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Language Learning Orthodoxy You Ignore

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 Message 17 of 116
28 November 2014 at 3:04pm | IP Logged 
I think the extensive versus intensive reading thing is just a simplification for the sake of discussion. My reading tends to be something in between, at times "more intensive" and "more extensive", and I suspect it's similar for most of us.

The main orthodoxy on this forum and a few other sites that annoys me is the idea that more input is the solution to everything. Input is important, and I'm sure that many "conventional" learners don't get anywhere near enough of it, but for me at least it's not the only necessity. Some skills like conversation, pronunciation, and grammar require (or at least can be learnt far more efficiently with) specific practice in addition to lots of listening and reading. For some people it does work, but then they often seem to assume that since it works for them it works for everyone.

chiara-sai wrote:
The best way to learn the pronunciation is to imitate native speakers

Agreed on this one! It works... if you already have a good ability to imitate native speakers. Not all of us do. Again it's "worked for me so works for everyone" style advice.

I'm also not keen on "speak from day one", even though I do believe that lots of speaking is crucial if your goal is to speak well. While the question of when to start speaking comes down to personal preference more than anything else, at the absolute beginner stage there are many more productive uses of your time than struggling to manage a simple conversation or having an exchange partner or tutor explain absolute basics that you could just as easily learn by yourself. I see absolute beginners coming to language meetups and just wasting their time and everybody else's, most likely because they've heard about "speak from day one" conventional wisdom like "the best way to learn a language is by speaking it".
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 Message 18 of 116
28 November 2014 at 4:42pm | IP Logged 
There are several bits of conventional wisdom I've learned to ignore, because they don't work for me:

1. I might somehow "damage my language" permanently by starting the wrong way. This is the only one that reliably annoys me, because it almost always comes with a theory about The One True Way to learn a language.

2. I could somehow learn to speak a language fluently entirely from comprehensible input. I've seen with my own two eyes that this often false for children—most of them will pick up purely passive skills if that's all they need.

3. I should somehow manage to produce output before getting lots of input. Maybe some people can study some conjugation tables, vocabulary lists and introductory lessons, and then just start speaking idiomatically. But I need to hear and understand the language before I can build an intuition for what's "natural" and what's "weird."

4. Vocabulary flash cards are a convenient way to learn lots of vocabulary quickly. Maybe for some people, but SRS L1<->L2 vocabulary cards make me profoundly miserable, and mostly just encourage me to develop bad translation habits. (I suspect that this is a personal and idiosyncratic problem, however.)

5. Listening comprehension tends to improve in sudden "epiphanies". I really think this is true for some people, including Iversen. But my improvement has always been incredibly gradual and boring: A word here, a phrase there, and so on.
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 Message 19 of 116
28 November 2014 at 4:56pm | IP Logged 
What don't I ignore??????

For me, the epiphany is just a certain realization, that you understand a lot more than
you did 6 months ago. That things have started clicking and falling into place while you
weren't paying attention.

I find SRS boring as hell.

I like speaking, because it means I'm using the language with human beings, which is
always why I've learned languages.
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 Message 20 of 116
28 November 2014 at 5:23pm | IP Logged 
Bao wrote:
Let's say it's internet orthodoxy.
Not sure if this was directly in response to my post, but yeah, now I guess I understand better why OP used the word "orthodoxy" in reference to RTK. For me personally the word "orthodoxy" is too strongly connected to the concepts of "mainstream" or "traditional" that I simply can't use it for Heisig and his fandom; "cult" is more like it (and yes, I do realize that my last post came across as a passive-aggressive defence of said cult).

chiara-sai wrote:
The best way to learn the pronunciation is to imitate native speakers
If I tried this my accent would be at best terrible, at worst unintelligible. Phonetics saved me!
Same here. Granted, in some languages this has worked worse for me than in most, due to different sources providing wildly different phonological analyses (Korean and Uzbek are the worst offenders I've encountered so far), but in most cases reading a detailed phonological description of all possible phonemes, allophones and phonological processes has been a huge boost.

tristano wrote:
"Speak from day one" fits a very specific personality.
I like to study alone, I like reading, I like to understand. I'm a social introvert and I'm eventually proud of it. All the people like me prefer the "silent period", not
because we're afraid to speak, but just because we are listeners more than talkers. And since we like to listen, we like to understand more deeply.
This (even though the most prominent advocate of "speak from day one" claims to have originally been an introvert). In fact I would say that I've followed the way of the "silent period" not because I saw it as superior to the "speak from day one" approach, but simply because it was more comfortable for me that way, i.e. I followed the path of least resistance. At least with my Japanese this method seems to have worked pretty well for me.
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 Message 21 of 116
28 November 2014 at 6:36pm | IP Logged 
Classes don't work

Not sure if this is considered orthodoxy or not, but I hear it on this forum a lot. I owe
so much of my language learning to classes, and they have worked out just splendidly for
me- the competition with my classmates, the fact that learning things to say to speak
with them after class was my main motivation, the intensity of the classes I took (20
hour weeks, for 1 year)...for me this had worked absolute wonders, and I always feel like
adding a qualifier when people say that languages classes don't work: _bad_ languages
classes and learning environments don't work. The good ones, for the right people, can be
just what you need.
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 Message 22 of 116
28 November 2014 at 7:19pm | IP Logged 
Don't look everything up, and ignore the rare words you'll most likely never encounter again

The weird and rare words that even natives don't use are the best words. I find it very difficult to skip words when reading. Luckily, Kindle enables me to highlight them and keep reading, knowing that I can come back, look it up and add it to Anki. An unknown word sticks out like a person in need. It feels immoral to just ignore it. Yes, this means it takes me ages to get through a book and yes, it also means I spend a lot of time with Anki, which is ok, because Anki is hella fun.

Not only don't I ignore rare words, I seek them out. I've looked for the correct Cantonese characters for words that natives only write with Latin letters. I've subscribed to a newsletter for French speakers that suggest a new unusual word every week. I love words.

Make sentence flashcards, not word flashcards

I've tried this, and I always end up recognizing the sentence and remembering where it's from and what it means. Then I can figure out the word without actually knowing it, which means I won't recognoize it the next time around. I do like having a sentence for context, but I prefer putting it on the back of the card.

This is possibly related to the fact that I love words.

Delete cards often

I find it very difficult to delete cards, even though I know I keep failing them again and again. It's even worse than skipping a word when reading. An unknown word might be a stranger in need, but an Anki word is a friend. How could I possibly just abandon them? At the most I might suspend the card and tell myself I'll get back to it later, but even this is difficult for me.

Speak from day one

Yeah … no.
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 Message 23 of 116
28 November 2014 at 8:06pm | IP Logged 
lichtrausch wrote:
- You can develop an excellent vocabulary through extensive reading alone.
I am convinced that at the end of this path you are left with a far too foggy idea of
far too many words. I want more than that.

There's no end, though. Every word gradually becomes more clear and familiar if you keep on encountering it.

As for active skills from comprehensible input, I admit I'm still not convinced that it's impossible for anyone who's done enough reading. But emk knows that already :)

What do I ignore? Hmmm. Reading with a popup dictionary. I have an e-reader but I don't use it for that, and apart from epub documents a dictionary won't even know which language I'm reading in :P

I also ignore the "rule" of travelling alone for max immersion.

And I tend to think that "do something every day" is mostly a motivational issue, both due to seeing progress and forming habits. It's not inherently needed. But then I firmly believe you should do at least some learning every day, just not necessarily in the same language.

Finally, I ignore the idea that any half-decent polyglot needs to learn French.

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 Message 24 of 116
29 November 2014 at 3:49am | IP Logged 
SRS: I have never used it.
Don't read until you're ready: I read my first book in Portuguese before I started a course (already knew Spanish). I read two books in Haitian Creole while I was doing a course (had Spanish, Portuguese, English and a year of high school French to inform my learning). Yes it was intensive at first but it got better.
Graded readers: That's what the first few chapters of a book are for. They help get me up to grade.
Harry Potter: I am not interested in wizards, or wizardry, at all.
Finish a course: I've done that before, but I have also not finished them because I didn't need to- it's one of the (nice) hazards of using a multi-track approach.
Assimil: I've never used it but have looked at a few courses. I can't deal with the slow, unnaturally precise and clear audio.
Michel Thomas: The students, and MT himself- arrrrgggghhh!
Pause button: My goal is to understand natural speech and also to respond to a drill quickly (in the space provided) If I can't do that, I'll do the unit again.
L/R: Not the traditional recommended method but TL audio and TL text, yes.
Bilingual dictionaries: As soon as I can, I use a monolingual dictionary.
News in slow X: Not my thing. I'm not learning languages in order to speak slow or listen to slow.
Speak from Day 1: Not from Day 1 but as soon as I can communicate on a very basic level.
Sites designed for reading online: That's what my kindle is for.
Never use "boring" material: I am willing and happy to use "boring" material as long as it's for short time periods. In some languages, it may be all you can find.
Don't use the news: Again, I prefer news reports to straight-up newscasts, but if I'm just starting out, if it has a transcript- yes, I'll use it. I can pick up a lot of vocabulary in this way.

That being said, plenty of people have successfully learned a language using SRS, Assimil, Michel Thomas, Harry Potter, the pause button, News in slow X, etc. Learning a language on one's own seems to be taking some from here, some from there and learning what works for you well. Where some of us fall down is by being so rigid that we won't consider anything outside of our preconceived parameters. I may use subs2srs one day. I may try an Assimil course (if I can somehow manage to stand its pace and audio). You never know what means may be necessary to learn a particular language or what may or may not be available. I will learn a language by any means necessary- if my passion for learning it is strong.

I think this thread can be best summed up by the Zen koan: "When you meet the Buddha, you must kill him". Not literally but figuratively. You must find your own path and not slavishly follow the path of someone else. The vast majority of us are here because we have followed (or want to follow) our own path.

Edited by iguanamon on 29 November 2014 at 7:54pm

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