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wushijiao

Some Thoughts on Polyglottery

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wushijiao
yeah, Cyrillic script, like the very similar Greek script is quite easy, but that's not my point: it slows you down considerably at the beginning, so if you have a language

- whose vocabulary is quite alien to you due to a small number of cognates in languages you already know (or whose cognates are obscured due to language change as in the case of Slavic)

- whose script requires more processing

I think these are all valid points chrix. I remember when i went to Russia and it would take me ten seconds to sound out an unfamiliar Russian words that had 15+ letters! :D The process was certainly slower than it would have been for a language using the Roman alphabet.

But, I think there are two factors to keep in mind:

1) the issue of time spent doing the language, and drills to combat difficulty (as I mentioned above)

2) the issue of language learning methodology. When I learned Russian in high school, my teacher was very much of the old school grammar translation tradition. 95% of the homework I did was about the declensions of certain cases, or the conjugation of certain verbs, and flashcard work. I memorized a lot of charts, and memorized the exceptions to the rule. I would love to say that I hated this method, but actually, I found the grammar exercises of case declensions to be a bit fun, perhaps not unlike doing puzzles or crosswords on a boring day. However, I also noticed that when time was of the essence and I had to produce language quickly (when speaking) my mind often could not think fast enough to cope with the speed, even if I could grammatically speak correctly when time was not a factor.

That has led me to think that if I took a strategy in learning Russian that more mirrored my Chinese learning strategy (obsession with audio, lots of extensive reading, lots of TV/movies, with grammar review mainly serving as a complement to the audio/reading), how things might be different. I would predict that: 1) I would have a more intuitive and quick sense of declensions, 2) I would be introduced to a lot of new vocabulary aurally, which, I think, would minimize the slowing-down factor of script, because words that you know are much easier to read in a different script compared to unfamiliar words.

That why for Hindi I plan to do (and am doing) a lot of audio work combined with texts. So, while I agree that there's no way to avoid some sort of slowing down due to script, I'm also interested in to what extent doing lots of audio can help in facilitating the reading process.

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querido
I’ve become aware of the work of Professor Alexander Arguelles, via his website. In the last few days, I’ve watched most of his many videos on Youtube.

Those are worth checking out.

I'd like to share here what I think about his method. This is only what *my* pea-brain distills from his videos:

#1. Muscle-memory. Training "muscle memory" is front and center.

#2. Look-ahead. While we try to remember everything of course, most of us (I think) hold onto a moving block, an interval with the latest lesson at the leading edge and trailing off into a past which is eventually memorized. His method moves this block so that the current lesson is somewhere in the middle, with a trail off into a memorized past, but also a reaching into a future that is not yet understood. His method is one way to organize this moving block into overlapping layers.

#3. Skill-oriented. I've wanted to look-ahead more, mainly by listening and reading. With this I can begin to collect *knowlege*, but not *skills*. I see his method as one of organized physical mimickery, stepping into future *skills* and overlaying that with *knowlege* via the steps he describes. (Yes, he's looking at text the whole time, but it's the speaking aloud that distinguishes his system above all, to me.)

Conclusion: I would normally stick to "massive intelligible input", but despite first grade literacy I remain mysteriously far from useable language. I acknowlege the value of the above three points for me in particular, but haven't tried his method itself. I posted to recommend the videos and ideas.

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gerri

Been following this thread and can't believe I haven't ditched in - must be the realization that I've gained insight into a lot of languages, but am only able to use three...

Two thoughts:

One, the description of the "moving block" of knowledge with an element of looking ahead reminds me a bit of what the positive psychologists have been saying about "flow:" how flow can be achieved when you do something that is at a skill level that is neither boringly easy, nor disappointingly difficult, but on the edge in between - using gained skills well while being a bit challenging... Wonder how well that holds true for studying languages.

I sure notice that my problem with Chinese (apart from too easily being kept from sitting down and practicing) is that I can understand lesson 40, progressing linearly am on lesson 22, and when it comes to writing and speaking, feel like I'm forgetting lesson 10...

Secondly, since script has been mentioned - I wonder if anyone (else) here has given Tibetan a try. I find its combination of an essentially phonetic script with a "spelling" of words in which the phonetics don't really help at all the hardest I've found so far. (The way it is, when you see a word in writing, it does tell you how to pronounce it - but as there are different ways of arriving at the same pronunciation, and some differences aren't all that, well, pronounced, you need to learn the words' writing more like Chinese characters...). Almost makes Russian seem easy. Only almost, unfortunately. I've been forgetting the little I had learnt very rapidly...

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chrix

I haven't looked at Tibetan, but I've found the Thai script quite hard for the same reason. Many variants for the same sounds, different sound values according to position, no spacing between words, and the tones are also not marked in a straightforward way. Oh oh oh....

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atitarev

I can't believe you two people Chrix and Wushijiao, learning Chinese saying that a different script, not logograms but a phonetic script makes a serious obstacle to learning a language.

At first, if you are not learning the language at all, a different script is a problem. By looking at Vietnamese and Thai words, which are about equally difficult for a Western learner, you can learn some Vietnamese words just by looking at them, if you know how to pronounce. But if you a serious student, problems with foreign scripts are overcome in days or weeks, not months or years, making it only a small portion of the total time spent on the language.

The proof for my theory is the ratings of language difficulties made by American universities, languages with different alphabets don't pose a serious problem, it's other factors. Chinese and Japanese and some scripts, which don't provide information for reading are a different story. I also don't think a polyglot would say "a language uses a xxx alphabet, that's why it's too hard to learn."

Wushijiao, please tell me how long do you think you need to master Devanagari? Also, did you consider, apart from your theory, making list of words, which are similar to English - proper names, loanwords, etc.? They are, in my opinion, a good method to speed up learning a foreign alphabet.

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wushijiao
I posted to recommend the videos and ideas.

Thanks, querido. It's nice to put the focus back on Arguelles's work- his thoughts on polyglottery and his videos, which contain a lot of unorthodox and interesting ideas. I've used a modified version of his scriptorium, for example. Also, good metaphors! Perhaps the systematic combining of skills with new knowledge is a good way to retain info?

gerri- glad you weighed in. :mrgreen: I hope anyone who is interested in polyglottery does (since at this point it's more of an aspiration than a reality for me as well!)

As far as retaining info, this is something I've been thinking a lot about. I've noticed with myself that if I do a minimal amount of studying, say, 15-30 minutes of one chapter, I might remember 75% the next day. If I do an hour of studying, the percentage might go down to 50%, and after two hours the percentage may dip even further. However, the total amount of things remembered in large amounts of studying is overall greater than the relatively minimal amounts of studying.

This reminds me a bit of all those magazines that claim that "walking" is the best fat burner, because it burns a high percentage of calories from fat. They ignore the fact that more intense forms of exercise (running, swimming) burn a much lower amount of calories from fat, but the overall about of calories burnt is dramatically higher- so much so that the total amount of calories is greater and so is the amount of calories burnt from fat.

I'm not sure if this analogy makes sense, but for me at least, I've found that it's better to cover a relatively large amount of materials, perhaps with a low degree of efficiency, and then to cover it often and cross-reference it with similar materials, rather than getting a particular lesson down pat. Of course, other people are different. Arguelles seems to prefer studying in intense 20 minute segments, per language, for example.

As far as Tibetan, I think the issue is that the script was accurate to the spoken language several centuries ago, but the spoken language has since moved on, while the spellings have not. Right?

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chrix

It is a serious issue, it's a processing issue. If you grew up with the Latin script, you can do chunking more easily than with other scripts. It takes quite an effort to achieve this stage with scripts you're not familiar with. You don't know my background. To me, hanzi were easier to process because I grew up with kanji...

It's all about priorities. If I had unlimited time, I could spend a lot of time to focus on the Cyrillic script, for instance, but if I just want to spend a few hours each week to familiarise myself with a Slavic language, Russian just won't make the cut....

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wushijiao
Wushijiao, please tell me how long do you think you need to master Devanagari? Also, did you consider, apart from your theory, making list of words, which are similar to English - proper names, loanwords, etc.? They are, in my opinion, a good method to speed up learning a foreign alphabet.

It depends. In the most basic sense, maybe a few days to a week. Although, there are certain silent letters and pronunciations that don't quite match the script, and there are combined letters, all of which I don't know 100% right now. Also, another complication is that Hindi has retroflex consonants and aspirated consonants, and it could be that when I read these words in my head, I might forget to pronounce these correctly.

However, this is nothing that can't be overcome with good audio exposure and time spent, I believe/hope.

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gerri
It's all about priorities. If I had unlimited time, I could spend a lot of time to focus on the Cyrillic script, for instance, but if I just want to spend a few hours each week to familiarise myself with a Slavic language, Russian just won't make the cut....

Most definitely, it's about priorities.

For me, the interest is (would be, ahem) Russian itself. I haven't done anything to retain it for a while (I guess getting podcasts and a dictionary and then using neither doesn't count...), but I find the different script and the challenge of different printed and hand-written script rather enticing.

My priority, however, is the language itself, and communication ability, not the grammar and/or insight into the Slavic language family in general.

I feel like I'm getting a bit too old to be floating around, so trying to finally focus on the few languages I find most interesting/useful - and as a cultural anthropologist and not a linguist, usefulness is in communication.

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atitarev
I find the different script and the challenge of different printed and hand-written script rather enticing.

I feel the same, Gerri. I won't learn new languages either. I've got too many to work with as it is.

As Wushijiao said, to master a new script takes about a week of pure time, I agree. I learned Katakana by writing names of people I know in it or city names.

After this it's like you solve what seems to be a mystery to others, isn't that beautiful? If you can read it out loud, even without understanding.

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chrix

I feel like we're still talking past each other. Nobody is denying that learning the Russian script is easy. In fact, I've been able to read it since junior high school. But, getting used to it in such a degree that you can take chunks of it automatically, like you do with your "native script", takes a lot of time...

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renzhe

As with anything else, it is a matter of practice.

I was lucky enough to learn the Cyrillic script as a kid in school, and I can still read it without any problems (my mother tongue can be written in both scripts). I'm considerably slower when reading it, though.

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wushijiao

Also, just to bring the discussion around full circle, in Arguelles's conception of polygloterry:

"Polyglottery can and should involve the study of widely disparate languages as well.....As for the Great Books aspect of Polyglottery, this is also a logical return to the not-so-distant past, when philologists such as the brothers Grimm, Rask, F. Max Mueller, and others not only studied grammar but also folklore, the history of religions, and literature - in other words, when scholars in the humanities and the social sciences had a much broader range than they do in the hyper-specialized reality of today."

Under this conception of polyglottery, one can and should choose a variety of languages that come from some of the world's great civilizations (with their literary traditions, history, religion...etc). Some languages that immediately come to mind are Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Arabic, Latin, Sanskrit, Greek...and of course there are many others. The point is, though: if you choose a decent variety of languages to study (granted, over many decades) you'll almost inevitably have to choose languages that don't use the Roman alphabet, and therefore, learning new scripts/writing systems will be a necessity (as in Chinese). In any case, I agree with chrix that we're all pretty much saying the same thing about scripts, just emphasizing different aspects of it.

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gerri

Well, I finally remember why I chose cultural anthropology as my major, not just languages - language is the tool to really immerse in cultures, a means, not an end (to me). Though sometimes I wonder if that was so good (of course, doing the reverse, it would be the same feeling).

And, there is the reason why it's not looking like I'll really be getting into academia the way I'd like to: hyper-specialization. My specialty would be drawing connections... not really popular.

More to the point:

Does anyone, perchance, know studies on motivation of Chinese (or, for that matter, Japanese, Tibetan or Indian languages) learners? I also have heard (at least of) a few too many "I study Japanese because I love manga"-students and would wonder what reasons people have... Shall we put up a poll here, at least?

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chrix

gerri, also popular in the US is "I wanna have a Japanese girlfriend". Some guys even wear T-shirt saying 日本人彼女募集中 "now accepting applications for the position of Japanese girlfriend".

I know what you mean. I've met quite a few anthropologists in the field that have gone native. Linguists stay a bit more reserved, though some end up marrying their language consultants (not me though, as mine are largely middle-aged men :mrgreen: )

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atitarev

Talking about polyglots, is there a simpler term in Chinese? I can only find descriptions like 通晓数种语言的人 or 通数国语文的人 (for humans).

As for foreign scripts, if you learn a language seriously and have read and written enough in it - not just separate phrases or words but books or many articles/stories, reaching an automatic recognition is not a big problem. If you learned it in the past and stopped using, then this automatism will go away.

I am not denying that what you grow with, you know better and you can read your native script automatically but then, do we choose a language by the easiness of the script or our interests or necessities?

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chrix

well atitarev, this is a thread where we discuss our personal strategies, and yes, I happen to do that. I like to study a lot of languages superficially to get a feeling about how they work, usually working with a grammatical description, and in such circumstances, an unfamiliar script just slows you down. Chacun à son goût..

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wushijiao

As 2009 comes to an end, here's basically where I'm at:

Hindi

-On the last chapter of Teach Yourself Hindi (although a lot of review will of course be needed over the next few months).

-Bought Beginner's Hindi, but found it somewhat boring.

-Bought Hindi: Living Language, went through three chapters. I found it to be well made and useful, but not as engaging as Teach Yourself. So, I'll use that as a supplement (以TYS為主,以LL為輔).

Urdu

-On chapter five of Teach Yourself Urdu. I've found it to be a great resource, but I couldn't quite understand the script from the book's explanation.

-Therefore, also bought Let's Study Urdu: An Introduction to the Script, and now I'm basically able to read Urdu (although that process will still take some months to get good at, almost like learning Chinese characters).

Pali

-Took a course on this, but found the course to be painful in its outdated methods.

Goals for first half of 2010

Overall: I hope that somehow I can scrounger up an amazing amount of energy, and I'll push it into this project of the next year. Some tentative goals:

Hindi

-Continue to review Teach Yourself by listening 30 minutes to an hour per day.

- Listen to Beginner's Hindi and Living Language as sidekicks to Teach Yourself.

-Try to complete Intermediate Hindi Reader (main goal).

-Review Introduction to Hindi Grammar.

Urdu

-Finish Teach Yourself (another main goal).

-Do plenty of flashcard work.

Second half of 2009

This is a bit harder to predict (since my progress may or may not be as fast as I hope), but I hope to:

-Take a trip to remote places in northern India to use language.

-Take many months and try to finish a novel.

-Watch lots of Bollywood movies. Find one or two movies (maybe Lagaan), and watch certain short scenes in detail, and watch them repeatedly.

-Try to complete An Advanced Urdu reader, with audio

Pali

-Maybe pick this up, if time/interest permit.

Spanish

-Listen to BBC's Mundo a few times per week.

-Read at least one novel in Spanish in 2010, and maybe an audiobook or two.

Other?

Since I'll have a relatively large amount of free time and lots of energy (hopefully), and since it would be interesting to see how far I can go in the polyglottery project, I was thinking that it might be good to also put down a base in another language...most likely either French or Tibetan.

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gato
most likely either French or Tibetan.

French is too easy. Tibetan may be too obscure. How about Russian?

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gerri

Just as a note: The "Manual of Standard Tibetan" (by Tournadre and Dorje) is very well written. I just wish I could find the videos they made to accompany the lessons (were on Tibetan-Himalayan Digital Library, feed can still be found in iTunes, for example, but with some restructuring, the Himalayan Digital Library now shows the data, but does not actually have the material online).

Kinda strange consideration, honestly. French would be rather easy, especially if you have some basis in another Romance language; Tibetan .... well, I'm tempted to simply say "it's a bitch." Interesting and challenging, nonetheless ;)

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