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Does fluency involve an "epiphany moment"

  Tags: Epiphany | Fluency
 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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badger2
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 Message 1 of 47
12 March 2007 at 8:38am | IP Logged 
I was talking with my tyttöystävä and she said that one day she was watching TV and all of a sudden "realized" she understood everything that was being said.

I've read a couple other posts here that seem to indicate the same thing.

Is this "epiphany moment" common?
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badger2
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 Message 2 of 47
12 March 2007 at 8:51am | IP Logged 
badger2 wrote:
I was talking with my tyttöystävä and she said that one day she was watching TV and all of a sudden "realized" she understood everything that was being said.

I've read a couple other posts here that seem to indicate the same thing.

Is this "epiphany moment" common?


I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that Iverson will reply to this query.
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janalisa
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 Message 3 of 47
12 March 2007 at 10:18am | IP Logged 
I think it's definitely common. I've experienced it a few times myself, and it seems like everyone I've talked to who's learned a foreign language before can identify with the experience. Language learning seems to progress in plateaus-- you go through a long phase of studying hard without really seeming to get anywhere, until one day all of a sudden, everything just falls into place, and you feel like you've just jumped to a completely new level.

In case a personal anecdote might help illustrate the point, I dug up this old journal entry I wrote about this very experience when I was in China about a year and a half ago. I referred to the phenomenon you speak of as a "clicking point".

       "If you've ever seriously tried to learn a foreign language before, you probably know how this goes: you go on studying for a while, but for some reason you just don't feel like you're really getting anywhere. No matter how hard you try, it doesn't seem that you can understand any more one day than you did the day before, nor can you speak with any more ease than you could three weeks ago. You keep learning new vocabulary and practicing just like you should, and yet your abilities just don't seem to be improving. And then, one day, bam! It happens: all of a sudden, something clicks. It's as if a light switch has just been turned on in your brain, and everything you've learned up to this point has suddenly come together. You suddenly realize that you're able to follow conversations you never could have followed the day before, that the language comes flowing from your mouth with a new ease, that all the information stored somewhere in your brain now comes effortlessly to the surface. I have no explanation as to why it works this way, but when it happens-- when that moment comes and you suddenly find yourself at a new level-- it's wonderful. It's absolutely thrilling. For lack of a better term, I'll refer to this phenomenon as a "clicking point". And it finally just happened to me today.

       Since we'd just finished the final exam for our first history class and were now on break for Chinese National Day, today a group of people from Calvin decided to go to the Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) just to walk around and do something fun. Anyway, later in the evening as we were riding the bus home, I overheard a man and a woman talking, and suddenly I realized that I actually understood what they were saying. They were talking about learning French, and then they were talking about watching movies in English, and then they were listening to the conversation my friends were having in English. They sort of chuckled when one of my friends started trying to read a Chinese sign out loud. The sign said something about Chinese medicine, so the man and the woman started talking about Chinese medicine. I smiled to myself at what I was hearing, and then I knew: I had just reached a clicking point.

       After we got back to the dorm, I went to buy some grapes at the fruit stand across the street, and somehow I had no problem understanding what the vendor said, nor asking him what he thought was the best way to choose a bunch of grapes. Now I can't wait to take the first chance I get to use my Chinese again.

       That's not to say that I don't still have more to learn, of course-- I'm still nowhere near fluent in Chinese. If I know anything about the way this works, I can predict that I'll be on another plateau for awhile, and then all of a sudden there'll be another clicking point,­ and so on. But now that the first one has happened, I feel motivated to keep on going."

Incidentally, just the other day I heard of someone referring to this concept as an "invisible bridge". You don't realize the bridge is even there until you find yourself on the other side of it. I thought that was a rather eloquent way to put it. =)

I suspect that this is more or less a universal experience amongst serious language learners, and I'm curious to hear what other forum members have to say, as well.
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rafaelrbp
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 Message 4 of 47
12 March 2007 at 10:19am | IP Logged 
This is of course more common when the target language is related to yours.

I have a friend (native Portuguese, advanced English) who just realized all of a sudden that she could understand spoken French. This is a little bizarre, as I couldn't do the same after my earlier studies (now I'm in a more confortable level with French).


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Iversen
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 Message 5 of 47
12 March 2007 at 10:43am | IP Logged 
I had my 'epiphany moment' with Portuguese when I went to Cape Verde at the end of November last year. There I had some of the popular non-fiction channels on the TV in my hotel rooms (including the Portuguese version of Discovery Channel). There I laid down on my bed and concentrated on the words that came out of the speakers. And lo and behold, I understood almost instantly everything that they said. One month earlier I didn't understand anything.

The key is simply that I had spent the month before my travel learning as many Portuguese words as possible (which was quite easy because I already knew Spanish, Catalan and other related languages), and I had worked my way through a couple of grammars and listened to TV Beira, TV Sciência and other congenial internet sources. So when I was lying there on the bed in my hotel room in Mindelo on São Vicente listening to a travel program in Portuguese, I just had to totally stop translating in my mind, totally stop listening to the outside word and instead closely follow the stream of words, parsing it into words and phrases almost as if it had been written on a sheet of paper. And because I now knew the words and their meanings and most of the grammar, the meaning of what was being said just automatically popped up in my head. This did not happen through magic, but through a regular method that can be systematized and used by others: 1) learn the language (yes, - I mean it!)2) stop translating when you listen, 3) follow the words like a bloodhound follows a trail. Then the meaning will pop up automatically in your head.

With a weak and 'new' language you haven't got the robust listening skills that you have with your mother tongue or with a wellrehearsed secondary language, so you have to concentrate more and avoid outside noises, but listening in the way I described above is in all other respects the same thing as you do when you listen to speech in your native language.

And it is truly a bliss (or epiphany or grok) when it happens for the first time in a new language. It is just a pity that you can't experience it for the first time more than once per language.



Edited by Iversen on 12 March 2007 at 12:07pm

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daristani
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 Message 6 of 47
12 March 2007 at 10:57am | IP Logged 
In my experience, learning a language is in some ways a succession of both "positive" and "negative" epiphany moments, which for me, at least, often seem to alternate. In other words, there are times when things go well, you understand what's being said to you, and you find yourself able to express what you want to say with more facility than usual (a tiny bit of alcohol can sometimes help) and you say to yourself "Wow, I guess I really am learning this language!" This usually spurs your self-confidence, and often perhaps the degree of effort you put into your studies.

Unfortunately, there also come about times when you just don't seem to "get it", when you're tongue-tied, and get frustrated, and you then think "I may never really get the hang of this." (This is, I imagine, a useful corrective to over-confidence.)

I think these are both inevitable situations as you advance along the path, and that the important thing is to keep going, using whatever tricks you can to keep your motivation up and keep you moving forward. (As an example, if there's someone with whom you seem to be able to speak easily, or who has a very clear accent, spend as much time as possible interacting with him/her, both to build your confidence and to get lots of practice in unrehearsed speech. If others are harder to understand, don't worry; there are people who speak American English whom I have a hard time understanding, but I still count myself as a native speaker.)

So it seems to me that you get to a few peaks, you have plateaus, and there are also occasions when you get the impression you're stuck in a valley {the "slough of despond", I guess). But as long as you keep working, at whatever pace you're working, you'll still make progress.
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biki2
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 Message 7 of 47
12 March 2007 at 12:07pm | IP Logged 
My epiphany moment for Spanish came when I was reading the English side of a bilingual reader, and midway through the story I realized I was reading the Spanish side and had been so into it I hadn't noticed the switch.
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Siberiano
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 Message 8 of 47
12 March 2007 at 3:04pm | IP Logged 
Interesting stories, guys.

I think, with languages distant for you this can be the case. Recognizing tonal speech or hieroglyphs requires time to prepare, while with alphabets we can start reading from the very beginning.

I have had something like this with my study of Italian, but it has never come in such a contrasting way to me. More like a fog that clears away and you constantly see a bit more and more details. Indeed, once I had a feeling that I understood very much, almost everything, but I checked it with my teacher, and she named several details I didn't notice at all.

So, such a feeling, that one day you do a lot better than the day before, is deceptive. The best way to be realistic is to listen and then to see a transcription or do a test with questions on particularities. Realistic doesn't mean pessimistic. :) Working on audio tests last year through 4 months, I managed to quite improve understanding.

Moreover, yet in summer 2005 (after 0.5 year of study) half of Italian radio news sounded for me like blrpmlprndmprpmrlo. In summer 2006 I managed to, at least, distinguish separate words in the fastest pieces and to get their sense.


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