Habits of highly effective language learners

General discussion about learning languages
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Re: List of habits from people who have mastered many languages

Postby jonathanrace » Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:45 pm

MCK74 wrote:Alexander Arguelles on YouTube has several videos on this subject,

Here is one, he has also developed a survey for polyglots and made a short series of videos sharing and analyzing the results.


This was an interesting watch. Thank you!

Thanks to the other contributions in this thread so far, good stuff everyone! :)
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby MCK74 » Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:48 pm

It's OK if you're not exactly sure of your terminology. Even professional linguists sometimes aren't quite sure what the exact definition of terms like "fluency" or "to know a language" mean.

As far as wanting to learn the habits of highly effective language learners, Michael Erard's book "Babel No More" (2012) discusses people who have learned 11+ languages. Again, to various degrees of fluency - some of the polyglots use certain languages every day, and others they need to brush up for a few hours or a few days.
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby Iversen » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:42 am

Even the 'brush up' notion needs to be qualified.

If I have to speak or write in a weak language I routinely read something or listen to something before doing so to get my brain 'buzzing' in the language. We are not speaking days or weeks spent on studying here, but maybe an hour or so - and if I'm travelling in a suitable country it may not even be necessary to warm up since I'll be fully immersed in the language the whole time during my stay. But I don't need any brush up to start reading in such a language (although it may take some minutes to get my brain up to normal reading speed). I would be happy to say that the same applied to listening, but since I hardly ever listen to most of my weak languages I would take hours to get into a state where I can follow for instance a TV program in the language. For instance I routinely write things in Russian and I can produce thoughts in shaky Russian in my brain, but I have probably listened less than an hour to Russian speech this year - and then I obviously can't just decode the latest message from mister Putin on the fly.

So active skills are more fragile and need more preparation than passive skills, but not because you need the time to learn new things. It is only a question about getting the flow of thoughts kickstarted, based on things you already know.

As for the time it takes to learn a language... well, hm... Since I'm studying a lot of languages I can only spend a short time on each one, so it takes years for me to get to the point where I'm ready to speak to native speakers. However if I spend the necessary time it can go faster. I once booked a trip to the Cape Verde Islands where the main languages are Portuguese and a Creole language. I did get to the 'tourist Tarzan' stage in a couple of months and I could do some simple things in the Portuguese during my stay, but not have regular conversations. And a few months later I visited Moçambique and soon after also Portugal (resp. nov.2006, april 2007 and Portugal in June 2007), where I tried to stick to Portuguese all the time, even when thinking. This is what I call a monolingual trip, and doing such a trip is my criterion for claiming to speak a language. So it took me about half a year to get from nada to monolingual traveller, but I was obviously helped by knowing some Spanish. I had at the time not been studing languages for 25 years so even my Spanish was somewhat shaky, but without it I would have had severe problems getting a sufficiently large vocabulary - I only developed my wordlist layout in 2008-2009.

Passive skills are different. I was surprised how easy it was to read Bulgarian the first time I tried, since my background mainly was shaky knowledge of Russian and a solid vocabulary in Serbian after a wordlist orgy.
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby golyplot » Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:02 am

I'm in the same situation, except that I focused on listening instead of reading. If I hear something in any of my languages, I can understand it, but I wouldn't be able to speak it without preparation. But once I'm exposed to the language, it all starts coming back.
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby trui » Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:51 am

I'll get back to you on this in a few years since I'm still not there yet. :lol:

But I don't think you should budge on your C1+ definition of proficient. So many people know lots of languages to A2, maybe even B1/B2, and we've got endless articles and interviews on how those people do it. What I'd be more interested in is the people who really go deep in learning a language and really work to master it. Some people who 'know' 10 languages, also know a couple to C1+, so their input would be valuable if they specifically talk about their experiences with their C level languages.

Good luck with your article!

Edit: And before anyone gets mad, I count B2 and perhaps even B1 as knowing a language and I'm certainly not trying to dismiss my own accomplishments. I just put quotes around 'know' since some people count their A1 languages in their known languages and I consider that to be a bit iffy.
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby tarvos » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:22 pm

I think most habits us highly effective language learners have are that we're dogged, persistent, self-confident pieces of work that don't take anything for granted and work hard to get where we are. We've got a source of motivation that doesn't run dry (I think I am one of those people that thinks that if I have to work up the motivation to do something, I should be doing something else, unless it's basic survival stuff). There are specific routines I would recommend, but since routines vary and everyone's different I always think that I need to work with a person individually before I can comment on what would likely benefit that person. (And I get paid to do that job, so...)

I honestly don't care what other people think anymore about what my levels are like and whether my Czech is a B1.3 or a B2.778 or a C4 explosive. (It's obviously the last one). I speak loads of languages at mediocre levels and they've still been useful. I think I tend to get further in my slightly Dutch-accented, grammatically obnoxious German than some people who have spent their lives analysing Goethe. My habit is that I just use German when I need it, whenever that happens to be, and that I do it with the confidence that I can manage things in German however horrible things may turn out to be.

I like to think that most polyglots I know are effective, have fun with their languages, and manage very well. I, personally, though, will make a point of only presenting at Gatherings/Conferences in non-English tongues from now on, just because as a polyglot I find that more fun. Most of those people I know (and they're not necessarily the ones with the most media attention) are effective because they know what they want, why they want it, and go for it no holds barred.
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby Flickserve » Tue Apr 16, 2019 12:20 am

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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby Sarchta » Tue Apr 16, 2019 9:14 am

In my opinion, one of the most effective habits (one that helped me so far) is to stop caring about your mistakes and use your TL as often as possible.
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby jonathanrace » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:20 am

Sarchta wrote:In my opinion, one of the most effective habits (one that helped me so far) is to stop caring about your mistakes and use your TL as often as possible.

Definitely important. When we start learning our mother language we aren't worried about mistakes, we just go for it. There's something to be said for fossilization errors but I think if you have enough contact with the TL then you should be ok :)
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Re: Habits of highly effective language learners

Postby Vero » Wed Apr 17, 2019 2:15 pm

Hmmmm.... However it seems that it would be difficult to agree on definitions of what's "proficiency", "fluency", etc., I guess everybody has some tricks they do. The mines are:

    Every time I go to Spain, I switch completely to Spanish, including my own thoughts. I started doing this when I was a fresh B2 candidate: speaking to myself on my way to the shower, switch the TV on to listen to it on background, read a magazine in the cafe... I'm not sure if this is something revolutionary but I noted an important progress on my way towards fluency;
    Long, long time ago I asked my Spanish friend to correct me every time I make a mistake or when he notice the structure of the phrase is not natural or when he notice any slips in accent/pronunciation. Definitely it's not everybody's cup of tea and sometimes it's annoying even for me but the results are impressive;
    I collect all the bits and pieces of the current Spanish culture I come across, it involves daily check of the newspapers, watching new movies, monitoring social media etc., because usually the society lives with every topic for a while, the expressions repeat and I absorb them naturally as they emerge.

    I've introduced a new hack, I started with native input from the first moment. Currently it's one TV programme (25 mins) a week and two or three podcasts (cca 30 mins each) a week;
    I don't avoid any topic or grammatical point. For example, if I write a homework for my Catalan class and it seems that I need a more complex tense, then I study it right away even if it doesn't correspond to my current level.
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