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Changing definition of language mastery

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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 Message 1 of 4
08 March 2013 at 12:05pm | IP Logged 
When I joined the forum Professor Alexander Arguelles was the dominant contributor. His definition of mastering a language was the ability to read the great books of a language without the aid of a dictionary. The great books would be defined as the literary canon for a given language. E.g Don Quixote, Shakespeare, Proust, Pushkin, etc. I should clarify his sole aim wasn't just reading, but also the ability to speak the language. With this in mind, he provided a series of techniques to aid in this endeavour. A HTLAL member could demonstrate their ability by posting in the various language specific forums.

When his participation lessened, a new definition of language mastery arose. This would be defined as closer to the CEFR scales, and with a much greater emphasis on speaking ability. This newer definition has led to less written activity, and a bigger emphasis on proof via media such as YouTube, etc. We now have a new, and different, generation of polyglots such as Luca, Richard Simcott, etc.

Would your definition of language mastery be closer to the original forum, or it's latest manifestation ? If the professor joined now, would his language advice and claims still be recognised ?

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 Message 2 of 4
08 March 2013 at 2:11pm | IP Logged 
This is a very interesting topic. I think the new way is not aiming for mastering but for proficiency. SO lest see the 2 questions:

"Would your definition of language mastery be closer to the original forum, or it's latest manifestation?"

The definition of Professor Alexander, as you explain it, seams to be actually really lousy. Comparing with other standards. For example to write down without spelling mistakes, and the so.

We have also the problem that some of the master works where written in "archaic" language and it really looks different to what the modern language is today, for example in Spanish we have the tales of the Count Lucanor, some 1300s book write down on the best Spanish of the time and looking really foreign to today Spanish. This open domain library hold a copy of it, if you want to give it a look: fante%20Juan%20Manuel%20-%20El%20Conde%20Lucanor.pdf

That is how pure real Spanish suppose to look like... now lest talk about mastering the language. A person who really knows Spanish, an academic, should be able to read that book without trouble.

The highest level of proficiency is the so call "native level", witch sometimes seams like a joke to me, because some native speakers doesn't really handled the language that well. So we are talking about the average level of a place, counting on the quality of the education of that area, and then aiming for it as the target... the problem is clear: in some places education is really bad, and the average level of the people is a really low bar.

For example lest see this graphic, If I read it right from 30 to 50% of the people in Guatemala doesn't know how to read and write at all.

So what is the native level on a place like that? and of course... half of the country is not even close to master the language.

So my personal approach looks like this: I ready know I am not going to master any language to the level of an academic, that never was my target. My target for a language is set on my personal needs and wants of using it. So I can care less about whatever other people say. I am going to settle on the level I think I am happy with and then sometimes polish it a little bit, but not really making a big deal out of it.

"If the professor joined now, would his language advice and claims still be recognised?"


I believe I receive a really poor education, and the tool I was giving are not the best tools out there. I also believe some people received better tools than me, and they keep them as secrets, hiding them from me, making me wonder around trying to figure out something, consuming my time and energy on this, will always keep me down the level of the people who received this tools I am talking about.

For tools I am talking about learning techniques, memory tricks, exercises for the mind and the so.

Lest talk for example of people who have a chess score (ELO) above 2000, mine is around 1800s. We are talking about really sharp exceptional memory ability plus analytical skills. This is people who know by memory at least 10k positions, and the so. How they do that? they say it is natural skill, they born that way, and they are geniuses... I just don't believe a word of it. I think they have techniques they don't want to explain on the worries that I too reach the above 2000 ELO, or they maybe just are not aware of them and thing everybody knows them and are on the same level as them.

With languages happens the same thing, There is people who dominates, for real, 10+ languages. How they do that? natural skills?... yeah right, I ready hear all that before. It is all memory and speed of process to translate an idea into a language with certainly level of accuracy.

As you see I am conspiracy theorist. But not about reptiles from another world or stuff like that. Just about secret knowledge some people hold.

So answering your second question. If someone is so kind to hand down to me the secrets of cracking down language learning. I would be really happy to listen and learn.
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 Message 3 of 4
08 March 2013 at 4:27pm | IP Logged 
The professor has been active on the forum in at least two different blocks of time, the latter of which caused the creation of the "lessons in polyglottery" subforum. His ideas are still highly respected here, as are his accomplishments; the views of individuals on any given point he makes vary.

For memory tricks, techniques, and mind tools, there's no conspiracy - just unequal access to information. Learn to search the web; there's more information on these topics than you can put to use in a lifetime. Some people also naturally have various knacks; all of the people I've met who are exceptional with accents have no idea how they do it. For memory, you could start by looking at the loci method, which has been written about since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks. Search the web or hit the related links at the bottom of that page to explore memory techniques further... For language learning, you could read the posts of Professor Arg├╝elles on this forum; he's written at length about his tools (Assimil, a language-learning spreadsheet, audiobooks, and using a mixture of materials).
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 Message 4 of 4
10 March 2013 at 10:43am | IP Logged 
Like DaraghM I have been around since the first period where ProfArguelles was active, and I have also had my discussions with him, for instance about the way you should organize your time. But for some reason not really about his criteria for excelency which clearly were based on the ability to read great literary works and (in a few cases) non-literary works. He coined the word polyliteracy for the ability to read this stuff fluently in many languages, and I had later a vehement discussion with a member here because I refused to bow to this definition. I think that the term is much too convenient and suggestive for the ability to read any kind of texts in a number of language, so for me polyliteracy covers the thing the professor aimed at, just with a much larger text base.

In contrast the term polyglotism should be reserved for the ability to express yourself in a number of languages - which is logical since 'glotta' in Greek means tongue. I would personally also include the ability to write fluently and reasonably correctly in foreign languages as part of the definition, but actually this is more like a parallel skill, and even among native speakers not all master it. So we really should have a separate word for this, but since most language learners outside the home turf for a certain language also learn to write (and just a few only learn to write) the need for a separate term isn't urgent.

Edited by Iversen on 10 March 2013 at 10:47am

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