The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby jmar257 » Sun May 23, 2021 4:18 pm

einzelne wrote: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.

I don't, and that's kind of a "pie in the sky" goal for the longer-term. B2 active is probably realistically where I'll stop with the 3 I'm studying now (and Spanish is on the cusp of that IMO), and I envision myself trying to push one to C1 in the future. But for the time being the ability to comfortably read novels and watch TV/listen to podcasts is what I'm content with. Anything I study beyond these three (Spanish, German, French) will probably be lighter study for travel/curiosity's sake, like Italian or Catalan.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby smallwhite » Sun May 23, 2021 5:09 pm

PeterMollenburg wrote:
FSI wrote:Learning a language also cannot be done in a short time. [...]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?

FSI talking so they probably mean "cannot shorten below 1000 hours to learn French" so if you're taking 5000 hours then yes 5000 hours can be shortened to 1000.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby AnthonyLauder » Sun May 23, 2021 5:19 pm

It has taken me many years to learn how to pace myself in language learning. After trying many methods, of varying complexity and reliability, I have settled on something very simple.

Long ago, I read that research has shown that studying should involve devoting 30% of your time to new material and 70% to reviewing old material. That is now the basis of how I pace myself. When I find that I am getting over excited about new material, I stop myself with the realisation that I am getting into "review debt". That is, 3 hours of fun with new material has to be paid for with 7 hours of reviewing old material.

Conversely, if I find myself being lazy by spending hours reviewing things I already know, I remind myself that every 7 hours of lazy reviewing is building up a debt of 3 hours of hard study of new material.

This struggle to balance the 30%/70% ratio of new/old keeps me going at a steady pace, where I make efficient progress with new things while also keeping old things fresh in my mind.
Last edited by AnthonyLauder on Sun May 23, 2021 6:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby eido » Sun May 23, 2021 5:59 pm

PeterMollenburg wrote: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?

What are your thoughts or experience(s) on the most efficient ways of reaching these advanced levels in several languages?

I don't think there is a certain way you can go about learning a language. Each person has a different definition of what they consider efficient. That's not a bad thing.

But, speaking technically, spending three hours on one language a day will get you farther than a simple mix of three a day. I've been able to pull off progress in studying multiple languages through the years, but it's only through my wit and skills. If we averaged this out to a grander set of the population, most people would need that longer time to accomplish what they needed to do.

And this is not me saying I'm particularly smart--quite the contrary, actually. I do most things by feel and mess up quite often. I'm just lucky.

I agree myself that studying a certain amount of languages handpicked by the learner for a set time per day is agreeable to most people's ideals. As you mentioned three, I think that is the max that should be studied per diem. But if anyone knows me, they know I'm able to cram up to 5 or 6 in one day. Efficiency goes down if the ability to learn and infer is not developed.

I developed my skills in inference as a teen and have worked on them tirelessly since, so I can study in short bursts and take long breaks from a particular language without suffering major setbacks. I think short bursts are more effective anyway for a lot of people, for a few reasons.
  • Many people prefer instant gratification, and this doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing (you might just be excited to see results)
  • Most people learn with details, facts, and memorization as opposed to global thinking and utilizing this system of learning can overload a person
I'm a natural doer, and I like to see my goals come to fruition. So I like small doses, as well. But if there is background learning to be done, such as listening to a podcast, audiobook, or music, I'm ready to go because I understand that learning doesn't just stop at the textbook.

There is no such thing as "time wasting" as long as you realize that any target language material can be made into target language activities to study with. And if you realize you have a goal, such as becoming C1, you should put your foot forward and keep walking until you reach it. You do that by immersing, almost drowning, yourself in target language content.

If you have time to waste, you're probably not studying.

Studying is the key.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Sumisu » Tue May 25, 2021 3:23 am

AnthonyLauder wrote:It has taken me many years to learn how to pace myself in language learning. After trying many methods, of varying complexity and reliability, I have settled on something very simple.

Long ago, I read that research has shown that studying should involve devoting 30% of your time to new material and 70% to reviewing old material. That is now the basis of how I pace myself. When I find that I am getting over excited about new material, I stop myself with the realisation that I am getting into "review debt". That is, 3 hours of fun with new material has to be paid for with 7 hours of reviewing old material.

Conversely, if I find myself being lazy by spending hours reviewing things I already know, I remind myself that every 7 hours of lazy reviewing is building up a debt of 3 hours of hard study of new material.

This struggle to balance the 30%/70% ratio of new/old keeps me going at a steady pace, where I make efficient progress with new things while also keeping old things fresh in my mind.


This is the first time I've heard of this and it sounds very interesting. One question I have is how you separate new from old. Flash cards would be in the "old" bucket I assume. But when consuming "new" material (e.g. a newspaper article) you are seeing some percentage of words and phrases you know already, so I'm wondering how easy it is to cleanly separate new from old in that case. What if you've reached a level, or just get lucky on the topic, where you understood the entire newspaper article?
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Beli Tsar » Tue May 25, 2021 12:01 pm

Sumisu wrote:
AnthonyLauder wrote:Long ago, I read that research has shown that studying should involve devoting 30% of your time to new material and 70% to reviewing old material.


This is the first time I've heard of this and it sounds very interesting. One question I have is how you separate new from old. Flash cards would be in the "old" bucket I assume. But when consuming "new" material (e.g. a newspaper article) you are seeing some percentage of words and phrases you know already, so I'm wondering how easy it is to cleanly separate new from old in that case. What if you've reached a level, or just get lucky on the topic, where you understood the entire newspaper article?

And while this rule sounds helpful, presumably there are a lot of other factors. The chief one would presumably be how fast you are learning: if you go slowly, there's less 'natural' revision and more opportunity for topics to fade from memory before they are used, and if you go fast, you are able to build more directly on what you have just learned. So slow learning needs a higher revision percentage.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby iguanamon » Tue May 25, 2021 4:07 pm

I can only attest to what I have done and what I have observed. I didn't set out to become a polyglot. I backed into it. I started out with Spanish. Through the help of the old HTLAL forum, I was able to advance it. I then wanted to learn Portuguese... and I did. I wanted to learn Ladino/Judeo-espanyol and I did, after the first two. I learned Haitian Creole after Ladino. I learned Lesser Antilles Creole French, after HC and Catalan after that.

There's a pattern here. I didn't try to learn multiple languages at the same time. I'm sure my method is not very efficient... but it's what has worked for me. I know, speaking for myself, that I cannot deal with learning two languages simultaneously... especially with both being at a beginner level.

My observations after reading the forum on an almost daily basis for almost 11 years now are that extremely few people who start off with a list of multiple languages to learn as an adult monolingual beginner ever manage to learn even one language to a high level. There are a number of reasons for this, I think- outside of a structured enforced routine like school has, it is very difficult for people to allocate their limited time adequately to juggle multiple-language learning with a sufficient enough time period for studying each language to allow the brain to make connections. It's hard for the mind to absorb multiple language pathways simultaneously as a beginner. Oh yeah, life often gets in the way of the best language-learning plans as an adult.

So my conclusion, for me, is that the best pathway to polyglottery is one language at a time (speaking only for myself!). Yes, other people can learn multiple languages simultaneously. Related languages are easier, certainly. Learning multiple languages is easier after a learner has learned their first second language (again, speaking about adult monolinguals here). Certainly we have people here who are learning multiple languages simultaneously and others who have done so successfully. Now that I have a few languages under my belt, I could probably take on two or three at the same time... but is that the best use of my time? I'll leave that to others who have been successful at it. I have found what works for me.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby tiia » Tue May 25, 2021 5:10 pm

PeterMollenburg wrote: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?

Reaching C1 will take quite a long time, so if the goal is to learn three languages up to that level, I would take it in steps:

1. Start with the first language.
2. If the first language is (at least) about level A2/B1 one can start the next one parallel, while continuing with the first one.
3. Start the third language when the second language is at a level of at least A2/B1 and you feel quite comfortable with the first language (min. good B2 skills?).

The exact moment when to start the next language depends on the person and their own feeling about it, but I would see A2/B1 as a minimum before starting the next one.
One point is to not cover the same (beginners) topics in more than one language at once, so one has a bit of variety.
However, the process to get from B2 to C1 will take quite a long time, so I would not wait until then to start the next language.
I suppose one may need to study again some specific (grammar) aspects, too, not just enjoying the fun stuff. But being able to relax in the language and do some more fun stuff will enlarge the vocabulary etc. It's something one can do while focussing on the grammar of another language.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby Le Baron » Tue May 25, 2021 6:51 pm

I agree with iguanamon. Ambition is always greater than success. Impatience is a curse. The enemy of learning a language is chopping and changing too soon. Either flitting between multiple desired languages or flitting about within a language looking for the next great course or method to speed things up. That search for 'efficiency', a method to enable an adult to learn something like 6 or 7 languages to a highly useable state. Well good luck finding that because as far as I can tell most people who speak 3+ languages have been at it for years/decades; where the majority of proficiency comes from years of using them..

We end up back at that tired old question: what is polyglottery, what is multilingualism? The answer seems to be what everyone wants it to be...so maybe that is the answer! So long as people aren't fooling themselves with regard to what they are doing and where they are. What does it mean, for example, if you say "I have B1/B2 reading level, but go to pieces when someone asks the way to the station in Italian? If your real, actual, truthful aim was middle-range reading proficiency in Italian, then fair play, you've done it. Move on if you want. Why you wouldn't want to pursue speaking is a mystery to me.

Aside from things with research to show some efficacy like spaced repetition, all these 'scientific' methodologies and plans and ratios and complicated strategies posited as possibly universal truths are bunkum really, aren't they? If we're being honest. Folk keep reinventing the wheel instead of getting on the bike and just bloody peddling. We know by now the handful of rules of thumb for effective (not 'efficient') language learning:

1. Start a reputable course and stick with it until the course ends (assuming it's generally working for you. Which doesn't include: 'I got bored after 3 weeks').
2. Consume content: audio/visual, reading. All the core, practical content people use every day.
3. As soon as possible start finding and making opportunities to use the language.
4. Work gradually on ironing out weak points as you find them (you'll find them when speaking, writing, reading...). But carry on using the language.

5...6..7.. Don't even think about embarking on another language 'journey' if the one you're on is still not in a properly usable state, because you'll just short change yourself. Ever tried looking at ALL the pictures in a museum simultaneously? Doesn't work. You have to focus on some things and absorb them before you can move on.
Don't waste your life trying to devise strategies such as "getting ace at grammar" beforehand so you'll not fall down when you finally get conversing, because it's not realistic. Know yourself and set realistic goals, achieve them and move on.

This might mean that while you're still at A1/A2 or 'intermediate' in German and Spanish and Icelandic...tra la la, with the hope of actually using them...properly someday, starting Chinese because it seems 'cool' is probably a bit daft.
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Re: The question of EFFICIENCY in polyglottery

Postby rdearman » Tue May 25, 2021 10:18 pm

Wow. I really am crap at this. I don't think I have ever spent 3 hour studying anything. Certainly not one single subject for 3 solid hours. And like Iverson i was stupid and learned two romance languages at the same time. I need to reevaluate my life.
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