The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

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PeterMollenburg
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The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby PeterMollenburg » Sat May 22, 2021 4:28 am

Down below you'll find the quotes of those who had me wondering about the question of efficiency in language learning. As opposed to derailing that thread, I started this one instead.

einzelne wrote:
jeff_lindqvist wrote:I'm somehow convinced that FSI is meant to take a long time - with the right method. You can't force it. You can't speed it up.


Indeed. They wrote about it:

Learning a language also cannot be done in a short time. The length of time it takes to learn a language well depends to a great extent on similarities between the new language and other languages that the learner may know well. The time necessary for a beginning learner to develop professional proficiency in each language—proven again and again over a half century of language teaching—cannot be shortened appreciably. FSI has tried to shorten programs, and it has not worked.


So if it cannot be shortened, where's the 'cut off' between efficiency and time wasting? Let's say that our target is C1 in three languages. Is it more efficient to study three languages a day for one hour each until the goals are reached or one language at a time for three hours each?

It seems many a language learner has advised beginners to not start more than one new language from scratch. Is this good advice if we are certain the language learner will absolutely keep on task studying three languages a day until they reach C1 in all three, or is it still more efficient to learn them one after the other.

Or is it something else? The main focus on one language and chip away with 30 min/day each for the other two?

And where is the cut off for efficiency with one language? One hour/day, six hours/day? Does it depend on the learner, the language being learned, the methods, our age?

Are there language learners with certified levels at C1 or C2 who learned several languages at once?

What are your thoughts or experience(s) on the most efficient eays of reaching these advanced levels in several languages?
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby mokibao » Sat May 22, 2021 10:11 am

Active C level in a bunch of languages is super hard let's not kid ourselves. Even our resident successful polyglots don't have C in more than 5-6 languages and those 5-6 tend to be related.

In my view there is an appropriate pace to adopt: too fast, and you burn out, or your eyes basically glaze over basic notions without ever grasping them; but too slow, and you get bored, and having to dine on pre-cooked dialogues about the most boring imaginable subjects for months on end is just an exercise in frustration. Experienced learners exactly know how fast they can push themselves, this is why they sound so much more efficient than others. I for one am barely starting to get a feel for it - I kind of just know when I can move fast, or when I feel my brain is about to brim over and I need a break. Listen to your mind and body and all that.

And yes, there really is a hard lower limit on how long and how often you need to be doing a thing before your brain acquires it a habit. This is why SRS works better than cramming and so on.

As for studying multiple languages - if you devote the necessary time everyday, why not. Just don't do something stupid like learning Italian and Spanish at the same time.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Iversen » Sat May 22, 2021 12:04 pm

mokibao wrote:(...)Just don't do something stupid like learning Italian and Spanish at the same time.


Oh dear (stupid) me, that's precisely what I did as a school boy in the mid 60s :?
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Steve » Sat May 22, 2021 12:17 pm

My sense of things is that efficiency is a large part of what distinguishes successful language learners from unsuccessful ones. Successful language learners can turn 100 hours into more usable skills than unsuccessful language learners.

One part of efficiency is having the experience to know what particular methods work well for us individually at different levels of progress. I would consider "work well" as meaning that they both leave us wanting to do it again the next day and making good consistent progress in the long run. A part of knowing what methods work well is knowing how much daily time is best for each method. Successful language learners have a good idea of when they need to put in more effort on a particular method and when they need to change to another method. Unsuccessful language learners will burn themselves out on methods that don't yield much or switch too frequently and never let a method have a chance to work.

Another part of efficiency is having a good sense of what is really working in the long run versus what we subjectively think is working on daily basis. I've read a few studies over the years that show that there is often a huge disconnect between perceived learning and actual learning. Western education is enamored with breaking everything down into small bite-sized chunks that can be easily "mastered" in isolation from other things and easily tested. Many of us have gotten used to the feeling of learning being about memorizing and successfully recalling lists of groups and items rather than the growing feeling of familiarity that comes will repeated exposure to something over a period of time. We often see things through the filter of "did I do it right or wrong" versus the filter of "is it more familiar and can I do it better today than yesterday?" As part of a bigger picture, many of us were tacitly taught that focusing on eliminating mistakes and errors leads to improvement rather than continuous improvement leads to a reduction in mistakes and errors.

Another important part of efficiency is that what we are doing is building the right structures in our brain to develop the skills we really want. Roughly speaking, are we building structures in our brain that think about the new language using our native language or are we building structures in our brain that react to the new language? Part of what makes some methods better than others is whether or not we are building brain structures that allow us to actually use a language versus answer questions about it.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby PeterMollenburg » Sun May 23, 2021 11:31 am

It suddely had dawned on me (okay admittedly it has 'dawned on me before, my thoughts are not so efficient, it seems), that perhaps 3hrs+ per day of French to attempt a successful resitting of the French C2 exam might not be so efficient after all.

Many of you know my French journey and I have asked similar questions before and while these efficiency questions are open for everyone, I personally have motives in seeking opinions and clarity to such questions...

I've been too busy of late to be in an active language learning phase but should my free time return (or be ripped from the jaws of a ferocious praying mantis), maybe I ought to return to a three to five language learning shared space?
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Beli Tsar » Sun May 23, 2021 12:35 pm

PeterMollenburg wrote:Down below you'll find the quotes of those who had me wondering about the question of efficiency in language learning. As opposed to derailing that thread, I started this one instead.

einzelne wrote:
jeff_lindqvist wrote:I'm somehow convinced that FSI is meant to take a long time - with the right method. You can't force it. You can't speed it up.


Indeed. They wrote about it:

Learning a language also cannot be done in a short time. The length of time it takes to learn a language well depends to a great extent on similarities between the new language and other languages that the learner may know well. The time necessary for a beginning learner to develop professional proficiency in each language—proven again and again over a half century of language teaching—cannot be shortened appreciably. FSI has tried to shorten programs, and it has not worked.


So if it cannot be shortened, where's the 'cut off' between efficiency and time wasting?

Is this what they mean? After all FSI themselves don't suggest part-time language programs, or two at once.
They still go for insanely intense, carefully directed teaching methods that would have most of us crying for them to stop. And then they expect you to do your homework and a bit of extra reading. Ironmike and others have given us a pretty good picture of that.

They also get results - in the duration of each course, you go a long way.

So that would seem to argue against the idea of multiple concurrent languages in limited time-slots.
So aren't we better understanding them as saying that there is an irreducible minimum number of hours to learn well? Inevitably, this also entails time over several months at a minimum, plenty time for memories to form.

But they are mainly trying to say that there are no magic bullets that will get you there in half the number of hours.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Deinonysus » Sun May 23, 2021 2:16 pm

A method is inefficient only if another method would produce the same result in less time. A method is a waste of time only if it produces no results at all, or if it does produce results but these results are not necessary for your personal goals.

If you want to reach an elite level at something, whether it's hitting C2 in a language, becoming a chess master, or qualifying for the Boston marathon, you are going to have to spend a stupid amount of time to get there and barrel way past the point of diminishing returns. Only you can decide if that kind of effort is a waste of time or not.

In terms of spending x amount of time on one language vs several, I've found that I usually am able to focus best when I work on one language at a time but I'm sure that varies from person to person. If the end goal is to reach C1 in three languages, I'm not sure that it would make a huge difference whether you studied then sequentially or concurrently, but if I had to wager a guess I'd say it would be slightly quicker to tackle them sequentially.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby gsbod » Sun May 23, 2021 3:01 pm

I do think there is an optimum intensity for daily study, although it's quite difficult to define where the optimum range sits. So, to use some arbitrary numbers for illustrative purposes only, studying for 8 hours a day rather than 4 hours a day would not necessarily see you making the same amount of progress in half as many days. But studing for 4 hours a day rather than 2 hours a day may get you there in half as many days, or less.

I suppose part of the joy of self study is figuring out what is optimum for you, since you don't need to fit around timetables and assessment schedules defined by other people.

To give one very specific example from my own experience, once I'm at a level where watching TV shows is really beneficial to my listening and speaking skills, the most efficient way of achieving this benefit is by watching 45-90 minutes of TV a day. If I get hooked and binge 6 hours of a show on a Sunday afternoon, I don't feel any additional benefit from this extra time, and it may even be a disbenefit (although this is down to my subjective experience). I'm only human and sometimes I have nothing to do on a Sunday but watch 6 hours of foreign language TV because I have to know what happens next. But I can't pretend that I'm doing it to benefit my learning!
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby jmar257 » Sun May 23, 2021 3:16 pm

Deinonysus wrote:If you want to reach an elite level at something, whether it's hitting C2 in a language, becoming a chess master, or qualifying for the Boston marathon, you are going to have to spend a stupid amount of time to get there and barrel way past the point of diminishing returns. Only you can decide if that kind of effort is a waste of time or not.

This reminds me of a lifting blogpost I read years ago (by an elite level powerlifter), saying efficiency and eliteness are not the same goal: efficiency means stopping at the point where diminishing returns kick in, whereas to be elite you need all the returns you can get, so you have to go beyond the diminishing returns point because there's still returns, after all.

Anyway this question is always interesting to me, because I'm not striving for complete mastery of my languages, but my goal for my languages tend to be B2/C1, although I may not be prioritizing them at the current stage. I don't tend to do marathon study sessions, but I frequently vacillate between "I need to pick a language and focus on it" and "it would be fun, and reignite some motivation, to add another language I've been wanderlusting over" as I've done with German recently.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby einzelne » Sun May 23, 2021 3:38 pm

How come 3+ hours can be inefficient? For me, 3h is the minimum amount of time you need to invest, if you want to succeed. Well, may be not the first day or month of your study, but eventually you need to get to this point. At least you should be comfortable reading/listening unadapted materials 3 hours a day.

When it come to efficiency, the question I would ask first: why would you need C1 level in all skills in all languages you study? It’s very hard to maintain active skills in 3 languages at C1/C2 level, I think, almost impossible for the majority of people.
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