A few questions about language learning.

1) How well can one learn to speak a language in two months, starting from scratch? Let’s take the case of both a related language, and a non-related language. Examples from your own experience would be great. Of course it will depend on the time available. Let’s look at two scenarios; one hour a day, and full time study.

2) This leads to the second question. When you learn a language, how much time do you spend on it every day, on average?

3) Are you learning your language in the country where the language is spoken or not?

4) At what point can you say that you speak a language? How would you describe that state of language competence?

I will wait to hear from you out there, then I will give my own views.

We could even have a few skype conversations on this if you are interested. I would record them and post them as podcasts if the sound quality is good enough. We could do these interviews in the language of your choice, as long as I speak that language.

4 thoughts on “A few questions about language learning.

  1. 1- I already speak french and english and studying Japanese. After 2 months(1h/day) of Japanese = Between Beginner and Intermediate level. But, I became fluent in english in a few month.(Maybe 3 or 4). 2- Myself = around 1h. The best is : The more you can do every day without it being a chore.3-In the country, it’s better but not a necessary. Today with skype, movies, internet, iPod,… it’s possible to read or listen to native without being in the country.4-When you’re able to think in the language. When you’re able to read without translation. When you can listen/read/speak/write in the target language without using(or think in) another language.

  2. Right now I am studying Mandarin Chinese. I just started. Its been about a week now. I live in Minnesota in a small town with most people of German descent. Chinese is tough for me since it is not anything like the languages I already know (German, English). But I do remember when learning German it was extremely easy for me since it was a Germanic language just like English. CHINESE IS NOT RELATED TO ENGLISH, it makes it frustrating at times but I know with persistence I will pull through. I do rosetta stone for an hour a day. I like to search youtube videos in Chinese and watch them. I’ve rented alot of movies in Mandarin Chinese lately. within one week though I have learned quite a bit, just beginners phrases, nouns, verbs, and Grammar. But I think within the time period of a month I will have a fairly good grasp of what the language is like, its basic grammar and the common words. The hardest part for me is definitely the Characters but with persistence I think I could learn most of the easy basic ones in the first month. I would really prefer to be in china or constantly around Chinese people because it makes it easier to learn the language. I think the state you say you can speak a language is when you feel really comfortable with it, you can think it that language, you can speak and read it as effortlessly as your mother language, but finding the occasional words you don’t know. Basically when you feel comfortable speaking it and its not something you have to put alot of effort into.

  3. A related language is like German-to-Dutch, Spanish-to-Italian, or Russian-to-Ukrainian, yes?1) From my own experience, going from one to another in the same family of languages, there is very little reason to doubt that 2 months is enough time for near fluency, even at only 1 hour per day. All-day study would probably get boring.Going across language families, however, I would expect a reasonable "survival-knowledge" within two months at one-hour per day (ask directions, find a restaurant, buy a bus ticket). But I think it’s very reasonable to be quite conversational after two months of all-day study.2) It depends on my motivation. When I learned Russian, I was involved in a relationship with a native Russian-speaker, so my motivation was high — every spare moment was spent studying. However, this year, as I learn Italian for my web site, I am still motivated, but not by a pressing desire for immediate use, so I’m probably closer to that one hour per day.3) No. For the purposes of my web site (at least at present) I will learn everything from right here in the USA — in part, out of a motivation to prove that one does not need total immersion in order to learn fast.4) By my definition, you "can speak" a language the moment you understand it’s sounds and can reproduce them — even in only a handful of words. For me, the definition of "able to speak" a language is a huge mental barrier which people need to overcome. For instance, any English-speaker already knows how to speak French… just look at the number of French words we already use and pronounce! So we don’t need to learn "how" to speak French, we just need to learn more vocab, or more grammar, etc…

  4. My backgroundSpanish in high school and collegeJapanese on my own after collegeSpanish on my own with occasional private tutoringMandarin on my own with occasional private tutoring1) In two months…I believe it’s possible for a person to pick up quite a few very useful phrases and terms. I think they’d be lacking in spontaneity of converation and listening to native speakers at a normal pace would still be difficult. I studied Japanese for about 1hr a day to start and I learned grammar and reading relatively well across a 2 month period…which makes sense because that’s what I was focusing on. The closest I’ve come to full time study is Spanish/Mandarin and I progressed about the same speed in both. However, by the time I started Mandarin, I had refined my personal language learning style quite a bit more, so while the language was more foreign and I had no background, I learned much more efficiently. The biggest difference is that I spent hours a day listening to both Spanish and Mandarin and spent significant time with speaking partners online and in person. I did neither with Japanese…pure text learning.On a side note, I find non-related languages easier in some ways…in that I can completely replace concepts and ideas. In Spanish, I still occasionally create my own cognates…that doesn’t happen in Chinese:)2) I’m studying Mandarin now and I spend about half an hour a day on focused study. I listen to conversations on CD during my commute (30 min) and radio all day at work (8 hrs). I’ve found that listening is more important with non-related languages than it is with related. 3) I’ve never studied a language in the country where it’s spoken, but I live in South Florida, which means I have pretty heavy exposure to Spanish. I’ve only visited Japan and China.4) Wow…Well, for me, I feel I can speak a language when I can have relaxed, uninterrupted conversations with people and when I can listen to the radio and comprehend. I say I "can speak Spanish, but not fluently" (even though I’ve been told by native speakers that I’m fluent, there are too many topics on which I can’t speak comfortably, and I still trip over conjugations), that I "speak some Mandarin" and that I "speak a little Japanese". I wouldn’t call myself fluent in any language but English. I’d be up for an interview in Spanish.

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