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Directions/advice for 10+ aimers?

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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quendidil
Diglot
Senior Member
Singapore
Joined 4855 days ago

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

 
 Message 17 of 37
06 November 2007 at 1:00am | IP Logged 
ProfArguelles wrote:
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.

Indeed Professor, this point of yours seems to resonate with what I have read on some other websites - that immersion in a foreign language too soon in the learning process might damage your ability in that language beyond repair. The case of immigrants to English-speaking countries who never manage to master English actively while somehow gaining the ability to comprehend English passively brings this to mind.

It is also interesting that you recommend chanting as a way to internalize paradigms that you might already have been exposed to repeatedly and do recognize passively but still have trouble with. I believe this was the way Sanskrit inflexions were taught to young students. Their traditional conjugation system was reversed from the standard European Latin one however.

Edited by quendidil on 06 November 2007 at 2:26am

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5799 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 18 of 37
11 November 2007 at 5:17pm | IP Logged 
Ms. Volte, on to your final three original points of inquiry:

On what materials to use:
As I wrote recently in the thread on Recommended Learning Materials, I have long wondered whether a more extensive section on this subject would be a positive addition to my ever-evolving manuscript. Now that I sense the repeated expressions of interest here, I see that it will be, and so I will provide one. As you know, I have long been a great collector of language samples in the form of teaching manuals and the like. I think it would be a very interesting project to write reviews of the content of my collection, and I would comply more promptly if my current very cramped storage conditions did not make it so difficult for me to go through my collection at the immediate moment. Indeed, some day I hope to make my collection physically available for use as the core of the resource center for students at my very own institute for the intensive study of foreign languages…

On how to go about studying historical languages:
     I do hope that some of your concerns may have already been answered in the threads on Learning Philology and Literary/Classical Languages?
     Try to conceive of it like this: diachronic knowledge of its different developmental stages should be an integral aspect of your study of any language. Even if you are fluent native speaker of Modern English, you do not really know the language until you also know Old and Middle English, for how can you possibly really know what something is unless you know where it came from and how it got to be what it is?

On gaining familiarity with the literary cultures of new languages:
     Developing a cultivated mind requires both the right environment and individual seeking. Just as I do not believe the developmental history of a language should be severed from the study of its current linguistic form, so also I do not believe that the study of languages and of literatures should ever be separated into separate categories. Knowing and enjoying the products of creative imagination and philosophical speculation that have been voiced in a language have always seemed to me the crux of the matter in knowing that language. Gaining the ability to read substantive texts is the one of the greatest rewards of studying languages. So, try to choose your languages from those that have been significant literary vehicles, and try to choose intelligent teaching methods for them, and you should soon be guided into their heritage as a matter of course. Research into these matters should be an integral part of the quest, and while you can get started on the internet, I do hope you have access to a respectably large public or university library?
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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4982 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 19 of 37
11 November 2007 at 5:55pm | IP Logged 
ProfArguelles wrote:

On how to go about studying historical languages:
     I do hope that some of your concerns may have already been answered in the threads on Learning Philology and Literary/Classical Languages?
     Try to conceive of it like this: diachronic knowledge of its different developmental stages should be an integral aspect of your study of any language. Even if you are fluent native speaker of Modern English, you do not really know the language until you also know Old and Middle English, for how can you possibly really know what something is unless you know where it came from and how it got to be what it is?


Yes, several have been, and I'm deeply looking forward to being able to start reading "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages: A Contribution to the History of Ideas", which I will start at the end of this year/the beginning of next, when I finally have access to a copy. I've also purchased a copy of "Ramapakhyana - the Story of Rama in the Mahabharata" for Sanskrit, and found that audio has been recorded for it. The audio should be available; unfortunately, there's currently a glitch preventing that, but Professor Scharf is looking into it, so hopefully it will be again soon.

For languages such an Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek, or even Old English, there is a fair amount of material. For languages with little historical literature, such as Basque, I'm at a bit of a loss of how to take a diachronic view: do you have any suggestions for this case?

ProfArguelles wrote:

On gaining familiarity with the literary cultures of new languages:
     Developing a cultivated mind requires both the right environment and individual seeking. Just as I do not believe the developmental history of a language should be severed from the study of its current linguistic form, so also I do not believe that the study of languages and of literatures should ever be separated into separate categories. Knowing and enjoying the products of creative imagination and philosophical speculation that have been voiced in a language have always seemed to me the crux of the matter in knowing that language.


I think that that is a very legitimate criteria. I may end up adopting it after more thought; it's never seemed quite so central to me, but I have not yet given it the consideration it deserves.

ProfArguelles wrote:

Gaining the ability to read substantive texts is the one of the greatest rewards of studying languages. So, try to choose your languages from those that have been significant literary vehicles, and try to choose intelligent teaching methods for them, and you should soon be guided into their heritage as a matter of course.


The majority of languages I'm interested in have been significant literary vehicles, but a few have not. For those which have been, I'll bear this in mind, and make more of an effort to read these works.

ProfArguelles wrote:

Research into these matters should be an integral part of the quest, and while you can get started on the internet, I do hope you have access to a respectably large public or university library?


Only to a sadly limited degree. I am aware of three libraries which are easily accessible to me, one of which is a university library, but I cannot in any honesty call them well-stocked. Inter-library loans within Switzerland are possible, and I've used them before; it's taken the books longer to arrive than I can borrow them for, which is less than ideal, but better than nothing.

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5799 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 20 of 37
29 March 2008 at 10:43am | IP Logged 
Ms. Volte, how are your language studies coming along? Well, I do hope, but I wonder if I can offer you any further assistance? In any case, I am curious, and I would simply be appreciative of periodic progress reports from those who have sought my counsel in this regard.
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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4982 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 21 of 37
05 April 2008 at 10:02am | IP Logged 
This post is rather long, so I've structured it into a few parts. First, I've summarized where I am now. This is followed by ruminations on motivation/personal philosophy/learning style. Next, I discuss my plans, including my intended approach to the concentrated study of actual languages - which are relatively open to change, as the second section should make apparent. Finally, I outline my intended approach to the study of actual language over the near term.

----------
Dutch: I can generally understand songs in it at this point, especialy ones that I've listened to repeatedly and read the lyrics to; I haven't heard any new songs recently, so have no data on them. I read half a novel in it some months ago; this was with pleasure and understanding, although the latter was imperfect. I also had an extended series of short written exchanges with a native Dutch speaker. I cannot yet write Dutch fluidly, but I seem to be able to manage it acceptably enough when I write it painstakingly that it's not obligatory to switch to English, at least with a patient native speaker.
Esperanto: I'm now relatively comfortable understanding the spoken language, including in songs, and have somewhat less gaps in the written form. I've read a book and a play in Espeanto. I also find myself able to express simple things rather easily. I've been able to hold written online conversations in Esperanto for about 3 years, with the aid of a dictionary (but have neglected Esperanto most of this time); other than needing to use the dictionary less and making less mistakes, this is unchanged.
French: Reading novels no longer appears to be a lost cause. I read a portion of Camus' "L’Étranger" recently. My understanding is still more fragmentary than I would like, but high enough to now deal with novels, rather than just short factual articles (such as news or technology ones). This is especially positive as I have been almost entirely ignoring French; the only reason I know of this result is that I used it as a base language for Listening-Reading Spanish and Polish, after having previously read the story in English in the former case, but not the latter.
German: I haven't spent much time on it, and my improvements are fairly minor. I've read a few editions of various newspapers. It remains the 4th-most comfortable language for me to write (after English, Italian, and Esperanto), but I think my comprehension has fallen behind that of Spanish, Dutch, and perhaps French.
Polish: I've spent about 50 hours on Listening-Reading, and perhaps a dozen each on grammar and phonetics, as well as listening to significant amounts of songs and radio broadcasts. I can get the gist of written texts a fair percentage of the time, and of simple news reports on the radio. My comprehension of songs is usually extremely fragmentary. I've internalized parts of the grammar quite thoroughly, to the point of occasionally finding myself leaving out articles and using Polish word order when tired and writing quickly in English; my experience with other languages suggests that this is both a temporary effect and overall a promising one.
Spanish: I spent about 16 hours Listening-Reading Spanish in January, when I visited the United States. I now have a better understanding of it, as I've filled in some of the most major gaps that merely knowing Italian does not provide. I understand it better than Dutch, in both normal speech and songs. I cannot produce it in a reasonable manner.

Japanese and Persian are both minor parts of my life (ie, I continue listening to Persian music, and thinking extremely simple things in Japanese), but I have done no study of either thus far in 2008.

Basically, the results are mixed. On the positive side, my Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, and Spanish listening are all at levels comparable to (some below, some significantly above) my Italian comprehension as of when I joined this forum (just under a year ago), at least in the context of songs. In terms of everyday speech and spoken radio broadcasts, I have less grounds for comparison, although I was extremely happy to find that I could follow a German movie and colloquial Italian conversation among my friends in the background at the same time, since even the latter evaded me when there was significant background noise until recently. On the negative side, my active abilities have been increasing more slowly, though they have improved.


----------
General thoughts and philosophy.

I've been doing a lot of thinking, much of which is outside the scope of this forum. The ideas relevant to this progress report relate to the concepts of fun and structure in language learning. Specifically, while I appreciate the value of intensive, focused study on a routine basis, I think it needs to be done carefully. More structured study hasn't been working well for me: I make progess more steadily, but at the cost of it feeling like an obligation even more strongly than something I enjoy. I consider persisting in (attempts at) this approach at present to be something which significantly imperils my long-term interest and progress. Furthermore, multiple attempts to change my sleep schedule have failed. Without this change, I simply cannot study at the same hour each day. I've found that learning the most languages possible as quickly as possible isn't, at present, a strong enough motivation.

This also ties into my general learning style. I thrive on a certain amount of chaos, and on being a generalist.   This has the disadvantage of making progress harder to track. What I do know is that it's a technique that has served me quite well in other subjects, although it certainly doesn't always look that way in the early stages! I do much better when I read widely, following what interests me. While my goal isn't to build up a map of an area of knowledge (and this goal does not work well for me), it naturally happens as a side effect. My concentration and interest in parts I do decide to delve into in depth is also greatly enhanced by following this approach.

-----------

My current plans have a few components:
     - exploring some areas where computer science and practical language acquisition overlap; I've started to do this. I fully realize that this is not the most efficient way to spend time for the purpose of learning languages, but it is linked, and it is something I am finding myself enjoying.
     - continuing to experiment with Listening-Reading. I've found that I strongly prefer it to Assimil for the earliest stages of language learning. In a few months of Assimil Persian last summer, I made remarkably little progress, while 15 days of Listening-Reading Polish got me to a level where I could understand simple snippets of news on the radio, albeit sometimes missing some details (this is admittedly an apples-to-oranges comparison, but a similar number of total hours were involved, excluding pure phonetic work for Polish). I especially appreciate Listening-Reading in respect to grammar: it makes the whole structure of a language come alive in a way that nothing else I have seen does. About 16 hours of Listening-Reading Spanish highlighted weak points in my Italian to me (and in my knowledge of the Romance languages in general). My work with Polish has made Slavic languages significantly more transparant (though still far too opaque for me to claim any competence at them); unexpected benefits include an alteration of my mental concepts of grammar. A concrete, albeit unexpected, example is that I've spontaneously started using the form 'whom' in English. As a side effect of this, I'm determined to not do any serious work on languages other than Polish until I can read atamagaii's book moderately comfortably; I can still only read it in a fairly rudimentary fashion.
     - In the not-too-distant (but not immediate) future, I intend to work on solidifying some of my stronger languages. I haven't yet decided exactly which. A tentative idea is that among Romance ones, I plan to fix the most major problems in my Italian, then French and Spanish; aside from that, I intend to address Dutch, German, and Esperanto. This list is subject to change.
     - I plan to do a fairly significant amount of playing with phonetics. I acknowledge the advice that this is not the most effective way to improve at specific languages, but I continue to feel the need to build a personal framework in this area through active experimentation. In the worst case, it will be time misspent, but that is a risk I am willing to take.
    - On the more philosophical side, I intend to continue with an input-before-output, doing output only where it seems natural approach, with a heavy slant towards auditory input. More on this below.
     - Large amounts of reading, especially in English over the shortest term. I've read fairly little fiction in the last few years, and even less 'serious fiction' at all. This has serious negative implications for Listening-Reading, at least for me. Hence, I need to spend a fair amount of time discovering serious fiction I enjoy. I find it very unpleasant to Listen-Read most pulp fiction, and the supply of non-fiction audiobooks is too limited. As a side effect, I hope to be able to regain the ability to read a book or set of books comfortably for extended periods of time; it appears to have significantly diminished, to 1-4 hours in a session, rather than all day, likely due to the fact that I've primarily been reading topical and academic articles over the last three years, both of which are quite different from reading novels.


Longer-term, my major unresolved question is where to put my next focus. I'm genuinely torn between the idea of mastering a language family (adding Latin, Catalon, Portuguese, and Romanian, for instance, or Swedish, Danish, Icelandic, Middle and Old English, etc) vs studying a variety of languages that will change the way I think and my view of grammar more deeply (Basque, Japanese, possibly Hungarian or Finnish, possibly Lojban, etc). My inclination is marginally towards the latter; I generally prefer to have a broad base and then focus.

----------
Approach:
     As previously discussed, my language learning prior to discovering this forum was almost entirely textual, with the exception of language classes and extensive listening to Deutsch Welle and various Japanese online radio stations. At this point, I aim to balance that with large amounts of auditory input, and have been doing so to some degree. A few years ago, I attempted to say 'goede morgen' with an English g and was entirely not understood; I think I had never heard Dutch. At this point, I'm told that my Dutch accent is that of an immigrant, which is an improvement, but which also makes me curious to see what it takes to do better. As part of this curiosity, I am seriously limiting the amount of reading I do in languages other than English without audio, although not entirely eliminating it (as that would be far too painful, regardless of the results). For each language, I intend to resume unrestricted reading once I've done significant amounts of concentrated listening and some phonetic work on it, and feel that I've fully internalized the sounds and rhythms.

My Italian accent remains fairly problematic. I've been mistaken for someone who has been here at most a few months and/or who entirely does not speak or understand Italian several times, purely on this basis. I suspect I also retain some anglicisms of structure, which I formed out of ignorance of the correct ones. My Italian writing is much better than it was a year ago, when every non-trivial sentence I wrote needed significant revision, but as my posts in the multilingual lounge have demonstrated, I still make a number of errors. I also tend to do extremely badly at structured drills (whether on vocabulary, grammatical structure, conjugations, or anything else). Finally, my mental model of Italian clearly has some fairly ingrained problems, as is most clearly demonstrated when I use the scriptorium technique; even copying, I consistently change the genders of some nouns, for example. Given these factors, I remain extremely reluctant to force output. Avoiding early output, more rapid acquisition of the ability to understand, and better models of intonation are major reasons why I currently favor Listening-Reading over any approach to Assimil that I've tried, although I've found the latter quite useful for increasing active use.

Given that my active use in various languages is increasing, despite intentionally limiting output to when it either comes spontaneously or I actually need it, both of which occur, I intend to continue on this path a while longer and see where it goes.


My earlier approach of alternating Dutch and other languages lives on, although in a limited fashion: I've written, and use, a program that changes the language I'm listening to every (approximately) 15 minutes, and where every other time, Dutch is played. I credit this for most of my progress in Dutch and Spanish listening comprehension, some marginal improvement in my German, and as a factor in contining to want to learn Persian. I continue to find that listening to languages in the background does not make me tune them out under other circumstances, and that it helps me progress: the sounds and rhythms of the language become more natural, and every so often, a word, phrase or structure comes into focus and I learn it; it's like having a filter that gives me graded input from native material. I don't find any of this, or all of it combined, adequate as a primary approach, but I do find it to be a matter of enjoyable and useful supplementation, and which occurs primarily during time where I wouldn't be doing anything else language related.

I hope that this update hasn't been too much of a disappointment, given my limited results and how far I've diverged from the techniques and structure that you advocate. I've found your posts to be quite helpful; shadowing alone has revolutionized the way I've thought about language learning, and my brief forays into using the Scriptorium technique with Italian have been extremely useful. However, I strongly hold the opinion that, if I am to do serious language studies over an extended period of time, I need to do the aforementioned experimentation and divergences from a strict and regular schedule, even considering the rather substantial cost to short-term progress.



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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5799 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 22 of 37
10 April 2008 at 2:14pm | IP Logged 
Ms. Volte,

Your update is only a disappointment from the perspective of your own originally stated goal of gaining a thorough grounding in 10+ languages in the next focused stage of your life. From that perspective, indeed, you have not been making as much progress as you should be making, and if you want to make that progress, you need to hit the books and study harder. The obsessively single-minded focus necessary for doing this clearly eludes you at present, but there is no need to worry overmuch about this fact—that focus eluded me until I was much older than you are now. So, leaving aside that perspective and reading your update without that expectation, I find it to be a most interesting chronicle of an intelligent young woman’s experimentation with learning strategies. Even if you should never get down to actually studying as many languages as you aspired to, certainly the psychological insight you are gaining into the structure of your mind and the way that you learn will be extremely valuable in whatever other field of creative endeavor you may find yourself. Your repeated references to song make me wonder whether or not that might be something musical… but back to languages and language learning…

In your final paragraph you seem almost apologetic about having “diverged from the techniques and structure that [ I ] advocate.” I truly hope that I do not really come across as advocating, i.e., insisting upon any particular approach to study?!?!   On this site I endeavor to describe what I have found works best after my own experimentation, and thereafter I often feel pressed to explain techniques in such painstaking detail that its seems to me I do so all too clumsily, and perhaps this comes across as insisting. However, I believe I have always made a point of actively encouraging a reasonable degree of experimentation and adaptation so as to remake and refit techniques for different learning styles. At any rate, I do hope you have not limited your appearances in this room because you felt I might not condone your explorations? In point of fact, I do feel, based on your detailed descriptions of the direction of your energies, that you are taking a few wrong turns, but I most certainly approve of your questing!

Given your repeatedly articulated thirst to be able to read more broadly, it does not surprise me in the slightest that you favor studying languages by listening-reading literary texts over working with Assimil-like manuals. Now, these two approaches to language study are so close as to be twin-sisters; indeed, I do not see anything at all importantly new in L-R over what I described years ago regarding the use of bilingual texts for breaking into reading literature, save the crucial fact that I see this as being appropriate only at the intermediate stage, after foundational language acquisition has been done, whereas now it is presented as a substitute for those foundational studies, or rather as the best means for that foundational acquisition itself. Frankly, this seems rather unwisely impatient to me, like an attempt to dispense with or circumvent basic training, training that is ineluctably necessary. As I read references to L-R most often, it comes across as the notion that one does not have to study so hard after all, all one has to do is listen to The Little Prince in an unknown target language while simultaneously reading it in your own in order to come to know that unknown target. Now, I do not think that this is remotely true—a) because learning foreign languages well always requires lots of hard work, and b) because the original formulation of L-R was an extremely demanding form of study, insisting upon an almost insanely impossible intensity on the order of 10-hours a day of remaining fully focused upon the flow of new and unknown sound patterns and simultaneously staying slowly anchored to a written translation. My eyes and my ears and my brain cannot maintain that coordination, and anyone who can actually do this has far more innate talent than I do. Have you actually been doing this? I do have to wonder if you have been applying it in this form, for you say you have accumulated some 50 hours of Polish according to this method, but I do not get the impression that this has been over the past 5 days.

Furthermore, while I certainly understand the appeal of this approach to you, you wrote something about it that just does not make sense to me: “I especially appreciate Listening-Reading in respect to grammar: it makes the whole structure of a language come alive in a way that nothing else I have seen does.” Now, even for someone who confesses to thrive on chaos, I simply do not understand how it is possible for grammar to come alive when it is effectively buried invisibly in the natural form of the living language rather than deliberately brought to the fore for discussion by didactic manuals. I think your past comparative experience with Assimil’s Persian course may have been colored both by many subjective motivational factors as well as by the fact that that course is recorded in a lamentably lugubrious fashion. May I suggest that you try a somewhat combined approach: rather than work your way through Assimil’s Polish course, listen-read it in its entirety, and not only it but Linguaphone’s Polish course, which is better, and Mówimy po Polsku (Wacław Bisko, Stanisław Karolak, Danuta Wasilewska, & Stanisław Kryński: Wiedza Powszechna, Warszawa 1966, 1979), which is even better yet. Combined that will be a 6-7 hour chunk of recorded narrative encapsulating didactic expositions of grammar, and I think this would be a fairer test of the efficacy of the two variants of the same method than you have yet performed. At any rate, since you have such connections to Polish now, I wonder if you could help me to track down some serious lengthy literary audio of the type that I could use to do some further explorations of “L-R” on my own—I would love to have a full recording of something by Henryk Sienkiewicz, e.g., Quo Vadis? or Krzyżacy—but I have never been able to find any trace of the existence of such recorded books.

Obviously it is the heavy dose of auditory input that you get from L-R that makes you like it so. This is well and good as a simple preference. However, I fear that you may be making a detrimentally wrong turn in the development of your linguistic abilities in openly espousing a pedagogical approach of input-before-output. Why do you believe this is desirable? Is it not akin to studying a language with an exotic script using Romanization? In my experience, attempting to separate output from input either a) just plain does not work, or b) brings no particular benefits even if it does work and in general is just not as effective as a holistic approach, and c) may even have the negative effect of fostering the natural psychological inhibition against venturing to speak a foreign language. The fact that you already have this kind of problem is eminently evident in your honest self-critique of your Italian abilities. Given your skills with words, it may sound logical to “remain extremely reluctant to force output,” but let us phrase that more plainly: you are afraid to speak because you are all too aware of your imperfections and all too ashamed of your mistakes. I am sorry, but you cannot learn to speak by listening; you can only learn to speak by speaking. You must get out there and speak and make mistakes and learn from them: that is the only way to improve in speaking a foreign language. So, given your self-described most advanced knowledge of Italian, I think that the most profitable use of your linguistic energies at this point would be to put everything else on hold and make an all out frontal assault upon Italian in order to “master” it, at least to the point of gaining confidence in actually using it. Armed with that real active base, I believe all of your other more theoretical and methodological explorations will find a new foundation and that you may attain the focus you need to return to your original goal of really learning 10+. But how are you to do this given your resistance to structured study? Rather than trying to muster the ability to drive it purely from within, I believe you really need to find a situation where you can have it externally enforced until you gain the experience to propel it on your own.


Edited by ProfArguelles on 10 April 2008 at 2:15pm

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rafaelrbp
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Brazil
Joined 5556 days ago

181 posts - 200 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese*, Spanish, English, French, Italian
Studies: German

 
 Message 23 of 37
10 April 2008 at 10:34pm | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles,

Thank you for your authorative answer to Ms. Volte, especially regarding the Listening-Reading method as a substitute to the foundational studies of a language.

First I want to say I've learned Spanish and French through a combined and more general approach: using language courses like Assimil, FSI and Pimsleur, listening to radio, reading books (and grammar books), watching videos and so on.

With Italian I've attempted the L-R method with positive accomplishments, but I was not able to go through it for more than one hour straight, as I see it's a difficult feat to concentrate for so much time. I also suspect that my knowledge in the Romance language branch was also a great factor in the easiness of Italian.

I'm not here to advocate in favor of the L-R method, but I can see how one can learn some grammar without explicitly teaching: children and people immersed in others countries learn this way. But I agree it's hard to accomplish the same result without using it for 10 hours a day ("massive assault") or the motivational part ("love with the language").

To give a brief summary of what I understand (personal experience), the L-R method can be great, but most learners will learn in a more effective way if they work together with more traditional methods. It shouldn't hurt to do so.

I would also like to thank you again for your contributions in the forum and with your videos: I'm reading your posts since 2005 with great interest and they were imprescindible in my language learning path. Keep going, there are lots of people here that don't post often but pay attention carefully to your insights about languages and polyglottery.

Rafael.

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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4982 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 24 of 37
11 April 2008 at 5:10am | IP Logged 
ProfArguelles wrote:
Your update is only a disappointment from the perspective of your own originally stated goal of gaining a thorough grounding in 10+ languages in the next focused stage of your life. From that perspective, indeed, you have not been making as much progress as you should be making, and if you want to make that progress, you need to hit the books and study harder. The obsessively single-minded focus necessary for doing this clearly eludes you at present, but there is no need to worry overmuch about this fact—that focus eluded me until I was much older than you are now. So, leaving aside that perspective and reading your update without that expectation, I find it to be a most interesting chronicle of an intelligent young woman’s experimentation with learning strategies. Even if you should never get down to actually studying as many languages as you aspired to, certainly the psychological insight you are gaining into the structure of your mind and the way that you learn will be extremely valuable in whatever other field of creative endeavor you may find yourself. Your repeated references to song make me wonder whether or not that might be something musical… but back to languages and language learning…


I seriously doubt it will be music. While I started singing at 3 and playing the piano at 6, I lack both the talent and the passion for music necessary for a musical career. Consider it the equivalent of your studies of military history (if I correctly recall a post which I now cannot find) - something I enjoy, and which I am certain to keep at an amature level.

ProfArguelles wrote:
In your final paragraph you seem almost apologetic about having “diverged from the techniques and structure that [ I ] advocate.” I truly hope that I do not really come across as advocating, i.e., insisting upon any particular approach to study?!?!   On this site I endeavor to describe what I have found works best after my own experimentation, and thereafter I often feel pressed to explain techniques in such painstaking detail that its seems to me I do so all too clumsily, and perhaps this comes across as insisting. However, I believe I have always made a point of actively encouraging a reasonable degree of experimentation and adaptation so as to remake and refit techniques for different learning styles. At any rate, I do hope you have not limited your appearances in this room because you felt I might not condone your explorations? In point of fact, I do feel, based on your detailed descriptions of the direction of your energies, that you are taking a few wrong turns, but I most certainly approve of your questing!


I am somewhat apologetic, for the simple reason that I have asked for your advice, and, while I have given it thought and found it useful, I'm currently exploring paths which I know you consider to include some wrong turns. I'm glad to know that you condone my explorations despite this.

My appearances in this room have been limited by other factors. I have drafts on four topics, dating back to early Februrary, which have been blocked until I could gain more knowledge and experience, to more clearly figure out what I wanted to say and how to articulate it. Both my opinions on an ideal polyglot academy and on ideal learning material will be influenced by my experiences with L-R.

ProfArguelles wrote:
Given your repeatedly articulated thirst to be able to read more broadly, it does not surprise me in the slightest that you favor studying languages by listening-reading literary texts over working with Assimil-like manuals. Now, these two approaches to language study are so close as to be twin-sisters; indeed, I do not see anything at all importantly new in L-R over what I described years ago regarding the use of bilingual texts for breaking into reading literature, save the crucial fact that I see this as being appropriate only at the intermediate stage, after foundational language acquisition has been done, whereas now it is presented as a substitute for those foundational studies, or rather as the best means for that foundational acquisition itself. Frankly, this seems rather unwisely impatient to me, like an attempt to dispense with or circumvent basic training, training that is ineluctably necessary. As I read references to L-R most often, it comes across as the notion that one does not have to study so hard after all, all one has to do is listen to The Little Prince in an unknown target language while simultaneously reading it in your own in order to come to know that unknown target. Now, I do not think that this is remotely true—a) because learning foreign languages well always requires lots of hard work, and b) because the original formulation of L-R was an extremely demanding form of study, insisting upon an almost insanely impossible intensity on the order of 10-hours a day of remaining fully focused upon the flow of new and unknown sound patterns and simultaneously staying slowly anchored to a written translation. My eyes and my ears and my brain cannot maintain that coordination, and anyone who can actually do this has far more innate talent than I do. Have you actually been doing this? I do have to wonder if you have been applying it in this form, for you say you have accumulated some 50 hours of Polish according to this method, but I do not get the impression that this has been over the past 5 days.


I have not been able to reach anywhere near 10 hours a day - I've topped out at a bit above 4, if my recall doesn't fail, and the 50 hours were spread over three weeks. That said, yes, I am able to maintain eye/ear coordination; by my second pass through a book, I can read both the source and target language and keep one or both synchronized with the audio during most passages. I've done this with English-Spanish, French-Spanish, and English-Polish; I haven't used parallel texts for German or Dutch L-R. I've also doubled the audio speed for English-Polish, using "The Master and Margarita", with almost no loss in my ability to do this dual-reading while listening, and would increase it further, but for the fact that unaccented short syllables start to disappear, at least with the software I used. I don't know that it's a matter of innate talent - it's something I had trouble with at first, but some hours of practice helped a lot. The only thing I can see that clearly works in my favor is that I'm used to reading quite quickly.

My major complaint about L-R is the repetition, strangely enough. I find it enjoyable to repeat Assimil lessons (I blind-shadowed some Japanese and Thai ones a few months ago, and found it relatively straightforward to do entirely early lessons after a few tries, at least with Japanese), but I have always had a strong dislike for reading the same novel twice.

ProfArguelles wrote:
Furthermore, while I certainly understand the appeal of this approach to you, you wrote something about it that just does not make sense to me: “I especially appreciate Listening-Reading in respect to grammar: it makes the whole structure of a language come alive in a way that nothing else I have seen does.” Now, even for someone who confesses to thrive on chaos, I simply do not understand how it is possible for grammar to come alive when it is effectively buried invisibly in the natural form of the living language rather than deliberately brought to the fore for discussion by didactic manuals.


I am not using L-R unaided by more formal tools. I have used it lightly for 4 languages: Dutch, German, Spanish, and Polish. I have explicitly studied German and Italian grammar a significant amount over the years, and I dare say that Dutch and Spanish present relatively few new hurdles in this light. I've skimmed several Polish grammars and a few websites about Polish grammar; I spent over a dozen hours with these materials during my most recent Polish L-R experiment. My experience with both textbooks and grammars is that I find them indispensible references, but mangle languages rather badly when I use them to build from, rather than to confirm, solidify, and deepen knowledge acquired through exposure. It would be very convenient if this were not the case.

What do you consider essential for basic training?

As for my comment on the structure of the language, I apologize for being cryptic. I fear I must resort to analogy to describe this, and even then, poorly. I find that doing several contiguous hours of L-R forms a structure in my head analogous to that of the structure of the language, which can perhaps best be compared to a tapestry. Some parts are vivid and full of detail; others have a few threads, and yet others are blank spaces. The first correspond to parts of the grammar I have fully internalized, the second to the fairly familiar, and the last to ones I have observed, but am not entirely comfortable with even passively, for lack of a better description. I have not found any other ways to build up such a structure; reading grammars and conversational or even native fluency does not.

I do L-R with a relatively heavy focus on structure and vocabulary, in a comparative context. This probably isn't ideal, although I do also manage to keep the plotline in my head, but it's the approach I naturally adopt.

ProfArguelles wrote:
I think your past comparative experience with Assimil’s Persian course may have been colored both by many subjective motivational factors as well as by the fact that that course is recorded in a lamentably lugubrious fashion. May I suggest that you try a somewhat combined approach: rather than work your way through Assimil’s Polish course, listen-read it in its entirety, and not only it but Linguaphone’s Polish course, which is better, and Mówimy po Polsku (Wacław Bisko, Stanisław Karolak, Danuta Wasilewska, & Stanisław Kryński: Wiedza Powszechna, Warszawa 1966, 1979), which is even better yet. Combined that will be a 6-7 hour chunk of recorded narrative encapsulating didactic expositions of grammar, and I think this would be a fairer test of the efficacy of the two variants of the same method than you have yet performed.


As I see it, I'm essentially using L-R as a replacement for Assimil's passive wave. That is, I'm using it as a way to intuit most of the grammar (while also purusing explicit instructional/reference material), learn a solid chunk of the vocabulary, and get used to the sounds of the language. I don't see it as a particularly easy way to learn languages - it's not. It is, however, scarily effective at gaining passive ability quickly, and, for more familiar languages, enabling thought in them, though I do find this also disappears much more quickly than that gained through conventional study, at least with the rather partial attempts I have made so far. I thought in relatively decent German for about an hour after L-R'ing a short work by Kafka, which was the first experiment I did with L-R.

I intend to use Assimil after I've given L-R's active stage a fair attempt, due to the simple fact that I found it exceedingly useful even for my Italian last year. I have not found anything that matches it for internalizing, and hence being able to produce, idiomatically structured language, although I have not yet tried Linguaphone.

I'm extremely tempted to try L-R with Linguaphone and Assimil. Thus far, I've tempered this temptation by the thought of attempting to try L-R in a way as close to what was described as possible. However, given one or two more failed attempts, I shall definitely give this option another thought. I appreciate the recommendation of materials; I'll make an effort to acquire and go through each, regardless of the outcome of the L-R experiments.

Another side note on results: I was able to understand simple snippets of Polish news, of the sort you find on typical mainly-music stations (ie, 30-second clips about how Fidel Castro's brother was taking power in Cuba, and equally topical notes on the weather) after 15 days of L-R. Furthermore, I can occasionally get the gist of Serbian or (spoken) Russian, although I'm actively avoiding both until my Polish has solidified. On the other hand, with Persian, I can still repeat phrases, but I have entirely forgotten what some of them mean.

On confounding results with the Persian experiment: I don't think motivation was a big factor; if anything, my motivation to learn Persian was stronger than my motivation to learn Polish. There are a lot of native Persian speakers here, some of whom I get along with quite well, and I find the language itself enchanting. That I was studying it from a French base was a disadvantage, but not an insurmountable one: I can read French better than German, but have used even the latter fairly successfully for language learning. The lugubrious pace and rather banal content of the Assimil course was a bit of a problem though, as you thought.

ProfArguelles wrote:
At any rate, since you have such connections to Polish now, I wonder if you could help me to track down some serious lengthy literary audio of the type that I could use to do some further explorations of “L-R” on my own—I would love to have a full recording of something by Henryk Sienkiewicz, e.g., Quo Vadis? or Krzyżacy—but I have never been able to find any trace of the existence of such recorded books.


I can state with certainty that they exist. At least one p2p network has both, along with dozens of others, and I can confirm that the first few sentences of "Quo Vadis" appear to correspond well to the English translation on Project Gutenberg. I shall attempt to find a more reputable source for you - out of respect for this forum and its policies, I make a point of not making public posts which directly source material of questionable provenence. For the record: I consider p2p networks to be an entirely ethically legitimate way to sample if something is acceptable (or confirm it exists!), but not to be a replacement for buying material found to be of value, and which is still available from its vendor.

ProfArguelles wrote:
Obviously it is the heavy dose of auditory input that you get from L-R that makes you like it so. This is well and good as a simple preference.


More than this, I see it as a form of balance. I have spent a significant portion of the last decade reading in languages which I had never heard. I have historically had a very strong preference for the written, rather than spoken, word.

ProfArguelles wrote:
However, I fear that you may be making a detrimentally wrong turn in the development of your linguistic abilities in openly espousing a pedagogical approach of input-before-output. Why do you believe this is desirable?


There are a few issues here. Essentially, it boils down to having seen it advocated by others whose opinions I respect, and that it seems to match my own experience. For instance, I pronounce Assimil lessons much better if I listen more often than I actively shadow (for instance, listening 5 times, then shadowing once, listening again, and shadowing again, to give a hypothetical example). On the ideological side, it's clear that with -no- input, one cannot produce a language in a reasonable fashion. More than anything, I see the ideal ratio of input to output during early study as an open question, and one which I would strongly like to settle for myself: and I see no alternative other than direct experimentation with it to do so. Hence, I intend to take it as an ideological approach, for a limited period of time, and then evaluate the results.

ProfArguelles wrote:
Is it not akin to studying a language with an exotic script using Romanization?


No; I'm quite definitely sure that hinders learning, both in terms of literacy and pronunciation. Direct experimentation has been quite clear in this regard.

ProfArguelles wrote:
In my experience, attempting to separate output from input either a) just plain does not work, or b) brings no particular benefits even if it does work and in general is just not as effective as a holistic approach, and c) may even have the negative effect of fostering the natural psychological inhibition against venturing to speak a foreign language.


Hopefully I'll have a result in the not-so-distant future, which may well coincide with a or b. As for c, I freely admit that this is a problem for me - even without adopting the above ideology as an experiment.

Thus far, my input-before-output experimentation has been having a number of unexpected side benefits. For instance, doing several hours of Polish L-R at double speed seems to have permanently altered how I hear language. Intonation is so much more pronounced and clearer to me that it's almost absurd; I mistook German for Swedish with an unusually pronounced pitch-accent a few times in the days directly following this experiment. I hear rhythms and systemic pitch changes in Italian which have evaded me for years, and have started to spontaneously adopt some.

ProfArguelles wrote:
The fact that you already have this kind of problem is eminently evident in your honest self-critique of your Italian abilities. Given your skills with words, it may sound logical to “remain extremely reluctant to force output,” but let us phrase that more plainly: you are afraid to speak because you are all too aware of your imperfections and all too ashamed of your mistakes. I am sorry, but you cannot learn to speak by listening; you can only learn to speak by speaking. You must get out there and speak and make mistakes and learn from them: that is the only way to improve in speaking a foreign language.


Let me make it clear that I do routinely speak in Italian. I switch between Italian and English, using whichever is the most comfortable for a given conversation and with a given person. I speak to some of my former university classmates almost exclusively in English, and others almost exlusively in Italian; at work, where all my collegues speak Italian natively, I use both, albeit with a preponderance of English. I've had lengthy calls with perfect strangers on Skype, looking for language exchanges, almost entirely in Italian.   I've been interviewed by the local media in Italian. Not outputting Italian is, plainly, not an option. Where I am intentionally minimizing output is in my 'half-hibernating' languages - that is, ones other than English, Italian, Polish, and Esperanto, and I intend to continue doing so until I've spent at least a few dozen focused hours on audio material in each, at a minimum.

This is why I'm quite sure that it is my accent which makes people assume I do not speak Italian tolerably: I have extremely ample evidence that I am moderately competent. That said, I'm almost always mistaken for a native German (not English) speaker when I use Italian.

I agree that speaking, making mistakes, and learning from them is both essential and necessary. I also agree that I am quite aware of my imperfections and mistakes, and that this does impede my progress at times. I'm not convinced that this is the only way to improve in speech, especially during early stages of language learning: if anything, I'd say shadowing is significantly more effective at a beginner level.

ProfArguelles wrote:
So, given your self-described most advanced knowledge of Italian, I think that the most profitable use of your linguistic energies at this point would be to put everything else on hold and make an all out frontal assault upon Italian in order to “master” it, at least to the point of gaining confidence in actually using it.


I do have confidence in actively using it. My systemic weaknesses are minor for conversational use (ie, occasional systemically changed genders) or rare in conversation (I tend to mangle hypothetical pasts, which is an issue perhaps a few times a year, in practice). I do not use Italian eloquently, and my vocabulary and grasp of nuance are much poorer than those of my English, but my Italian is pretty much entirely pragmatically functional in social, business, and academic contexts, and I have used it successfully in all three, from everything from asking for alterations in my work contract and handling health insurance documents, to taking a classes on mathematics and language (calculus, linear algebra, Italian itself, French, and German, to be precise).

I should perhaps be more explicit about where I am with active use, so here is a summary in descending order. I am clearly conversational in Italian, in both a formal register and the much slangier local colloquial form, though not any of the local dialects. I occasionally have to use circumlocutions or make minor grammatical errors, but these don't generally have significant negative consequences for communication. My ability to speak the local dialect only goes as far as "tüt a pösht" (or 'tutto a posto?', in standard Italian, a standard hello and inquiry as to how everything is going).

I am marginally conversational in Esperanto; real-time written exchanges are straightforward, while I'm somewhat worse with spoken ones, but have managed a couple of conversations via Skype, with very patient speakers.

Even half a dozen years ago, I could use French and German in routine situations, like ordering food (including indicating my food allergies) and asking for directions. I have had written online real-time conversations in both, although I consider myself to have rather butchered the languages themselves rather badly in the process. I've also had a few conversations with French or German, where both I and the person I was speaking to have used their native language, but these have not been particularly extensive.

My Japanese is unarguably much worse than my Dutch, Spanish, or even Polish. When I visited Tokyo a few years ago, I managed not only to do things like ask for directions, but (admittedly with a phrasebook, dictionary, a very patient waiter, and about 10 minutes) explain that I could not eat the soup at a restaurant because it had fish stock in the base.

I have a reluctance to claim any degree of active competence in languages where there is a significant chance that someone saying "hello, how are you?" out of the blue, in an unfamiliar accent, will go unrecognized for at least several seconds, and where I cannot have a full spoken conversation, speaking fluidly and understanding essentially everything said by my conversation partner(s). This is partly a personal issue, and partly a cultural one. I find that people in Switzerland are usually extremely recalcitrant about languages they speak as poorly as I speak German or French; it's quite common to find people who claim to not speak a language, but are actually passibly, though imperfectly, conversational when using it is a necessity. Similarly, if I claim to speak a language, even 'poorly', situations can quickly get awkward; I fear I've given a few Swiss people headaches switching between Italian, English, and German every sentence (all of which they spoke) early in my German studies. A friend of mine, and fellow Swiss resident, who lurks on this forum is perhaps an extreme example of this recalcitrance, in that he put one of his native languages as 'beginner', and then eventually decided to delete it from his profile entirely; he also claims beginner status in at least two languages which he manages better than I do Italian.

ProfArguelles wrote:
Armed with that real active base, I believe all of your other more theoretical and methodological explorations will find a new foundation and that you may attain the focus you need to return to your original goal of really learning 10+. But how are you to do this given your resistance to structured study? Rather than trying to muster the ability to drive it purely from within, I believe you really need to find a situation where you can have it externally enforced until you gain the experience to propel it on your own.


I hesitate to take my health into this. I like to think that I don't have any serious health problems. That said, I have always had a weak immune system (I have serious allergies, catch an obscene number of colds and flus, and have had shingles, which is extremely rare in people under 50 who are not immune-compromised). I also have irregular bouts of insomnia and, on occasion, extremely low energy, where simply getting up and walking is a major exertion. These factors combined have forced me to leave formal education twice, once in middle school, and once in high school, in favor of doing distance learning, teaching myself on the days I felt well enough. Sometimes I am entirely fine, minus minor allergy issues (I played soccer and basketball on a few teams in my communities and schools over the years), and other times... I'm not. And this year has been fairly bad in terms of migraines, flus, bad colds, and extremely low energy; I'd say I've had at least one more often than not. I haven't managed to successfully read novels even in English over the last few weeks; I've been unable to maintain the concentration required, which is extremely unusual for me. It's disconcerting to be reading less than I was in second grade (literally). This wrecks havoc on any systematic study.

Ideologically, I'd like to be able to adopt systematic study. In practice, it is something I have difficulty with. My greatest success with it was shadowing 6 Assimil courses back-to-back (in one 2-hour study session per day) for a couple of months last summer. I need to become better at picking up where I left off after interruptions, but I also need to be careful balancing this against pushing myself too hard when I'm still recovering, which all too often makes me relapse.

The only consolation is that, even with my more scattered study style, I seem to be able to achieve reasonable levels of competence in fields I seriously pursue. I'm still finding out to what extent this is true with languages - they seem to have a steeper forgetting curve, and much more is purely convention, rather than logically derivable.




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