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Too soon to start building a foundation?

  Tags: Study Plan
 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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robsolete
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5232 days ago

191 posts - 428 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French, Russian, Arabic (Written), Mandarin

 
 Message 1 of 9
16 March 2010 at 6:06pm | IP Logged 
Dear Professor Arguelles,

I know that you do not have a lot of time for this forum at the moment, but seeing as I am asking about my 15-year study plan, I am willing to be quite patient. I of course welcome other members here to share their insights as well.

Before getting to brass tacks, I'll give an overview of my question: I am interested in learning several disparate languages over the next decade or so, partly as an aide to travel and partly to establish foundations in various language families for future studies. I was very inspired by this advice that you gave about learning Mandarin characters as a foundational and aesthetic exercise while still focusing on European languages: http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?T ID=13657&PN=2

My question is about how soon is *too soon* to start building a foundation in target languages?

About me:

I am a 26 year old American man, raised in a monolingual English environment. I took the requisite high school Spanish and promptly let it fall into disrepair while I worked on my English B.A. (focusing on Irish Literature and Joyce in particular). After a few years of the 'real world' I was laid off from my quasi-social-work job and volunteered for five months in rural Karnataka as an English teacher. While my Kannada never got much past the daily pleasantries, I enjoyed the immersive environment and it seriously revived my interest in foreign language learning. I felt as if, after a decade of somewhat myopic focus on 'perfecting' my English abilities, a limb I'd lost had suddenly been reattached.

For the last six months I have been practicing daily to reconstruct my Spanish with some encouraging results. I have applied to an Applied Linguistics graduate program which is chaired by a disciple of Paolo Freire, and have a strong interest in revolutionary/liberation pedagogy. Now that my Spanish has developed to a point of 'using' instead of 'studying' (conversaton practice and reading native materials), I have started to think about my long-term linguistic goals.

Through some coincidence in interests, I am attracted to acquiring proficiency in the six United Nations languages as a starting point: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, and Mandarin.

I feel that these languages open many doors in terms of studying other languages, as well as offering opportunities for travel and understanding pedagogy in the developing and postcolonial world. These languages have arguably been the most successful 'colonizers' in recent linguistic history, so I feel that understanding how they are and were taught abroad will give me great insight into how language pedagogy relates to cultural and economic power in various contexts around the world.

Pragmatically, they each also have large immigrant groups in my area of the United States (Boston), so finding native speakers and learning materials will not be incredibly difficult.

Like yourself, I also have a very keen interest in reading literature in its original form. I feel that these six languages, while not allowing me to read everything in its origin, will at least allow me to read most Eurasian literature in its native form, or at least translated into a highly-intelligible 'sister' language. There are exceptions, of course, but it's a start.

Anyhow, here is my current study plan.

Spanish - My goals are mainly to increase vocabulary, review and master finer points of grammar, and increase my conversational fluency and confidence. This means that outside of scheduling language meetups, I have flexible work time with Spanish because I mostly just read Spanish for pleasure in spare moments and use flash cards.

French - French is my most structured study of the moment. I schedule out minimum amounts of shadowing and FIA per day and throw in a Pimsleur while cleaning my apartment. That said, I know that with Spanish and English in my brain, French will not take me a decade to learn. So I plan on putting in about a year of intensive effort until it gets to the level of my current Spanish, when I can more or less read and chat my way into further fluency. French, being the orthographical nightmare that it is, also presents a chance to become acquainted with the IPA.

Arabic (MSA) - I am not technically 'studying' Arabic yet. I am, however, doing 15-30 minutes a day of script practice. My hope is that this will, over the next year or so, build my passive vocabulary and phoenetic understanding. That way when I properly start on Arabic, I will be able to read the script pretty well and might even have the beginnings of a functional vocabulary when I start studying grammar and usage. This is an adaptation of your previously mentioned advice on Mandarin. Once my MSA is functional I would like to start on the Levantine dialect, as my city has sizable Lebanese and Palestinian communities and my main travel interests are in that area.

This plan, in addition to getting a Master's degree and national ESL teaching license, will probably keep me busy for at least the next 3-5 years. Which leaves Russian and Mandarin on the wish list. Life circumstances will probably dictate which order I study these in. I am not quite so worried about the Cyrillic script, but I guess the meat of my question is whether or not it's far too early to start basic work on the formidable task of learning written Mandarin.

Much like Arabic at the moment, I would take on character learning as a sort of hobby, maybe even taking a few calligraphy courses to get the most focus and enjoyment out of the process. I would only do it when I had time, here or there on a slow day, just to acclimate myself slowly and get a handle on the tones and other phonemes of the language. It seems like it could be a pleasant exercise for personal enrichment, and one I would not really regret even if I ended up not properly learning Mandarin. I also see Arabic and Mandarin as a 'lifetime of apprenticeship' as you say, so why not start?

Still, I am still relatively new to self-taught languages and worry that I am putting the cart far before the horse, with possibly detrimental results down the line. Still, I do not immediately see how, so long as I am careful and relaxed and accurate in these pursuits, they could do much harm. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I thank you for your time in reading this and would be very grateful for both your counsel, Professor, and the counsel of others who have tread similar paths before.

All the best,
Robert J. Cannata
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
1 person has voted this message useful



Johntm
Senior Member
United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5269 days ago

616 posts - 725 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 2 of 9
17 March 2010 at 5:10am | IP Logged 
It's never too soon.
7 persons have voted this message useful



Pyx
Diglot
Senior Member
China
Joined 5582 days ago

670 posts - 892 votes 
Speaks: German*, English
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 9
17 March 2010 at 5:25am | IP Logged 
Haha, sorry, I know you're serious with it, but this quote made my day :D
Quote:
Through some coincidence in interests, I am attracted to acquiring proficiency in the six United Nations languages as a starting point: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, and Mandarin.
:D

That being said, I think the Prof hasn't posted here in years..
3 persons have voted this message useful



robsolete
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5232 days ago

191 posts - 428 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French, Russian, Arabic (Written), Mandarin

 
 Message 4 of 9
17 March 2010 at 1:50pm | IP Logged 
Ha! I know how ridiculous it sounds, but then again I think that's a relatively average goal on this forum!

He has posted a few things in the last few months. And as I said, I have plenty of time to wait. . .
1 person has voted this message useful



Smart
Tetraglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5186 days ago

352 posts - 398 votes 
Speaks: Spanish, English*, Latin, French
Studies: German

 
 Message 5 of 9
13 April 2010 at 8:52am | IP Logged 
Sounds like an excellent plan!

I am not sure if I would ever wish to do Arabic or Mandarin! But French and Russian are very appealing!
1 person has voted this message useful



CheeseInsider
Bilingual Diglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 4969 days ago

193 posts - 238 votes 
Speaks: English*, Mandarin*
Studies: French, German

 
 Message 6 of 9
12 January 2011 at 11:57pm | IP Logged 
French ≠ orthographical nightmare, not one bit :P

And I honestly feel like you're cutting yourself short... If you have a good level in Spanish, it should NOT take you 1 WHOLE YEAR of intense studying to get to a good level in French. Definitely not!

And please :P don't be afraid of tones in Mandarin. I will tell you something that no Chinese person I know will admit. We can understand Mandarin even when the tones are ALL wrong. Mostly. Well, I know I can. So you don't have to feel that you can't converse with Mandarin speakers until your tones are accurate, it's simply not the case.

Edited by CheeseInsider on 13 January 2011 at 12:00am

6 persons have voted this message useful



robsolete
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5232 days ago

191 posts - 428 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French, Russian, Arabic (Written), Mandarin

 
 Message 8 of 9
13 January 2011 at 2:40am | IP Logged 
CheeseInsider wrote:
French ≠ orthographical nightmare, not one bit :P

I will tell you something that no Chinese person I know will admit. We can understand
Mandarin even when the tones are ALL wrong. Mostly. Well, I know I can.


Haha! Thanks for responding. I wrote this post 10 months ago, and had more or less
forgotten about it. Reading it over again it is funny to see how terrified I was of
Chinese. I've just started studying a little bit, and I do have to agree with you that
even if I screw up a tone or two, the context of the sentence will usually let the
person I'm talking to overlook the mistake. Thanks for the encouragement.

As far as the French orthographical nightmare bit, I know you're right. It's not that
bad, and I now that the spelling rules, once you learn *all* of them, are somewhat
regular and consistent, far more so than English. It's really just all the damn silent
letters--it feels like only 45% of the letters on a page of French are actually
pronounced aloud!

But the funny thing I'm finding is that it's hard for me to focus on French intensively
because the reading comes relatively easily due to the English/Spanish crossover.
Obviously there's a lot of new vocabulary, but I barely have to think about grammar
when reading passively.

Which ironically makes my active skills suck hard, because I can't be bothered to sit
down and drill verb tense conjugations, spelling rules, and minor grammatical glitches
the way that I did with Spanish. I get far too bored with it compared to the *actual*
nightmares of doing these same things in, say, Arabic or Russian. It's funny because
the idea of memorizing 5,000 characters seems interesting and exciting, but the idea of
memorizing the 100 or so irregular French verbs makes me want to kill myself.

I know much of it has to do with the fact that we don't have a ton of French speakers
in my neck of the woods, so it's not really a priority for me to speak well. So I'm
pretty happy with understanding and reading at the time being, and I've started writing
e-mails to Francophone friends in other cities just to make myself actually conjugate
verbs now and then.

Anyway, I haven't actually gone through with the plan I mentioned. After reading lots
of advice I decided to put active production of characters off for a while. I'm just
focusing on learning the spoken language, getting good at pinyin, and passively
learning characters as I go. I can still type e-mails with this strategy, so it works.
It's going to be a long, long time before I actually have to hand-write a note in
Chinese to anyone, so I'm not going to worry about it too much right now.

Anyway, thanks again for the response!


3 persons have voted this message useful



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