How long for fluency?

Common question… variable answers. It all depends on what the learner considers fluent, which language they are learning, the environment they are learning in, how motivated they are, how often they study, and so and so forth. Let’s set the ground rules at 2 hours study per day. Not unrealistic if you consider the Borrowing Time post and the Power of the Schedule. Everybody can make at least an hour free everyday, most people can find 2 hours if they try just a little bit…. Stop reading about language study and start studying the language! ha So, 2 hours a day = 14 hours per week = around 60 hours per month (…720 hours per year) Using the CEFR as an overarching statement and taking what’s in the DELF/DALF site into account, along with the FSI language scales, let’s take a closer look: A1 takes 75 hours (6 weeks on our study plan) A2 takes 150 hours (11 weeks) B1, 300 hours (5 months) B2, 450 hours (7.5 months) C1+, 600+ hours (10 months +) These are estimates for what FSI call Category 1 languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Swedish, etc)… and are pretty dependent on the variables mentioned above. The most I could personally study per day is 4 hours, so that would mean the time in months would be halved….. hypothetically. There’s also the issue that some people use their time more efficiently than others. Much more efficiently.. and that can come with experience. The above is perhaps for the more inexperienced learner. Looking at my own study methods, what used to take me 2 hours to cover is something I could probably cover in 30 minutes these days. I used to be an inexperienced learner, but now a small investment of time can yield great results. This comes with practice and through refining techniques. For myself, I guess it would take circa 400 hours to reach C1 in a Category 1 language. (I will run an experiment on this so we’ll see how accurate I am… Once my research is finished and I can make a commitment to a new language, which will leave me with Italian, Portuguese or Catalan as the only languages in Category 1 that I have zero experience with. I have a fairly limited exposure to Spanish so that may be the candidate). Keep in mind that the language categories are directed at languages and their relationship with English, so if you know languages vastly different to English, the more difficult categories may actually prove easier. But to keep with the English monolingual theme, lets just say the following: Category 1+ languages (German, Indonesian, Malay,...

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What is Fluency?

Are you fluent? It’s a pretty simple question. The answers are more than subjective. To a non-language learner there seems to be the consensus that this question is a definitive yes or no. So not true. Everybody has their own interpretation of what fluency is and while there is a switch in all of us that can flick on or off when we reach our interpretation of fluency, it’s not easily defined across the board. Yes, we can look at something like CEFR or ILR scales (both in the Language Proficiency Scales post) but they’re still open to subjective analysis. For me, fluency is a matter of being able to speak freely about any subject I’m interested in. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not too concerned with accuracy and accept that making mistakes is the norm… Many native speakers make mistakes quite often if you listen closely. I take for granted that I will also be able to read and write with ease, and obviously, if I can speak, then listening is also thrown in. But why only subjects I’m interested it? Well, because if it’s a subject I’m not particularly interested in, then I’m not likely to want to contribute to the conversation at this stage anyway. The different between fluency and advanced fluency is being able to contribute meaningfully in conversations that don’t particularly interest me. And perhaps more importantly, an overall accuracy and nuance in my usage. I can only do this in English… and it will take me a long time to reach this level in any other language I feel. Somewhat interestingly, I read on I Kinda Like Languages recently, that Kato Lomb – the Hungarian polyglot – devised a simple test to check your profiency in any language. There are 4 categories with 4 words in each. Category 1 words are worth 1 point each, Category 2 are 2 points each, Category 3 are 3, and 4 are 4. I’m a little uncertain on how to actually determine your language level, but I guess the closer you are to the 40 point max, then the more of a superstar you are. Anyway, the words… Category 1: the moon, to buy, wide, free Category 2: a blow, to enjoy, suddenly, grateful Category 3: a straw, to promote, rigidly, significant Category 4: brass, to browse, obstinately, enthusiastic I see this as being quite useful for assessing your knowledge of a language. Not for necessarily assessing fluency per se, but still…...

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Study Methods: Power of the Schedule

Planning your time and using it effectively, this is how we learn a language successfully. It’s not exactly that complicated but it is something that a lot of people neglect. To use the exercise analogy, it’s better to do a little a lot than a lot a little. Meaning… 15 mins a day for a total of 105 minutes per week is probably going to be a lot more effective than 105 minutes one day a week. Personally, I like 20-25 minute blocks of study as I find this optimal for me. My wife finds 40 minute blocks suit her learning a lot better. Each to their own… experiment with what works best for you and above all else, just be consistent. Even 5 minutes a day reviewing vocabulary is better than nothing! The main idea of this post isn’t just about consistency though, it’s about planning. The majority of people complain about not having enough time to study consistently and this is why they don’t succeed to their full potential. Your best bet for success is to make a plan and stick with. If you’re one of these people that struggle to study after work or at the end of the day because you’re exhausted, get up 30 minutes earlier and get out your learning material. Idealistically, I love studying in the morning because I can theoretically do nothing for the rest of the day and feel like I have accomplished something. Unfortunately, I learn more efficiently in the evening… so it takes more motivation on my part to stick with an evening schedule. Alas, poor me… If you are someone that honestly has no time for a schedule…. ahuh, right!! …then you should have a look at the Borrowing Time article. You’ll get some ideas of how to squeeze more out of your day. But above else… just make a plan and be consistent with your learning. A small commitment everyday will get you there in the end a la Tortoise and the...

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Using L2 for L3

Just some thoughts on learning a foreign language through another learned language. If English is your L1, many people only attempt to learn another language through English. And that’s fair enough, but it might not be the most practical if you have other tools at your disposal. Professor Arguelles strongly suggests people that dream of being a polyglot learn French and German. With English, French and German at your disposal there is a wealth of material available for the language learner. The same could also be true for Japanese and Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Korean. But this is the argument for using a L2 because of materials access and availability. How about using your L2 to learn L3… or L3 to learn L4 even? Sometimes it is just more practical and efficient. If you’re an English speaker that has studied Spanish to a high level for instance, would it make more sense to learn Portuguese or Italian through English, or to learn them through Spanish? My vote would be Spanish because of all of those similarities in grammar and vocabulary. My own personal example is for using Korean as  tool for studying Japanese, again, due to grammatical similarities and the large cross-over in vocabulary due to the Chinese influence. It’s not just a matter of making it easier for yourself though, there are other things to consider. Like what things? Well, in using your L2 to learn L3 you’re going to appreciate the finer details of your L2. You will effectively be learning your L2 in more depth by studying your L3. These are things I have found with my own studies. Through elementary level Japanese study I consolidated and clarified things in Korean I already knew but didn’t really know. You may learn things you never knew, you may have a few a-ha moments when you finally understand something that you have been using but didn’t really know the why behind it, or you may just find it more time-efficient because of the similarities. There are of course negatives that include misunderstandings of explanation and what-not, but you do always have the dictionary option to cross-check anything you’re not certain of. But basically, what I’m mainly talking about is using a language that is similar to one you are learning to lessen the burden. It doesn’t have to stop there though. Professor Arguelles’ suggestion of learning French or German first is a valid one. Even if these languages aren’t similar to the one you are studying, due to the quality of materials available they may still be the best option. I know a number of people that have learned English and now use it learn...

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Bilingual Children and Literacy

As a follow-up to the Multilingual Children post a while back, this is a question we’ve been pondering lately… How do you develop and maintain literacy in the home language without formal instruction? The obvious way as we are both teachers is to actively teach our son how to write and give him written tasks as he progresses… but that’s unrealistic. The last thing we want to do is have Leon resenting English when we’re in Korea (where English will be the home language). Sure, he’ll be exposed to English in the education system or should we choose, a private institute… but since his English level is likely to be higher than his peers, that’s also kind of unrealistic. We have no issues when it comes to taking care of the other skills – listening, speaking and reading – and their development as to take care of them is obvious. Read and talk, just like any parent does. Meta-linguistic transfer should take place to assist with reading skills across the board. The only concern is the writing as it’s a different alphabet, and a direct transfer cannot take place. So our dilemna is purely related to English writing skills that are going to be comparable to his development in the community language, or Korean. I’ll be interested to hear from others that have been raised bilingually (or are raising kids bilingually) and have successfully developed written literacy in their home...

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