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Picking up a language

  1. Jul 6, 2007 #1
    Anyone care to share their experiences picking up a language 'from scratch' by taking university courses? How many courses do you generally have to take before being able to speak at a moderately competent level, read books in the language, and so on?

    I'm thinking French or German. Thing is, I wouldn't be speaking in either of these languages outside of the classroom, so..
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  3. Jul 6, 2007 #2


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    Well, I just started Cantonese on my own using Pimsleur's audio series. I don't plan on learning how to write or read Cantonese though. I do however plan on learning how to speak, write and read Mandarin.

    Anyways, the audio series makes you say the words out loud many times over and over again. It's actually fun though. And you feel the progress go up.

    I'd say after 30 lessons of Pimsleur that you would be pretty darn good. Each lesson is 30 minutes and has 90 lessons total. I would assume if you did 90 lessons carefully and correctly, that you'd probably be quite fluent in the speech.
  4. Jul 6, 2007 #3


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    Well a linguist will tell you theres only about 10 lessons you can do in any language, then the rest is practise. I've never personally taken a university course but my friend is a language professor and hes an excellent teacher. Of course you have to practise outside of class.

    With regards to the languages, If English is your native then German will be the easier to pick up.
  5. Jul 6, 2007 #4
    I am learning Jive and Ebonics, fool.


    Airplane, I love that movie.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  6. Jul 6, 2007 #5
    If you never speak it outside of the classroom, you will never become fluent.

    Personally I've taken about three years of German (2 years of introductory courses and German literature) and while I wouldn't consider myself fluent, I can hack through German novels (I need to look up roughly one word per page). I have a lot more trouble in conversation--I can generally understand what's being said to me, but I'm slow to formulate a reply. My peers who have studied abroad seem to have an easier going.
  7. Jul 6, 2007 #6

    Math Is Hard

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    Oh, yeah! Barbara Billingsley rules!
  8. Jul 6, 2007 #7


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    The Pimsleur guides are excellent. For additional practice, I find that reading newspapers or childrens' books in the language is best. I read a couple of Harry Potter books in German recently. You might feel a little weird reading them out loud in your bedroom, but it really works.

    - Warren
  9. Jul 6, 2007 #8
    Being from Canada and all, I think French would be more useful and easier to practice. I really wish I stuck with it during middle school :(

    German's still free game though.

    I know that I took a semester of Spanish back in high school, and despite getting good marks in the class, i can't remember anything :confused:
  10. Jul 6, 2007 #9
    so, did you know any German before taking your first course? What kind practice did you get outside of class?
  11. Jul 6, 2007 #10
    I studied French and German in University, but only with the intention of learning how to read. I was proficient enough to satisfy the language requirement for my master's in math.

    I studied Hebrew as a child, and Spanish in high school to no visible effect. However, I eventually learned to speak fluent Hebrew while in Israel in a total immersion classroom setting. That included practice outside the classroom. I also learned to speak fluent Japanese in Japan while in a classroom plus outside practice. I tried and failed to learn Mandarin Chinese while in Taiwan even though I had classroom lessons and lived with a Chinese family. My experience leads me to believe that I could not learn a language in a classroom setting without being immersed in the language. They say that the best thing is to get a boy/girlfriend who speaks the language you are trying to learn. However, my wife is Chinese and I can't speak her language. And she won't let me learn any other language by this means.
  12. Jul 6, 2007 #11


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    Getting proficiency in the language depends on how the language is taught. College language instruction can range from good to very bad. You will be able to "pick up" the language only to the extent that the instruction is designed for you to "pick up" the language. If the teacher gives structured interactive exercises for conversational skills to help the students through the various grammar and vocabulary structures then you should be able to obtain some good conversational proficiency inside of about 4 or 5 months. So basically how fast you pick up the language is a matter of how well and in what way the language is taught.

    As for German being easier to learn/pick up/acquire for native-english speakers because it is similar to English ---- that is not credible. Certainly linguistics experts would likely disagree with me. More than one linguistic type expert have already told me that idea about German and English.

    One key to proper foreign language instruction is to deliver instruction MOSTLY OR ENTIRELY IN the language being instructed. When nearly all of the language is being taught in the native language of the students, something is very wrong. This only treats the language as if it is some form of mathematics to be used only in written form never to be spoken in spontaneous oral-aural communication.
  13. Jul 6, 2007 #12
    I took a couple years in high school, but it was mostly stuff we breezed through in the very first semester. I don't get a whole lot of practice outside the classroom. There was a year gap between my first two years of German and my German lit class, and I didn't really practice it then. I lost a lot of vocabulary, but I picked it up again relatively quickly (it was one of my toughest semesters, though--the homework took me an inordinate amount of time). Due to scheduling conflicts, I probably won't take another German class until this upcoming spring semester. I've been reading German novels and watching German-language movies to keep my vocabulary up in the meantime, but I imagine I'll still be at a disadvantage by the time I'm able to take another class. Nothing beats actual conversation, but I don't have anybody to conversate with.
  14. Jul 6, 2007 #13


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    I studied Spanish during 4-9th grade and German 10-12th and university. I was moderately proficient at both, but probably better at German. I then had the opportunities to travel to German often and Spanish and the languages came back with use. It's best to learn and then immerse oneself for a time.

    I also studied Russian and Bulgarian, and a little Romanian, since I have contacts there.

    I also read a little technical French, but I would like to learn it more formally.

    And I learned a little Japanese, but its gone without practice. :frown:
  15. Jul 7, 2007 #14
    Astronuc, I believe in that learn and then immerse. The first 3months i was here I didnt speak german at all really. Though I was gradually learning, englisch was a big part of my day. After 3months I had a sufficient amount to survive in explaining myself and understanding. But I dont understand in every social situation, that being speakers etc. Direct contact is best for me to fully understand. But speaking is just like I dont really think at all its like I was speaking in english, it just comes to me. But I still think in english alot of the time, but if i come out of situation where i have been speaking alot of german, then i come away thinking in german. But that lasts a few hours. I should probably stop listening to music, and reading english books and on the internet everything is in english. Then i might full immense, but the internet is a drug for me. I gotta get my daily dose.

    my 2cents.
  16. Jul 7, 2007 #15
    I studied French until I left school at 16, I was bad at it. I'm still bad at it, I joined a French on line gaming community who were quite forgiving about my language lack, and then left and now have probably forgotten most of what I learnt, I intend one day probably when I retire to learn a language, English would be a start and then maybe I can progress onto French. I am not good with languages but I'm a firm believer that everyone should learn at least one other language, so one day I'm sure I'll be fluent: well in English at least :biggrin:
  17. Jul 7, 2007 #16


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    I was on a business trip to Düsseldorf once. I made hotel reservations through the corporate travel agency (the last time I did that). They booked the hotel for end of the trip, but neglected to confirm for the day of my arrival. I got to the hotel, a small gasthaus, in a neighborhood near the main train station. When I arrived it was closed, so I sat and waited. Nearly an hour went by, and then I pressed another button which called office of the hotel. The message was in German and could mostly understand it, but I was missing a key part. Since I has flown overnight to get to Düsseldorf, I dozed off on the front steps. When I woke up after an about an hour, some people walking by began talking to me, and it was all in German. I explained I was waiting for the owner, and I played the tape message from the office. It turned out that the crucial part I was missing was that the hotel was closed until Monday morning (I had arrived on Sunday).

    So I had to change plans. Some people offered to mind my bags while I looked for another hotel nearby. I told them that I would go on another nearby city, Essen, where I was supposed to attend meetings the following morning. So I went back the main station and took a local train to Essen. It turned out that the company I was meeting was near the train station and a hotel was also nearby, so I stayed at the hotel and then walked to the company for meetings the next morning.

    Actually knowing German was beneficial since I the company where I worked did a lot of business with German clients, and they were generally impressed with someone from the US who could speak German. And the practical side was going places where only German was spoken. Fleuncy of Spanish and French is similarly useful, because the company where I work now has clients in Spain and France.

    Man könnte sagen, "Meine zwei pfennige", oder "mein zwei Centswerte". :biggrin:

    On a more personal side, I have a dear friend in Bulgaria and we used to correspond a lot on various topics of mutual interest. She would write in German, Russian and Bulgarian and I would write in English. She helped me with German, Russian and Bulgarian and I helped her with her English. It is very nice to have such a friend who is willing to spend time in such an exchange.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2007
  18. Jul 7, 2007 #17
    I started to learn German with Pimsleur's speak and read German. I agree with others, Pimsleur's is top notch. I didn't follow through with it though. :frown:
  19. Jul 7, 2007 #18
    I hate those phrase tapes etc they dont work for me. I just learn words and read a grammar book. Then construct the sentences myself.

    Funny story I was in Düsseldorf for 3days and seen nothing of it. I was in the Essen hauptbahnhof, thats all. Mabe I will visit Essen again, donno. Düsseldorf definitely, soon actually maybe in the next couple of weeks or so.

    Tut mir leid. Ich habe kein bock. Wann du meine zwei pfennige sagst, es ist einbisschen komisch, oder?

    aber habe ich nie gehört das vorher gesagt. auf deutsch. (richtig?)
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2007
  20. Jul 7, 2007 #19


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    That's what you're suppose to do with phrase tapes too. It helps with pronounciation. That's the main purpose.

    Pronounciation in Cantonese is very crucial. In fact, I know you can't possibly learn that language unless you could hear the words probably and practice. So, learning it straight from a book is impossible.
  21. Jul 7, 2007 #20
    schon das weiss ich. Ich bin in deutschland. So, kann ich noch fragen euch über die Aussprache. Aber mit was mache ich hier, kann man nicht von buch lernen.
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