How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Jiwon » Thu May 21, 2020 5:45 pm

Voytek wrote:
Hashimi wrote:In addition to what [tarvos] said about the need to work more on your grammar in this stage, it should be noted that there is one subtle aspect of second language acquisition that often escape both formal instruction and self-study: prosody and intonation. Advanced learners usually learn vocabulary and grammar well and carefully, but seldom pronunciation to a sufficient degree. Many of them even think it is unnecessary to practice pronunciation on the false belief that they will never succeed anyway, particularly not with the prosody (rhythm and intonation of speech), which is the most important thing to learn if you want to get a near-native, or at least a listener-friendly, pronunciation with a good communicative function.


And there are some "polyglots" who mainly focus on this element to fool everybody they're at a near-native level.


I wouldn't go far as to say that having perfect prosody and intonation is an attempt to fool anyone. It is one element that does stand out the most to people who are not familiar with foreign languages, and some people may be upset that those who only work on pronunciation get the most spotlight. But I think any accomplishment in this area is something to be applauded, rather than scorned at, especially given how many people fail to change their prosody and intonation.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Voytek » Thu May 21, 2020 11:07 pm

Jiwon wrote:
Voytek wrote:
Hashimi wrote:In addition to what [tarvos] said about the need to work more on your grammar in this stage, it should be noted that there is one subtle aspect of second language acquisition that often escape both formal instruction and self-study: prosody and intonation. Advanced learners usually learn vocabulary and grammar well and carefully, but seldom pronunciation to a sufficient degree. Many of them even think it is unnecessary to practice pronunciation on the false belief that they will never succeed anyway, particularly not with the prosody (rhythm and intonation of speech), which is the most important thing to learn if you want to get a near-native, or at least a listener-friendly, pronunciation with a good communicative function.


And there are some "polyglots" who mainly focus on this element to fool everybody they're at a near-native level.


I wouldn't go far as to say that having perfect prosody and intonation is an attempt to fool anyone. It is one element that does stand out the most to people who are not familiar with foreign languages, and some people may be upset that those who only work on pronunciation get the most spotlight. But I think any accomplishment in this area is something to be applauded, rather than scorned at, especially given how many people fail to change their prosody and intonation.


That's why I said some "polyglots". And I do not scorn anyone who makes a weird impression some parrots do.

The first step for improving your pronunciation is to be aware of the foreign sounds in the target language and learning how to distinguish them if necessary. Toying with minimal pairs is really helpful here (unless there aren't any, then I suppose only a tutor and mimicking may help). Then it's only about learning how to produce those foreign sounds, keep listening (and practicing production if you really feel you need it). I've improved my English pronunciation massively just by being aware of the all native sounds and reading while listening to the audio at the same time. I never cared about my prosody which is obviously non native, but I've been mistaken for a native English speaker (by some natives too) and many people from the UK have told me my pronunciation was very clear and nice to listen to.

Therefore I consider a strong emphasize on learning pronunciation/prosody as something I could call "purism" or "parroting" if it lacks strong foundation and a deep understanding and mastery of the language. So you're right making yourself effortless to listen to is very important (we want people to listen to us eagerly) but trying to go beyond it is an individual matter and sometimes it's just vanity and a childish need to impress other people which may be harmful to other language learners who are struggling with their first foreign language acquisition.

When I was at a level C1 my pronunciation was bad though I could get by and I've seen/listened to a lot of non native English speakers who were advanced students but listening to them was just... unpleasant. I really advocate improving pronunciation to the level which makes listening to you at least painless.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Jiwon » Fri May 22, 2020 3:42 pm

Voytek wrote: The first step for improving your pronunciation is to be aware of the foreign sounds in the target language and learning how to distinguish them if necessary. Toying with minimal pairs is really helpful here (unless there aren't any, then I suppose only a tutor and mimicking may help). Then it's only about learning how to produce those foreign sounds, keep listening (and practicing production if you really feel you need it). I've improved my English pronunciation massively just by being aware of the all native sounds and reading while listening to the audio at the same time. I never cared about my prosody which is obviously non native, but I've been mistaken for a native English speaker (by some natives too) and many people from the UK have told me my pronunciation was very clear and nice to listen to.

Therefore I consider a strong emphasize on learning pronunciation/prosody as something I could call "purism" or "parroting" if it lacks strong foundation and a deep understanding and mastery of the language. So you're right making yourself effortless to listen to is very important (we want people to listen to us eagerly) but trying to go beyond it is an individual matter and sometimes it's just vanity and a childish need to impress other people which may be harmful to other language learners who are struggling with their first foreign language acquisition.

When I was at a level C1 my pronunciation was bad though I could get by and I've seen/listened to a lot of non native English speakers who were advanced students but listening to them was just... unpleasant. I really advocate improving pronunciation to the level which makes listening to you at least painless.


I think this is where Hashimi and I agree and you disagree. You never cared about your prosody, whereas Hashimi and I believe that it is an important part of language learning. Many "polyglots" seem to have this idea that (1) achieving native prosody is impossible; or (2) working on your prosody is just "parroting" or something that does not belong to "real language learning." They seem to resent the fact that people who "don't really speak the language" get the credit only because they "sound" like a native.

Hashimi was only pointing out how biased this perspective is. I too believe that it is an important part of learning any language. For example, I had a classmate who was much more diligent in Hindi, learnt more words and spent more time perfecting her grammar but just would not give up her Korean girl's prosody when speaking Hindi. She got distinctions between all the minimal pairs correct, and her knowledge of Indic languages was far superior to mine, because she was a Sanskritist. However, when it really came to using the language and speaking it with Indian people, everyone thought that I was better at Hindi than she was, only because I had a more native-like prosody - and that made all the difference. This was only because I spent a lot of time shadowing or "parroting" native speakers' intonations and prosody.

Obviously, my perspective is also biased, and this is mostly because of my musical background as an amateur singer/instrumentalist. The way I practise my speaking is very similar to the way I practise music-making. There is no "perfect" interpretation of Handel's Messiah, but I must know how to manipulate my voice or my instrument to produce the effect I want. You can hit all the right notes in perfect rhythm, but you won't be making "music" if you don't you learn how to express through the soundscape you create - and you will be guided by the composer's notes and conductor's directions on how you can achieve the optimal expression.

Similarly, yes, I agree that there is no one "perfect" accent or intonation, since even native speakers have their verbal idiosycracies. However, as a language learner, I can learn how native speakers make use of different rhythm patters, prosodies and intonations to create the soundscape of their own language. You can get all the right consonants and vowels and perfectly distinguish similar sounding phonemes, but unless you use them in the way native speakers's parlance "directs" you, you won't be "speaking" their language. I think of it as playing the Erhu as you would play a violin, without really respecting the sound aesthetics of Erhu and the music it was meant to play. I understand that it can be difficult for some people, but then there are those who don't even try to change their accent in a foreign language and claim that they can speak it.

I don't think we will be reaching any agreement here. You are free to think of me and other learners as "parrots" who are trying to "scam" other people into believing that I am fluent. I just find it ironic that the very people who strive to achieve perfect grammar and vocabulary are happy to "get by" when it comes to prosody and intonation. Some of those people even believe you shouldn't be satisfied with "getting understood" with broken grammar and poor circumvention. It just feels like people are over-valuing what they think they are capable of doing, and belittling what they think they are not able to achieve. Sour grapes. खट्टे अंगूर।
Last edited by Jiwon on Sat May 23, 2020 3:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby tarvos » Fri May 22, 2020 8:15 pm

Jiwon wrote:
Voytek wrote:
Hashimi wrote:In addition to what [tarvos] said about the need to work more on your grammar in this stage, it should be noted that there is one subtle aspect of second language acquisition that often escape both formal instruction and self-study: prosody and intonation. Advanced learners usually learn vocabulary and grammar well and carefully, but seldom pronunciation to a sufficient degree. Many of them even think it is unnecessary to practice pronunciation on the false belief that they will never succeed anyway, particularly not with the prosody (rhythm and intonation of speech), which is the most important thing to learn if you want to get a near-native, or at least a listener-friendly, pronunciation with a good communicative function.


And there are some "polyglots" who mainly focus on this element to fool everybody they're at a near-native level.


I wouldn't go far as to say that having perfect prosody and intonation is an attempt to fool anyone. It is one element that does stand out the most to people who are not familiar with foreign languages, and some people may be upset that those who only work on pronunciation get the most spotlight. But I think any accomplishment in this area is something to be applauded, rather than scorned at, especially given how many people fail to change their prosody and intonation.


I think prosody and intonation help a LOT with a lot of practical aspects when it comes to the language, including giving people a sense of comfort when you speak to them. I may make a grammar error or 2 but people are comfortable speaking to me and don't switch to English - and when that happens, problem solved :)

As for the sour grapes thing - people are petty. They've always got vested interests too.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Voytek » Sat May 23, 2020 12:06 am

tarvos wrote:I think prosody and intonation help a LOT with a lot of practical aspects when it comes to the language [...]


May I know what practical aspects you mean?

Could you share your experience in learning prosody and intonation? I only tried to repeatedly shadow 20 Swedish sentences for around 50 hours but the effects were rather poor so I gave up on it. If you has some advice on mastering Swedish intonation and prosody I would be grateful.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Voytek » Sat May 23, 2020 12:23 am

Jiwon wrote:[...]This was only because I spent a lot of time shadowing or "parroting" native speakers' intonations and prosody.
[...]


Please, kindly share your method on here, at least in a nutshell. I would be glad to learn more on this even though in my view communication is the key no matter what your grammar or intonation is (unless it heavily affects the meaning-Chinese, Thai etc.). The only thing I cannot forgive is not learning correct pronunciation since mispronouncing is oftentimes like speaking any language but your target one. My Thai girlfriend tends to mispronounce almost every English word and sometimes it gives me a hard time to get the point and frustrates the lady. And when I see/hear a non-native English speaking English teacher drilling mispronounced words with the students... the knife in my pocket opens.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Kamlari » Sat May 23, 2020 8:54 am

Voytek wrote:
tarvos wrote:I think prosody and intonation help a LOT with a lot of practical aspects when it comes to the language [...]


May I know what practical aspects you mean?


You're Polish.
Here are two foreigners (Japanese and Korean) speaking Polish. Both of them are pretty good. Spot the difference.
Ignacy z Japonii
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1S0M3r9N3AE
Janek Koreański
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx0WdunDwmQ
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Voytek » Sat May 23, 2020 10:14 am

Kamlari wrote:
Voytek wrote:
tarvos wrote:I think prosody and intonation help a LOT with a lot of practical aspects when it comes to the language [...]


May I know what practical aspects you mean?


You're Polish.
Here are two foreigners (Japanese and Korean) speaking Polish. Both of them are pretty good. Spot the difference.
Ignacy z Japonii
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1S0M3r9N3AE
Janek Koreański
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx0WdunDwmQ


The Japanese guy has a very good intonation, much better than the guy from Korea BUT the guy from Japan is a musician and Japanese prosody is much more "similar" to Polish than Korean. Still the baseline is they both can make themselves understood, the Korean guy sounds a bit funny though. I met a Vietnamese guy once whose intonation was still not perfect even though he had been living in Poland since he was 10 (when I met him he was 27) yet his grammar and vocabulary were excellent. BUT once again Vietnamese intonation is much less "similar" to Polish than Japanese but it didn't change the fact it was a pleasure (and a great surprise) to talk to that Vietnamese guy, far away from home, in Ho Chi Minh City.. I still don't see any real practical aspect of using correct intonation (unless I wanted to speak Chinese etc.) apart from sounding more "familiar" and impressing people.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby Adrianslont » Sat May 23, 2020 10:34 am

Good intonation, imho, is not a party trick. It actually makes you more intelligible.

It can be very wearing to listen to people with poor intonation - I pity people who have to put up with mine!

Intonation carries meaning even in languages that are not tonal - that meaning is spread across a clause. Most people on this forum probably know that but I wouldn’t mind a dollar for every time I’ve heard that intonation doesn’t carry meaning in English. Of course that meaning isn’t on the lexical level such as in Chinese but it is meaning nonetheless.

In English there are intonations that indicate statements or questions; show surprise, disbelief or uncertainty; offer invitations for your interlocutor to continue; flag the fact that you intend to continue; are used when reading lists and so on.

Learners ignore rhythm and intonation at their peril. They may be naturally good at it or they may have patterns in their L1 that don’t differ from the TL but they should at least pay some attention to the intonations they are listening to and using or they risk creating a bad impression.

I don’t see how you can be an advanced speaker of another language without having reasonably good rhythm and intonation - at least one that doesn’t confuse, annoy, bore or even offend your interlocutor too much.
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Re: How to study BETTER as an advanced learner?

Postby tarvos » Sat May 23, 2020 3:03 pm

The practical upshot of good intonation and prosody is that people are less likely to misunderstand you, especially in languages where intonation induces semantic meaning; they make it easier to convey emotion, which is very necessary, because this is often why foreigners can be perceived as rude or brusque; they make switching to English less likely, and that to me is a good thing, but it may be your goal; I find people open up more to a foreigner who makes an effort to speak the language, and you are socially treated much more like one of them rather than the outsider you are.

I think that's a fair amount of practical advantages, don't you :)

Personally, one of the main things I've noticed with non-native speakers of English, especially those languages whose tonality isn't that rich, is their tendency to be perceived as stoic. This, for example, is extremely common with Finnish accents; they're not stoic, or uninterested, but the native prosody carrying over makes it sound to an English speaker as if they just don't give a shit. Similarly not using the tag questions, small emotional nuances, etc, may make someone come across as rude, when in actual reality, that's just lack of mastery of the language.

It's something that I actually personally struggle with, because my partner is Finnish and she has a tendency to monotonely enunciate phrases rather than go up and down like an American or a Briton would. This makes her sound bored, when in actual fact she may be excited or nervous - it doesn't translate through her voice very well. Her grammar is nigh on impeccable, but THIS is what can cause misunderstandings. I have to repeat to myself that that is what is going on, and that she's not bored - she just speaks that way.
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