What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

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rdearman
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What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby rdearman » Tue Mar 16, 2021 12:28 pm

I'm not new to this language learning game. I consider myself intermediate level, not bad but not great in French & Italian. But I want to canvas your opinion, as the title says;

What one thing could help me the most to improve? Or go into the advanced level.

  • reading
  • writing
  • listening
  • speaking

What one thing should I concentrate on? Spend all day listening to podcasts? Constant reading to beef up vocabulary? More language exchanges?

What was the single most important thing that helped you get from intermediate to advanced? Something not on my list? Was it anki decks for 10 hours a day? Or dancing in the moonlight naked with an incense stick? (That didn't work for me, but maybe it did for you). Was it reading 73 consecutive grammar books while standing on your head? Did you move to the country and find a lover? (I asked my wife if I could do this, but she said no.)

In all seriousness though, I'm not asking for a silver bullet. I just want to know what would be the one thing you'd focus the majority of your time on. I realize you need multiple attack vectors.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby mokibao » Tue Mar 16, 2021 2:16 pm

Just read, read, read. Pick up a book, bookmark wordreference and get going. Anki decks are a good way to 'hack' your way to vocab acquistion but it feels more of a chore than reading an interesting book.

At intermediary level you know the grammar but can't say anything elaborate because it takes such a long effort to produce stuff without making mistakes, so you have to find correct stuff out there and soak up a lot of it so it comes into your mind effortlessly. Reading is the best way for this because most people read much faster than they listen, speak, or write. Literature is the best because it contains the greatest variety of words, locutions and idiotisms by far. If you're intimidated by classics just start with short stories or fairy tales or something and move your way up.

Some people will advise that you 'just start speaking bro' or immerse yourself with podcasts or something, which is obviously good and useful but at some point you have to read high-level, literary texts if you don't want to be functionally illiterate in your target language.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby lichtrausch » Tue Mar 16, 2021 2:25 pm

Two things actually. Mass input from reading and mass audiovisual input with matching TL subtitles. Be an active consumer during these activities. Look things up from time to time, compare what you're seeing/hearing to the mental model of the language in your head, take note of useful and/or interesting language use.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby iguanamon » Tue Mar 16, 2021 2:26 pm

You don't mention which language. Find a series, dubbed or native, as long as you are at least capable of understanding, and work your way through it. You don't have to use subs2srs or other technological help, as long as you have an accurate transcript or can make an accurate transcript from the srt file.

Once the series is selected, work through it, everyday. By working through it, I mean do the following at the beginning starting with the first episode.
1) Watch once, without subtitles, for comprehension .
2) Watch the episode again and take notes (use your own shorthand- "q" for "que', "d" for "de", etc) . Mark passages with timestamps where your comprehension is null. If you hear a word and can spell it reasonably but don't know it, write it down and look up the definition. Do this with all the words you don't know. It may take a while. (for those who are not at at least high B1 or B2, forget even trying this.)
3) The note taking is for describing what's going on in the scenes of the episode. Try to write it in L2.
4) Use the transcript; srt file; or the subs themselves (all in L2) as a check against your comprehension.
5) write a review, and/or talk about the episode with a language partner.
6) Other additional aids to comprehension can include making a parallel text of the dialog (easier with a dubbed series) then reading it beforehand or afterwards. Read dialog in L2 first then listen and watch without subs. Read dialog in L2 after watching and check against your notes. Read dialog in L1 afterwards. There are many options.

The first month, you may only get through one episode a week.The second month, you go through more episodes it gets easier. You will build on your experience and get through maybe one and a half episodes a week. Your unknown words will become fewer. The next month you'll probably get through two episodes a week. Then, after fifty episodes you will be cooking with gas. After 75 episodes you'll have it whipped.

The key is momentum and maintaining that momentum. It's keeping going, even when you think it's mind-numbingly hard and you want to quit, that will deliver results. At first you'll have a long list of unknown words. Don't worry, I did too. The words repeat in the following episodes. As you work through the series, the unknown words decline until somewhere around episode 50, they will almost disappear. Finishing the episode will mean your listening will be markedly better. Your grammar and vocabulary will improve, especially if you talk about the episode with an L2 partner. After the series is over, move on to the next. You won't need to do anything but just watch and listen.

Doing this ain't easy. It's not "fun"... but it worked for me in Portuguese and should work for you too. Of course, you will not neglect reading. You should be reading widely, a book, articles while going through this, engaging all the skills. Each skill reinforces the other- become a better listener and you will become a better reader, and vice-versa.

Edit: Make sure the series has at least 75 episodes, and at least half an hour long. Also listen to the daily news in L2 or a podcast every day too.

Edit: grammar, punctuation, clarity.
Last edited by iguanamon on Tue Mar 16, 2021 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby Deinonysus » Tue Mar 16, 2021 2:52 pm

I was thinking about writing something about this when you mentioned your trouble with a CEFR placement test on your log but I didn't want to give you unsolicited criticism. But now it's solicited so here we go...

Based on your description of your level of French, I think you are fluent but with some very significant systemic fossilized errors. I have a friend at work who is in a similar situation. He speaks English as a foreign language and I would consider him to be completely fluent. I never have any trouble understanding him, he is able to do a complex, technical, and customer-facing job with no issues, and he is also able to fully enjoy English-language media. But he makes some fairly blatant grammatical errors in almost every sentence. They don't interfere with understanding, but I doubt he could even pass an A1 exam right now.

Based on your own trouble with the CEFR placement test, I would guess that you are in a similar spot, where you can do basically anything you want in French but due to fossilized errors you will probably have trouble getting a shiny CEFR certificate. So my question to you would be, how much is it worth to you to speak and write flawless French? Because it would probably frustrating to go from reading novels and chatting in French cafés, to struggling with beginner stuff like « le garçon mange la pomme » or « où est la bibliothèque ? »

I don't think it would improve your level to read and listen more because it sounds to me that your receptive skills are already quite fluent. Read and listen for fun if you want to, but you're probably well past the point of diminishing returns. Memorizing vocabulary or passively reading grammar books probably won't be much help either at your level.

If you do want to relearn the basics and get rid of any errors, I would recommend Duolingo. You can get a lot of practice typing many correct French sentences, and you will know instantly any time you make a mistake. To get the proper experience, you will need to use a browser (not the app) and make sure switch the word bank off whenever you can. It's important to type out the full answer from scratch.

If you aren't a Duolingo kind of guy, I suppose you could try to find yourself a particularly brutal tutor who will nitpick every single inaccuracy you make. Again, it will probably be frustrating to struggle with these kinds of basic things when you are already at such a high level in so many other aspects, especially your passive skills.

But of course, there's always the option to say, "I can do basically everything I want in French, it's not worth beating my head against a brick wall and trying to relearn the basics".
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby rdearman » Tue Mar 16, 2021 3:19 pm

iguanamon wrote:You don't mention which language.

Either French or Italian. Generic advice is fine. :) Actually preferred, since hopefully this thread will be of assistance to others not just me.
iguanamon wrote:work through it, everyday.

I have watched a lot of series in both French & Italian. Including all the various Star Trek series in French, Engrenage (Spiral) all 8 seasons. 8 seasons of Carabinieri in Italian (4 times), 2-3 other detective dramas, lots of cooking shows, etc. I've completed 3 super challenge film sections for both French and Italian which is over 450 hours in both French and Italian which I have logged, but I've probably watched double or triple that amount in reality. But I think the "work through it" is the thing I haven't done. Not "intensive watching". I just watch and rewatch, without sub-titles.
lichtrausch wrote:Be an active consumer during these activities.

Yeah, as above, I don't tend to stop or lookup things. Historically, I either understand them or I don't and if I don't then I watch it again.

Code: Select all

while (! understand) { repeat; }

mokibao wrote:but can't say anything elaborate because it takes such a long effort to produce stuff without making mistakes

Actually, this isn't a problem I have. I've done literally 1000+ of language exchanges and I don't have any issues with speaking to people or sentence construction. My issue is normally not understanding them when they speak quickly or about an unfamiliar topic. To be honest this tends to be only about 2-3 minutes of a 30-minute conversation nowadays. To be fair we are normally speaking about things which aren't new to me. Friends, family, work, etc. Although on occasion people challenge me with things like "describe how an aeroplane flies".
mokibao wrote:at some point you have to read high-level, literary texts if you don't want to be functionally illiterate in your target language.

Again, I've probably read well over 200 books in French or Italian, and I don't mean "the little prince". I'm currently reading a 350-page science fiction book in French and a 3000-page history of Alexander the Great in Italian (I've been at this one awhile). I've read 3-4 Stephen King books in French and tons of other stuff. I don't read classic literature simply because I prefer modern writing. But I have read a lot of Jules Verne in French. Looking at a couple of pages of my French SciFi book (I underline words I don't know) it looks like I have about a 3.39% unknown word per page rate. I only sampled 4-5 pages though of one book. The Italian book is worse, but that is because of terms like phalanx, chariot, trireme (ships), javelin, swords, spears, clubs, maces, axes, catapults, siege towers, and battering ram, etc

I have never taken any tests, so I don't know what level I'm actually at. Could be A1, could be B2, could be C2. I have no idea. Looking at my reply above, you'd think that I'm already "advanced" so what is the problem? I certainly don't feel "advanced" and I'm not sure these online tests are very accurate. I am aware of the Dunning–Kruger effect, but I don't think my self-assesment is biased by competence. Although hanging out with super talented polyglots may have an impact on what I consider advanced.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby rdearman » Tue Mar 16, 2021 3:24 pm

Deinonysus wrote:I didn't want to give you unsolicited criticism. But now it's solicited so here we go...
:lol:

Yeah, you are correct I can do just about anything I want, but it niggles me that I don't understand things the same as I do in English. I cannot remember the last time I came across an English word I didn't know. Or failed to understand what someone was saying in a film or TV show. I understand all the jokes, even if some of them aren't funny. But that isn't possible in French or Italian and that annoys me.

EDIT: I'm not a perfectionist by any stretch of the imagination BTW. I am ok with only getting the gist of some TV show, but I wouldn't consider myself to be advanced until I understand as well as I do in English.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby mokibao » Tue Mar 16, 2021 4:14 pm

rdearman wrote:snip


Pour être honnête tu me parais à un niveau très avancé, c'est normal que tu aies l'impression de progresser lentement voire pas du tout vu qu'il ne reste plus tant de progrès à accomplir. Si tu as des soucis pour comprendre quand les gens parlent rapidement, sache qu'il n'y a pas que toi et que les gens de langue maternelle française ont aussi ce problème (dans une certaine mesure, évidemment). C'est que c'est grand, la francophonie, mine de rien, beaucoup plus grand que la France. Et il y a évidemment tous les sociolectes, chronolectes, etc. On ne peut pas demander à un apprenant de tout savoir, vu que même un natif qui a grandi dans un certain milieu et une certaine génération sera désorienté s'il est plongé dans un environnement qui lui est complètement étranger.

Il y a aussi l'aspect culturel qui entre en ligne de compte, tu peux très bien comprendre nominalement ce que quelqu'un dit à l'écran ou dans une conversation de groupe sans saisir la référence cachée et avoir l'impression que tes compétences linguistiques te trahissent alors que tu n'as juste pas vu tel ou tel film en grandissant. D'expérience, ça arrive très très souvent. Là encore ce n'est pas bien grave, les francophones eux-mêmes n'ont pas tous les mêmes références.

Si tu as l'impression de toujours faire des erreurs de base, je te recommande d'utiliser Grammalecte (au moins pour ta production écrite), qui est une extension pour ton navigateur, ton client mail, ton traitement de texte, etc. https://grammalecte.net/ Sans être une solution miracle c'est ce qu'il y a de mieux en matière de correction grammaticale et orthographique sans devoir payer, il t'explique toutes tes erreurs en rappelant la règle correspondante. Rien qu'avec ça tu peux commencer à écrire des pages entières et regarder s'il y trouve des choses à redire.

Non posso dir niente sull'italiano, ovviamente sei a un livello molto più alto di me, però non sarei sorpreso se fossero problemi dello stesso genere.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby einzelne » Tue Mar 16, 2021 6:04 pm

I'm afraid my answer will be a disappointment since it's TWO things and NONE of them are in your list: time + patience.

(It's only when I started to read at least 3 hours a day in German + 1 hour of audio when I finally cut the mustard. In my case, it took me around 6 months to get from intermediate to advanced, before that I was reading for about 2 years, but there were no consistency because of life circumstances. I don't know what are your goals and how much background you have in your target language. My personal experience tells me that you need to invest at least 3h a day, if you want to get to the advanced level. For how long? It's hard to generalize.)
Last edited by einzelne on Tue Mar 16, 2021 6:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What ONE thing could help me learn the most.

Postby aaleks » Tue Mar 16, 2021 6:21 pm

rdearman wrote:
Yeah, you are correct I can do just about anything I want, but it niggles me that I don't understand things the same as I do in English. I cannot remember the last time I came across an English word I didn't know. Or failed to understand what someone was saying in a film or TV show. I understand all the jokes, even if some of them aren't funny. But that isn't possible in French or Italian and that annoys me.

EDIT: I'm not a perfectionist by any stretch of the imagination BTW. I am ok with only getting the gist of some TV show, but I wouldn't consider myself to be advanced until I understand as well as I do in English.


If you understood everything in your TL's as you do in you native language you might consider yourself to be not advanced but native-like. Advanced basically means being C1 in the language, and you're not suppose to be as good as a native speaker at this level. And when it comes to understanding jokes it's more about understanding the culture behind the language then the language itself.
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