates.

Anyway, most people who have tried the "TV method" have mostly done hours of passive
watching, often inspired by tales of us Swedes and our fantastic English all being due
to not dubbing TV shows. If you're taking a somewhat more thought-out method, and
you're actively trying to figure things out, you might have more luck, but I'm still
convinced that you're wasting a lot of time. Mandarin is many, many times more
difficult to learn for a speaker of Standard Western European than is another European
language. A factor of 10 is not exaggerated when we talk about ordinary methods, and
with this method, I'd put it even higher. If you were doing this with German I'd say
go for it, but Mandarin?

Anyway, good luck and prove us wrong!
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SwedenRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 6782 days ago

4250 posts - 5711 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*, English
Studies: German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Mandarin, Esperanto, Irish, French
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 Message 29 of 170
06 October 2014 at 4:54pm | IP Logged 
What Ari said.

If one is about to do massive input learning, it can never be wrong to have an idea of what is going on. The native language helps you understand the target language. In fact, I've done L-R with varying results:
1. several long books in Spanish - good results
2. a short book in Chinese - bad results

I was familiar with all stories beforehand, but the lack of cognates in Chinese simply made the process so darn difficult/different.

OK, body language and other visual cues can give you an idea of what's going on in a TV series, but that's still less than having access to the actual story in a language you already understand.

Good luck!

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

 Message 30 of 170
07 October 2014 at 1:53pm | IP Logged 
After initially dismissing this idea as another half-baked concoction that we see from time to time here at HTLAL,
I've change my thinking somewhat. My question is : Why would a high-achieving, experienced, expert language
learner try something that everybody around here thinks is doomed to failure? What does he know that we don't?

I take as given that there is no need or desire to learn Mandarin quickly for any practical purposes. This is
basically an enjoyable fun experiment to see how much language can be absorbed passively.

The reason most people here believe this will not work is that the material is nearly totally incomprehensible and
therefore there is no way for the learner to even start building any kind of model of the language. Although
people may not like to formally study grammar, the plain fact of the matter is that if you want to speak or
comprehend a language you have to have some kind of grammar of the language in your head. How it gets there
is another matter.

I take note that there is some use of English subtitles and a program meant for teaching Mandarin to young
children. But, if I understand correctly, the thrust of this approach is to simply watch movies in Mandarin and
"absorb" the language naturally, much the way children do.

Sitting on a couch watching a DVD is not exactly the same learning situation as that of a young child growing up
in a home continuously surrounded by spontaneous language teachers.

What I will admit is that the visual element does add an element of understanding that certainly can help with
deciphering some of the meaning. That is exactly why I have always believed that when one wants to look at the
comprehension of movies one has to take into account the picture.

If we take something as simple as learning to count from one to ten in Mandarin, how many weeks of watching at
30 minutes a day are required for this? And how does one know for sure that the results are correct?

One alternative method of learning would be to simply call up a Youtube video on counting in Mandarin. You
could learn to count or at least understanding counting in less than 10 minutes.

All that said, I think that the language learning aspect of this experiment is largely secondary. The real goal here
is to have a good time and blog about it.That's OK too.

Edited by s_allard on 07 October 2014 at 1:55pm

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Senior Member
United States
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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 31 of 170
07 October 2014 at 6:32pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:

I take note that there is some use of English subtitles and a program meant for teaching Mandarin to young
children. But, if I understand correctly, the thrust of this approach is to simply watch movies in Mandarin and
"absorb" the language naturally, much the way children do.

Sitting on a couch watching a DVD is not exactly the same learning situation as that of a young child growing up
in a home continuously surrounded by spontaneous language teachers.

Kuhl, Tsao and Liu have actually done a
showing that infants with exposure to Mandarin only through TV fail to learn aspects of the language that infants
who had the same amount of exposure to a Mandarin speaker learned.

That's not to say children learn nothing from video (and indeed Kuhl's lab shows some effects of passive
exposure), but I should not even have to say that watching a bunch of videos has almost nothing to do with first-
language acquisition other than that it doesn't involve explicit study of grammar.

People like to say they are learning like children, but they almost never are. How many people here try learning
language by listening to simplified input all day long, using a silent period followed by a period where they don't
speak but explore the language's sounds, followed by a one-word stage, followed by simple word combinations,
followed by sentences? All the while interacting with native speakers every day, but not trying to have adult
conversations? Ha! That would be a cool experiment, but too hard to implement.

So yeah, try it, have fun. People have failed many times to acquire a language passively, but the OP seems to have
stacked the cards in his favor (other than choosing a hard language). But it is not any more "natural" than
extensive reading, Lingq, Assimil, SRS, or basically anything out there people are using. All are technologies,
many are more based on learning theory than passive video absorption, and none (of the major ones) are at
all like first language acquisition*.

*Well, 100% immersion is kind of similar to what young children do when they learn a second language, like
when they enter school in a new language. But this method is in some ways a polar opposite of the video method!
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Joined 4140 days ago

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Speaks: Mandarin*, English

 Message 32 of 170
09 October 2014 at 10:23am | IP Logged 
This is the first time I saw this thread and I am actually doing the same experiment now. I learned German for four years, acquired basic fluency but got entirely tired in learning grammar and memorizing vocabulary. So I decided to do something different. I started to watch Korean drama without any Chinese subtitles from late June and acquired my first word in Korean after a week. I haven't used any dictionary, textbooks or audio course as reference. I have done almost two hours a day, mostly in metro and I have already watched 12 TV series (16-20 episodes each). I have spent more or less 200 hours on it. My friend (who is a polyglot good at South East Asian languages) suggested me to watch anime instead, so I might switch to Doraemon after I finish watching 13th series.

I could say my progress is slow since I could hardly speak anything except the most common phrases in Korean. But there are a bunch of familiar sounds in my head and I could imitate intonation of the language pretty well.

I have lots of friends studying Korean taking the traditional method. They are able to read in Korean but could hardly speak anything. Therefore I decided to take the adverse path by training myself to become an illiterate speaker in Korean and learn how to read/write later.

Please keep going and I will happy to see your results!

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