What was it like after you decided to come back

General discussion about learning languages
BeaP
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby BeaP » Tue Apr 26, 2022 7:27 am

I've stopped learning all of my languages several times. Reason: major life events (like a new job or business) that needed all my time and attention. I stopped learning English 15 years ago and don't plan to learn it again unless I need a CEFR certificate in the future. Reason: I've reached a level where I can use the language comfortably and effortlessly (without any repetition). Going on would mean a bad cost-benefit ratio. All my other languages are work in progress.

I've read in Kató Lomb's book that she felt that some languages lived inside her, while others she had to re-learn from her notes 4-5 days before an interpreting job. I remember I was shocked by the latter, I couldn't imagine how one can refresh a language from notes (like it was history or any other kind of data), but later I realised that she was right. In my experience the passive skills don't deteriorate over time, only the active skills become sort of rusty. If I look at vocabulary and grammar, the part used actively (for speaking and writing) is much smaller than the one used passively (just for understanding). And this small group of vocabulary and grammatical structures can be revised relatively quickly from a good textbook or well-prepared notes. Your speaking skill is not bad because you lack words like 'mantelpiece', it's bad because you can't say 'the top part of the fireplace'. What happens if you say 'got' instead of 'obtained'? Nothing. You'll be less eloquent, but equally fluent, effortless and comfortable. When I resume a language, I try to revise the basic things very quickly to gain back this fluency.

I don't know if it's a motor skill, I'm not sure, one point I can make in favour is that my pronunciation seems to suffer the most from long breaks. That can become really rusty, and only gets back to its original state after continued usage. This is true even for English: after a long hiatus I speak it with a thick Hungarian accent.

The study break is beneficial if you use it for something: relaxation, gathering new motivation, improving your health (mental as well) and focus, evaluating your methods and analysing your goals.
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Iversen
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby Iversen » Tue Apr 26, 2022 9:02 am

Coming back ... well, well, well. Been there, done that - prepare for one more long rant because there are quite a few languages to get through.

I got my final papers from the university in January 1981 and thus became a 'cand.mag', but soon realized that there weren't many jobs to get at the university level, and besides I could already then see that English would squeeze out many jobs and services in other languages both there and at less demanding levels. My main 'hovedfag' (main subject) was French, but I had also spent time taking courses in other languages like Latin, Italian, Catalan, Romanian plus a little bit of Icelandic. While I was near the end of my study time and in the period just after I also bought grammars and dictionaries and text books in some other languages, including Greek and Russian, but only just had a look at them - I didn't try to add new languages at that point. So in 1981 I could have fluent conversations in something like 8-9 languages and communicate less adequately in a couple more..

When I saw that my examen didn't point towards a glorious future I took the decision to stop all language learning, and the languages that survived that were mainly those I used for travelling or for watching TV - i.e. Danish (and the other Scandinavian languages), English, German, to some extent French and ... ironically my Spanish survived because I used it for travelling. I hadn't taken courses in it because the official courses at the Romance Institute were brimfull with ardent supporters af Che Guevara and similar unsavoury characters - so maybe it was just as well that that i avoided that. Part of the reason that I don't like literature today might be that I had taken a 'bifag' (lesser subject) in comparative and Modern literature (based on Danish, English and German - everything else in translations), where the prevalent ideology was heavily skewed towards fundamentalist socialism. If I had participated in the life at the Spanish section I might have hated Spanish too.

OK, then in 2006 I had booked a trip to Romania and Moldova and during my preparations accidentally hit upon HTLAL, where I noticed that some people knew a vast number of languages - even more than I did in 1981. And then I decided to brush up my Romanian. I had had 3 years of courses, 2 hours every week in Romanian, and the last two years I was the only student with a native teacher. I didn't make the 2006 voyage a monolingual trip yet, but using my old books I could revive the language well enough to have short conversations and to read things, and I have been fiercely monolingual in Romanian during all later visits to Romania.

Later the same year I booked a trip to Cabo Verde, where the main language is Portuguese (plus a local creole). Because my Spanish wasn't too bad at the time I simply had to push my newborn Portuguese to the level where I could have short conversations within a few weeks (all the time I had before departure), but already in 2007 I was staunchly monolingual when I visited Moçambique (except when the hotel tried to kick me out after two days because my agency at home had made an error - then we discussed the matter in English!), and I have been staunchly monolingual during every single Lusophone trip ever since.

When I returned home from Cabo Verde I began the process of updating the rest of my old languages, not least my Italian which had become quite rusty - but luckily there were many books in Italian and Spanish at the library, and I bought new dictionaries and grammars along the way. I don't remember exactly when I took up Latin again (which never had been an active language for me), but the first step was to get hold of a copy of the very first textbook I had used around 1970 - "Mikkelsens Lærebog". And I quickly got my grammar up and running again, while my active activities have been up and down sinde then. I did do a 5 minute lecture on tardigrades in Latin at one of the gatherings, but to be honest I don't spend much time on Latin right now. One important step was that I invented my wordlist layout around 2008, and without that I would be in serious trouble.

One curious semi-new language was Low German (or Platt). I had learnt to understand it by watching TV from NDR, but it was only during my 'second' wawe that I got hold of a small dictionary and some books. Right now I can just about write things in it when I have read some texts and keep my dictionary within reach, but it'll never become a language which I can speak fluently. The same about Scots, except that it has been even more difficult to get written texts there. My Dutch was at this level too in 1981 (after zero minutes of courses, but some reading and traveling). However I could find a lot of materials when I took it up again after 2010, and then I had my most unequivocal epiphany experience ever: I was already able to read and write Dutch, but then sat down to listen to five hours of uninterrupted Dutch speak, mainly from the homepage of something called Museum TV - and then suddenly I realized that it was easy to understand spoken Dutch. Speaking came the next time I visited the Netherlands, and I have used it as a stepping stone towards Afrikaans.

As for Greek (Dhimotiki) and Russian: I realized that I had to add some newer grammars and dictionaries to my collection, and then I started out learning them almost from scratch. I soon realized that they interfered with each other, so I chose to prioritize Greek because Russian might lure me me into studying other Slavic languages, Greek only to old written sources which seemed easier - although in actual fact I never really got there, I still can't read the Iliad in its original Homeric Greek. And I can see that I concocted a text in Greek in my HTLAL log already in november 2008, but at that time it was done by laboriously constructing sentence after sentence. So today the situation is that I probably could do a monolingual trip in Greek next week (not tomorrow!), while my Russian so far primarily remains a written language (which isn't the same as a totally passive language). But as planned, I have used it as a stepping stone to the rest of the Slavic languages, and that has delayed my conquest of Russian.

Esperanto: well some short utterances during the UEA conference 2011 in Copenhagen, staunchly monolingual ever since - but I need a rebrush every time I have to speak it (I know that from the gatherings, where I got to the point of being able to speak fluently every time it was too late because the event had ended).

And finally Irish, which I have studied in periods and neglected totally in others. Every time I take it up again after a pause it takes some days to see the sentence structures and remember some of the vocabulary again - and I have never really grasped the pronunciation. So given that it only is spoken sporadically in its homeland and otherwise just used as a token of national pride (for instance by the railways) it is not a top priority for me right now - that distinction lies with the Slavic languages (and Albanian and Indonesian).
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby Carmody » Tue Apr 26, 2022 10:32 am

BeaP
The study break is beneficial if you use it for something: relaxation, gathering new motivation, improving your health (mental as well) and focus, evaluating your methods and analysing your goals.
Thanks so much for your response.

And congratulations on your excellent written English skills.
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby sporedandroid » Thu Apr 28, 2022 4:52 am

1-Did you go back to studying it again?
I have gone back to studying Icelandic after an eight or nine year break for a few months. I decided to stop again because it was sort of distracting me a bit from my main target language. I’m happy to see the passion sort of seems to be back. I was worried it would be gone forever. So far it seems like I’ll go back to it one day. I know it’s not the most practical language to study, but I think most Icelandic learners embrace that. One reason I’ll probably go back to it is because I’ve wanted to for a long time. Maybe when I get committed to it I’ll find out it’s just nostalgia.

2-Did you have to start all over with the language? What percentage did you remember?
I definitely feel like I remembered at least some of it. It definitely felt easier to study than German. Even though German should be easier. I only got to the beginning of some A2 level courses. One frustrating side effect is that a lot of beginner courses are very boring for me even though I haven’t fully grasped the concepts they’re teaching.
I also tried to unsuccessfully read some newspaper articles or forum posts and I could sometimes understand the gist of YouTube videos if I was lucky. It felt very inconsistent and that was a huge reason I stopped studying. When I got back to it I had pretty much no listening comprehension and occasionally a surprising amount of reading comprehension. When I watched an Icelandic movie I couldn’t understand what people said without English subtitles, but I could read things like text messages. When I turned on the Icelandic subtitles I did get surprised at how much I understood.

3-Why do you think the study break was needed?
I was still in high school. I just didn’t have any real study habits. I also got frustrated at the lack of progress. I wasn’t aware of any online language learning communities back then. Maybe I could have found AJATT useful, but I honestly didn’t like anime kids all that much. Icelandic also doesn’t have all that much media, so I don’t think I could have stayed as motivated as the AJATT kids. That would have discouraged me too much. I still can’t.
4-Could a study break for some period of time be an assistance in the learning of the language?
I’m honestly not sure. I ended up quitting because I didn’t have much study experience in general. I did go to French immersion for a year and grew up speaking Spanish, but I’ve never had any experience teaching myself any language. Icelandic isn’t the easiest language to teach yourself. At first it was deceptively easy since there was a free online course I could take. It wasn’t exactly easy, but since Icelandic isn’t considered easy to begin with that didn’t discourage me.

One huge challenge is that the online Icelandic-English dictionary is terrible. I’ve heard their monolingual dictionary is better, so I’ll try to get started as soon as possible. Especially when you don’t know grammar all that well. The online course made the dictionary easier to work with, but once I tried to read anything outside the online course I didn’t have too much luck. Part of the issue was that I didn’t know how huge the gap was between a beginner course and a newspaper. I was too impatient to do compressible input. Now I have a better idea of where to find comprehensible input and how much I should understand for it to be effective.

Now that I have more experience in language learning, that will probably help me out. I definitely have some ideas that will help me
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby Carmody » Tue May 03, 2022 7:03 pm

Luke
I'm sure everyone else is better at learning languages than I am.
Beautiful, very beautiful. I thought I was the only one.
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Le Baron
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby Le Baron » Tue May 03, 2022 8:24 pm

Carmody wrote:
Luke
I'm sure everyone else is better at learning languages than I am.
Beautiful, very beautiful. I thought I was the only one.

It's a sizeable club. I'm a paid-up member too.
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BeaP
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby BeaP » Tue May 03, 2022 8:32 pm

Carmody wrote:
Luke
I'm sure everyone else is better at learning languages than I am.
Beautiful, very beautiful. I thought I was the only one.

I bring a language to C2 level in 20 years and I don't consider myself bad at languages. It's just that things become increasingly harder as you move on. After a while you don't have a textbook to cling to, you write something, but you can't correct it yourself, you put it in google, it doesn't exist because it's too long and unique, you know extremely rare and stupid words and you realise you miss basic expressions when you speak, you have a million possibilities to mine sentences but you can't choose what to note down. You tear the sheet, you delete the card, you start again. There's always a lot to learn. There's always too much to learn. And it's very hard to persuade your brain that you need these things when in fact you don't need them.

To connect this with the topic of the thread: I think that the beginning is exciting, but coming back and continuing (not restarting) is harder. I often feel a strong temptation to restart from different resources or study a new language. Teaching yourself can be very demanding but after B1 it's even more difficult.
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby dustinmacdonald » Tue May 17, 2022 2:32 pm

I started studying French seriously in 2017, but I've had multiple breaks of 6 months or longer.

1-Did you go back to studying it again?
Yes. I have good reasons to learn as a Canadian who wants to work in Western Africa one day. French will allow me to meet many of those goals.

2-Did you never go back
I've quit other languages. In high school I took 3 years of Spanish but after graduating I never returned. I've tried to pick it up again and find it so boring. I've also dabbled briefly with Arabic and Korean and would like to learn both in my lifetime but haven't spent more than a few weeks with each (I have a very dog-eared copy of Living Languages' Learn the Arabic Script.)

2-Did you have to start all over with the language? What percentage did you remember?
When my level was lower, I would lose a lot of it. I'd start back at the beginning of Duolingo or my grammar book. Now that I've gotten over some kind of invisible hump, I don't lose much. Maybe 1% in a month. Grammar structures I don't use frequently I have to remind myself, or obscure verb conjugations but for the most part I can pick up a book and get back to it.

3-Why do you think the study break was needed?
I seem to only be able to manage 2 hobbies at a time. If one of those hobbies is school (I earned two Master's degrees), and exercise is the other, then French falls by the wayside. I have other hobbies but I can't seem to do them all consistently.

4-Could a study break for some period of time be an assistance in the learning of the language?
I think that if you're fighting yourself to study, then yes. If you really need to learn the language, giving yourself some time off might help give you perspective. I wouldn't take 6 months. But a holiday of a month might be enough that when you return, you can be more impressed with your progress and re-ignite the passion you had.
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Re: What was it like after you decided to come back

Postby einzelne » Thu May 19, 2022 3:37 pm

With some languages I went back and got them to a decent (passive) level. With some others, I dabbled a couple of weeks and never returned.

Sometimes I would take a break because I was completely burned but, most of the time, it was just unfavorable life circumstances (and, initially, frustration because of the lack of experience).

Are study breaks good for your overall progress? Well, if you’re burned out they are definitely are. Especially when it comes to passive skills — building expansive vocabulary for comfortable reading is matter of years. But when you put your language on pause and forget some some grammar point, you can quickly refresh certain weird grammar forms in a matter of days. You core vocabulary stays with you. Low frequency vocabulary slips away. But low frequency words are tricky. Yesterday I picked up a book from the shelf and discovered an index card with French words on it. 10 words and I could recall 0. Zero! I remember the book I got then from (Robbe-Grillet’s Les Gommes) and I know that after this book I read at least another 20 something books in French, but I can definitely tell that I haven’t seen these 10 words since then.

Yet once I got used to reading on my Kindle app, I don’t care about such words anymore. Life is too short to build the passive vocabulary of educated native speakers in all the languages I read. I’ve accepted that I’m too lazy for that. But I guess these breaks taught me how to be productively lazy. Keeping all 4 skills in several languages is like constantly preparing for an IronMan. Screw it, it doesn't worth it.
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