All The Knowledge

General discussion about learning languages
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eido
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All The Knowledge

Postby eido » Wed Aug 26, 2020 10:34 pm

The title this topic doesn’t seem to do the theme justice, but I promise in my mind it fit.

So many of you here on this forum are so knowledgeable about languages... all aspects of them, from acquisition to phonetics to history. I’ve always been impressed with the collective knowledge here.

If I may ask:
How have you all collected the various bits of knowledge you have? Do you find it has come in waves or one big chunk? Where do you read or watch to find all these niche facts out? Who do you talk to?

It’s perfectly nerdy, but that’s the kind of thing I like.

Everyone’s input is welcome, from neophyte to expert.
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby jmar257 » Wed Aug 26, 2020 11:32 pm

I'm more towards the neophyte end than anything, but I like to think I have a decent knowledge of linguistics/languages (especially their history and just random tidbits), at least compared to average people. I just like to read, and I read about a lot of things that interest me, one of which is languages, both online and in books. It actually annoys me looking back, if I spent half the time learning languages I spent reading about learning them I'd be a lot better off :lol:

In short, just read. Well, and do, you get a specific knowledge from applying yourself that you can never attain from reading, in my opinion. I don't know the last time I was reading just one book, I always have at least 2 in rotation, normally with multiple nonfiction.
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby tommus » Thu Aug 27, 2020 12:41 am

I think that a lot of language learners have the personality type called "scanner". I am a scanner. That means that I get bored easily and that I am always looking for new interesting things. That makes it difficult to stick to one language to learn. But within that one language, it makes it difficult to stick to specific methods and material. But that being said, I have managed to put almost all my focus on Dutch, and I have religiously watched the daily news on TV Dutch, and read the daily news on Dutch newspapers. But a scanner also implies a collector. I have a large collection of Dutch books, much better than the local library. And I have probably the most extensive collection of useful Dutch language material from the Internet and from the online retailers. E-books, corpus material, videos, series, subtitles, histories, science, paintings, audio, dictionaries, software, etc. So I have a challenge to find time to use all this material, but I manage several hours per day.

Are you a scanner?

Check it out here.
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby annelions » Thu Aug 27, 2020 12:17 pm

tommus wrote:I think that a lot of language learners have the personality type called "scanner". I am a scanner. That means that I get bored easily and that I am always looking for new interesting things. That makes it difficult to stick to one language to learn. But within that one language, it makes it difficult to stick to specific methods and material.


From the outside, it feels like most/all polyglots are hyper-focused and are able to stick to learning languages indefinitely. I've always felt like an outsider because I don't get joy from memorizing verb conjugations and vocabulary lists. It's very frustrating! There is always that other language that looks more interesting and maybe that one would be useful. I can always come up with reasons to start learning a language. It's harder to come up with reasons why I shouldn't switch to a different language.
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby Xenops » Thu Aug 27, 2020 1:42 pm

Honestly, while I do study the different aspects of my languages, the main reason I know about the features of different languages I'm not studying is because of the constructed language hobby. With this hobby, "browsing" languages is perfectly justified, as you can constantly research to see what features you want your conlang to have. I know that Basque has ergativity, that Swahili has 18-19 genders/classes, Hungarian has about 18 cases, and that Manchu has vowel harmony and a vertical script.

And yes, I'm also a "scanner". :D My Internet searches on https://wals.info and Wikipedia provide me hours of entertainment/research.
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby Gordafarin2 » Thu Aug 27, 2020 4:46 pm

I've been fascinated by language and languages for most of my life. I did linguistics in uni, and then translation theory for my postgrad, and before I was studying anything formally I was puzzling out bits of Elvish from the Lord of the Rings, or looking up the dubbed lyrics of Disney songs, or watching French in Action on PBS in the middle of the night...

The hunger comes and goes, but this has been an interest of mine, in one way or another, for ~30 years. Not that I've been intensively studying all that time - I started learning Persian in 2007, but it feels wrong to say I've been studying it for 13 years, because there have been plenty of stops and starts. But when I do get in a 'phase', I'm pretty obsessive about it. If I weren't obsessive about my language learning, I wouldn't be here :lol:

A lot of my practical language learning tips have come from here or the old HTLAL forum. Or from other language-learning blogs, no one in specific - I don't follow anyone else's philosophy strictly, I just pick and choose what works for me. I just read a lot of different stuff and I could (and do) spend hours reading about this stuff. And my general language & linguistic knowledge just comes from all over the place - falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes, formal education, library-diving, like-minded friends, anywhere else I can get it.

This is the topic that makes my brain light up. So I couldn't tell you much about sports, or medicine, or how to fix up a car. But I can chew your ear off about language evolution, and the translation of Persian poetry. And Anki... :|
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby coldrainwater » Thu Aug 27, 2020 8:03 pm

tommus wrote:I think that a lot of language learners have the personality type called "scanner". I am a scanner. That means that I get bored easily and that I am always looking for new interesting things. That makes it difficult to stick to one language to learn. But within that one language, it makes it difficult to stick to specific methods and material...But a scanner also implies a collector. I have a large collection of Dutch books, much better than the local library. And I have probably the most extensive collection of useful Dutch language material from the Internet and from the online retailers. E-books, corpus material, videos, series, subtitles, histories, science, paintings, audio, dictionaries, software, etc...Are you a scanner?

Check it out here.

I suspect there are acceptable mediums to find and plenty of related topics to discuss around this. Moderation, variety and balance are likely useful to apply here and generally but seldom garner enough public interest and popularity. After all, who wants to exhibit restraint when we have such an interesting world to ponder? From a practical standpoint, it is very possible to end up t-shaped. Many of us do with expertise in one field or one language and dabbling chops around many others. Dimensions of the ''T'' vary. Never mind that for myself, my only language of truly advanced competency may end up being English!

In line with the scanner article, we should probably mention the distinction between polymath tendencies and polyglot tendencies around knowledge acquisition. I exhibit more of the former than the latter but am partial to both while recognizing that due to lifespan limitations, practical decisions must be made. I blend language learning with general knowledge acquisition by committing to treating my primary language as a future opportunity at a second education. It is a major driving force in my case always waiting to be exploited.

To that end, I like to combine the idea of rolling periods of obsession with the use of abstraction layers to help hone skills. Objectively, whether considering something as large scale as language or as minute as how much VBA programming skill to acquire for use inside one app (Excel), the most useful piece of advice I have ever been given is to go one abstraction layer deeper than what I expect to need in real life. The beauty and complication of that is that you can define the abstraction layer which I make related to the depth of knowledge in this instance. The result of it is that it makes whatever task or life application you choose easier to do since you can competently work one level above it and it provides a practical bound around where to stop even if it doesn't give guidance on how to stop outside of establishing awareness and recognition that an acceptable point has been reached.

Time spent and techniques used will vary considerably and explain at least my past trajectories and obsessions around subjects/themes. When I reach a saturation point, I like to remind myself to live as if I would die to tomorrow but learn as if I were to live forever (att. to Gandhi). A similar, but more morbid sentiment can be had by doing a deathbed lookback or other related exercise. Those 'saturation points' are also very similar to other concepts I have read describing the general creative process with its ebb and flow of ideas.

The collector aspect is also quite important, perhaps inseparably so. I collect as well, however in language learning, I think I can mostly restrict my collection phase to administrative time around resource gathering, often mostly electronic, but some paper/physical too. I experience other collections vicariously, which I think is also important, leveraging the obsession of others to save time (and smile in appreciation and mutual understanding all the while). Then I move past collection to study and acquisition of language ability. I may find that 100 resources is not enough but somewhere along the line, I will judge that after maybe 250, I can stop quite safely. Then the more powerful interest in study/lifelong learning takes hold and I may not return to collecting until I run low on certain favoured material (a subset of that 250 for example).

I describe much of my history in terms of rolling obsession. I know eido is familiar with the unscientific MBTI, so I can mention that I once spent something like six month obsessed over it and very much enjoyed immersing in that microcosm. It varies by topic, but on strength training and nutrition, I spent more like five years. Too long in fact and I would have been better off using the abstraction layer analogy to rein in.

The difference between sticking to one language and one method/material subset within that language is also very interesting. I become so obsessed around doing one thing, reading parallel books for example, that I have had to train myself into the newer habits of handling multiple language learning tasks for a single language within one day. This is tantamount to breaking an established habit and is more or less sacrilege. The habit-breaking aspect neatly explains why this is so hard to do.

It still baffles me from an implementation standpoint on how I might fit more than one language per day. The answer for myself is that I probably would not, opting instead for varying order on alternating time scales such as weeks and months. My current habit is alternating year multiples, but that is also equivalent to single language immersion so kind of a moot point. Note the continuum where the distinction between scanning and expertise can blur.

The article also mentions the contraction around school subject area focus which I noticed as well. I enjoyed the high school aspect of dipping in many pots, but indeed each pot remained shallow and boiled over easily. I admit to being relieved towards grad school when I could finally structure learning around a single or maybe 2-3 subjects at most. I was also a bit angry when it dawned on me what they were all doing to me by denying the focus. Of course, I couldn't achieve depth. We read a new monstrosity every week and were expected to know it all by heart, one tome in cardiology, another in philosophy. Right hand never even talked to the left hand.

In short, I have come to appreciate the rolling obsession model but bound by abstraction layers and personal decision-making with a healthy dose of my own folly mixed in. I have acquired a good bit of forum knowledge around language learning methods, but not yet around linguistics in general. Life circumstance and age both temper my use of the input I receive here on the forums and I very much consider this forum a pivot point on language learning. My knowledge-base even after several years on the forum is paltry compared to many others here. However, being the 'dumbest person in the room' invariably leads to quite a bit of acquisition and I don't have to always operate under that mindset. I am a little wary about going down the theoretical rabbit hole too soon, since I know I can go too far too fast and prefer to acquire a language or two before appreciating that aspect (experimental + theoretical).
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby tarvos » Thu Aug 27, 2020 11:12 pm

I'm just mad about languages, I travelled a lot, and recently I've also actually studied interpreting. I think I am for the most part an autodidact though. So basically I'm just absolutely nuts and I learned a lot about languages and now I'm the goofball you all know as Tarvos.

I'm not sure how I did it. People sometimes ask me that. I think it's just experience and growing as a human being into the weird grey blob-managed creature that I am.

And I read a lot. On the internets. And when I am abroad I make a sport out of trying to figure out as many weird factoids and phrases and all that other good stuff as I can.

I will speak Finnish to my girlfriend just to figure out how it works with the risk of being misunderstood. But hey, my Finnish is parempi now...
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby Iversen » Fri Aug 28, 2020 12:34 am

I got the usual dosis of standard pedagogics in school when I was taught Danish and English and German, but at the same time I was studying Spanish and Italian at home - plus a little bit of Latin (mostly vocabulary). There was a little bit modicum of grammar involved even in the Danish classes since we learned to draw signs under sentences that marked the subject and verb and object, and slightly more in my later Latin lessons because our teacher used the grammar-translation method .... but I REALLY got a boost to my linguistics when I studied French and a couple of other languages at the university during the 70s. So strictly I am an academic, but the funny thing is that I had to reinvent (or at least redefine) most of the methods I now use for language learning because even the university teaching wasn't really promoting selfstudy so now I see myself as mainly an amateur, but with the inquisitive mind of an academical linguist in research mode.

By the way: I also have a minor degree in comparative literature, but I have almost completely stopped reading fiction (and watching films), so I know next to nothing about modern literature. And I have an almost complete degree in economics, but got a job before I had written the final thesis so that doesn't count.

I have of course also had other hobbies, and there I was (and am) always a total autodidact. For instance I didn't learn musical theory during the music classes in school - instead it was me who gave my class comrades a course in musical instruments because as an active composer I knew more about those things that than our teacher did (and I'm still impressed with having a teacher who was willing to recognize this fact). And my surrealistic paintings are also the works of a total amateur - but I did know my art history from museum visits and I studied books about the chemistry of paints. So it would be strange if I didn't also try to invent my own study methods in language learning - especially since there was a 25 year lapse between I received my university degree till I began studying languages again. In the mean time I worked as a computer 'consultant' in public service, and even there I was in principle an unskilled worker, but I knew to read manuals and learn from experiments so nobody complained over my lack of an education.

I would not be able to retake my university exam in French now - I make more blunders than 30 years ago when I speak and write, and I have not bothered to keep track with new developments in the field - but I'm a more efficient language learner than I was back then. And now I even have the internet to help me - that thing simply didn't exist yet when I studied French in the 70s.
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Re: All The Knowledge

Postby Querneus » Tue Sep 01, 2020 6:03 pm

eido wrote:How have you all collected the various bits of knowledge you have? Do you find it has come in waves or one big chunk? Where do you read or watch to find all these niche facts out? Who do you talk to?

It’s perfectly nerdy, but that’s the kind of thing I like.

I've been in conlanging groups for a long time, where (structural) phonology, (functional) grammar and linguistic history get discussed a lot. I've mostly learned things haphazardly in some continuous manner from conversations/discussions and sometimes reading books or articles when something seemed interesting. Linguists' articles tend to be more niche, focused on a specific thing, and tend to assume more background knowledge from the reader than in books, but they're also more detailed than what you often find in books. I conlang regularly but it's always little tiny things. Understanding new things I didn't know about is what I enjoy most.

I read a combination of publicly availably free things, books I buy, and pirated things. Google often shows interesting PDFs when searching for linguistics topics, more often than not individual articles from professors' own university pages/sites, sometimes from projects like NUSA. Google Scholar sometimes shows links to such things too (although most results aren't). ResearchGate.net and Academia.edu are very helpful to find articles, and so is Persee.fr for articles in French. I've found HathiTrust.org and Dialnet to be annoying to use, but the latter (a project from Spain) often has articles in Spanish I can't get any other way. National libraries can be amazing: those of France and Spain have free-to-read scans of many medieval and early modern books (e.g. Don Quixote), and I've come across links to great stuff from German websites (e.g. Castellio's Latin Bible: Bavaria state library, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg). You never know what a local public library may have; I've been able to find pretty niche linguistics stuff sometimes (e.g. one time a small book, in English, on the formal structure of medieval Chinese poetry). Google Books has quite a number of nice 18th and 19th century books; I've made use of translations of ancient Latin books found there. You can buy many things online on ebay/Amazon/AbeBooks or sometimes from publishers (although I haven't had a lot of luck buying from publishers directly). I don't think I should talk about piracy though.
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