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Thread: Learning Languages

  1. Top | #11
    Member Iznomneak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kharakov View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Iznomneak View Post
    Most Spanish speakers talk too fast for me to parse.
    The most fluent of the immigrants I've worked with learned English by listening to the radio and singing songs. They recommended doing the same thing, the only problem is, I don't listen to the radio.
    I can sing and play "Feliz Navidad" on the guitar.

  2. Top | #12
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    When I was really young, I just absorbed languages. Successfully had English, German and French in school. Of course, very traditional teaching methods.

    Half a dozen years later I had to pause engineering school. I had become technology dyslextic. After a B.A. including Arabic (I had taken petrochemistry) and Sanskrit (I have loved Kipling's Kim since I was perhaps 11 years old; still re-read it at least every other year) and half a semester of Spanish on the side, I returned to complete my M.Sc.

    The traditional methods worked for me, and for most languages, I have "only" been interested in learning to read. So, after retirement, I took up Arabic again as a B.A. minor and majored in Chinese. Somewhere along that path, I made a good start in Hindi (cf. Kim above).

    I describe my proficiency in speaking Chinese and Hindi like this: The few times natives in China and India, respectively, have understood what I've said in their language, I have been rather helpless when they answered.

    Not too interested in speaking there are lots of methods that I haven't felt like trying. The Rosetta Stone versions that I've seen skip the grammar - but for me, grammar is one of the most interesting aspects of language learning! So, now I'm still fairly traditional (Assimil series) on Russian and Finnish plus rehearsing Chinese.

    And I've got a bunch of mixed feelings re: Japanese. The use of up to four different writing systems in one sentence is just entertaining. Inflecting adjectives for time and person is almost manageable. But for example the number of possible readings for each Chinese character will make any head spin. And I'm growing afraid that the only way of learning Japanese grammar is to start at birth and stay in Japan. Anyway, if I ever get a free minute, I could, theoretically, go for learning the native syllabaries. That is at least a finite set.

  3. Top | #13
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    Several decades ago I began taking vacations in Thailand. At first I didn't intend to learn Thai but I gradually picked up some vocabulary and grammar. I enjoyed learning and being able to communicate was helpful. In fact I made a point of returning to Thailand rather than visiting other countries simply because of my growing investment in learning Thai.

    Although I've read Thai language textbooks, the large majority of my Thai learning has come from personal contacts, many of whom spoke little or no English. I had to deduce the meanings of words. Although it may have been very inefficient, it seemed fun to learn a language the way it had to be learned when no textbooks or classrooms existed. (I was employed in Bangkok for a while adapting a computer system to Thai language, but that wasn't too important for my Thai learning.)

    Thai grammar is extremely simple. A sentence like 'Go Market' might mean, depending on context, 'They went to the market,' or 'Will you go to the market with me?' etc. Vocabulary is also very simple due to compound words: Patient, impatient, happy, kind, evil, trust, feel slighted, petulant, indulge, and the heart organ itself are all rendered as simple two-syllable words: heart-cold, heart-hot, good-heart, heart-good, heart-black, hold-heart, small-heart, heart-small, follow-heart, head-heart ... and this list barely scratches the surface: there are dozens of simple two-syllable words built from ใจ 'heart.'

    In fact, Thai is so simple to learn without formal study that many foreigners have become very conversant while missing important features. For example, while an English word might start(*) with voiced 'D' or aspirated 'T', Thai has a third sound (some texts transcribe it as 'Dt') which is neither voiced nor aspirated. Similar 'B', 'P' and 'Bp' are distinct phonemes in Thai. Some foreigners who consider themselves quite fluent are unaware of these distinctive phonemes. (* - English has non-aspirated 'T' in non-initial position, e.g. in 'better' in most dialects, but this is non-phonemic.)

    By now my Thai is rather good. I can read Thai (though much slower than I read English or even French) but I can't write it.

  4. Top | #14
    Veteran Member James Brown's Avatar
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    I listen to Pimsleur Speak and Learn language CDs in my car while commuting to work, focusing on Spanish.

    It's been useful the last couple of times my wife and I visited Mexico. Mostly we're in areas where the natives also speak English very well, but it's gratifying to have simple conversations with non-English speakers. I've also found the Mexicans seem pleased when I ask them how to say particular words in Espanol.

    I'll second the idea of listening to Spanish radio.

  5. Top | #15
    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarpedon View Post
    An unusual hobby, but does anyone else do it?
    I do.

    I started on English in 1990 and I moved on to Chinese in 1997 because I thought I was done with learning English and I had to do something. Chinese sounded like going to Mars or something. And it certainly feels like it.

    I speak English fluently. I had to use it for the job, which involved short trips around the world with three-day meetings with a motley of nationalities, including fine British and American gentlemen. I also listen to BBC Radio 4, which provides a different angle than French media on international events. And then the Internet, and this forum in particular.

    Unfortunately, I didn't make it in Chinese. I worked harder and for a longer time than for English and with more passion, and I did learn quite lot, but in the end Chinese proved to difficult for me. Still, I'm thinking of trying again once I no longer have anything else to do, which might well not come before ten years' time. I think of that as a kind of spiritual challenge. Being old and really learn Chinese!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarpedon View Post
    I have been rather bored and not intellectually challenged lately, and I also decided to give up (or strictly curtail) video game playing, so I found myself needing a hobby. I tried taking up leatherworking, but, alas, like all handcrafts, I have no particular talent, nor can I muster the patience to master the skills in the absence of talent.
    Yeah, I was more or less in that kind of situation too! In my case, I needed to do something with my brain that wouldn't be too difficult. A sort of rehabilitation programme. I think it worked well beyond my initial expectations. I would definitely recommend it, at least for people who have nothing more useful to do! Because it does take time before you can make it pay.

    Also, I chose English and Chinese to capitalise on the high usefulness of these two languages. Both in terms of access to a rich culture, even, in effect, civilisation, and opportunity for meeting native English and Chinese speakers. I'm still congratulating myself for having gone that way. Very wise! If I had to choose another language to learn, I would probably select Russian, but even Russian lags far behind English and Chinese (or French, I need to add). I'm convinced that the most interesting things you could read in the whole world are either in French, in English or in Chinese. Marsian not being available quite yet.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarpedon View Post
    So, I decided to do something more purely intellectual, which is my forte. And 3 months or so ago, I saw an ad that said that a popular free language learning app (Duolingo) had recently added Chinese! So I thought to myself, I had wanted to learn for a long time, and even had plans on learning it together with my ex (relationship came to an end before much progress was made), so I decided to go ahead on my own.
    No app for me. All on paper. And I wanted to do it with the traditional way of writing characters (i.e. Hong Kong and Taiwan). Just because it looks so beautiful. I also had lessons with a real Chinese (Taiwanese) person for three years. And I bought plenty of books, essentially fiction and dictionaries (grammar is almost non-existent in Chinese).

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarpedon View Post
    First off, the app is great, but not enough, so I got a great little book focusing entirely on learning the characters. (it includes pronunciation for each one, but that's hard to learn from a book). Between the two, I've been working hard for 90 days and I couldn't be more pleased with my progress. I've been concentrating on learning to read, which in Chinese you can totally learn independently from the spoken language. I have been using the app (which includes spoken portions) and chinese movies for help with the spoken part. I've learned at least 600 characters (minimum literacy is considered to be around 800 of the most common, with upwards of a thousand being required for true literacy) I still have a long way to go...there are zillions of compound words I have not delved into yet, still focusing on the monosyllabic foundational characters.
    Yes. The Chinese world is like a whole planet on its own. There are far more Chinese speakers than there are English speakers and the territory was politically divided for a long time so the script was the way to unify communication across political and regional divisions. The standardisation of the way to speak Chinese (pronunciation) lagged behind and still is something of a problem. Think of American/British/Australian/Canadian English. A good Chinese dictionary will have something like 220,000 entries (at least), and that's at least four times as many as a good English dictionary.

    And you need to think about how you want to write your own name in Chinese. That's definitely a boost to your ego!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarpedon View Post
    Anyhow, does anyone else do this sort of thing as a hobby? What sort of experiences have you had? The weirdest thing for me is that I've been around chinese characters my whole life...and suddenly they are starting to mean things. I ordered a chinese book a while back (entirely in chinese) and couldn't make head or tails of it for the longest time, and just last week, all of the sudden I opened it up and was able to read the first line. A magical experience. I don't remember what it was like to read for the first time, but I just this month experienced something very much like it.
    Me, I had a long time friend from Taiwan I had met in Roehampton of all places, while we were both there to learn English (with BBC staff as teachers! Not bad at all, except for the food!). We exchanged letters for quite a while before I started on Chinese. Unfortunately, Taiwan is a seriously far away location. Nothing like crossing the Channel for a Frenchman, which I did many times. I will regret this, like, forever.

    Still, I was able to read several novels! Although it's more accurate to say that I had to decipher them, with plenty of footwork between several dictionaries, some Chinese/English, some Chinese/French, and some Chinese/Chinese. I definitely loved it. It's the closest thing to going to Mars that I've done in my life. And the Chinese are great writers, with a long tradition and expertise behind them.

    And, best of all, this is the kind of experience that gives you a clear sense of how so very close we all are despite appearances to the contrary. I can't possibly leave it at that. I'll have to try again. Maybe when I'm 80 years old. It will keep me young, like, for ever.
    Last edited by Speakpigeon; 02-17-2018 at 10:52 PM.

  6. Top | #16
    Cyborg with a Tiara
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    I like to try languages - I’m not terribly good, but I enjoy trying. I have tutored English-as-second-language students and I like that a lot. We currently have an exchange student in the house and we teach each other things. One part of it that I am good at is getting the accent right. I was so pleased with myself when traveling in Austria once, my co-worker said he would meet me in the lobby of the hotel when he arrived. I went down early and asked for coffee and food, picked up a magazine and asked a question about laundry then sat down to wait. My co-worker called the front dest to ask if I had checked in and they said, “I’m sorry, I have not seen any Americans this afternoon.” When my co-worker came in and saw me, he exclaimed and the desk clerk was surprised, “I thought you were German!” Proud moment for this barely-speaker.

    Related but different, I really enjoy studying accents. That is something that I do find success; learning and duplicating an accent. My kids have always loved when I added accents to reading stories. It’s funny how you have to mentally “change clothes” to get an accent right. When they say, “do a French one!” I have to sort of pause, shake out my shoulders and arrange my face before starting.

    I find that doing accents convincingly includes knowing how they pronounce certain key letters, knowing how they emphasize syllables according to their native rules, knowing what pitch changes they use natively and also knowing how they tend to form their cheeks and jaw and lips as they talk. When you study those elements and reproduce them, the accent sounds right. It’s fun for me. And it helps me to help the ESL students because I can suggest what they can change to get rid of their accents if they are trying for accent mitigation.

  7. Top | #17
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    I study language of all kinds, for all sorts of reasons. mostly it is the sounds inherent to syllabic combinations that make up words: if I like it, I tend to remember it even if I don't yet know the usages.

    But I know from my 5 years of French and the 3 weeks of immersion on my Dutch that I'd be only passable at repeating and using it, and then get lost when trying to understand the other side of the convo.

    So like everything I've ever done, for me , it is a useless endeavor I continue to strive at achieving. Yet I keep at it because the sounds developed by some languages are so appealing to me. I do not mean affectation (what most people erroneously call tone) but the actual tone, the timber and chime of certain words, or even accents.

    It's also great for understanding how languages have begun, been altered, and lead sometimes to other languages being formed.

    I'd at some think abut going after learning a language isolate, but I sense, because I know myself, that I'll just give up part way through, because humans will diminish its use in accordance with isolates being fond within dwindling tribal populations, and of course, because I'm never going to do anything positive for anybody else with it so then it's not going to matter.

  8. Top | #18
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    I speak 5 languages: English (native-ish), French, Tagalog (native), Japanese (native), and American Sign Language (does that count? There is no written form). I am not fluent in but can get by ok but have a heavy accent in Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish. Thai is the most recent and the one I am weakest at.

    I have found that the only way for me to learn a new language is to immerse myself in it. I tried to learn French for years and years and failed until I finally went to Quebec city and allowed myself zero exposure to English. Going to Thailand helped a lot in learning Thai (I am not fluent yet).

    Also, I truly believe that growing up with multiple languages as a child (2 as a young child as first words and adding English as a pre-teen) helps immensely. I believe this to the point that I think all children should be immersed in multiple languages. It seems a disservice to their future selves not to.

    I find it also changes the ways that I think. Thinking in Japanese is a lot different than thinking in English.

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