Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

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AML
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Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby AML » Tue Feb 12, 2019 6:11 pm

Aside from your mother tongue(s), have you ever learned a foreign language by only speaking up to basic fluency (let's call that B2) and avoiding all written aspects of the language? This would be an unusual choice, so I don't expect many "yes"es to this question, but I would love to hear your story! This is the same order that a child acquires her/his first language - at first exclusively through listening, then speaking, and only later through reading and writing.

    If you have learned a language exclusively through speaking at first, would you please share your story of how you did it?

    If you have not done this but it seems like an interesting experiment to you, how do you imagine that you would you go about learning a language exclusively through speaking?

Note: I am not suggesting that this is the best way to learn a language or that anyone wants to do it. I'm just curious if anyone here has done it.
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby kanewai » Tue Feb 12, 2019 8:24 pm

In the Peace Corps - Micronesia we had about four weeks of language training and then we got on boats and were dropped off on our islands. Here was mine: Fananu. Population: 355. 0.8 square kilometers. No cars, no electricity, lots of coconuts.

Peace Corps taught us how to speak in the main dialect in the district center, but Chuukic languages exist on a continuum. Upwe le feila is "I will go." But on my island it was shortened to upwe la. On another, upwe le la. On another, it was just upwe. There were lots of sound shift. Chuuk was "shuuk" in the south, "chuuk" on the main island, and "rhuuk" in the north where I was. We learned Chuukese. And I was sent to an island that spoke Pááfang. They were closely related, but they weren't the same.

The only book in the local language was the Bible, which 1) didn't interest me, 2) was written in a very formal register that wasn't used for speaking, and 3) was written in a very different dialect than what they spoke on my island.

I don't know if I could tell a cohesive story, but I can share some random thoughts about the experience:

- This is very, very hard way to learn a language. I'm not even sure it's the most effective - it is infinitely faster to learn with immersion + formal language books.

- Social isolation, on the other hand, is an amazing motivator. I had two choices: stay silent for two years, or learn to speak.

- I never learned the grammar, and have no idea how it works. I don't even now why I would add certain sounds in a sentence, only that it sounded right. And this was often the best explanation I got from the locals, too. I'd ask, what does this mean? And they'd respond: you just say it to make your words sound better.

- This is most definitely not how a child learns!!! Children get a couple years of baby talk. To me, the idea that adults can learn the way children learn is one of the worst myths of language learning. Nobody spent two years with me saying: mama. say mama. mama. say dada. who's a happy baby? you're a happy baby!

- The most important thing I learned early on was how to conjugate "to go." Upwe. I go. Kopwe. You go. Sipwe. We go / let's go, inclusive. Aupwe. We go, exclusive. As in: everyone else is going, but not me. The guys would tell me: sipwe la fituuk. And I'd think, ok, we're going to go fituuk. Whatever fituuk means. And everyone would grab their spearfishing gear, and I'd think: ok, fituuk means spearfishing.

- Learning the different social registers was much easier than I anticipated. There was one way we'd talk when it was only the guys, and another way we'd talk in mixed company, and another when talking to the chiefs. there was the "language of love" that was only used for seduction and in songs. There was itang, the secret language of magic, which used common words but in which each had a hidden meaning. It wasn't that hard to internalize the different registers. It came naturally. This is something I struggle with when learning languages from books.

- One of the main benefits of learning this way was that I learned how to learn. I know that can be a bit of a cliche, but it's true. I stumbled my way through Latin in high school, and actually failed French in college. After this experience, I had a much better grasp of what I needed to do to learn, and a much better understanding of what was important, and what wasn't.

I just took a look at some online resources for my dialect, Pááfang. I see that UNESCO lists it as critically endangered, and that "the only remaining active users of the language are members of the grandparent generation and older. " This is fundamentally not true. Granted, there are only about 1000 speakers of the dialect on the four islands in the atoll - but that's all there ever was. As long as there are people living there, this is what they'll be speaking.There are another couple hundred in Guam, Hawaii, and the US mainland. I'm still in touch with them. Adults and kids still speak Pááfang.
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby AML » Tue Feb 12, 2019 8:49 pm

kanewai wrote:- This is most definitely not how a child learns!!! Children get a couple years of baby talk. To me, the idea that adults can learn the way children learn is one of the worst myths of language learning.[/i]


Thanks for your response.

Just to clarify, I didn't say that "this" is how children learn; I said the general order of operations for how children learn is: listening, speaking, reading, writing, which is 100% true aside from the odd case of a parent teaching their child to write first. ;) Also, I didn't suggest that "adults can learn the way children learn". My question is simply in regard to order of operations. Hopefully that's now clear for everyone else.
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby languist » Tue Feb 12, 2019 9:16 pm

I would estimate my level of Slovak is B1, but I haven't done any tests.

I 'picked up' my Slovak through being around Czech and Slovak colleagues, and later friends, and through watching films with them (mostly animated) dubbed into these languages with English subtitles, or English films with Czech/Slovak subtitles. At some point I did part of some memrise vocab course, but it was just a random list of words, I couldn't say how much I actually retained because I found the content mostly obscure or boring - and I also tried the first 1-3 chapters of Colloquial Slovak, but I'm incapable of sitting down and following a coursebook. So that's probably just about 10 pages of a book, and I didn't learn anything from it because I'd already picked those things up naturally.

So I do think I can say that I learnt this language "only" through speaking. Overall, I would say it was a great experience in terms of being able to understand native speakers - even if I don't understand the vocabulary, I'm never lost in terms of where a word ends and the next one begins, which is something I cannot say for the other languages I have studied more formally. I enjoyed learning words through this very dynamic, contextual manner. Of course, it was by accident rather than design that I ended up learning this way. However - my grammar is atrocious. Beyond the absolute basics, I basically just wing it for most sentences. Yes, there are things I am sure of, but even after so long, exposure hasn't really made certain endings concrete in my mind. I know a quick blast through a grammar book would cure this issue but I'm so lazy with Slavic languages, despite loving them. So I would say that this approach is possible, and a wonderful way to learn vocabulary and the 'native way' of forming an expression - but would probably be 10x more valuable if supported by a few grammar books.

EDIT:

As for how I did it! I didn't really answer this above. It was my first ever experience with a Slavic language. I basically just paid a lot of attention when Slovaks/Czechs were speaking amongst themselves. There was always a lot of contextual information around. After, I would say "was that about X?" if yes, I've immediately learnt something new, if no, "what does (keyword which I didn't understand) mean?", and then again, I have learnt something new. Then, if I could say something in Slovak, I would always say it in Slovak, even if the rest of the conversation was in English. So my native friends or colleagues could respond in Slovak/Czech, or even correct my mispronunciations and mistakes. Also, a lot of "what does that mean? how do you say X?". But mostly, it was just a lot of paying attention to situations and being sure to listen well. I think I don't have a lot of skills in life (I can't even cook, click, or whistle), but picking up the meaning of foreign conversations has always been something which I've had a thing for.
Last edited by languist on Wed Feb 13, 2019 1:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby IronMike » Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:32 pm

When I was in DLI way back when (mid-80s), they did an experiment for one class. The class was known as the "cartoon class." They spent the first six months of the 47-week course learning Russian only using a book filled with cartoons. These guys were already speaking at a "3" on the ILR scale after six months. Only then did they learn how to read Cyrillic.

I always wished I'd gotten a chance to sit through that class. A few years ago while researching language programs I tried to get a copy of the cartoon class book (it could be used for any language! and I had thoughts on teaching Esperanto this way) and the contacts I got ahold of at DLI had no idea what I was talking about. Damn.
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby Adrianslont » Wed Feb 13, 2019 3:03 am

IronMike wrote:When I was in DLI way back when (mid-80s), they did an experiment for one class. The class was known as the "cartoon class." They spent the first six months of the 47-week course learning Russian only using a book filled with cartoons. These guys were already speaking at a "3" on the ILR scale after six months. Only then did they learn how to read Cyrillic.

I always wished I'd gotten a chance to sit through that class. A few years ago while researching language programs I tried to get a copy of the cartoon class book (it could be used for any language! and I had thoughts on teaching Esperanto this way) and the contacts I got ahold of at DLI had no idea what I was talking about. Damn.

I received a couple of tutoring sessions in Indonesian using printouts of cartoons. I really enjoyed it and there was a lot of cultural/cross-cultural learning happening too as the cartoons were cleverly conceived to that end.

There is a guy who used to frequent this forum who has cartoons drawn to learn Khmer and Thai. Sorry can’t remember his name. He makes recordings too. Available on net somewhere
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby reineke » Wed Feb 13, 2019 3:17 am

Bakunin
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby AML » Wed Feb 13, 2019 5:32 pm

reineke wrote:Bakunin


How about a story or even a link to how this is relevant to the original question.
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby rdearman » Wed Feb 13, 2019 8:28 pm

AML wrote:
reineke wrote:Bakunin


How about a story or even a link to how this is relevant to the original question.

Bakunin is one of our members who created a language course using only cartoons, which he was paying an artist to do. I believe for Khmer. I highly recommend reading his log.

https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?t=789
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Re: Have you ever learned a language only through speaking?

Postby vonPeterhof » Wed Feb 13, 2019 10:27 pm

kanewai wrote:This is most definitely not how a child learns!!! Children get a couple years of baby talk. To me, the idea that adults can learn the way children learn is one of the worst myths of language learning.
Just to nitpick, various forms of baby talk do occur in a wide range of cultures, but it's not exactly universal. An interesting common thread through at least some of those cultures is that adults typically do not talk to infants at all until they've reached a certain age. Speech development is apparently somewhat delayed compared to children in societies with child-directed speech, but they do develop the full range of communicative skills eventually.
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