Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

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zKing
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Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby zKing » Wed Jul 11, 2018 7:45 pm

My apologies for the L1=English centered nature of this post, but I assume this could be applied generically for near/far languages from anyone's L1. FSI just happens to give numbers for L1=English.

According to the FSI charts, in the time it would take you to learn say Mandarin to a B2-C1 level, you could probably learn Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese to about the same B2-C1 levels (plus or minus).
https://www.atlasandboots.com/foreign-s ... ifficulty/

Now I know there have been regular arguments about these numbers and how accurate they are as absolute numbers, but I'm talking about time relative to each other not specific amounts of time... i.e. do you believe it takes roughly 4x as much time to learn Japanese vs Spanish? Does this effect your choice of language to study?

Personally, at a gut level, I've always felt the posts titled "which language should I study?" were a little odd. Given the size of the effort and the level of mental connection with the culture that is involved, I always felt like a language picks you. I regularly get asked by native Cantonese speakers: "Why are you learning Cantonese instead of Mandarin?" ... as native Cantonese speakers often feel their language is "useless" and foreigners should always learn Mandarin. This is usually focused on the assumed financial benefits.
My response is usually something like: "因為每次我外母講關於我嘅嘢,佢都用廣東話。" / "Because when my mother-in-law talks about me, she uses Cantonese." (Corrections always appreciated!) For me, there is really no question that if I were to learn one language, it would be Cantonese as that is so much a part of my wife's background and therefore my life.

As for Italian, it was more of a fun thing for me and FAR less important. After I'd studied Cantonese off and on for a few years and my wife and I repeatedly visited Italy on vacation, I decided I'd learn some Italian as I was deeply interested in the culture and we will likely continue to visit Italy often. The only other language I could, at this point, possible have any use for might be Spanish given the number of speakers in the US and our occasional trips to Mexico. Of course, like others on this board, I DO have a long laundry list of "some day" languages like Arabic, Hindi, Russian, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, etc. etc. But I have no illusions about how much time that would take and the tiny odds that I will tackle even half of them. Perhaps in my retirement years when I will, in theory, have a lot more free time.

Returning to the real point... I did notice when I studied Italian that it was ENORMOUSLY easier than Cantonese and, while I really didn't do any kind of tracking, saying that my progress was 4x faster feels about right to me. I'd seen the FSI numbers long ago and noticed the difference myself, but I'd never really thought about it the other way around: In the time it takes me to learn Cantonese, I could probably learn the four "FIGS" to the same level. (Particularly given the closeness of the Romance languages.) It sort of put the magnitude of what I'm doing in a new perspective. Even though I had seen the FSI 4x thing before, I don't know if I really 'got it' and fully respected the size of the mountain I'm climbing before. I mean, setting aside folks on this board for a moment, in the past I've seen how long and hard people work to learn Spanish... and many (most?) quit along the way. And I've chosen to do this times four.

To be really clear, I have absolutely zero inclination to change my language of choice for the reasons stated above... it is what it is. The only thing it might effect is the order of my fantasy "some day" language list. Strangely, if anything, this new realization makes me want to work even harder to succeed. The challenge of it is now even more exciting.

But I'm curious:
1. Do you believe the relative FSI ratios are somewhat accurate? If not, why?

2. Did/Does this effect your choice of language to study or the order you study multiple languages in?
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby eido » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:59 pm

But I'm curious:
1. Do you believe the relative FSI ratios are somewhat accurate? If not, why?

2. Did/Does this effect your choice of language to study or the order you study multiple languages in?

I can't comment on the accuracy.

I can comment on how the numbers alone affect me. The more difficult something is purported to be, the more it intrigues me and the more I'm determined to learn it. At the same time, it discourages me. It's just a simple assessment, not an essay on why it's nearly impossible to learn a language. But for some reason it gets to me. And I always read that what someone else thinks of your ability shouldn't deter you or change your opinion, so these categories shouldn't even be relevant. I don't think it affects what order I learn it in. I picked Spanish because I thought it would be easy and the only language I'd ever need, as fourteen year-old me. So technically anything I learn after this is going to be harder if it's a difficulty level higher than this, and thus the order will have been dictated by that decision. But when I was around the same age, I picked Japanese to study a little, and I knew nothing about it. I didn't even know about the FSI. It didn't matter to me that it was difficult - I didn't even know it was. That's having that Pimsleur idealism for you (I say this because that's what I studied with). I think if you go in blind or don't psych yourself out, there should be no reason that you should find something unlearnable. But it's pretty hard these days with all the information available to you, and if you're an adult. You naturally do cost-benefit analysis. I know I get analysis paralysis just thinking about what I should eat, let alone what I should learn next. But most of the time what I learn is dictated by interest, despite how I can get swayed sometimes by my parents who say I shouldn't bother with any Asian language or anything that's not FIGS.
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby devilyoudont » Thu Jul 12, 2018 12:35 am

zKing wrote:1. Do you believe the relative FSI ratios are somewhat accurate? If not, why?


I think the idea is more or less correct.

zKing wrote:2. Did/Does this effect your choice of language to study or the order you study multiple languages in?


It does not... I fell in love with each language that I study. I'm not just collecting them or something.
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby smallwhite » Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:21 am

zKing wrote:
But I'm curious:
1. Do you believe the relative FSI ratios are somewhat accurate? If not, why?

My answer part 1: Can't say if the ratios are accurate, because time to learn is heavily affected by approach and method used, and going from learning "tradition (EN) = tradition (FR)" to learning "tradition (EN) = 傳統 (chinese)" of course calls for different approaches and methods.

My answer part 2: I wouldn't be surprise it if takes someone 4 times or 10 times to learn a Cat V vs a Cat I. Chinese shouldn't be hard as I find the wording very similar and then there's next to zero declensions, but I imagine Japanese would be pretty hard to grasp and own.
zKing wrote:
My response is usually something like: "因為每次我外母講關於我嘅嘢,佢都用廣東話。" / "Because when my mother-in-law talks about me, she uses Cantonese." (Corrections always appreciated!)

Well done using full-shape punctuation!

"因為每次我外母講我,佢都用廣東話。"
講我」is enough.
講車 talk about cars
講明星 talk about pop stars
講時事 talk about current affairs
"My brother likes to 講車/講明星/講時事."
"Hi guys! Who are you talking about? 講緊邊個?" "Talking about you! 講緊你呀!"
"This episode, we talk about China. 今集,我地講中國。"
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby zKing » Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:41 am

smallwhite wrote:
zKing wrote:
zKing wrote:My response is usually something like: "因為每次我外母講關於我嘅嘢,佢都用廣東話。" / "Because when my mother-in-law talks about me, she uses Cantonese." (Corrections always appreciated!)

Well done using full-shape punctuation!

"因為每次我外母講我,佢都用廣東話。"
講我」is enough.
講車 talk about cars
講明星 talk about pop stars
講時事 talk about current affairs
"My brother likes to 講車/講明星/講時事."
"Hi guys! Who are you talking about? 講緊邊個?" "Talking about you! 講緊你呀!"
"This episode, we talk about China. 今集,我地講中國。"

Thanks again, smallwhite!
As usual, whatever I try to say in Cantonese, a native will almost always say it with fewer words. :D
I'm always over-explicit with preposition like things in Cantonese as I'm kind of fuzzy on that area of the grammar. I really need to take the time to revisit those bits in my grammar books.

Google Input is to thank for the full shape punctuation, and Chinese always looks a little weird to me without it. There's something my rigid brain really likes about everything taking up exactly the same single character space. :lol:
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby Glossy » Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:53 am

I did notice when I studied Italian that it was ENORMOUSLY easier than Cantonese and, while I really didn't do any kind of tracking, saying that my progress was 4x faster feels about right to me.


I would even say that the difference is more than 4 times. Hard to put a number on it. My intuitive feeling is that the FSI numbers understate the difference.

I’m learning Mandarin now. Didn’t recognize 嘅嘢 in your post. Looked it up in Pleco - those are Cantonese characters.

It’s not just the Chinese language that’s X number of times more different from the major Euro languages than any major Euro languages are different from each other. It’s also the culture, the history, everything. If you already know Italian, how much new, unexpected stuff, of any sort, are you going to pick up by learning Spanish?

I want to be surprised. I want to learn about new worlds, more realistic and complicated ones than the kind you see in fantasy lit. Euro cultures are great, but I already know a lot about them.

Plus I like the process of learning languages.
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby zenmonkey » Thu Jul 12, 2018 12:22 pm

zKing wrote:1. Do you believe the relative FSI ratios are somewhat accurate? If not, why?


I'm sure that statistically speaking, for a large number of learners following FSI methods , they are 'somewhat' accurate.
I'm not sure what 'somewhat' means. But, for the individual, these are basically meaningless - language learning has hysteresis - the function of the time needed to learn a language changes from prior experience and the path taken.

"A property of a system such that an output value is not a strict function of the corresponding input, but also incorporates some lag, delay, or history dependence, and in particular when the response for a decrease in the input variable is different from the response for an increase."

zKing wrote:2. Did/Does this effect your choice of language to study or the order you study multiple languages in?


No. The FSI ratios don't affect me. If you mean, does my perception of how difficult a task might be affect what language I'm going to try to learn? Yes, absolutely.

I've actively avoided Japanese and Korean (and Russian and ...) because I know that I have to dedicate a single-minded, focused effort to get to what I call 'an acceptable inflexion point'. Language difficulty does influence my choice. I'm working already on a few 'hard' languages - I think I'm covered for the next 2-3 years.
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby kulaputra » Thu Jul 12, 2018 2:18 pm

In strictly economic terms, opportunity cost is measured in terms of the next best alternative. If you genuinely prefer learning Chinese to learning all four FIGS, and assuming learning all four FIGS is in fact the next best option in your subjective evaluation (and not, say, learning Amharic or guitar or a martial art, or pretty much anything else that you value)- then the only relevant question is, would you rather know Chinese or FIGS? Some people will genuinely prefer knowing Chinese, in which case, for them, the opportunity cost is not really relevant.
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby Stefan » Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:30 pm

I don't have the source available but I believe Category V included one year in the target country and the hours mentioned only included hours in school - you're supposed to do a lot of homework in your spare time.

The FSI numbers brought me back to reality and stopped me from attempting Japanese.
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Re: Opportunity Cost of FSI Category V languages

Postby Xmmm » Thu Jul 12, 2018 7:18 pm

Some Chinese co-workers tried to encourage me to to learn Mandarin a couple years ago. I have some cultural affinity for things Chinese, spent a summer in rural (not any more!) China back in the 1980s before it was trendy, etc. But I told them "hey, I'm in my 50s, I don't start twenty year projects."

Then they suggested (as Graceffo also suggests) "forget about the writing for now. Learning to speak is not that hard. Learn to write later if you want." In other words, if you're willing to be illiterate you can cut Mandarin down from a Cat V to a Cat IV. But then, of course, you are illiterate. I guess there's audio books and TV and you can talk to people. It's not that bad.

I would not do a Cat V unless I were married to a Cat V speaker ... but "fluent/illiterate in Mandarin" is kind of intriguing ...
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