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I have recently wanted to take up learning a foreign language. A friend of mine in the military is learning German and is telling me how much fun and beneficial- she's stationed in Germany- it has been for her. I too think learning a foreign language would be enjoyable and listening to her progress over the phone the past few months has really planted the bug in me!

I live in southern California and learning Spanish would certainly be beneficial as a large part of the population here speaks Spanish. I also took a couple of years of it in school and recall most of it but I'm not convinced as to whether I'd like to learn Spanish but I would like to learn a foreign language. Learning in general is enjoyable and I want to find out what it's like to be fluent in another language.

I know I'll be casting away the reading of, say, a book per month by spending my time instead on learning the foreign language which is a bit scary. YIKES!

Any comments or recommendations regarding it's worth, the time commitment, the best method, importance of having someone to converse with in that language etc., for those who have looked into or have learned a foreign language- especially since formal schooling? Thanks everyone :lol:

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Any comments or recommendations regarding it's worth, the time commitment, the best method, importance of having someone to converse with in that language etc., for those who have looked into or have learned a foreign language- especially since formal schooling? Thanks everyone :thumbsup:

I took a couple years of Spanish in highschool, and worked in a couple factories with Mexican workers, with whom I would do a "como se dice?" sort of exchange. This kept it alive for me...now I'm taking a free local class, and besides that am working to improve on my own. Sometimes when I go on a walk, I bring my eng/span dictionary with me, and try to make sentences about what's going on around me, etc. If I don't know a word I'll look it up and re-rehearse the sentence. I love the learning process.

Personally I can't help you with deciding whether it's "worth it" or not, aside from pointing out that learning a new language is exercising your mind in a whole different way than reading a book.

If you want to learn, I do think having someone to converse with is important. It forces you into new and unexpected situations with the language, which is what conversation is all about, really. I was fortunate to find someone here who chats pretty regularly and speaks the language (or at least a slight variation of it) fluently. And if you ever see me in chat, I'd love to practice.

Edited by musenji
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I've always picked up new languages pretty easily, and I do enjoy learning a new one -- but its worth to you will depend upon what situations you plan to be in and whether you love language for its own sake. (I do -- I love clever wordplay, the kind of thing that often does not survive translation.) Do you want to travel a lot? If so, it can be incredibly satisfying to chat with locals in their own language, especially because unless you have a pretty good command of the language, they will often just brush aside your attempts and speak to you in English. So if a native speaker permits you to carry on a conversation, you know you've mastered the language pretty well! Or you may want to read works by a favorite author in the language in which they were written -- say, learning German so you can read Goethe.

If you want to learn, I do think having someone to converse with is important.

I cannot second this point enough. Pronouncing the words in your head is not enough -- true practice comes with speaking as much as possible, preferably with a native speaker who can catch your mistakes and help you learn idioms. (I just returned from a vacation in Italy -- my boyfriend and I had tried to learn a little Italian before going, and we found we were emphasizing the wrong syllables often, thereby rendering ourselves incomprehensible to the locals.) Your profile doesn't say where you live, but if you live in or near a large city or a university, you can probably find an individual or group to converse with, or just start one yourself (Craigslist is great for that!). I founded a German-speaking group here in NYC 6 years ago, and although I don't participate any longer, from what I hear it's still going strong.

Some large cities also have language and culture institutes where you can take classes at a reasonable price -- I can think of at least four off the top of my head in New York (Instituto Cervantes for Spanish, Alliance Francaise for French, Deutsches Haus for German, China Institute for Chinese). From my experience with the Deutsches Haus, the classes are of good quality, plus there's the bonus that you instantly meet others who are interested in learning the same language, so you can hone your skills with your classmates outside of class.

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It would probably help to examine your reasons more closely. Utility might lead you to studying Japanese, Korean or Chinese for business purposes, but Arabic or Urdu could be more useful for national security purposes. It depends on why or how you think you might actually use the language. If you have in mind fluency, you have to be able to actually use the language regularly in conversation, which would probably rule out e.g. Finnish. I would suggest letting your choice be driven by existing interest, so if you want to spend your summers driving down the Amalfi coast, learn Italian (which however would not be one of the easier-to-find-instructors-of language, compared to French-Spanish-German-Russian).

Personally, I recommend North Saami, although you would have to learn some basic Norwegian to survive in the class.

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you have to be able to actually use the language regularly in conversation, which would probably rule out e.g. Finnish.

[...]

Personally, I recommend North Saami

Can you use that regularly in conversation in the States?

Edited by Capitalism Forever
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From my own expereince I can note the following:

1) To gain fluency ou need to practice. Watching movies or TV in the foreign language helps a lot with pronunciation and some with slang. Books, newspapers and magazines are necessary complements to this practice. Speaking, too, but that can prove harder depending on circumstances. If you can get movies on DVD, at first you may want to display subtitles in the language you're learning. This helps you develop an ear for difficult words, and it helps to tell homonyms apart.

2) To speak and write fluently you need to be able to think in that language, rather than in your native tongue.

3) You must find it desirable or useful, or both, to be able to speak this new language. If not you'll wind up forgetting it entirely. This also happens if you actively dislike the language you're learning.

4) Take advantage of the internet. Look for websites in the language you're learning, join discussion groups, etc.

5) It's useful to compare expressions, grammar and general structure against a language you know (native or not). This gives you a standard against which to undertsand the differences.

I grew up with Spanish. I learned Yiddish and Hebrew at school, but between a strong dislike for both (long story) and lack of use, I don't really speak them or write or read them anymore. I learned English, too, which is still the most useful language to know. I hope to find the time to learn Italian in the near future.

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Personally, I recommend North Saami, although you would have to learn some basic Norwegian to survive in the class.

Naah, it's gotta be Tsez. :thumbsup: (That language is infamous for its complexity and consonants that sound like bad coughs; as John McWhorter put it, you wonder how someone can possibly remember the grammar and remember to breathe; his talk on it is quite amusing.) It's spoken in the North Caucasus region.

Seriously, I know an immigrant from the Mari republic in Russia. As near as I can tell she speaks both Mari and Russian--though I haven't figured out whether it's Hill or Meadow Mari dialect. Mari, like Saami, is a relative of Finnish. (IIRC there is another language in New Guinea also called Mari.) This could potentially solve the native speaker problem but not the usefulness problem.

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From my own expereince I can note the following:

1) To gain fluency ou need to practice. Watching movies or TV in the foreign language helps a lot with pronunciation and some with slang. Books, newspapers and magazines are necessary complements to this practice. Speaking, too, but that can prove harder depending on circumstances. If you can get movies on DVD, at first you may want to display subtitles in the language you're learning. This helps you develop an ear for difficult words, and it helps to tell homonyms apart.

2) To speak and write fluently you need to be able to think in that language, rather than in your native tongue.

3) You must find it desirable or useful, or both, to be able to speak this new language. If not you'll wind up forgetting it entirely. This also happens if you actively dislike the language you're learning.

4) Take advantage of the internet. Look for websites in the language you're learning, join discussion groups, etc.

5) It's useful to compare expressions, grammar and general structure against a language you know (native or not). This gives you a standard against which to undertsand the differences.

I can confirm from my own experience everything you wrote.

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So is everyone of the opinion that cds, television, movies etc. are no substitute for conversing with a native speaker?

Also, do you think learning a foreign language could be done independent of a class? In other words, are there any other places you could speak the language assuming there is nobody you know who speaks it? Anything or place I have not thought of?

It never occured to me that you could "lose" a language once learned by not speaking it but it makes sense. I'm afraid other than Spanish, this would be a serious concern.

Seeing as I have a great opportunity to learn Spanish living in southern CA, I think that I'll take it up. As far as utility goes, I'm not an employee of a multinational and Spanish would definitely be an asset for me. Thanks for all the tips and input. I appreciate you taking the time.

Just outta curiousity, are N. Saami and Tsez some of the most difficult to learn?

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Also, do you think learning a foreign language could be done independent of a class?
Yeah, I know a guy who learned fluent Quebecois by hanging out in working-class bars in Montreal. However you do it, what matters the most is trying to actively use the language, which means actually trying to have a conversation, as opposed to being able to say "Yo quiero comer aguacate" or "mun halidan borrat ruspi" when it's your turn.
Just outta curiousity, are N. Saami and Tsez some of the most difficult to learn?
I find arbitrary lists hard to memorize, so IMO Dinka is one of the hardest languages to learn since there doesn't seem to be any rule for making plurals. N. Saami might be difficult if you have to depend on someone giving you explicit instructions about how to form words (like, "you make the 1st singular preterite by....") but if you can intuit the rules from the raw data, it's not too difficult. Dunno about Tsez.
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So is everyone of the opinion that cds, television, movies etc. are no substitute for conversing with a native speaker?

I think conversing with native speakers can give you a kind of boost that nothing else can, but movies can be very helpful too--perhaps the second best thing after talking to native speakers.

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So is everyone of the opinion that cds, television, movies etc. are no substitute for conversing with a native speaker?

One vote for "that is correct". CDs are okay for learning words and phrases. Television and movies let you watch real conversations in the foreign language, with or without English subtitles. Practicing with someone who also wants to study is good. Practicing with a native speaker is better, but you may have to have something to offer them in return.

Also, do you think learning a foreign language could be done independent of a class?
YES. Just as learning pretty much anything can be if you set your mind to it. And honestly, there are enough resources on the internet that I think a class is really unnecessary, especially if you have some previous experience.

In other words, are there any other places you could speak the language assuming there is nobody you know who speaks it? Anything or place I have not thought of?
Most instant messenger programs now have live voice chat available, for free. Make use of that opportunity and find someone on the internet who speaks whatever language you want to learn--or who is learning it themself. (As I said before, if I see you in chat here I'd love to practice anytime.)

On a side note, the Star Wars DVD set can be listened to in Spanish, and the voice-overs are excellent. Darth Vader actually still SOUNDS like Darth Vader. I busted up at "Si es una nave consular, donde esta el embajador?"

[edit] By the way, I certainly don't think speaking with a native speaker is absolutely necessary. For one thing you can find people who are not native speakers, but who are still fluent and can still correct you.

Edited by musenji
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On a side note, the Star Wars DVD set can be listened to in Spanish, and the voice-overs are excellent. Darth Vader actually still SOUNDS like Darth Vader. I busted up at "Si es una nave consular, donde esta el embajador?"

I must protest on artistic grounds. Not that you're wrong about using dubbed movies to practice another language, but that dubbing movies is tantamount to defacing said movies. A movie has several facets, from performance to direction to cinematography and so on. On the performance front, you deface a movie by changing the actor's original voices with something else, no matter how well it's done (and, yes, Spanish dubbing is done very well). I can make allowances for children movies, as children too young to read could not watch movies otherwise. But anyone over ten ought to be able to make do with subtitles.

[edit] By the way, I certainly don't think speaking with a native speaker is absolutely necessary. For one thing you can find people who are not native speakers, but who are still fluent and can still correct you.

And that's the principal benefit from speaking with someone: corrections. Feedback, too. You can improve your accent and pronunciation most by talking.

I wish to add: you know you're fluent in any language when you can understand and appreciate word play in that language.

For anyone who knows Spanish and likes word play I recommend an Argentinian music commedy group known as Les Luthiers. Just about all their songs and acts are massive word play, and very, very funny (they also use a little English in some of their acts and songs). This group uses instruments they devised by themselves, such as a violin made from tin cans (it sounds very good, too), and other things. Well, they've taken Spanish and turned it into a comedic instrument as well.

For example: In Spanish there are two pronouns for second person singular, tu and usted. The first is infomral, to be used with one's peers, friends and family. the second is formal, used mostly with strangers, bosses, employees, older people, etc. Les Luthiers has a song, El Rey Enamorado, which makes excellent use of the different conjugations for these two pronouns. In this song the king wants to serenade his lover, so he uses a minstrel to do it. He tells the minstrel the words and the latter sings them. But whereas the king can use the pronoun "tu" when talking to her, the minstrel cannot. Therefore the minstrel must translate from one conjugation form to the other and hilarity results.

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I wish to add: you know you're fluent in any language when you can understand and appreciate word play in that language.

This reminds me of the nihilist Franco-German philosopher Nietzsche Vaux.

(The Russian word for "nothing" is ничего, pronounced "NEE-chee-vo")

This may qualify as a tri-lingual pun.

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While I am not fluent in anything but English, and barely remember French, my best friend is almost completely fluent in Japanese. She started off of those Japanese language discs just as a hobby. She wasn't very good at it but just the discs, after two years of using them, was able to start college in Japan as a exchange student. Now she is almost completely fluent, loves the culture and even considers living there after college. While it isn't what she is majoring in, it has been very important. She still had free time to read and work on art. If you are that interested in learning a foreign language and it's not going to get in the way of you pursuing something else than there is no reason not to do it. Before she went to Japan she could understand Japanese but could barely converse with natives, though it was enough to get her into an exchange program right after high school, that vastly improved her Japanese. Now she is almost completely fluent. She just started learning it as a hobby and from self study but because she really enjoyed it, she was able to apply it to her other classes and life in general without getting in the way of her studies or hobbies.

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So is everyone of the opinion that cds, television, movies etc. are no substitute for conversing with a native speaker

Yes. I would argue that i am quite capable of expressing myself here on this forum, and i cant remember a situation where someone would have criticized me for my poor written english. Sure, it has its flaws, and its far from perfect, but i at least hope everyone can understand what im trying to say, without much effort.

Still, my spoken english is quite poor, and its not just the pronounciations. Every time i talk english to a person with english as their first language, i dont have much confidence, and im unable to express myself in a way i would prefer. If i ever had a discussion about Objectivism in person with an american, i think the american would need to give me a lot of time, to express my points, as spoken english doesnt come easy to me.

The reason for this is, that i rarely use spoken english. I've learned english by watching TV from an early age(we dont dub our programs here), and after personal computers and the internet became widespread, i think i have mastered the written language to a degree, where i can discuss almost any topic, without constantly being lost for words. I havent needed subtitles for many years now, and i can "think" in english(im actually doing it right now). But i rarely speak the language, and i really find it embarrassing sometimes, when i struggle to get my point across completely when speaking english. My pronounciations can be akward, and i can master "small talk", but if the topic becomes too specific, i struggle.

However, i think it would require only a couple of months living in the US, for me to start mastering the spoken language as well, because i feel i have a strong foundation what to build on.

So, if you want to be able to speak the language, just speak it :P

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  • 1 year later...

I would like to add another question: What new considerations would be added if one wanted to learn a new language for the purpose of improving one's thinking and/or writing? Several months ago, perhaps even a year, I read a statement by Ayn Rand to the tune that she was glad that she knew multiple languages since it helped her with her writing; because it helped her gain a better grasp on the essence of language in whole, and I have been thinking about it ever since. On these grounds I am considering learning a new language.

I have heard that modern day English is derived from Latin, so I have been giving that one in particular in consideration, but I'm not entirely sure.

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I have heard that modern day English is derived from Latin, so I have been giving that one in particular in consideration, but I'm not entirely sure.

Nope, it's not derived from Latin--though it has borrowed a lot of vocabulary from both Latin and Norman French.

The grammatical structure is still a modified Germanic language grammar. The Germanic languages are a different branch of the Indo-European family than the Romance languages--they are related but neither is derived from the other.

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I'm very skeptical about the idea that learning languages has a special effect on your writing or thinking ability. However, if there is to be any positive effect that derives from language learning, then I would suggest learning a language that is fairly different from English (which would then maximize your chances of realizing that X which you thought was "logically necessary" is a result of either specific details of our culture, or is just an accident). Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, or maybe even Russian would be good choices in that respect.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Actually, it can have an effect on at least your writing ability in your native language. Allow me to explain.

I'll just take Japanese, the language I've devoted a significant portion of my life to, as an easy example. There are several different ways of saying "to take" that are pronounced the same but written differently, and used in different contexts. In the process of learning these distinctions, I became more acutely aware of the same distinctions in English. I also learned a great deal about the nuts-and-bolts of English grammar and syntax just by having to learn the different ways sentences are constructed in Japanese. In short, if you set out to learn a foreign language in great detail, then you will inevitably be made more aware of aspects of your own language you may have taken for granted before.

You also learn to be extremely accurate with your diction in a foreign language because you have a more limited vocabulary and much more limited knowledge of connotations and derogatory and pejorative implications of words. This, in turn, teaches you (at least it did me) to be more accurate with your native language.

The only way to really learn a foreign language and make it second-nature to you is to immerse yourself in it completely and use it as often as possible. Make opportunities to use it if you don't have any. You have to read, write, speak, listen to, and think in this language. If time does not permit, then cut out writing since you typically don't write during a conversation. Even so, it's hard to learn another language without knowing how to write it, so you have to know at least basic writing skills in your language of choice.

Edited by Krattle
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