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Passive Fluency

  Tags: Passive | Fluency
 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
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Super Polyglot
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 Message 17 of 33
24 May 2007 at 3:25am | IP Logged 
jeff_lindqvist wrote:
gperson000 wrote:
Is it possible to achieve fluent comprehension of a language without speaking the language?

The Scandinavian languages are quite transparent and natives from Sweden/Norway/Denmark can understand each other without too much practice - and without being able to actually speak any of the other two languages.

Yes, and that is why I only have placed Swedish and Norwegian on my profile as beginner languages, even though I do understand them almost totally (though you will always be able to dig up a dialect-speaking old mand or a youngster from some strange subculture whose language would pose a problem even for a native speaker).

In fact there are four levels to consider:

1) There are languages that you can cope with both actively and passively, and for most people this probably means that they have to deliberately sit down and study them (not necessarily in a formal setting).

2) There are those languages that you only know passively, but on a level where you just need some speaking/writing practice and some systematized perousal of the grammar and idiomatics of the language to 'activate' them. My Swedish and Norwegian belong here, and some day I may decide to spend the time learning them properly. Latin did too, until I forgot it.

3) There are those languages (and dialects) that are so close to a language you know that you can get the meaning of texts and maybe even spoken sources, but you would have to start almost from scratch if you decided to learn them properly. I would say that Low German, Sardinian and Romantsch belong in this category for me.

4) Lat, but not least there are those thousands of languages that you just don't know and can't understand.

Parallel to this here-and-now description there is also the possibility that you once knew a language on some level, but have forgotten it. My Latin belongs to this category, and of course it would be easier to relearn than it was to learn it the first time. Another example: after 3 years of study at the university, most of the time with me as the only pupil in the class, I could speak Romanian fairly well in 1981. For the next 25 years I had absolutely no exposure to this language and in the summer of 2006 I could not even read it. Then I decided to visit the country (with Ceaucescu gone and all that), and inspired by this forum I decided to relearn it. Even with the ineffective training methods I knew then it took less than a month to reach a level where I could discuss with people I met. This doesn't invalidate the four levels above, but just exemplify that you sometimes can move quite fast up the ladder for a given language.

And yes, I do intend to relearn Latin soon. It will (re)open a vast literature from almost 2000 years to me on the passive side, it would serve as a glue between my Romance languages, and if I could also get to the point where I could think in Latin I would probably stand a better chance of not forgetting the whole thing again.

Edited by Iversen on 24 May 2007 at 10:33am

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United States
Joined 4717 days ago

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Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, French

 Message 18 of 33
24 May 2007 at 3:47am | IP Logged 
Does anyone here study a living language to acquire passive fluency without being able to communicate? Or is my idea more abstract than I originally thought?
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Senior Member
Joined 4706 days ago

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Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 Message 19 of 33
24 May 2007 at 6:07am | IP Logged 
gperson000 wrote:
Does anyone here study a living language to acquire passive fluency without being able to communicate? Or is my idea more abstract than I originally thought?

I did this, to a degree: I've read a fair amount in several languages in which I have no speaking ability whatsoever, some of which I've never studied at all (ie, Spanish and to a lesser degree, Portuguese), and others which I've glanced over grammar sketches for, but did incredibly little active study (ie, Swedish).

I've also acquired a higher level of passive comprehension, arguably passive fluency, in French, which I studied against my will when I was younger, without learning much, and of which I've acquired a fair amount of by living in Switzerland and reading trilingual texts (largely banal things, like ingredients, instructions, and warning signs), and French texts that seem to have content I'd like to understand. I also have some minimal use of spoken French, and a minimal ability to write it; I can carry on slow, ungrammatical written conversations in it, or ask and answer simple questions.

I've never exactly decided "I'm going to study this language, but only for passive fluency", but it's been a vague thought of sorts as I perused texts in various languages, largely without any active study whatsoever. This forum has inspired me to try to take my knowledge up a level, and gain more active use.

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Senior Member
Joined 4956 days ago

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Speaks: French*, EnglishC2
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 Message 20 of 33
24 May 2007 at 7:18am | IP Logged 
I actually have no intention of doing my exams in French! But since I don;t think I would be able to reach fluency in a language like Dutch in a year span I was considering the possibility of doing the exams in English if that;s possible at all.
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
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 Message 21 of 33
24 May 2007 at 11:05am | IP Logged 
I've seen Spanish and portuguese students at my university speak to each other, both in their native language.. they said "ah, well, we understand each other, there's no need to learn each other's language." :-). I found I can get the jist of spoken Catalan without any study, to me it sounds kind of like Portuguese but with bits of words missing.

One intresting thing to note though.. when I started learning portuguese, I just read bits and pieces, and watched tv etc. But, later, I took another stab at the language and did the FSI course. Although I didn't learn any new words really, my oral understanding really skyrocketed. Also, after only studying Russian passively for a couple of years, after a trip to Russia and being forced to speak quite a bit, texts became suddenly much more 'transparent,' understanding was much easier to grasp. So, maybe even if you only want a passive command of the language, an active approach could be beneficial.
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Russian Federation
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 Message 22 of 33
24 May 2007 at 2:46pm | IP Logged 
That reminds me of Ardaschir saying that although he greatly enjoys reading literature in the original, he doesn't focuse solely on reading and that he believes that exactly his good speaking skills help him to read better (i can't find that thread, sorry)
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United States
Joined 4661 days ago

21 posts - 22 votes
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Italian, Spanish, Latin

 Message 23 of 33
25 May 2007 at 9:24am | IP Logged 
gperson000 wrote:
Does anyone here study a living language to acquire passive fluency without being able to communicate? Or is my idea more abstract than I originally thought?

When I briefly flirted with Japanese last year, I had decided to be content with passive fluency. Active fluency was not really necessary for a short trip to Japan, and it was highly unlikely that I would end up living there or being employed in a job that required it. My primary interest was in Japanese literature, so being able to speak it myself seemed secondary.

That being said, I did still plan on attempting to learn to speak and write it. If I could learn to speak and write it, why not? There were no real disadvantages. I just wasn't planning to be horribly upset with myself if I never reached that stage.

Then of course, there's Latin. When I studied Latin, I tried very hard to get to the point where I could speak and write it, not because I felt that the skills were necessary but because I was raised in the school of thought that you had to study every aspect of a language. My original Latin teacher taught us songs in Latin and encouraged us to speak it, so I thought that was natural. When my boyfriend learned it, however, he tried to avoid speech as much as possible.

He's studied it for years longer than I have, and I now read as fluently as he does. Of course, that may be because I'm just more skilled at learning languages. In the case of Latin, however, where a long versus a short vowel can change the meaning of a word, I think my approach had a lot to do with it.
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United Kingdom
Joined 4695 days ago

21 posts - 22 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Latin, Japanese, Esperanto

 Message 24 of 33
25 May 2007 at 11:47am | IP Logged 
I study Latin, and have done for the past 3 years, and I can't speak it for my life, even though I can translate it written to an A grade standard. But I guess I'll never need to speak it, eh? So yes, it's possible.

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