Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

General discussion about learning languages
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NIKOLIĆ
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby NIKOLIĆ » Wed Jul 06, 2016 12:28 pm

s_allard wrote:This does answer my question. A child watches "4-5 hours of cartoons/movies a day, often rewatching them several times" Then English classes starting at age 11. These seemed to have been very easy but they still were classes. All this qualifies as "learning well without trying"? Gimme a break. It sounds like a lot of trying to me. Just like in the OP's story of someone learning Norwegian without trying, we see that in reality a lot of effort and trying went into learning the language.

What people are mixing up is not trying with not studying the language in a systematic and formal way. I am open to the idea of non-formal ways of study, including some form of natural method but this still involves a lot of trying,

Let's for a moment think of an adult learner using the method that this poster here used. I watch 4-5 hours of Spanish movies a day, rewatching many of them several times. After six months I take Spanish classes for a year and breeze through them. The results are spectacular. Should I conclude that I learned Spanish without trying?

As someone has pointed out, one attempt of learning without trying was this idea of watching an hour of video in Mandarin Chinese a day with no formal study. I gather this person gave up after a couple of months.

Instead of all these apocryphal stories of learning a language effortlessly as a child, let's hear from adult learners here who have learned a language to a B2 level without making any effort.


First of all, you totally misconstrued my post and then at the end you even dared call my "story" apocryphal.

Secondly, stop with your straw man arguments. Nobody said that this was an efficient method. Heck, nobody even said it was a method.


Let me make this easier for you to understand:
I SPENT EXACTLY 0 HOURS TRYING TO LEARN ENGLISH.
I was already able to speak/interpret/think in English before my classes started.
I didn't watch cartoons/movies because I wanted to learn English.
I didn't do anything in my English classes. I didn't learn anything new. Calling them easy would be an overstatement.


The original question was "Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?"

The person learning Mandarin that you mentioned does not qualify here because he is trying to learn a language by watching TV, and therefore the learning process is no longer unconscious.

edit: Fixed some spelling errors. I'm sure there's more.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby s_allard » Wed Jul 06, 2016 1:56 pm

NIKOLIĆ wrote:...

Let me make this easier for you to understand:
I SPENT EXACTLY 0 HOURS TRYING TO LEARN ENGLISH.
I was already able to speak/interpret/think in English before my classes started.
I didn't watch cartoons/movies because I wanted to learn English.
I didn't do anything in my English classes. I didn't learn anything new. Calling them easy would be an overstatement.


The original question was "Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?"

The person learning Mandarin that you mentioned does not qualify here because he is trying to learn a language by watching TV, and therefore the learning process is no longer unconscious.

edit: Fixed some spelling errors. I'm sure there's more.

OK, let me see if I get this straight:
1. At age 3, you receive a VHS cartoon in English and start watching it.
2. During your childhood, you watch 4-5 hours of movies in English a day and rewatch some of those movies several times a day. There is no conscious effort to learn English.
3. At age 11, you write a letter in English to an aunt.
4. You take English lessons in school for a number of years. You claim to have learned absolutely nothing in these classes but I presume you heard (not listened to) the teacher, did the homework, read the books, answered when spoken to and passed exams.
5. You claim that during all this, there was never any conscious effort to learn English. This happened by osmosis through massive exposure.

I believe you certainly learned English well, but when I look at this story, I frankly don't believe that there was no trying to learn English. I will admit that it's a question of semantics. I can understand someone saying they watched 4-5 hours of English-language movies (with repeats) a day for the pure enjoyment of the story and with no specific intention of learning English. Or that they sat through years of English classes and didn't learn a single thing.

I've used the word apocryphal, and maybe it's too strong, but I believe that when we talk about these childhood stories, we can or tend to gloss over important details. I put these stories in the same category as the I-know-somebody-who-picked-up-the-language-just-by-hanging-around-with-natives-and-speaks-perfectly stories. Where are the adults who learned a language at an adult age without trying?

In this forum there is a thread about Armando the Mexican employee in a Israeli restaurant in California. He learned to speak Hebrew with an Israeli accent without any formal study and can't write it. But that doesn't mean he didn't try to learn it.
Last edited by s_allard on Wed Jul 06, 2016 5:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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desitrader
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby desitrader » Wed Jul 06, 2016 3:39 pm

NIKOLIĆ wrote:
s_allard wrote:I think we have to return to the original question, i.e. Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it? It's not a question of explicit instruction or not. It's a question of not making an effort to learn it well. I think most people believe that some method must be made.


I learned English without trying to learn it. When I was 3 years old I got "Muzzy in Gondoland" as a birthday present from my aunt. I believe this was the first cartoon I watched in English. When I was around 9-10 years old, I wrote a letter in English to my (other) aunt that lived in Miami at that time. My older sister told me (in Serbian) what to write, and I translated it into English. I don't exactly remember the contents of that letter nor how good my spelling was. I don't know if my aunt still has it, I should probably ask her. Up until that point in time, my only contact with English was through countless hours of watching cartoons and animated movies on an old VCR. My rough guess would be that I watched around 4-5 hours of cartoons/movies a day, often rewatching them several times. My first English class was in 5-th grade at the age of 11(?). I don't even remember uttering a single word or talking to anybody in English, and yet I was somehow magically able to read flawlessly in class while the other pupils where stammering and utterly mangling the text they were reading, and I never even had to memorize a single irregular verb conjugation. I never had that problem since I already knew exactly how those words are supposed to be pronounced because I heard them a bunch of times. I don't even recall looking up singe a word in the dictionary. Actually I didn't even have a dictionary. I slept through most of my English classes (elementary and high-school) because I wasn't learning anything new. Zero, squat, nada.

One of the reasons I tend to stay away from these "is it possible" discussions is because I already know the answer, but there are probably gonna be people going: "But had it been Chinese or Xhosa, would you have been able to learn it? HA! Gotchya!".

I also firmly believe that one of the precursors of learning a language solely through massive input is to not care about the end result, but enjoy the content.
(So much wisdom in one sentence. I cringe every time I write something like this).

I hope this answers your question.


Thanks a lot for your post. You have answered my question.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby reineke » Wed Jul 06, 2016 4:23 pm

UY.jpg
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I remember having to run like crazy to math lessons because of a "conflict of schedules". I also remember wanting to buy boxing gloves after watching "Forza Sugar" (Ganbare Genki). Ken il Guerriero was probably the bloodiest cartoon allowed on TV at the time.

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I loved this stuff. I still do. I'll try to explain one more time why I'm mentioning this.

To try -to make an effort to do something : to attempt to accomplish or complete something. : to do or use (something) in order to see if it works or will be successful. Kenshiro is trying to beat the hell out of Raoul.

I went straight for the pretty sounds and images. I did not "try" to learn Italian but I learned it well. After major abuse it's still with me and it will likely stay with me for life. The TV approach also worked well for me as a teenager. I understood that I could learn this way and I wasn't afraid to just listen. I was more conscious then of myself and of my actions but I could easily lose myself in the content.

I suspect that people trying to learn or acquire a language will keep asking "how long?" and "are we there yet?" My main regret was that the show was over or that I wouldn't be able to watch it until next summer. "Language learning" meant studying Mauger because I had to.

I have recently declared an intent to "learn some Spanish" but for the most part I am "wasting my time" with TV. However, this time I am purposefully exposing myself to Spanish. I am also very conscious of my previous language acquisition. It lasts for 10-15 minutes, then I get lost in the content. I have also looked up a few words which of course may invalidate the whole concept of language acquisition. I didn't look up "mariposa" (a HTLAL-insider joke) nor many other words that just appeared in my vocabulary. Many more are half-learned.

Am I trying to learn Spanish through my TV watching? Yes and no. Sure, maybe. Whatever. This hair-splitting pedantry glosses over everything of value in this story. And then we'll go back to flashcards, grammar books and navel-gazing. If you care about the subject from a theoretical perspective here's something to get you going:

The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning
http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/PDFs/SCHMIDT%20The%20role%20of%20consciousness%20in%20second%20language%20learning.pdf

Why support a delayed-gratification approach?

http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/why_support.pdf
Last edited by reineke on Sun Jul 10, 2016 6:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby s_allard » Wed Jul 06, 2016 4:58 pm

We still keep hearing about these childhood stories of having learned a language well without any trying. Maybe we can assume that all children learn languages, including there native one, without trying. I don't see the relevance. What I would like to see is an adult learn a language well without trying to learn it. How could one go about it? The most popular idea seems to watch movies without making the slightest effort to actively study the language. No subtitles, no dictionary, no textbooks. Not only do I think this is inefficient, I think it is downright stupid.
Last edited by s_allard on Wed Jul 06, 2016 5:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby patrickwilken » Wed Jul 06, 2016 5:01 pm

reineke wrote:As a teenager I picked up German in a similar manner. I don't like language "experiments". It's difficult enough trying to convince people with sizable vocabularies to start consuming native content. There's very little research about it and what is out there is aimed at teachers and classroom use.


Actually I was inspired by reading a blog post of your Italian learning a few years ago to try something similar with German and started watching German media when I was still around A1. I started with dubbed version of South Park (it was easily available) and was quite pleased I understood a few words (I remember watching one episode and being pleased to understand the word for volcano and that was about it). After about three-four months I saw my first movie in a cinema in Berlin and was happy to understand about 40%. After that it just keep getting easier. After four years (and +1200 movies/TV Shows) I am now at +99% comprehension for TV/Movies.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby s_allard » Wed Jul 06, 2016 5:18 pm

The question is not whether consuming lots of native input is good or bad. I would think that most people here are in favour of lots of native material. Who can be against that? The question is what qualifies as "not trying to learn" a language. Does watching 1200 hours of German audiovisual material mean "not trying to learn" to understand German?
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby Finny » Wed Jul 06, 2016 5:42 pm

Something to keep in mind, folks, is that there is an ignore feature available for every poster. Once it's activated, you don't see the posts of folks who enter threads for disruptive purposes unless others quote them, which both helps keep blood pressure down while keeping threads from being repeatedly and deliberately derailed.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby iguanamon » Wed Jul 06, 2016 7:13 pm

desitrader wrote:Apologies if this has been discussed before.

I have recently come across this site: http://www.apronus.com/norsk/

Has anyone here learned a language to a high level without making any effort to actually study it, and only by consuming native media?

That site resonated with me as I am embarking into my Norwegian journey. But if it's just one person's experience, and cannot realistically be replicated by anyone else then it's probably wiser ro stick to traditional ways of learning. ... (emphasis mine)

s_allard wrote:We still keep hearing about these childhood stories of having learned a language well without any trying. Maybe we can assume that all children learn languages, including there native one, without trying. I don't see the relevance. What I would like to see is an adult learn a language well without trying to learn it. How could one go about it? The most popular idea seems to watch movies without making the slightest effort to actively study the language. No subtitles, no dictionary, no textbooks. Not only do I think this is inefficient, I think it is downright stupid. (emphasis mine)

My two cents on this controversy. I think the OP means, not using courses, grammar book, srs, bilingual subtitles, or bilingual dictionary look-ups. I think s_allard means what he has written.. not trying to learn a language, just watching and absorbing passively.

Well, even if you are just watching cartoons in a TL, you are "trying" to understand what's going on. OK, you may not be actively working it out like emk has done with subs2srs and Avatar, but still, an effort is being made of some sort.

So, as the title of this post is "Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?", then the answer is most likely no. At least some effort is indeed involved. Not taking the title too literally, meaning "Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it (not using traditional auto-didactic materials and learning supplements)? Then yes, people have and do learn languages in this way, especially closely related ones. If I wanted to learn Italian, Catalan or French, with my language background, it wouldn't be that hard for me to do using native materials and eschewing courses and parallel texts. I do believe that it would take me much longer to do so without those learning aids and... why would I deliberately want to handicap myself? With Lesser Antilles French Creole, that's what I'm doing, pretty much, though I do have the advantage of the languages being 95% similar and mutually intelligible to a large extent.

Taking advantage of both native materials and courses/traditional learning aids at the same time is what works best for me. There's a happy medium. When the pendulum swings too far to either end is generally when efficiency problems arise. I believe it is more difficult to utilize the native materials only method when we are talking about a monolingual beginner, but as reineke states, he learned Italian in this way as a youngster. I think emk and sprachprofi's use of subs2srs is one of the best new innovations (combining native material and taking advantage of comprehensibility) in language-learning. What a shame that some serious programming skills are needed in order to take advantage of it.
Last edited by iguanamon on Wed Jul 06, 2016 8:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Has anyone learnt a language well without trying to learn it?

Postby aokoye » Wed Jul 06, 2016 7:27 pm

Finny wrote:Something to keep in mind, folks, is that there is an ignore feature available for every poster. Once it's activated, you don't see the posts of folks who enter threads for disruptive purposes unless others quote them, which both helps keep blood pressure down while keeping threads from being repeatedly and deliberately derailed.


I agree that the ignore feature is a good one (honestly at some point I need to suggest an ignore thread feature - I'm not sure if there's a plugin for that for phpBB). That said I have seen very few people in this forum in general who purposefully disrupt a thread or attempt to stir up drama. Yes people will disagree with others (as I'm sure you disagree with me) and will sometimes make it known, but it's almost always been respectful. Disagreeing and letting that disagreement be known doesn't, in my view, automatically equate to being disruptful.
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