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Language Learning Orthodoxy You Ignore

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tarvos
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 Message 57 of 116
03 December 2014 at 3:54pm | IP Logged 
I think you can't do without either input or output. Reading is simply the best way to
accrue good vocabulary, but it simply won't teach you to pronounce something properly.
Reading the car manual doesn't mean you can fix it. Practice makes perfect. So you
need output and a good tutor/corrector who pays attention to your personal mistakes.
In this sort of thing it's never either/or and that's what bothers me about this
discussion.

I would say you need both a good tutor and lots of native input. The reason you need
the tutor (personal tutor, I personally don't like group classes because they're not
customizable) is because there are many mistakes you will not be aware of, and even
through input you won't find them. They are also a model for how people speak.

Often it's even better to have had various tutors (genders, people) so that you get a
feeling for the differences in spoken register. I don't like homework of the variety
"here's the text do the questions". That's way too common in classes. I get that
people do that to beginners because they want them to study the rules perfectly, but
perfection is such a long way away especially at the beginning. The tutor is there to
point things out to you you didn't know about. That's their job. Even the most self-
critical among us do not notice everything, and we all make stupid mistakes. I am
self-critical enough to notice about half of my mistakes and I have done extensive
writing in various languages besides my native one and English (I have experience
writing complex material in both), and even I still miss a ton of mistakes in them.
You simply have another view as the writer, and that's why we have editors. My tutors
function more as editors than as teachers at my level in certain languages. The
advantages this has also carry over to other languages - I could probably come up with
a reasonably good text in Greek, reasonably coherent, but with a lot of mistakes
concerning articles/prepositions and a bunch of vocabulary holes (which I solve by
means of a dictionary). The reason is because I already have a certain style that
carries over from my better languages. You can even carry this over to creative
writing (for example I write poetry in Russian occasionally, and the problem with that
is mostly stylistic issues and vocabulary! Some people who read it commented that
"despite the fact you lack a whole lot of the required register, the actual writing is
easy to you". This is because writing is something you can practice! Output is a good
thing here.

The native input is especially necessary at the intermediate and higher levels because
this is where your vocabulary starts to show big gaps. Collocations are important but
to understand them you simply need to read a lot because a lot of them will occur in
writing. I've also found that Arguelles' advice is very pertinent: find books at your
level. I don't even mean graded readers, simply stuff that you can read without too
much effort. If you need to look up more than 5~10 words on a page, it's too
difficult. 98% is the golden number in my view. (I agree with Arguelles that it
shouldn't be much lower, not because of the drop in understanding, but because the
small drop in understanding means it will be very annoying to continue reading when
you miss so many details). An example: I recently read two novels in Russian, one
being the Master and Margarita (hard) and A Foreign Woman by Dovlatov (easy). They're
both good writers, but the latter was much easier to read and despite the fact M&M is
much more intellectual and layered, reading the second book was much easier and
enjoyable for me. And I liked M&M!

Arguelles then focuses on literature and polyliteracy, and this is where I deviate
from him - I think you simply need to read what is pertinent to you and increase the
complexity gradually. For example I have written things about literature before - on
Master and Margarita of all things (!) which I read in Russian, which is about at the
level of a high school student in his final year of foreign language studies when he
has to read proper literature in the original. But that's one topic and I actually
connected it to Bulgakov's criticism of the Soviet attitudes toward religion and
atheism (in the Netherlands, atheism is common, but religion was never banned or
looked down upon in the same way as during Soviet times). You can do this for loads of
topics: permafrost, gardening, F1 racing - pick good topics, especially ones you're
reasonably knowledgeable about but could do with some deepening of the vocabulary of,
and you're set.

With regards to two more things: speed is something that people shouldn't value in and
of itself. Speaking faster doesn't make you better - it just means you slur more. I
slur enough as it is, I do not need a speed increase in my speech levels. I can handle
high-speed conversations in my better languages. What you need is clarity, precision
and ELEGANCE. At a high level tutors are inescapable for the reason that they will be
able to tell you the exact way you can phrase something. Or should. In Russian, I
already use a wide variety of expressions correctly (this always leads to good fun
when people ask "how do you know that") but equally often it happens that
stylistically I can't always pull them off. At this level your grammar should be a
point of proofreading (and you'll always miss stuff). This is not about speed, it's
about clarity. If you're presenting orally, it's better to err on the side of caution
and speak more slowly. Good orators do not speak very quickly. They speak slowly,
narrate clearly, do not slur, enunciate every syllable and weigh their words well so
that every word hits the jackpot. Speaking too fast usually implies nerves. Make sure
to write clearly, and if you are speaking, doubly clearly.

About the attitude - I'm sorry, but our skills do not exist to impress snobs on the
internet. That's a very crude formulation and I am aware of it but this is how it is.
I am not talking to people to be consistently judged on whether I pronounced every
soft r correctly. That's not the issue. "Foreigners make such terrible mistakes" is a
sign that you are being very chauvinistic and unhelpful towards people who are making
a conscious effort to adapt to you. It's a very selfish response to someone who is
showing good intentions. Maybe in the case of English many learn it for the financial
benefits, but by and large that is a minimal part of people learning foreign
languages. If someone told me to my face right now that "I make such terrible mistakes
in Romanian/Russian/Lao" I would probably punch them and walk away. I don't want to
make an effort to be subsequently spat on because I "didn't cross my dots correctly",
so to speak. Tutors should be strict on mistakes (the best tutors are crazy good with
red pens) but they should not be impolite. There's a difference between being strict
(a necessary quality in a tutor) and indecent (repulsive).

Of course, you also get the opposite "за русский язык тебе пятерка!" but you just say
thanks and move on in that case.

Often I like Eastern European tutors because they are generally very attentive to this
kind of detail in writing (Romanians and Russians jump to mind. The French and Germans
are good at this too).










Edited by tarvos on 03 December 2014 at 3:56pm

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Serpent
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 Message 58 of 116
03 December 2014 at 4:40pm | IP Logged 
(By speed, I meant the speed of acquisition, not the ability to speak fast.)

DaraghM wrote:
During my 1,000 hours challenge, I read about 3,000 pages and listened to around 400 hours of audio. It was very benficial, but I may have move through the material too quickly.

Yeah, the language also needs time to grow in your mind. 3k pages in three years are different from 3k pages in one year. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but they're different. Read too little and there won't be enough consistency. Read too much/too fast and you'll get more enjoyment than actual improvement.
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s_allard
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 Message 59 of 116
03 December 2014 at 7:14pm | IP Logged 
For some strange reason a few people have taken umbrage to the idea of my calling certain mistakes
made by learners terrible. It's not as if I go around telling people I don't know that they speak terrible
French. I'm invariably polite and let things go by that I would never let my students say.

Let me give a specific example of what I call a terrible or particularly egregious mistake made by an
English-speaking friend of mine while speaking French to a large francophone audience. Talking about a
musician who plays many instruments, he said: "Il joue plusieurs instruments comme le trombone et
l'organe." I don't think he noticed the ripple of laughter in the audience. In my mind, mixing up l'organe
and l'orgue is a terrible mistake. And one that this person will keep on making unless he is corrected. I
should point out that there is another mistake in the sentence, albeit a relatively minor one, that I would
not consider terrible.
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tarvos
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 Message 60 of 116
03 December 2014 at 7:25pm | IP Logged 
It's at most a funny mistake and could happen to everyone. Of course people will laugh,
but is that a sin?

Absolutely not.

It would be if a mistranslation caused a war. That's not what this is and that's why we
put special guidelines on translation work.
5 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
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 Message 61 of 116
03 December 2014 at 8:06pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
In my mind, mixing up l'organe and l'orgue is a terrible mistake.

Slips of the tongue involving words like organ, organism, orgasm and orgy seem to happen in any language where they are similar. At least he had the most innocent combination possible (whether he knew the correct term or not).

But as I said, just because he speaks with confidence and fluency, you can't conclude that he thinks he says everything correctly. He would find public speaking hard if he worried about making mistakes.
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ScottScheule
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 Message 62 of 116
03 December 2014 at 8:55pm | IP Logged 
Gentlemen, you can't fight here--this is the war room!

At the very least, I think we can all agree that people who make linguistic mistakes should be drawn and quartered.

Edited by ScottScheule on 03 December 2014 at 9:15pm

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kanewai
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 Message 63 of 116
03 December 2014 at 9:35pm | IP Logged 
DaraghM wrote:
You’ve inspired me to retest my assumptions regarding massive input.
I’ll give it another shot next year, but at a ‘titanic’ level. Logically it should
work as you’re seeing repeated language patterns over and over again that are used in
a number of different contexts. The main issue I found was that I would understand a
text or audio, but I wouldn’t be focused on specifics like gender or other forms of
agreement. I felt I was developing heritage learner capabilities and very strong
passive skills, but not an active ability.


This is where the drills from FSI really helped. They burned a lot of patterns into my
brain so that certain patterns just felt natural. I have the same issues you have
with just reading - for me the big issues were gender, pronouns, and prepositions. I
can recognize them all easily enough, but needed the drills to internalize how to use
them.


3 persons have voted this message useful



s_allard
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 Message 64 of 116
04 December 2014 at 3:06am | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
It's at most a funny mistake and could happen to everyone. Of course people will
laugh,
but is that a sin?

Absolutely not.

It would be if a mistranslation caused a war. That's not what this is and that's why we
put special guidelines on translation work.

This is a very important observation. Not everybody sees mistakes in the same light. Obviously, we are
not talking about going to war over mistranslations here, but we are discussing just how important
certain mistakes are. One could say that mixing up organe and orgue is not such a big deal. Everybody
makes mistakes, and if we get a good laugh out of them, there is no problem. Therefore there is no
point in pointing out the mistake to this person.

My own position is that when I attempt to speak a target language, I aim to say what a native speaker
would say. Native speakers of French will make certain mistakes, but none would mix up organe and
orgue. People laugh at this mistake because it is ridiculous. I don't want to appear ridiculous when
speaking my target language. If I make a major mistake, please, somebody, tell me. I would be
mortified but at least I won't make the same mistake again.



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