Seeking advice

General discussion about learning languages
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TrioLinguist
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Seeking advice

Postby TrioLinguist » Tue Mar 14, 2017 12:45 am

Hello all. I'm new on this forum and as the title reveals, I'm looking for some advice on two matters. Here goes:

First of all, I've been looking into extensive reading recently, and while I'm keen on it for German, I've got some concerns which primarily reside in my compulsion to look up every uncertain word in the dictionary, even if I could deduce its meaning from context. As it stands now, I already read in a way that I'll first read through a chapter for uncertain words and look them up, then the next day, reread it and hope I didn't forget any of those words by then. And if I do forget the translation and definition(s) from a monolingual dictionary, it just plain bothers to let it go, and I end up repeating the paragraph multiple times and still continuing slower than usual due to this elusive word my brain hangs onto. Perhaps this is more of a psychiatric issue. :lol:

Nevertheless, if you have any tips or remarks for me there, I'd appreciate it.

Secondly, what do you think of the pedagogical value of writing in a foreign language? Is it something worth making an effort to do? I also want to ask, what exactly does one write? Just writing whatever isn't really my cup of tea and I don't write in English unless I have a specific aim (like this inquiry right here, an email, etc.). All in all, I like the idea of writing, but I don't know how to approach this.
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emk
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby emk » Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:42 am

TrioLinguist wrote:First of all, I've been looking into extensive reading recently, and while I'm keen on it for German, I've got some concerns which primarily reside in my compulsion to look up every uncertain word in the dictionary, even if I could deduce its meaning from context. As it stands now, I already read in a way that I'll first read through a chapter for uncertain words and look them up, then the next day, reread it and hope I didn't forget any of those words by then. And if I do forget the translation and definition(s) from a monolingual dictionary, it just plain bothers to let it go, and I end up repeating the paragraph multiple times and still continuing slower than usual due to this elusive word my brain hangs onto. Perhaps this is more of a psychiatric issue. :lol:

That is not extensive reading. That is intensive reading. :lol:

What you need to do is divide up your time. Set aside some time for intensive reading, and use the rest for extensive reading. Put aside your dictionary and just read. If you don't know what something means, just guess or ignore it and keep going. (I mean, assuming you understand enough that you can at least enjoy yourself.) If you want—and if you're willing to commit sacrilege by making a mark in a book—you can take an 0.5 mm mechanical pencil and lightly underline any words that you're interested about. And you can look them up later. On a Kindle, you can highlight a word, or maybe glance quickly at the popup dictionary. Sometimes. If you promise to keep reading.

The goal here is volume. Specifically, your first goal is about 500 pages, and your second goal is about 2,500 total. By 500 pages you'll probably be able to more-or-less read, and by 2,500 you'll probably be semi-comfortable. (By 7,500 I could read half as fast as I read in English. That's about 20 novels.)

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but you can sometimes learn more from sheer volume that you can learn from spending all your study time with a dictionary. Your brain was built to learn languages. It's what humans do. But your brain needs sheer volume of input to work its magic, and if you never give enough volume, that magic will never happen.

A couple of years ago, I tried to explain my pet theory about why extensive activities were important. There's a graphic from that post that I repost every couple of months, and I think I'm about due for another repost. ;-)

Image

The three circles represent how well you comprehend the language. In the beginning, it's opaque. With sufficient effort, you figure out how to more-or-less decipher things, but it's slow and awkward work. But eventually, the goal is to just look at the language and understand it automatically and effortlessly, the way you understand your native language.

There's a lot of ways to get from "Opaque" to "Decipherable." That's what intensive reading is about, and why you look some stuff up in the dictionary. But to really internalize the language, you need to go from "Decipherable" to "Automatic", and you don't do that by looking everything up every time. You need to consolidate what you know and make it automatic. There comes a point where you need to plunge ahead and to trust that your brain still knows how to learn a language.

Of course, you can still set aside time for intensive activities. There's always something new and tricky to learn, and the dictionary can still help. But you need those extensive activities, too.
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby AK47 » Tue Mar 14, 2017 4:15 am

+1 with ^

I'm a big fan of the Kindle because you can read "semi-intensively". You make sure you just glance at the meaning quickly, and keep on reading, so at the same time you're getting in a lot of volume. I'd agree that sheer volume is very effective, at least for many people.
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby DaveBee » Tue Mar 14, 2017 9:12 am

emk wrote:I know it seems counter-intuitive, but you can sometimes learn more from sheer volume that you can learn from spending all your study time with a dictionary. Your brain was built to learn languages. It's what humans do. But your brain needs sheer volume of input to work its magic, and if you never give enough volume, that magic will never happen.

A couple of years ago, I tried to explain my pet theory about why extensive activities were important. There's a graphic from that post that I repost every couple of months, and I think I'm about due for another repost. ;-)
This is something I needed to hear. Thanks EMK! :-)
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby blaurebell » Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:02 am

E
emk wrote:I know it seems counter-intuitive, but you can sometimes learn more from sheer volume that you can learn from spending all your study time with a dictionary. Your brain was built to learn languages. It's what humans do. But your brain needs sheer volume of input to work its magic, and if you never give enough volume, that magic will never happen.


I agree with this in general! However, I think the problem is also to determine the best point to start with extensive reading. I think with Spanish I started way too early and I may understand a lot, but not enough to feel comfortable with audiobooks for example, even after 3000 pages of extensive reading. I feel like I'm missing too much of the literary vocabulary that my brain just registered as "some kind of landscape description" during extensive reading. And I think plugging these holes by just reading more with imprecise understanding would need such massive amount of input that it would be utterly inefficient. With French I found one Super Challenge worth of intensive reading - 5000 pages - to be the perfect basis and I can listen to most audiobooks and France culture without any problems. I feel I'm "swimming" much less with my French comprehension than with my Spanish where I never really did any kind of intensive reading. So, next year I'll throw in a Spanish intensive reading SC!

As for the OPs question: I can resist the urge to look things up much better when I don't even have any dictionary near me at all :D Good old-fashioned paper books on a park bench or on the beach are perfect for that. Just remember to leave your smartphone at home :lol: I also listen to audiobooks and radio documentaries a lot and never go back if I miss a word here and there.
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby iguanamon » Tue Mar 14, 2017 12:13 pm

Welcome to the forum, TrioLinguist!

One of my pet peeves here is incomplete information. Your profile shows that you are not a native-speaker of English. I wonder what your native language is? Anyway, about reading. You can't go wrong with emk's advice. One thing that often gets overlooked by learners when they start to read is a compromise between intensive and extensive reading- using parallel texts. Parallel texts are two column texts with L2 on the left and L1 on the right. On a tablet, the L2 text side can be enlarged to take up the whole screen and reduced to include both sides quite quickly. Either way is useful. There are several sources for pre-made texts online for many languages. You can even make them yourself. I am not advocating exclusive use of parallel texts to start reading, but they can be integrated to be a part of a reading strategy.

Image
TrioLinguist wrote:... what do you think of the pedagogical value of writing in a foreign language? Is it something worth making an effort to do? I also want to ask, what exactly does one write? Just writing whatever isn't really my cup of tea and I don't write in English unless I have a specific aim (like this inquiry right here, an email, etc.). All in all, I like the idea of writing, but I don't know how to approach this.

I do believe that writing helps to activate a language. Speaking, listening, writing and reading are all skills that inform and reinforce each other. I believe that, up to a point- probably B1, B2, writing for correction on a site like lang-8.com is useful in this regard. Search "writing prompts" on google. Thes can be found easily online and can give a learner many ideas for writing.

Some members here write their logs, or portions of their logs, in their TL's. While members on this forum almost never offer correction, it can be useful to get you into thinking about how to compose your thoughts. The research, work and thought involved in doing that can be very helpful to some people.
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby smallwhite » Tue Mar 14, 2017 1:43 pm

TrioLinguist wrote:I've got some concerns which primarily reside in my compulsion to look up every uncertain word in the dictionary

I look up every uncertain word, too, and find it better than back when I didn't. So mine's a choice and not a compulsion. But I do it differently from you. I extensive-read first without dictionary, then a couple of days later I sit at the computer to intensive-read the same book and look up words. This way, I'm happy to really extensive-read because I know I will look words up later.
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby Tomás » Tue Mar 14, 2017 2:01 pm

I do not enjoy intensive reading and don't do it. I would rather learn vocabulary with Anki, and just read exclusively in the "extensive" mode. I learn a lot of words with extensive reading and the ones I don't get I don't worry about--I will learn them later.
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby Cavesa » Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:55 pm

I agree with EMK wholeheartedly. I have had great experience and results with extensive reading. I would say that the first breakthrough can come earlier than after 500 pages and the second I strive for are 10000 pages, which is the point at which I get really comfortable (approximately) and it is a nice number to strive for :-D

Like Tomas, my experience with intensive reading has been quite disheartening, it is making me read much less. Yes, there is a lot of value to it, but it is really not the way many learners and especially most teachers present it like "intensive reading is good, extensive is a wayste of time, look how much you have retained after reading a book extensively compared to intesively". Extensive reading is not supposed to give you great results after one book. It is not supposed to be comfortable immediately. It is not supposed to be the lazy way to learn.

The key is the volume. If you want to compare the intensive and extensive activities, which I doubt none of the teaching "scientists" has done, compare results after a hundred hours spend on the activity, not after 100 pages. That would be interesting.

Of course extensive reading can be disheartening at first. Right now, I am not ready to read just extensively in German, fortunately readlang makes intensive reading quite bearable, so at least part of my reading is taken care of. It is an interesting experiment and it is still too early for me to judge the results. But I'll drop that as soon as I want to use my paper books, as looking things up all the time or writing them down is just too annoying and unpractical during my daily life. Extensive reading gives you benefits the intensive reading never can. Fluidity, speed, immersion, thinking in the language (which is a huge part of talking), natural feel for what is and isn't correct, and more, you are learning vocab in context and with a natural SRS. Intensive reading is probably more efficient for fast vocabulary acquisition, but so is alarger anki deck.

If you want to try extensive reading, start with something easier. A good quality translation of a book you know (and like of course) is a great choice. There is nothing shameful about reading translations at first. If you mean it with language learning and want to get to high levels, you will needto read so many books that a few translations will be just a drop in the lake ;-)
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Re: Seeking advice

Postby Allison » Tue Mar 14, 2017 4:26 pm

On the purely practical advice side of things, for extensive reading, I have two suggestions: put up barriers between you and the ability to look up words and use a timer.

If you're reading a physical book, put any dictionaries in another room, preferably with a closed door between you. If you're reading electronically and ordinarily have access to a electronic dictionary, change the default dictionary to one for a language you don't understand. This way, if you're tempted to reach for the dictionary or click on a word to look it up (and I know those things can be pretty automatic), there's another chance for you to remind yourself, "wait, I'm doing extensive reading now, back to the text."

Using a timer for tasks that I'm having difficulty with has helped me to both focus on doing the task for X minutes and, just as importantly, know that there's an endpoint soon. Of course, if you are enjoying yourself after X minutes reading extensively, you can continue, but if not, you can switch to intensive or any other activity and do another X minutes tomorrow.

As for writing, I'm still figuring it out myself, but I do tend to think it's useful. Personally, I can be a little more creative and flexible and stretch myself in my writing than my speaking because I have the time to think about things or look things up. I think both corrected and uncorrected writing has its place, and I second the recommendation for lang-8 up to a certain point and for texts of a reasonably short length. If you're looking for topics to write about, what you're reading tends to be an easy choice for me: retelling the plot, reacting to the plot like the characters are real people whose actions I have opinions about, criticizing the writing.
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