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Moses McCormick’s admirable achievement

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Super Polyglot
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 Message 153 of 221
09 November 2010 at 9:38am | IP Logged 
60 languages (at 1000 words each), or 4 languages with 15,000 words ?

If one of these is your maternal langel then 15.000 words is too low. One language at 60.000 (passive) words is totally possible, and so is one language at 60.000 and three others at 15.000. Vocabulary size is not synonymous with level - especially not active level - and there are some issues with counting methods, but 15.000 dictionary headwords would probably place you somewhere around basic fluency, provided that you also could say something using (a subset of) those words. In other words, a welleducated person could match this and have both means and sufficient reasons to keep those languages alive.

But 59 languages at 1000 words each? That would probably be enough to survive as a tourist ("una cerveza por favor" = 4 words), but you would have massive problems keeping those languages alive because you wouldn't be able to read books or home pages, and you wouldn't be able to understand web TV or podcasts. Maybe that is what happened to Ziad Fazad? Now, this discussion takes place in a thread about Moses McCormick, and I know that he has made videos in at least some of his many languages - but most of those languages are beyond my horizon, so I can only guess at their level. But if you can make a whole long no-manuscript video in a language then it is likely that even your active vocabulary is bigger than 1000 words, and then your passive vocabulary must be even bigger. And then you can use it for something useful, such as books and magazines and podcasts and internet TV and actual conversations. Which again means that it might be possible to keep such languages alive, at least as passive languages.

60 active languages? Even the great Mezzofanti didn't reach that number. But 60 languages in writing (where you have time to search for words and you can reformulate things) could be possible, and 60 passive languages is definitely possible and has been reached by a number of people.

Edited by Iversen on 09 November 2010 at 9:42am

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 Message 154 of 221
20 November 2010 at 11:44pm | IP Logged 
Arekkusu wrote:
I don't know anyone who speaks either 60 languages (at 1000 words each), or 4 languages with 15,000 words.

My guess is that preserving either would be a tremendous task.

What do you mean by "preserving"? Is it what I would call keeping all 60,000 words active and at the tip of one's tongue in each language?

I would contend that it's not particularly necessary to keep a lot of languages active in one's head, or a huge vocabulary even in one language, the whole time. I would even contend that our brains aren't supposed to be used that way and have other activation mechanisms and that the default is to restore the language not being currently utilised in the environment to the passive mode.

That means that you'll keep up 60,000 words over 4 or 60 languages just fine if we are talking about understanding them when you come to read them or hear them. You may not feel as though the words are on the tip of your tongue enough to be able to do the performing seal bit with them in speaking, but if you went there they'd have flooded back within three days.

I always regard needing to "feel fluent" as a total distraction from the language learner. Some people seem to have a need to feel fluent or they feel they are not making progress, and of course while they are in bondage to this fallacious feeling it stands in the way of making really serious progress on vocabulary.

Once you get to that point, and stop making unrealistic and actually not relevant demands on the brain, "maintenance" is a good deal less of a problem than you might think.
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 Message 155 of 221
06 December 2010 at 4:08pm | IP Logged 
I think this goes to ask how good you want to be and what you want to get out of the
language. There are some languages which Moses, and people like him are great at, and
than other languages where they know tourist phrases. Without intensive study, it's
impossible to get an active vocabulary in 60 languages. Dr.Arguelles studied his
languages for like 14 hours a day for several years to get to an advanced level in the
55 - 60 languages that he knows and I am sure he's not perfect in everyone.

When your not focusing on one or two languages, you won't be able to perfect it. If
you study a new language every month even, you won't ever get to a point where you can
watch TV or read a newspaper. That only comes from hours upon hours of dedication.

I remember showing a Korean friend some videos of Moses and glossika and asking him to
comment on their skills. He said Moses was alright and glossika was a high-beginner to
low-intermediate. He was not very impressed. Then I showed him a video of a white
person speaking pretty good Korean, and he went crazy. I never heard him laugh and
react this way in my life and said this guy "one of the most interesting foreigners
he'd ever seen". This brings up a point of why it's important to try to perfect or
master some of your languages. I can go around asking "How are you?" "Can I have a
beer" in 200 languages, but if you can hold a conversation and use cultural references
in that language, people are going to have much more respect for you.
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 Message 156 of 221
06 December 2010 at 4:20pm | IP Logged 
Po-ru wrote:
I can go around asking "How are you?" "Can I have a
beer" in 200 languages, but if you can hold a conversation and use cultural references
in that language, people are going to have much more respect for you.

Rather than chasing the respect of others, I think it is far more important to have
respect for yourself. At the end of the day, the most important form of respect is
self-respect. Every time we criticise somebody else it damages our own self respect and
likely hurts their feelings too.

In the past few days there have been a few videos made by people who have been stung by
unpleasant comments on their videos. At the end of the day, we need to respect them as
human beings. They are doing their best, and even if we may not choose to admire them,
or think we could do better, I cannot see any value coming from displaying our dislike
publicly. It will only hurt people, and even if it makes us feel good for a few
seconds, that feeling will wear off quickly - while the sting remains behind.
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Bilingual Octoglot
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 Message 157 of 221
06 December 2010 at 4:33pm | IP Logged 
Personally, I think it's more meaningful to direct/channel our energy to learn and further improve our own language skills, rather than to waste that energy in getting angry at others who are equally learning languages like anyone of us here.

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 Message 158 of 221
06 December 2010 at 6:46pm | IP Logged 
Po-ru wrote:
   I can go around asking "How are you?" "Can I have a
beer" in 200 languages, but if you can hold a conversation and use cultural references
in that language, people are going to have much more respect for you.

I think the discussion gets a little mixed up here. I don't think most commenters such as Po-ru (whose language
practice I have a keen interest in) are getting angry at Moses or anyone else. It is legitimate to discuss and
debate language learning philosophies.

Look, at the end of the day, some language is better than no language. All language study and practice is by
definition good. I don't think anyone whether admiring of Moses or not, would disagree.

That said, a few points:

Moses IS promoting himself as a language expert, and selling some things here and there. See his sites for more
info. I actually do think he has some things to teach, and I have learned some of them happily, but...there are
buts. There are real limits. I don't want to debate those and others have said it anyway.

To the point that self-respect is where it's at....well, yeah, no doubt...But let's get real about this. Where does
talking to the native speakers of your target language figure in here? In a language encounter, the first
discussion involves basic chitchat. That's the easy part: I live in X, I study Y language because, with whom I
study, I went to Z county, etc etc. Fine. You can handle this with a 300 word vocabulary. You will possibly get
compliments, if you can imitate sounds adequately. But after that, then what?

I mean, come on guys! As language learners I think we have all encountered encounters (hey, you can say it in
) in which we meet speakers of our TL and want to talk with them, but they don't really want to--
because we're just too damn slow, earnest and clumsy in our speech. They speak English which is as good if not
better than ours. They are totally with it, as far as our culture goes. (Whosever culture "our" may be) And we! we
miss the point, we don't understand, we may say things which are actually incomprehensible--AND IF WE WORK
VERY HARD--then-- then we don't get the joke, the poetry is over our head, our sense of humor is thuddingly
obvious, if not completely meaningless, our remarks get bogged down in the mud, our anecdotes stall in the
middle as we search for words--sometimes all we can offer is a bit of comic relief when we goof in an amusing
way. This is why many language learners remember with real gratitude foreign friends who will tolerate talking to
them on a sustained basis. Thank god for language exchange partners.

Respect of others does mean something. Language is for communicating with others. You can't ask people to
tolerate too much dullness, delay and general irrelevance when they speak with you. Maybe some...but not much.
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 Message 159 of 221
07 December 2010 at 12:38am | IP Logged 
I am not trying to discredit Moses or anyone at all. But using my example of showing
videos to a native Korean speaker sheds light on language learning and what advanced
progress will lead to. Moses is a great language learned and am not trying to take
credit away from him at all. He's got knowledge and a grasp of about 50-70 languages
and not many people can say that. However, as far as ADVANCED skill in a certain
language, that's a little different and is only something that comes from years of
consistent study. This is just something that comes over time and study. With great
time comes great rewards.

Again, it all comes back as to why your learning languages and what you want to get out
of it. Do you want to be a master of Russian? Do you want a vast knowledge of a
handful of languages? Do you want conversational skills in 20 languages? Where do you
want to go with your language learning?    
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 Message 160 of 221
08 December 2010 at 8:29pm | IP Logged 
He has truly achieved a lot. However, while I find the "about language learning" videos interesting, it is difficult for me to use the language lessons posted by other video polyglots because they are also learners and you cannot rely on the accuracy of the information presented. For example, on the Arabic past tense verb lessons, he mispronounces almost all the conjugations (adding an extra "a" before the verb ending). I understand that some people want to learn lots of pieces of lots of languages, rather than an entire language and that's fine, but the little bit you do know should be accurate (especially if you are going to teach it to others).

Perhaps these videos are good for people who cannot learn from a textbook and have to rely on others to regurgitate the material. For language lessons, I prefer to watch videos made by native speakers or people who have studied a language for many years, rather than people teaching stuff they learned from a textbook yesterday.

Edited by translator2 on 08 December 2010 at 8:32pm

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