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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
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1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 57 of 295
13 January 2014 at 11:01am | IP Logged 
Gemuse wrote:
patrickwilken wrote:


I have been trying to learn German on and mostly off for years: it's only been in the
last 1.5 years that I have been succeeding when I seriously started self-learning in
London and then Berlin. When I started in June 2012 I was A1 both in grammar and
vocabulary.


You were only A1 even after the 6 months of Goethe courses?!?

*Shakes fist at Goethe Institut*


I completed A1 and A2, but we had a very disruptive pair of Brazilians in the back of the class for B1, that were often stoned/drunk in class, which the teacher didn't know how to deal with (rich kids who didn't care if they learnt or not) and B1 was a bit of a washout.

I didn't have time to do homework or learn word lists after A1, so I can't honestly say I was learning very much. I then lived in London for a couple of years and didn't speak German again, so by the time I restarted I was A1, with perhaps a somewhat stronger passive vocabulary than most people starting out for the first time (but little knowledge of gender/plural forms) , but really judging from my comprehension of the A1 course book not strong at all (e.g., not knowing what 'doch' or 'gern' etc meant). When I say I was A1 when I started, I don't mean that I didn't know anything, just that I was definitely not A2.

It's not all Goethe's fault. If I had had time to do all the homework and learn the word lists I would have done much better. I did learn the word lists for A1 and did relatively well, but I was doing a night course, and working during the day, and simply didn't have time to do the homework after work before class and so things fell apart.

I wasn't alone though: of the 15 people in my class, most of us went through to B1 (so long as you paid people were happy to advance you to the next class), but of this group I think 13 out of 15 had given up on German by the end.

The worse thing about these courses is that they don't teach you how to learn outside of class. That's (perhaps) fine when you live in a non-German speaking country, but when you are embedded in Germany it's stupid. They give you word lists, but give you no feedback about how you could learn them. I think the expectation is that no one is going bother. It breeds a sort of forced passivity.

Edited by patrickwilken on 13 January 2014 at 11:05am

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Gemuse
Senior Member
Germany
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Speaks: English
Studies: German

 
 Message 58 of 295
13 January 2014 at 11:27am | IP Logged 
You were given word lists? In what form? A booklet?

We were not given any lists :(

In our class the (Goethe) teacher was telling some of us not to advance to the next
level - she was saying that there are people in B2 level classes who are really at A2
level and then she cannot compensate. And I was thinking why the hell is the Institut
allowing A2 level students to go to B2 classes.
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
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Studies: German

 
 Message 59 of 295
13 January 2014 at 11:30am | IP Logged 
Gemuse wrote:
You were given word lists? In what form? A booklet?


The textbook I used - Hueber Themen Aktuell- had a word list, plus grammar points, associated with each lesson. I don't necessarily recommend this particular text; it was just one I had kept from my original Goethe courses.

Edited by patrickwilken on 13 January 2014 at 3:27pm

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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2832 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 60 of 295
15 January 2014 at 1:27pm | IP Logged 
I wrote this post as part of an interesting discussion about how best to learn gender in German, but since it took a while to write, and as it might be helpful for other German learners coming across my log, I thought I'd repost it here. Naturally if you want to reply to other people's comments you should go back to the original discussion (and perhaps you should anyway as there were some really interesting points made by other people).

--------------

Gemuse wrote:

There are two issues: Having a set of declinations, and mixing them up. We have
die Frau in nominative and accusative (so the same for both), and that is perfectly
fine. Brain does not want to remember 16 declinations. The problem comes with mixing
declinations (die Frau, der Frau). Keep them same, or make it a totally new
declination. Mixing them up is hell on the brain.


I too have trouble thinking of "Der Mutter" rather than "Die Mutter", but now that I think of it the problem is not the German language (!), but the fact that I used Anki so long to drill the genders of isolated words. It would have been much better to learn the words largely in context from the beginning using sentences. You need to stop thinking of "Die Mutter" as feminine and "Der Mutter" as masculine or some odd feminine form - they are both as feminine as the other and the context of the text makes that clear.

There is some research that suggests that L2 learners have trouble learning gender precisely because the units of language they learn (i.e., words) are too fragmented. Children generally don't learn the gender of words in the same fragmented way, but from phrases in context, which I think is the point Bao and Bakunin are trying to make.

Gemuse wrote:
Cavesa wrote:
But can you imagine an immigrant in the UK or USA just being fine
speaking their language and expecting everyone else to speak it with them?


There are immigrants who do exactly this. Heck, even the streetsigns may be in a foreign
language around where they do business and live.
They usually end up not learning English.


I think there are immigrant bubbles of all sorts all over the place. The Turkish boys at the corner store where I buy beer have complimented me on my German skills, saying their father has never really learnt German after more than 20 years in the country. I eat at Thai restaurant near my house and the people there are surrounded by Thai friends. I went to a benefit organized by a Swedish couple last summer, and realized they too mostly (solely?) hang out with Swedes here in Berlin.

English is hard to avoid - I am looking at you HTLAL! - but people nearly always gravitate back to their own language and culture.

I suspect the reason that more immigrants are not C2 in their L2, and keep strong accents, is due to an immigrant bubble effect, plus that many do not have the time/inclination/education to read massive amounts in their L2.

Bao wrote:
emk wrote:
Yeah, this is one of the great underrated things about language learning: reading, watching and chatting are all enjoyable activities, and they really do help. When writing, a turn of phrase will often appear out of nowhere in my head, and I'll Google it, and Google will say "250,000 results."

In English, I use dictionaries frequently because I want to write something, and a word pops up in my mind and claims it is the right one for the job.

Most of the time they don't lie.

Sometimes they do.


That's a classic example of implicit learning, which comes from massive exposure. You just don't have any conscious access to the knowledge you possess. Touch typing is the same. I have no conscious idea where the keys are. I just move my fingers and mostly they hit the right key, but sometimes not.

My mother, who learnt German as an L2 as a child, did (unsurprisingly) very well in German when she later studied it at school in Australia. When teachers asked her to explain a particular rule she had used to the class she said she always annoyed them by saying that didn't the know the rule; she just thought the sentence sounded right that way. Which is exactly what my native-speaking German wife says when I ask her to explain some grammatical point.

1e4e6 wrote:

So therein probably am I more similar to Cavesa in drilling and rules. I must table
everything and memorise or else I simply have no idea what is going on. I gave up
learning Dutch in 2008 because I did not know fundamental rules, and I tried to base
many things on exposure, which made me slightly be able to passively understand and
read, but I could not write nor speak without each sentence having five errors therein.


My insight (if you can call it that) was that you only need a much more restricted grammar to access the language, than to speak it. Like in your example from primary school, you don't need to know the rule in English that tells you when you should use an "a" or when you should use an "an", so long you know it's the indefinite article you can read it fine. I can certainly recognize and understand the cases when I read, even if I can't necessarily output them accurately. My hope is that a lot of the finer rules (the equivalent to 'a' vs 'an' in German) will become at least somewhat intuitive after massive exposure.

And we shouldn't forget that the grammar books only help us with the basics of speech. There are tons and tons of rules that are not listed, and even if they were you'd never be able to remember or utilize them in real time. Some examples from the Antimoon site:

Do you get 'in' a car or 'on' a car?
Do you get 'in' a bus or 'on' a 'bus'?

Do you say "big red car" or "red big car"?

We do an exercise, but make a mistake; make a phone call, but have a conversation; do a job, but take a break; take a step, but make a jump.

You can have a bad/terrible headache, but not a strong/heavy headache; you can get great/enormous satisfaction, but not big satisfaction; you can be a heavy smoker, but not a hard/strong smoker etc.

The Antimoon site, run by Polish language learners who learnt English largely by input has some really nice examples of the subtle English rules that we are not aware of, plus lots and lots of practical advice for language self-learners. While it's written for English language learners, it's a goldmine for anyone interested in applying an input-style approach to language learning:

http://antimoon.com/how/input.htm

The Antimoon site plus AJATT were the main models for my own language study when I started out, and why when I stumbled across HTLAL shortly afterwards I immediately signed up for the Super Challenge.

There is also a rather nice blog post by a guy who says he learnt Polish by reading Harry Potter (I think he was B1 in Polish when he started):

I've studied Polish mostly from reading and listening to books. The first book I ever read in Polish, was Harry Potter. When I first started to read Harry Potter, I had only been learning Polish for about a year at the University. While I did enjoy that class (mostly because of the professor) it was basically all grammar, grammar and more grammar. At the end of that year, I couldn't really speak or understand Polish normally. I started reading the first Harry Potter book in January of 2008. It took me four months to finish it. Honestly, it was extremely difficult and took a lot of commitment. But after finishing that book, I really felt like I spoke Polish. My brain was able to produce and understand Polish automatically! While the first book took me four months, I managed to read all seven Harry Potter books before the end of that year! Each book was bigger and bigger, but I managed to read each one faster and faster. I read (or rather listened to) the last book in only a couple weeks. My learning accelerated exponentially.

http://www.linguatrek.com/blog/2010/12/harry-potter-the-book -that-taught-me-polish

My hope is that if a native English speaker can learn Polish largely by input, or a Pole English, then German should be relatively straightforward for me. ;)

Edited by patrickwilken on 15 January 2014 at 4:50pm

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Bakunin
Diglot
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Switzerland
outerkhmer.blogspot.
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 Message 61 of 295
15 January 2014 at 5:50pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
I too have trouble thinking of "Der Mutter" rather than "Die Mutter", but now that I think of it the problem is not the German language (!), but the fact that I used Anki so long to drill the genders of isolated words. It would have been much better to learn the words largely in context from the beginning using sentences. You need to stop thinking of "Die Mutter" as feminine and "Der Mutter" as masculine or some odd feminine form - they are both as feminine as the other and the context of the text makes that clear.

There is some research that suggests that L2 learners have trouble learning gender precisely because the units of language they learn (i.e., words) are too fragmented. Children generally don't learn the gender of words in the same fragmented way, but from phrases in context, which I think is the point Bao and Bakunin are trying to make.


Yes, basically that. You express it much clearer than I did, thanks :)

Do you have any references for the research you mention? I'd be interested in checking it out.
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
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1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 62 of 295
16 January 2014 at 1:59pm | IP Logged 
Bakunin wrote:

Do you have any references for the research you mention? I'd be interested in checking it out.


I can't find the paper I saw a couple of weeks ago. A quick Google Scholar search brought up this paper from 1999 (coincidentally Holmes was an old professor of mine):

Assignment of grammatical gender by native speakers and foreign learners of French
V. M. HOLMES and B. DEJEAN DE LA BATIE

Applied Psycholinguistics 20 (1999), 479–506

This study compared the skill in gender attribution of foreign learners and native speakers of French. Accuracy and fluency of gender attribution by the foreign learners were assessed in spontaneous written production. Both groups performed on-line gender assignment to real nouns whose gender was regular or exceptional, given their ending, and to invented nouns with nonword stems and real-word endings. The pattern of results indicated that the native speakers’ gender attributions were primarily based on rapidly evoked lexical associations, with gender-ending correspondences playing a significant but subsidiary role. The foreign learners were less able to summon lexical associations, relying heavily on ending-based rules. Overall, none of the foreign learners attained the same level of performance as any of the native speakers. We conclude that instruction in which students learn nouns in the context of distinctive lexical associates could profitably be supplemented by explicit instruction in gender-ending regularities.


One very useful function in Google Scholar allows you search for all the papers that subsequently cite this paper:

http://scholar.google.de/scholar?cites=13463633744633444466& as_sdt=2005&sciodt=0,5&hl=de

If you see something interesting let me know.

I have to say although I studied psychology in the same department as Holmes, for some reason I never did her classes, which in retrospect is a pity.

Edited by patrickwilken on 16 January 2014 at 2:00pm

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emk
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 Message 63 of 295
16 January 2014 at 3:06pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
I can't find the paper I saw a couple of weeks ago. A quick Google Scholar search brought up this paper from 1999 (coincidentally Holmes was an old professor of mine):

Assignment of grammatical gender by native speakers and foreign learners of French
V. M. HOLMES and B. DEJEAN DE LA BATIE

Applied Psycholinguistics 20 (1999), 479–506

Ah, excellent. I'll take a look when I have a moment.

I've seen a few other interesting remarks on this subject:

You say feminine, I say masculine, let's call the whole thing off. Language Log summarizes some research by Dalila Ayoun where the control group of native French speakers showed remarkable disagreement on word gender. And of course, there are plenty of words where informal Québecois speech disagrees with common usage in France.

L’asymptote du français avancé : les difficultés résistantes. This paper is interesting because they used recordings of the show Double je, which features well-known multi-lingual guests, many of whom have lived in France for a long time. And what they found was that (1) none of the foreigners recorded could speak for more than a minute or two without making subtle gender errors, no matter how impressive their French was otherwise (2) despite that, some of the foreigners performed at an excellent level, and their errors were not noticeable without careful listening, and (3) some of the guests still butchered the gender system horribly after decades of exposure to French. As in, they've lived there for 40 years, they've used French constantly, and yet their gender errors still make me cringe as if someone dragged fingernails across a chalk board. The researchers did note one interesting pattern:

Quote:
À l’intérieur de notre corpus nous avons aussi remarqué que, même en cas d’apprentissage relativement tardif, les enseignants de langue française ou encore ceux qui s’intéressent à la langue en tant que telle, ne font que très peu d’erreurs – ce qui est assez logique : ils se sont intéressés aux mécanismes de la langue en les observant et les étudiant.

(roughly:) In our corpus, we have also remarked that, even in case of relatively late learning, the French teachers or even those who take an interest in the language itself make only a very small number of errors—which is logical enough: they take an interest in the mechanisms of the language by studying them and examining them.

Le genre : aspects théoriques et pratiques. This discusses various studies of young French speakers, some of which are exceptionally interesting:

Quote:
Dans une autre recherche, Karmiloff-Smith (1979, Exp. 9) introduit un rapport conflictuel entre le genre véhiculé par la terminaison du mot et celui de l'article (ex. " Voici l'image d'une-F bicron-M "). L'enfant doit de nouveau décrire une transformation effectuée sur l'image. Les jeunes enfants en-dessous de cinq ans sont très ambivalents dans leurs choix : dans près de la moitié des cas, le genre attribué est identique à celui du suffixe (ex. " Vous avez caché la bicron vert "). A partir de six ans seulement, l'information de genre sur l'article semble l'emporter sur la marque comme indice du genre (ex. " Vous avez caché la bicron verte "). Les commentaires des enfants suggèrent qu'ils sont particulièrement gênés par l'incompatibilité des deux informations. Pour contourner cette difficulté, ils mettent en place deux stratégies : l'ellipse du substantif (ex. " la grise " au lieu de " la bicron grise ") et l'alternance de la marque (ex. " la bicronne ").

In other research, Karmiloff-Smith (1979, Exp. 9) introduces a conflicting relationship between the gender carried by the ending of the word and that of the article (ex. "Voici l'image d'une-F bicron-M"). The child must describe a transformation carried out on the image. The young children under 5 years of age are very ambivalent in their choices: in almost half of the cases, the attributed gender is identical to that of the suffix (ex. "Vous avez caché la-F bicron-M vert-M"). Starting only at an age of six years does the gender information on the article seem to win out over the [word ending] as a gender indicator (ex. "Vous avez caché la-F bicron-M verte-F"). The comments of of the children suggest that they are particularly bothered by the incompatibility of the two types of information. To work around this difficulty, they put in place two strategies: the elimination of the [noun] (ex. "la-F grise-F" in place of "la-F bicron-M grise-F") and the alteration of the [word ending] (ex. "la-F bicronne-F").

Pretty cool research, isn't it? Taken collectively, these papers are why I've tried (a) to train myself to pay close attention to gender, especially on adjectives and articles, and (b) to rely heavily on word endings in the beginning, and to slowly transition over to using context as I get better. And so far, it's working, though I clearly need at least a few more years before I try to compete with native 5 year olds.

There's one other interesting paper I can't find right now, which showed that French and German gender processing are actually different at a neural level because of one nasty trick in French:

Quote:
une-F belle-F /bɛl/ femme-F
un-M beau-M /bo/ garçon-M
un-M bel-M /bɛl/ homme-M

Here, bel is a masculine form which proceeds a vowel sound, but when spoken, it sounds exactly like the feminine form belle. In order to avoid a hiatus between two vowels, French speakers will essentially switch the gender of adjectives. And of course, this is deeply intertwined with liaison and other sandhi phenomena. From what I've read, this means that French speakers can't just apply grammar at the lexical and syntactic levels, but must actually delay parts of gender processing until the phonetic level.

So what does all this mean? Well, as you probably remember, I think Krashen's Input Hypothesis is hugely important, but I suspect that it overlooks a few critical things. One datum that's poorly explained by the Input Hypothesis is the existence of people with very strong passive comprehension and virtually no speaking ability whatsoever, which is quite common among heritage learners in bilingual families. For example, I've got a friend who watches police dramas in Hungarian without any problem, but who doubts she could produce a grammatical sentence. She can even read Hungarian! At the very least, some people need to actually speak if they want to activate their speaking skills. This would tend to support a weak form of the Output Hypothesis.

The other datum that's poorly explained by Krashen's Input Hypothesis is that fact that "French teachers or even those who take an interest in the language itself" ultimately outperform many of their peers on tasks like gender, even after very long periods of total immersion. This would tend to support some version of the Noticing Hypothesis (not that anybody has ever rigorously stated the Noticing Hypothesis, but hey).

Of course, none of this would invalidate your general approach to German: There's no reason you can't start with huge amounts of input and see what happens. Indeed, I think that "more input" is almost always a good thing in terms of language skills.
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Bakunin
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outerkhmer.blogspot.
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 Message 64 of 295
16 January 2014 at 6:42pm | IP Logged 
Patrick, thanks for the link. Unfortunately it's not free. I looked through some of the abstracts of papers quoting your's, but I didn't see anything relevant for our discussion.

I'd love to see a study where someone recorded a kid from age 0 to, say, 5 together with all the input it gets (directly and indirectly), digitalized the data and ran an analysis. It should be possible to answer the question whether the kid picks up set phrases (showing gender agreement) or individual words to which it assigns a gender based on phonological or other cues. All those tests carried out in said studies where subjects have to assign genders to real and made-up words are fine, but eventually only a thorough analysis of actual speech will bring us closer to the answer. And then there always remains the question whether those insights apply to L2 learners at all.

Edited by Bakunin on 16 January 2014 at 6:43pm



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