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Directions/advice for 10+ aimers?

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
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Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 1 of 37
30 September 2007 at 7:09am | IP Logged 
In 2005, you wrote: "I feel that my real calling is to advise people who can conceive of learning ten or more. I honestly believe that anyone who is willing to work hard enough and intelligently enough at doing so can succeed. I know that I had some favorable factors to begin with and that I have indeed achieved a lot, but I got a very late start, and I wasted a great deal of time heading down blind paths. If I had had a support system like this board when I was in my early-twenties, I do not doubt that I could have achieved far more than I have achieved, far sooner. Drive, discipline, lots and lots and lots of systematic hard work, good materials, and an intelligent method�if you have all these, there is no reason why you cannot do what I have done, or even more."

I am seriously considering learning more than ten languages. I'm willing to work extremely hard to do so. I'm currently devoting the majority of my time during the next year to self-study, now that I have finished my undergraduate degree (in informatics). I'm 22 years old, and live in Switzerland. I've read all of your posts on this forum, and found the information extremely useful.

I'm capable of quite a lot of drive and discipline, when I know what I'm working towards, and how to go about it. What I lack is an intelligent method. I'm willing to attempt learning with a stop-watch and extensive journaling (and have had a fair amount of success with this since finding this forum, a few months ago), but I also want to know how to intelligently experiment with learning as effectively as possible, and have ideas of what experiments to try.

My language background is not particularly stellar. I speak English natively, Italian to a level which I call fluent but you perhaps would not (I still make some fairly serious grammatical errors, but am conversational and can and have read novels), and I have dabbled in several other languages. In general, my passive abilities far outstrip my active ones. I can read German/Dutch/Swedish/Spanish/Portuguese/Esperanto/French/etc for the gist, but rather imperfectly; novels are still a lost cause, except perhaps in Esperanto. I can understand a fair amount of spoken Spanish/German/Esperanto/Dutch/French, especially if spoken clearly and fairly formally, such as in news broadcasts. I can manage 'survival level' speech in Esperanto, German, and French, but I'm only marginally conversational, with patient speakers, at best. I have dabbled in Persian, Japanese, and to a lesser extent, Polish.

What this -has- given me is the ability to study multiple languages at once, without confusing them. I can also spot similarities between related languages fairly easily; I've read "The Loom of Languages", understand the basics of sound shifts, and have a slight intuitive grasp of your notion of 'activating' languages. I've recently done so with Dutch; my passive knowledge of it is probably on par with my passive knowledge of German, at this point, but I'm almost entirely unable to use it actively.

I also have some idea of my learning style. Bilingual texts with audio work well for me, but are frustratingly slow for gaining active use (but the active use I -do- gain from them seems to be rather good). I enjoy reading grammars, but can only use them to solidify what I've seen, and to let me pick out and analyze structures in more real contexts (which then leads to use), rather than as a baseline for use directly. I haven't managed to effectively use flashcards, or drills, other than very occasionally, on grammatical points which had already proved recalcitrant.

The areas I'm especially interested in are:
- solidifying languages: I can read quite a few Romance and Germanic languages for the 'gist' of what is meant, but can only enjoy literature in two (English and Italian), and even in the latter, more haltingly than I would like (100+ pages/hour in English for light novels, vs about 40 in Italian, with a significant number of unknown words).
- efficiently gaining vocabulary: bilingual texts, or reading the same text in two languages, is definitely useful, but what other ways are worth investigating to supplement it?
- increasing active use of languages which I have a decent passive understanding of. An example of this German: I heard a fairly long joke yesterday, and other than not understanding the pun in the punch line, I understood it entirely, and translated it to English, but actually saying (or thinking!) anything particularly deep or complicated in German still tends to either come instantly, or, more often, be extremely difficult/involve ugly circumlocutions, or, in conversation, end up needing to involve hand gestures and throwing in words from another language I have in common with my conversation partner. I suspect that things like Assimil's active wave, and the parallel "translate to the language you're learning" in the listening-reading system would help, but I haven't engaged in experimentation with this yet. More exposure and internalization of structures also seems important. Have you experienced this? If so, what did you try to improve the situation, and what worked?
- choosing a good order to learn them in
- creating -solid- plans and schedules, which are efficient, and which I can stick to.
- knowing what tradeoff to make between sticking to plans, and experimenting with new ones.
- philology and etymology: how to approach the subjects and learn more about them. I've always enjoyed the etymology information in dictionaries: what other sources of similar (and, if possible, more organized) information exist?
- how to approach languages which I'd like to be able to read and/or get a grammatical overview of: I'm fascinated by how grammar changes between different languages, and while Japanese has been eye-opening, I feel extremely limited by my knowledge of only Indo-European languages, Japanese, and Esperanto, grammatically. I'd like to investigate at least one aboriginal language, and ideally have an idea of the grammars of all of the world's major language families; but I don't think that this should be my next area of effort.
- how to deal with grammatical structures which are particularly troublesome to get right, despite exposure, reading explanations, and passive understanding.
- the role of independent study vs language immersions in the target country, and when to do the latter.
- what materials to use. I find Assimil -great- (using it has helped me fix a -lot- of problems in my use of Italian). However, it's obviously not enough by itself. Also, for some languages I'd like to learn, it either doesn't exist, or I find it unusable (Assimil Esperanto, Basque, and Latin are in this category - I find the voices extremely grating). I'm aware of quite a lot of alternative resources, but given your posts on this forum, I'd suspect that your book has a lot of extremely useful references to ones I've not yet heard of.
- studying historical languages: how to go about it. Again, this is not where I'd like to start, but I've been fascinated by middle English since high school, and one of my long-term goals is to read Beowulf in the original. I'm also tentatively curious about middle and old Persian. Culturally, Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, and perhaps Classical Chinese and old Irish might make sense; I'm less convinced about all of these, but they're merely on the fringes 'to consider tackling someday', rather than languages I'm convinced I have no interest in learning.
- learning about the literature and culture associated with each language. I know ad-hoc ways to do this, such as googling for lists of literary works, looking at wikipedia, etc, but knowing more and better ways strikes me as fairly important. How do you gain familiarity with the literary culture of a new culture/language that you are studying?

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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 2 of 37
30 September 2007 at 12:46pm | IP Logged 
I also aim for fluency in 10+ languages.
I'm 17 and I'm studying applied linguistics at Moscow State Linguistic University. My interest in languages is linguistical, but also largely cultural, probably 50-50...and I'm also fascinated by the feeling I have when I'm speaking a foreign language:)
My native language is Russian and I grew up monolingual. My mother taught me some basic English since I was 4, and I also studied it at school and later at a lyceum. This is the language I'm most fluent in. (My criteria of fluency are largely the same as at this forum, but I also find making no or very little grammatical errors important) I also have "basic fluency" in Finnish, which was the first language I started studying on my own a bit more than two years ago. Eventually I'm aiming for native fluency both in English and Finnish.
I studied German and Latin as well at the lyceum, but I'm not fluent. I can read German fairly well, especially when I'm interested in the content. I'll hopefully soon achieve this level in Latin as well, because I'm studying it at university now and our Latin professor is very strict.
I've also recently started learning Esperanto (frankly speaking, solely because I want to get 5 languages under my belt as soon as possible, because you wrote it's a "magic" number) and Belarusian (my father is Belarusian and it feels wrong not to be able to speak the language, and besides, I simply love it). Due to exposure I can understand Belarusian almost as well as Russian. Earlier this year I read two bilingual books in Ukrainian and my comprehension of Ukrainian is getting close to that of Belarusian. I've also dabbled in Yiddish, but I didn't go past the beginner's level.
The languages I'm aiming for advanced fluency in are German, Belarusian, Portuguese, Danish, Polish, Hindi and Italian. Specific plans include starting Portuguese early next year and German from scratch at university in September (the latter is obligatory). I'm also very interested in Dutch, Hungarian, Turkish, Icelandic, Welsh, Indonesian and Spanish, but I'm not sure about the level I'm aiming for in these languages, especially in these ones that aren't related to other languages I'm going to learn in earnest. The dead languages I'm most interested in are Old Church Slavonic and Sanskrit.
A language that should be mentioned separately is Karelian - a minority language spoken in the Republic of Karelia in Russia, which is quite close to Finnish, albeit not necessarily mutually intelligible. I'd love to speak it as fluently as I can, but there are next to no resources on it - there is a grammar book, a book about Finnish and Karelian in a comparative context, and there are some texts written in various dialects of Karelian (there's no standard language yet). However things are getting better, eg a standard alphabet has been created and schools are encouraged to teach Karelian, so hopefully it will eventually get easier to find resources, as I'm not sure how far I can get with a book on comparative linguistics as the main source of information :/

The things that work for me are formal grammar study, creating immersion through music, books and the Internet, shadowing and writing and being corrected. I've also recently tried creating flashcards in multiple languages through flashcard software, and it seems to be working greatly for learning vocabulary in languages that share a lot of it (Esperanto and Latin in my case) and avoiding confusion.

Volte has already asked practically everything I'd like to know, so just one question from me. As far as I understand, you initeally learn to speak through shadowing, without looking at the written text. Do you think it suits for everyone? Listening comprehension is generally my weakest skill, and for example in Finnish, even though its writing system is very phonetic, I used to hear some sounds in unfamiliar words incorrectly rather often, eg u instead of l. I've also noticed that I just fail to remember words I've never seen written, although it may be just the psychological effect of not being sure I hear all the sounds accurately.

I'm looking forward to reading your reply.

Edited by Serpent on 30 September 2007 at 9:56pm

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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 3 of 37
30 September 2007 at 3:36pm | IP Logged 
There is so much solid substance in these requests that I will not be able to address all the points this week. As the author of the second post himself indicates that most of the important points are outlined in the first one, let me first address the specific question he asks: Do I believe that the method by which I myself learn language, i.e., beginning by shadowing without looking at the written text, is suitable for everyone? No, I do not believe this. You may indeed have a truly different style of learning for which a totally different approach is more suitable. However, I have gone through more methods that I can even care to recall, and I hope that the reasons that led me to feel that the shadowing method is most efficient have some objective grounding. Thus, I do believe that the way I have developed shadowing is probably the best way to shadow for all those who are suited to shadowing. In the methodology classes that I have now taught in colleges on three continents, I have always asked the students to demonstrate that they have really done the exercises I give them as exactly as possible for a given period of time. After that, if they do not feel the benefits of any aspect of the procedure, I encourage them to change it and I assist them in finding other activities more suited to their minds.

Before turning to the list of specific areas of special interest mentioned in the first letter, let me say that I firmly believe that someone who has such a mature grasp of the nature of the task involved is bound to succeed in achieving her goals if she only actually succeeds in putting her planning in to practice. Above all, you mention that you have the ability to study multiple languages at once without confusing them, and apart from perseverance over the long term, this is probably among the most important qualities for developing yourself into a polyglot.

On solidifying languages: There is no getting around the fact that the only remedy for this consists of regular systematic application over long periods of time, amounting to many years. You can cram a language into your brain with intensive effort, but it cannot take root and grow in your soul unless you give it years of time. Since you mention reading for pleasure and “light novels” here, I would say that I do believe you would be better served by slowing yourself down from your 100+/40 English/Italian pph in order to read better quality literature and more challenging material. The reason has to do with your second point:

On efficiently gaining vocabulary: 1) yes, bilingual texts or the same text in two languages are your best friends, but there are others. You need to seek out texts in which you can understand four words out of every five (80% of the vocabulary) and simply read, read, read as much as you can without looking anything up. If you can do this intensively for several weeks and/or systematically over several months, most of the unknown words will make themselves known from context alone and you can progress through progressively more difficult texts in order to acquire more and more vocabulary. You may well need to begin with children’s picture books, progress through stories for adolescents and the light novels of contemporary popular culture, and ultimately end up reading the best classical literature that has been expressed in that particular tongue. 2) shadowing not methods for foreign learners but rather audiobooks for native speakers, with the same 80% caveat, will have the same effect. 3) best of all, however, is making copies of a select few texts, probably preferably from readers with specific vocabulary lists, that are large enough from you to write all unknown vocabulary items directly underneath the words themselves in interlinear fashion, and then repeatedly transcribing the entire text by hand (i.e., not by typing) while simultaneously reading it out loud.

On increasing your active abilities in languages for which you have obtained a decent passive understanding: Here I do feel that a period of total immersion is the key, but only after you have built yourself up to a relatively sophisticated ability to think in the language by studying on your own. Yes, Assimil’s active wave/translate into the target language help very much here and you should certainly experiment with such exercises. Also yes, more exposure and internalization of structures is also crucial. I myself have a passive control of far more languages than I can comfortably speak, and when I analyze this, the only definable factor is active exposure, pure and simple. I believe this is due at least as much and probably more to being in the native ambient of the language than it is to the sheer intensity of study. For example, Italian, the foreign language you know best, is not one of my stronger active languages. I can read its quality literature with pleasure and understanding, and if someone were to come up to me and insist upon speaking it to me at this moment, I am sure I could handle just about any topic, but I know that I would feel as if I were constantly tripping over my tongue. I also know from actual travel experience, however, that I do not have this feeling/problem when I am in Italy. In other words, all I need to do in order to speak Italian better and more confidently is to find myself in Rome. If I could feel and sense it being spoken all around me outside of Italy, I am sure it would have the same effect. As it is, however, while my brain automatically functions on, e.g., Spanish frequency for a certain portion of each day, it does not do this for Italian. Why? Well, in recent decades I have spent a total of several months in Spanish environments, but only a few weeks in Italian.

On choosing a good order in which to learn languages: I already answered this question in another thread, “On Long Term Learning Plans,” today. In brief, rather than an abstract theoretical and methodological consideration of the different logical possibilities, you should try to find a place where you can actually sample all the languages that appeal to you. When I last lived in Europe, more than a decade ago now, that place was the Mediathek of the Humboldt Universitaet in Berlin. If you are lucky enough to get a language to choose you, you should emphatically follow her. From another approach, given your wisely articulated philological approach to polyglottery, you should probably somewhat counter intuitively work in a counter chronological order.

I am afraid that I really have other commitments that I must attend to just now and that this is all I can manage this week, but I promise to continue with this list of issues first thing next week.
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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4871 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 4 of 37
07 October 2007 at 3:33am | IP Logged 
Alexander_Arguelles wrote:
However, I have gone through more methods that I can even care to recall, and I hope that the reasons that led me to feel that the shadowing method is most efficient have some objective grounding. Thus, I do believe that the way I have developed shadowing is probably the best way to shadow for all those who are suited to shadowing.


Would you change or add anything to your description of shadowing from 2005, and your description of audiobook shadowing?

Alexander_Arguelles wrote:

3) best of all, however, is making copies of a select few texts, probably preferably from readers with specific vocabulary lists, that are large enough from you to write all unknown vocabulary items directly underneath the words themselves in interlinear fashion, and then repeatedly transcribing the entire text by hand (i.e., not by typing) while simultaneously reading it out loud.


Would you give an example of what a good text/reader is? I must confess that I haven't seen many books of this type, and I'd like to have a better idea of what such a text is like.

Alexander_Arguelles wrote:

On choosing a good order in which to learn languages: I already answered this question in another thread, “On Long Term Learning Plans,” today. In brief, rather than an abstract theoretical and methodological consideration of the different logical possibilities, you should try to find a place where you can actually sample all the languages that appeal to you. When I last lived in Europe, more than a decade ago now, that place was the Mediathek of the Humboldt Universitaet in Berlin. If you are lucky enough to get a language to choose you, you should emphatically follow her. From another approach, given your wisely articulated philological approach to polyglottery, you should probably somewhat counter intuitively work in a counter chronological order.


What do you mean, exactly, by sampling: trying language courses, listening to the language, looking at texts in the language and trying to see what one can make of them, reading grammars, ...? I'm wondering if it's possible to have a sufficient sampling via the internet.

How do you define having a language choose you? I think I may have had this happen with Dutch: I'm listening to hours of Dutch audio most days, both via radio and Assimil tapes, have done a modified version of "listening-reading" with two books with audio in Dutch recently, and am generally extremely interested in the language, fascinated by it (both in itself, and in a comparative context with English/German), and seek it out.

Alexander_Arguelles wrote:

I am afraid that I really have other commitments that I must attend to just now and that this is all I can manage this week, but I promise to continue with this list of issues first thing next week.


Thank you so much. I greatly appreciate your reply. Please don't worry about not being able to address everything at once: this is, after all, a long term project.


Edited by Volte on 07 October 2007 at 3:36am

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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 5 of 37
08 October 2007 at 8:36am | IP Logged 
As you understand that this is a lifetime project, and in order to make this more of a dialogue, today let me reply to your responses to what I wrote last week, and perhaps next week we will be able to return to your original list of concerns and systematically address them.

If I were to write them again, I might phrase something in my descriptions of shadowing differently, but having just looked at them again, no, I see no need to change or add anything that I wrote before. However, I would stress again and again that you should keep detailed notes of your experiments with the procedure I describe in order to determine if it is the best method for you, and, if so, to further determine how you can better tailor what you do to suit your own manner of learning.

As to good Readers, since you were interested in Persian, some specific examples for that language include Georg Rosens Elementa Persica: Persische Erzaehlungen (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1935), H. Kamshad’s Modern Persian Prose Reader (Cambridge 1968), and Amir Abbas Haidair’s Modern Persian Reader (London School of Oriental and African Studies, 1975). The special thing about (good) readers is that they contain extensive contextualized glossaries of the vocabulary used in the texts, which saves you from floundering about blindly in a dictionary before you are ready to use one sensibly. For Japanese, a contemporary and easily accessible sample of a good bilingual reader is Giles Murray’s Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2003).

By sampling languages I mean taking a serious inventory of the materials available for you to study a given language as this is just as important as the method by which you used them and the motive you have for studying in the first place. Would-be polyglots need to have access to such a repository of methods, which is why I recommended a visit to the Mediathek and also why I hope somehow, someday, and in someway to make my collection of materials available for just this purpose in some sort of a sampling center. While you can certainly get some high quality sampling materials from the internet, I do not believe that you can do sufficient sampling on the internet alone as most of the learning material from bygone decades has not been computerized, and precisely this material is probably most suitable for the most serious of polyglots (e.g., the three Persian readers mentioned above).

As you start taking inventory, you may find that you actually start studying a good number of languages at once. While this is not to be recommended for general language learners, developing the ability to do this is a necessary prerequisite if you plan to turn yourself into a polyglot. Since you have this ability already, use it, and you will find that after a time certain languages simply scream out for more time and attention than the others. It sounds as if you have indeed had this experience already with Dutch. You have been exposed to a great many European tongues, and yet this one in particular has grabbed your attention: it probably just feels right for your brain to vibrate on Dutch frequency. When you feel this so strongly that you are able to immerse your soul in its sounds for intensive periods of times, get great deals of serious and concentrated work done, and so make very rapid progress in cloaking your thoughts and emotions in its voice and with its vocabulary, this is when you have been chosen by a language. Enjoy your Dutch!

Edited by ProfArguelles on 05 November 2007 at 9:00am

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 6 of 37
14 October 2007 at 6:50pm | IP Logged 
I had planned to give systematic consideration to at least one of the points in Ms. Volte’s letter original letter this week, but I have been composing in English for close to six straight hours and it is time to do something else.

Let me just say now that I was wrong when I said I would not change my descriptions of shadowing if I were to rewrite them. It is not that I would necessarily alter or add anything to what I wrote before, but rather only that I would check to make sure I had sufficiently stressed the importance of physical motion with shadowing. Because this is such a central point, it really cannot be stressed enough: shadowing works much better if you do it while walking than while sitting. Do you think I clearly expressed the fact that this is an integral part of the method, or is this perhaps something that some people might overlook when trying to do language exercises by shadowing?

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Iversen
Super Polyglot
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 Message 7 of 37
15 October 2007 at 4:03am | IP Logged 
The physical part of the exercise was indeed mentioned in your first description long time ago, but it was not made clear how important it is, - in fact people might have been doing shadowing for years just sitting down, because they thought that the walking was there just to give you a pleasant experience. But now that will be remedied.

I personally haven't done much shadowing, but when I take a walk I mostly try to use the time for another relevant activity, namely thinking in a target language. I suppose that exactly the same reasons that you might give for walking while shadowing apply to walking while thinking (albeit you can shadow a language in which you cannot think fluently yet). My guess is that the walking works partly because it gives the body something to do while your mind is busy, partly because it imposes a steady rhythm on your thoughts for an extended period of time.




Edited by Iversen on 15 October 2007 at 4:04am

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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4871 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 8 of 37
21 October 2007 at 2:57am | IP Logged 
ProfArguelles wrote:

Let me just say now that I was wrong when I said I would not change my descriptions of shadowing if I were to rewrite them. It is not that I would necessarily alter or add anything to what I wrote before, but rather only that I would check to make sure I had sufficiently stressed the importance of physical motion with shadowing. Because this is such a central point, it really cannot be stressed enough: shadowing works much better if you do it while walking than while sitting. Do you think I clearly expressed the fact that this is an integral part of the method, or is this perhaps something that some people might overlook when trying to do language exercises by shadowing?


I would say that you could safely emphasize this more strongly. I've done the majority of my shadowing whilst sitting thus far. My current 'chair' is an exercise ball, so there is some physical motion involved, but not all that much. I've started to experiment with shadowing while walking; it tentatively looks promising, but I'll need to experiment more.

If I recall correctly, my reasoning was that I prefer to use a computer with headphones while shadowing, which I prefer to do seated, as otherwise, I feel rather tethered.   This setup this gives me a lot of flexibility; I can easily isolate problematic phrases and listen and repeat to them alone repeatedly, for instance. I find it easier to compare what I'm saying to the speaker when I used headphones rather than speakers. Do you primarily shadow with a fixed audio source (such as a personal computer or a large tape player) or a mobile one (such as a Walkman or mp3 player)? What are your thoughts on using headphones vs speakers?



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