I didn’t have a chance to do a video journal because I didn’t have chance to drive off somewhere. I’m still not comfortable doing them at home. So I made a post about the different language learning stages I’ve noticed. I’m mainly talking about passive skills since that is my main focus at the moment.
Introductory or Exploratory Stage
Goal: To lay the groundwork for memorization later on and decide if this is the language for you
This is typically a language you’re still exploring or just started out on. It could even be a language you heard a lot about though language learning forums. You’ve probably read articles about this language or watched videos about this language. It’s easy to get a this level accidentally by spending time on language learning forums. One goal for this level is to give yourself a familiarity with the language family, what grammar features the language has, get some basic cultural knowledge and get a rough idea how the language could be part of your life.
Another useful thing at this level is to see some sentences broken down for you and explaining how the grammar works. Especially when the sentence breakdowns do not assume you have any background in the language and do things like color coding or diagrams. Different people have different opinions on using translation in language learning. There is some language learning methods that seem to work well without translation. As a self-learner I simply don’t consider them practical. I appreciate having translations to help me make connections.
One thing I do not appreciate at this stage is any method that tries to make you commit anything to memory. I’m still getting an overview or skeleton of the language. One thing I can compare this stage to is when the snow first starts falling. There isn’t enough snow on the ground for a lot of information to truly stick. For unfamiliar languages like Hebrew, this stage was especially long and difficult. I think I would have been better off if I put effort into learning more about Hebrew rather than pushing myself into memorizing words. I do understand why I did because the main thing that stood out to me is not knowing words.
I think this is a legitimate goal to aim for. It’s also perfectly realistic to know ten or more languages at this level. So if you love learning about how languages work, this could be a better goal than trying to settle for one language. You don’t need to be fluent in a language to enjoy it. I think for any future languages I’ll aim for getting a good grasp of this level. Particularly ones that I know will have a lot of unfamiliar features.
What I really don’t enjoy about a lot of beginner resources is that they force you to memorize phrases such as “Hello, how are you?”, “My name is...”, “Where are you from?” “I am from America, how about you?” I am definitely not against learning greetings, it’s the part where I’m being forced to memorize things too early on. It also takes time away from getting exposed to more sentence structures and vocabulary. You can only learn so much about a language from greetings.
Thankfully there are resources closer to what I’m aiming for, but they’re typically not labeled as courses. I do see material like this in textbooks, but I don’t think they spend enough time on it. In my opinion they spend too much time on memorization, exercises and “practical” things which don’t give me a big enough picture of the language.
Goal: Start to memorize core grammar and vocabulary. Get comfortable with interpreting native level text with a dictionary.
This is the point where I start to feel like I’m truly learning a language. It’s when I get the feel for a language. In the introductory phase I tend to feel like I’m wishy washy and not really studying a language. When I reach the beginner phase I notice that vocabulary and grammar rules are truly starting to stick. At first it’s mainly vocabulary you’ve already been exposed to a lot, but as I progress I notice new vocabulary is easier as well. This is probably because at this stage you start to notice more and more known words on sentences you choose to study. So those known words act as an anchor and give you more context.
What is pretty much absent in this stage for me is the ability to purely learn words by context. It is still incredibly hard to find comprehensible input. There are some language teaching methods that make an effort to make things comprehensible at this level, but this can be hard to come by. Especially as a self-learner learning more obscure languages. I think me and several language learners try to find comprehensible input at this level. Usually I would find it a waste of time and go back to my other methods.
I have heard some advice to try to understand things by context, but at a beginner stage this is frustrating advice. As a beginner of Hebrew I kind of thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t really learn anything by context. So as a beginner the most pain-free learning method was to figure out sentences with a dictionary.
When I’m in the introductory stage or lower beginner stage I typically find it helpful to analyze sentences that already have an English translation. This could be textbook example cases or in my case tatoeba sentences. I found tatoeba sentences helpful because they were typically fairly literal and quickly taught me high frequency words. When I was a lower beginner I found them fairly overwhelming since I often had to learn several new words at once.
After those sentences I started studying from movies and tv shows instead. I think they are a good stepping stone to interpreting text in your target language without an English translation. I think this works because the translations are less literal. So it’s a bit harder work to interpret, but not as hard as having not having a translation.
I think this is one reason my Icelandic got stuck at the beginner stage. I was too scared of using English translations. I’d say my German and Old English are at the introductory phase. Which is frustrating because I hoped I could skip forward to the beginner level. It is extremely hard for me to memorize words in those languages unless they’re cognates. My lack of grammar knowledge also makes it very hard to interpret things.
An exception is transparent languages. Since I know English and Spanish, I already know quite a bit of French vocabulary. So when I’m reading an article in French I can sometimes get a pretty good idea of what the article is about. Since I haven’t really studied French I do terribly on grammar tests.
For upper beginner, you are able to interpret a lot of native level text with the help of a dictionary. That means that you typically won’t understand most of it at first. After going through a dictionary and giving yourself to think you’ll be able to understand it. It’s easy to feel like you’re “cheating” at understanding. Until you try do this with lower level languages. I think this is very dependent on grammar. If the grammar is simple enough I can probably do it with pretty much no study. It definitely felt like a huge milestone for Hebrew. Doing this for a few months also moved me to intermediate level.
I’d say I’d consider myself intermediate when I can understand things without a dictionary. It is also when I begin to get the idea of learning words from context.
I can start the comprehensible input method. I also notice my comprehension is highly dependent on how familiar I am with the topic. Not understanding things in your target language starts to feel more like not understanding things in your native language. It feels more like things are fuzzy than things being in a foreign language you don’t understand.
I definitely get the fuzzy feeling in English sometimes. I’ve also experienced getting over it. I used to be very interested in learning about optometry. Some time in my early teen years I exhausted all the articles written for laymen. So I had to start reading more academic and technical texts. At first it was hard to understand, but the more I read the more I understood. I think I did look up some technical terms, but I think I mostly picked them up by context. I haven’t experienced the intermediate stage as much, so I don’t have as much to say about it.