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Maximum limit and The Rule of Seven

 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
12 messages over 2 pages: 1 2  Next >>
reineke
Senior Member
United States
https://learnalangua
Joined 6319 days ago

851 posts - 1008 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 1 of 12
01 April 2007 at 2:51pm | IP Logged 
Hi, my first post here. Beautiful, friendly board. I'm trying to map out a long-term language learning plan. I would like to hear a few opinions about other people's goals and their self-imposed limits (or if they have any) on the number of languages they think they are able to learn well. Also, how many languages do you guys think a reasonably well educated "normal" person can learn? The goal is being able to speak, read and write at a high level of proficiency.

I've been reading about it but it's a very tricky subject. Famous polyglots have extensive and impressive lists but they are rare exceptions to the "rule" which has not been set yet. The lists never state polyglot's opinions as to what languages they were most comfortable with. The guys are also mostly um dead so we won't hear about it. A book was written about this, apparently the only type of research on the subject:

"So far only one book on polyglottery has been published which I can recommend, that by Dr Dmitri L. Spivak (1989). He based his work on interviews with polyglots in Russia and other parts of the USSR. The most striking fact he claimed to discover was that most of these polyglots agreed that they did not know more than about seven foreign languages ‘completely’, in the sense of being able to speak them fluently and read new and differing texts without any difficulty. He presented this as ‘The Law of Seven.’ This is a very provisional and approximate ‘law’, of course, but an interesting point of departure for further research – when he and I are able to resume the collaboration we put on hold in 1993 because we had too much other work to do.

Another unexpected finding of Spivak’s (1989) research was that all the polyglots interviewed preferred to learn languages on their own. So, polyglottery may well be called ‘a profession for autodidacts.’

http://www.english-learning.co.uk/dk&mt.html

I did find a few other examples that seem to give more weight to the above-mentioned "Law of Seven" like that of Anthony Burgess who knew 13 languages but was fluent in 8 although I could not confirm that the author actually hit an obstacle at 8. Is anyone aware of any other examples of this? Incidentally "The Law of Seven" exists, but for this purpose I believe it's more appropriare to talk about "The Rule of Seven".

Interestingly enough there is also such a thing as the "Rule of Seven plus or minus one or two" and it makes a rather fascinating reading about our abilities to process information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magical_Number_Seven,_Plus_ or_Minus_Two

7+/- 1 or 2 is also mentioned in Spivak's book as the maximum number of languages most people can hope to learn to a near-native level (between 5 and 9). I will be adding any new information to my blog.

Edited by reineke on 17 January 2009 at 12:20am

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luke
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Esperanto, French

 
 Message 2 of 12
01 April 2007 at 3:12pm | IP Logged 
Welcome to the forum! We have an ongoing Rule of Seven thread that you may find interesting.
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reineke
Senior Member
United States
https://learnalangua
Joined 6319 days ago

851 posts - 1008 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 3 of 12
01 April 2007 at 4:37pm | IP Logged 
The thread mentions "Why You Need a Foreign Language & How to Learn One" by Edward Trimnell. The book (apparently) states that "there is a commonly accepted notion amongst polyglots that seven languages is the maximum that a person can learn to a high level of fluency. The author suggests that the number is actually less for those who are not in the linguistics profession, something like three languages."

That thread seems to have been exhausted with people listing their desired languages. I'd like to put more meat on this thread, if allowed, and keep it nice and clean and that's why I'm summarizing.

There is also another thread on Dr. Spivak's book

http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?T ID=1489&PN=1

Some people have read it and I'd like to hear more about it.

The book mentions rural people as polyglots and this is encouraging. Obviously such people would be fluent speakers rather than men of letters. The little I read from Spivak contradicts what I heard about Trimnell's book (i.e. polyglottery only for the "chosen", the professionals).

Here's some excerpts that frenkeld very kindly translated. I took out what I found to be the most relevant bits regarding this topic. Most of the translated text and the accompanying comments however refer to learning techniques and not to the "secrets" of polyglottery. It's a great read and I'd love to see more:

Teach yourself polyglottery for beginners - a short course (the third and final chapter)

     "At this point you already know all the secrets of the polyglots, and we can now talk as equals, as colleagues..."

Um, we don't and we'd really love to :)

"...And yet, by way of concluding, allow me to offer you some simple and precise instructions. In fact, if you come to feel doubtful about some of them, trust the author: all that will be discussed here is firmly based on science and many years of experience by the polyglots...

     ...Keep trying different things, keep exploring yourself... For what is recommended, is for everyone, and it's up to you to adapt it to your own personality and talents. The latter are guaranteed to exist. And while you are looking for them, the most important thing is to not torture yourself, to not wear yourself out. Remember: the only type of labor that works with a language is the kind that requires daily, but not strenuous, effort. It's great when you derive pleasure from the effort...

...The moral of the story is: all living things grow gradually, and one can only speed up their development to a point...

     ...Its essential ingredient is love of one's own language and respect for someone's else's. That's why we've already said and will say it again, that interest and ability in languages is neither a profession nor a hobby, but a character trait. It goes with this that in your studies you will not have to labor hard, but neither will you get to laze around.

     First you have to determine how much you need the chosen languge. Whether you are ready to make it your companion in life. Suppose you are not. Then why do you need it?

...If it is your work or life that has led to the need to learn a language, there should be no difficulties. But what if you just can't find any such texts? In that case, I would advise you to pause and think. Here you are, having spend already 3 to 4 months on fairly uninteresting reading matter. Is it worth continuing to waste your time and effort on a language that has nothing you want to read?

Edited by reineke on 01 April 2007 at 4:43pm

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Linguamor
Decaglot
Senior Member
United States
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469 posts - 599 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Dutch

 
 Message 4 of 12
01 April 2007 at 5:00pm | IP Logged 
reineke wrote:

...The moral of the story is: all living things grow gradually, and one can only speed up their development to a point...


In my opinion, his most valid insight.


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frenkeld
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 6815 days ago

2042 posts - 2719 votes 
Speaks: Russian*, English
Studies: German

 
 Message 5 of 12
01 April 2007 at 5:25pm | IP Logged 
reineke wrote:
Most of the translated text and the accompanying comments however refer to learning techniques and not to the "secrets" of polyglottery. It's a great read and I'd love to see more.


The choice of the language-learning section for translating was by design - I wanted to present an authoritative example of an old-fashioned approach to language learning that I felt would work for a wide variety of learners, including first-time learners.

As for translating other sections, I was getting nervous that the excerpts were getting just about long enough to start encroaching on the author's rights, so it felt like the right place to stop.

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reineke
Senior Member
United States
https://learnalangua
Joined 6319 days ago

851 posts - 1008 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 6 of 12
01 April 2007 at 5:41pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for replying and thanks for the great work. I wouldn't have dared ask someone to go through so much work. I was hoping at most for a short book summary. I'd even settle for a few comments. How many polyglots did he interview? Were they all translators, linguists etc? What secrets was the author referring to? :) What were his comments about the Rule of Seven? Thanks a lot!


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frenkeld
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 6815 days ago

2042 posts - 2719 votes 
Speaks: Russian*, English
Studies: German

 
 Message 7 of 12
01 April 2007 at 5:49pm | IP Logged 
reineke wrote:
I was hoping at most for a short book summary.


That's how it started out with the learning section. :)

reineke wrote:
I'd even settle for a few comments. How many polyglots did he interview? Were they all translators, linguists etc? What secrets was the author referring to? :) What were his comments about the Rule of Seven? Thanks a lot!


It's been a while since I'd read the rest of the book. If I get a chance to take another look at it in the next few days, I'll try to answer. Perhaps there are others here who've read the book and remember it well enough to help you out right away.

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translator2
Senior Member
United States
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 Message 8 of 12
01 April 2007 at 6:07pm | IP Logged 
Here is a link to the passage in the book Why You Need a Foreign Language & How to Learn One:

Rule of Seven


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