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 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5799 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 9 of 37
21 October 2007 at 5:35pm | IP Logged 
Ms. Volte, if you have been pleased with the results of the technique of shadowing thus far, then I can all but guarantee you that you will make much more progress taking the task outside than remaining in front of your computer. There is no question that walking about swiftly and with good posture as you shadow in a clear and loud voice while listening to a portable device through insert earphones is infinitely preferable to sitting immobile while listening to narration through fixed audio.

Now, back to your original list of issues in the hopes of someday getting to address them all:

On creating solid plans and schedules that are efficient and that you can stick to: Your most effective attention span is actually only in the fifteen to thirty minute range. You should try to determine what your span is and plan your study time in corresponding time blocks. Endeavor to organize your life so that you can keep a schedule with exact regularity. Schedule your blocks of study time (e.g., fifteen or twenty or thirty minute blocks) in blocks of daily time (e.g., from 0600 to 0800 or from 1800 to 2000). If you have not had systematic regularity in your life before, start very slowly and build up. If you can devote even one half hour a day to Dutch or another language and force yourself to keep that (starting tomorrow, read Dutch every single day without exception or excuse from, e.g., 0530 to 0600). After a number of weeks of every single day at the same regular time of day, without exception or excuse, you will have formed the habit of doing this to the degree that it will then become difficult for you to break this habit. You can then add another and another and another…

On knowing what trade-off to make between sticking to plans and experimenting with new ones: As above, break everything down into its logical component parts and systematically experiment with only one thing at a time, and that only after you have formed a solid base for comparison. If a technique does not seem to be working you should certainly seek another, but how do you know that it is not working, or that you are doing it correctly? You are obviously more justified in experimenting with new plans when the old ones are not working than when they are, but if you really want to get down to learning lots of languages, you need to find something that works and do it rather than spending too much time looking around for an ideal way to learn lots of languages.

On philology and etymology: how to approach the subjects and learn more about them: In another thread running concurrently I recently suggested Carl Darling Buck’s Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages and I really cannot do better than to repeat that advice as a starting point in this regard.


Edited by ProfArguelles on 05 November 2007 at 9:01am

11 persons have voted this message useful





Iversen
Super Polyglot
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Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 5246 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 10 of 37
25 October 2007 at 8:18am | IP Logged 
Dear professor Arguelles:

In the post above you propose a very rigorous and very systematic vary of organizing your time where every half hour of the day basically is assigned a certain task - the same task every day, week after week. It may function for some, but for others (including me) it would be counterproductive to make such a rigid plan. Even if I could survive and even get accustomed to such a detailed scheme I would feel like I had entered the army or a monastic order, and I would inconsciently search for ways to escape the contraints (including totally giving up studying languages).

Luckily there is another way to organize one's time. I have more than a dozen languages to deal with, and there are a certain number of activities I do to keeping them alive or even learn more: make wordlists, read books or stuff on the internet, do a couple of pages of active reading, watch TV, listen to one of the aural sources on the internet, write a small essay about something, study something using a grammar or two and so on - the usual gamut of things you can do to learn languages on your own. Sometimes I have reserved an evening for socializing or other tasks, but normally I can spend at least 4-5 hours on my languages every day (and I do stick to that level of studying).

When I get back home today, one of the first things I do is to take stock of which languages I have neglected in the last couple of days. Today my bad conscience primarily concerns Dutch because I haven't done anything in that language for several days. OK, Dutch gets on the list of I have to do this evening. Maybe I can find something to read on the internet, or I can take a dictionary and make a wordlist with maybe 90-100 words/expressions or I can listen for half an hour to a Dutch TV station on the internet. When I'm tired of that I just have a look at my dictionary collection and decide which language is next in line. I try do work on my weakest languages (Greek and Russian) every evening, but apart from that there is absolutely no rule about what I should do at a certain point in time (I even record TV programmes for later viewing so that program schedules don't interfere with my 'planning'). In short, my time administration system is diametrically opposite to the system you propose. Yet I do on a weekly basis get through every one of my languages, and I also manage to get through a decent blend of techniques for each of them.

So my question to you, professor Arguelles, is the following: do you think (as I do) that mankind is divided in two, with one half working optimally under a strict regime where everything is organized in the best possible way and the other half thriving under controlled chaos? If so, have you among your students seen cases where an 'orderly' person could succesfully be changed into a 'chaotic' planner and the other way round? And finally, did you deliberately choose to follow a strict planning during your stay in Korea, or was it just the natural thing to do under the circumstances?

Niels Johs.Legarth Iversen

Edited by Iversen on 09 March 2008 at 6:31pm

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Dogtanian
Diglot
Newbie
Scotland
Joined 4950 days ago

33 posts - 39 votes
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: French, Russian, Greek

 
 Message 11 of 37
25 October 2007 at 10:09am | IP Logged 
To Iversen and Professor Arguelles: Do you find that, in spending such a great deal of time maintaing and learning languages, you miss out on other things? In the past I often had the feeling that instead of learning the structure and framework of other languages I could simply be learning something new, or gaining valuable knowledge about other things instead of essentially digesting variations on the same theme again and again (e.g. new grammar systems.) Don't misunderstand, I'm not for a moment suggesting that it is a waste of time, I'm simply wondering whether this is something that passes as one becomes more experienced in language learning, and I'd be really interested to know whether you find enough time to do other things, for example sports, playing musical instruments, painting or whatever takes your fancy.   
I have a list of ten languages that I would like to attain some level of proficiency in at some stage, five of which I'm currently "managing"(i.e. maintaining and learning), I just wonder whether I should persist with this plan, in view of the thoughts I've expressed above. Though I should probably also state that there is no Chinese, Arabic or Korean on my list. The greatest problems for me are Greek, Russian and Welsh and I imagine the learning process and difficulty thereof is somewhat less for the latter group.

I hope I have expressed myself adequately here, and please redirect me if this has been discussed elsewhere.
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 5246 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 12 of 37
25 October 2007 at 1:21pm | IP Logged 
About "missing out" on other things:

Some people feel awful if they don't visit friends and family every evening. I think that once or twice every week is more than enough, and that gives me a lot of time for my studies. I don't miss out on my other interests either (almost every kind of natural science, music, history....) because I can read about almost any subject in a variety of languages on the internet or in books that I have bought during my travels - I don't have to stick to Danish and English. And I can listen to music or watch television while I'm reading (in fact that's what I'm doing right now where I'm writing a contribution to this excellent forum). With every new language I get access to one more culture and to new books about other subjects than languages, - it is not just one more language. And this constant expansion of my horizon counts more than just learning one more kind of grammar.   

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5799 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 13 of 37
28 October 2007 at 6:25pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Iversen, I am most certainly prepared to acknowledge at all times that there are many different styles of learning and that what works well for some people may not work well at all for others. Reading through the biographies of past polyglots, one finds a wide variety of personality types and some clear descriptions of a number of sometimes diametrically different means for attaining the goal. I am happy to allow aspiring polyglots to avail themselves of my experience as a basis for their own methodological experimentation if they wish, but I always encourage all autodidacts to seek their own paths. I would never impose monastic study habits on anybody, but to anyone who can envision them, I can testify in the best of faith as to how effective they are. If young people such as Ms. Volte and Ms. Evdokimova and Mr. Alvin L. feel a true vocation to collect as many languages as they possibly can and to learn them as well as they can, then the sooner they get started and the more efficiently they work, the more they will accomplish; the more they accomplish, the sooner they will get through the bulk of their learning stage; and the sooner they get through the bulk of their learning stage, the more time they will have to enjoy and profit from the active use and exploration of the cultural horizons of the languages they will have learned. So, since all I can ultimately offer is my experience of what worked best for me, I described how to go about consciously forming the study habit by the imposition of self-discipline and regimentation. I am very sorry that this frightened you. I would never impose it upon you or anyone else, but I simply offer it as an option. Mental exercise is just as habit forming as physical exercise, but while it is easy to sign up for classes in physical exercise, courses in mental discipline are all too rare. Again, I would not impose it upon anyone, but I think the current situation is that this is a site where some may come to seek it. I very much enjoyed the imagery of your description of the two different learning types that you and I appear to represent, but I feel that this is in fact only a primary bifurcation of humankind into compulsive and chaotic clans. I have indeed known people to change type, mostly from orderly to relaxed, but sometimes in reverse. I myself might be something of an example of the latter. I got most of my own real education by reading voraciously and eclectically, pursuing whatever I felt like whenever I felt like it, and in this manner managing to get through an inordinate amount of reading matter. This served me well through graduate school, but when I finally got that behind me and got down to studying something serious and substantive such as languages, I found that greater discipline was necessary. I was indeed in Korea when I made this discovery, and as my circumstances there were most propitious to doing so, I followed a monastic lifestyle of strict planning. I am organically suited to this, and so it was both a deliberate decision and the most natural thing to do.

Regarding the question about the sacrifices involved in missing out on other aspects of life by spending countless hours involved in the obsessive study of languages: again, I concur with what Mr. Iversen wrote before me, namely that the constant expansion of one’s mental horizons by means of foreign languages counts more than doing many other things. I certainly understand the feeling of being fed up with reading only grammars, but yes indeed, do not worry, this is something that passes as you get more experienced in language learning, precisely because you will pass to reading interesting and informative texts from the cultures that have been formed by the languages you have learned.

I have to say that I have never been much of one for socializing. Partying, going to bars and restaurants, watching sporting events—all of that has a very negative appeal to me. I have had my share of good friends in this existence, but still I am very much of a loner, and I have always enjoyed books more than people. While being a quintessential inveterate bookworm who always went about with a stack of books under his arms, I have always had time in my life for a number of other pursuits. I have been a long-distance runner for over twenty years and a flautist for over thirty. I have also been both a life-long lover of military history, which I pursue in a totally different and much more consciously amateurish persona than I do languages. Until I took up languages seriously, I had hobbies such as building and painting model tanks, playing fantasy role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and, most especially, strategic and tactical board games such as Advanced Squad Leader. My as of yet unrealized aspiration for accomplishment in my own native English is the composition of a creative work of some sort, at which I do at least strive daily. More than anything else, I enjoy a good number of relaxed and joyful hours each day just being with my two young sons. Since I have just revealed an embarrassing amount of personal information about myself, I will take the opportunity to say to young aspirant polyglots that the more character traits you have in common with me, the more directly you can apply my specific suggestions. If you seem to have a fundamentally different character type, you should emphatically only consider them as a problematic or use them as a basis for experimentation. My character type is certainly not the most common, but it is not such a great rarity either. Anyone who can contemplate studying for a serious doctorate is almost indubitably also capable of mastering many languages if he can only muster the will and the discipline to carry through with the task. Ms. Volte and Ms. Evdokimova and Mr. Alvin L and others like them are all getting started on this task much earlier than I myself did. They may well be able to accomplish much more than I have, and if I can help them to do this, then I am happy to do so. However, even as I counsel on the specific theme of language learning, I must always stress that I see this as a means and not a goal. I see polyglottery as a mere key to opening doors in the holistic search for knowledge, and my real quest is not to know many languages, but to acquire and use many languages as essential components in building an encyclopedic mind, over and against the fragmentation and confinement of the mind to specific narrow fields of inquiry that is so sadly and commonly characteristic of the spirit of our current dark age.

I am afraid my time is up for this week and I will neither be able to continue addressing Ms. Volte’s original questions about how to approach languages for which she would like to get a grammatical overview, how to deal with problematic grammatical structures, etc., nor to write anything for the the thread on time management.

11 persons have voted this message useful





Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 5246 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 14 of 37
29 October 2007 at 4:18am | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles,

Thank you for the very comprehensíve answer. When I wrote that your programme scared me it was not because of the amount of time it would take, but because it apparently prescribed in detail what every half hour should be used for, and that seemed frightingly rigid for me. I have however a deep respect for people who can keep such a schedule, and for budding polyglots it is worth trying to do it for a period to see whether they can stand it (especially if they have to cope with everchanging demands from the outside world).
For me the 'chaotic' time management is clearly the one that functions.   

Niels J.L. Iversen

Edited by Iversen on 31 March 2008 at 12:46am

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quendidil
Diglot
Senior Member
Singapore
Joined 4855 days ago

126 posts - 142 votes 
Speaks: Mandarin, English*
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 15 of 37
01 November 2007 at 6:59am | IP Logged 
I see I share a great deal of personality traits with you, Professor. I too have never liked social gatherings or sporting events; if forced to attend such an event, I also would bring along at least a book. Hopefully, as you have said, this would allow me to benefit more from your advice.

I also find it compelling that you have said that you voraciously and ecletically read through a wide range of reading material but found it more necessary to be more disciplined as you advanced in the study of language. I myself am quite a wide reader, but most of the non-fiction topics I read about and am interested are currently not of direct benefit to my life; novels and literary are of course worth even less in practical terms. As a result, while I might be able to go on about Roman toilet customs and the remarkable state of firearm-use in 17th Century Japan, I am merely an above-average student at school. Perhaps gaining some discipline would do some good for my schoolwork?

Edited by quendidil on 01 November 2007 at 7:00am

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5799 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 16 of 37
04 November 2007 at 7:57pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Iversen, while I have always found that I must be inflexible in the imposition of precise timings in order to get a good study habit or practice firmly into place, once it is indeed in place, I am able to be far more flexible in regards to my overall use of time. Once you have the habit of doing something every single day, if necessary or desirable you can not do it for a day, and when you are more advanced you can even stop doing it for a while without detriment. However, if your habit is not fully formed, missing a single day for any reason greatly prejudices your chances of successfully forming the habit. I think studying languages can be likened to a form of mental exercise very much akin to physical exercise, or to a form of mental discipline very much akin to monastic spiritual discipline, in this regard.

Alvin L., if you have an inherently scholarly disposition, you can certainly take my approach to the study of languages as a pattern for your own, but please always experiment with what I give you so that you can make your own improvements and innovations. Having compiled biographies of hundreds of polyglots, I would say that well over half of them have been scholars, and their methods for learning languages, despite presenting some fundamentally identifiable common principles, have been most varied. In order to be a successful polyglot, you must take complete control of the learning process, and you cannot do this if you are simply following someone else’s methods.

Back now to three more of the original list of issues:

On how to approach languages for a grammatical overview: The Catálogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas, y numeración, división y clase de éstas según la diversidad de sus idiomas y dialectos by Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro, S.J. gives the philological peculiarities of three hundred different languages and a complete grammar of forty of them. During my time in Korea, when I studied so many languages simultaneously, I aspired to gain at least a rudimentary working knowledge of at least one language from every major language family. I gave this up, and for a period I regretted the time “lost” as wasted, but I no longer feel that way. I have long since stopped thinking about learning any individual language, and have come instead to conceive of my task as that quite simply of trying to understand as much as I possibly can about the whole wide world of languages.

On how to deal with grammatical structures that are particularly troublesome to master despite exposure, explanation, and even passive understanding: At least in so far as you may be referring to the complexities and intricacies of highly inflecting languages, there is a very good remedy that consists of finding their inherent rhythmic patterns by reading grammatical charts and tables aloud. With a bit of experience, you will fall into a form of chanting that is actually pleasant as well as efficacious in terms of internalizing the alien patterns. As with shadowing, this technique works better while in motion than while sedentary.

On the role of independent study versus language immersions in the target country, and when to do the latter: Whenever possible, it is always best to be well prepared for important engagements and activities. Unless you are actively engaged in the pioneering ethno-linguistic field investigation and recording of a hitherto unexplored and unattested form of human speech, you will make better use of your mortal span of years by studying on your own to get the roots firmly in place before you go for an immersion session in the target language. Give yourself some years of serious acquaintance on your own before you go for active exposure, from which you will most profit when you have brought yourself to the point where you can pretty much already get the gist of whatever is going on around you. Go to polish, not to build.


Edited by ProfArguelles on 05 November 2007 at 9:02am



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