Once again about learning languages

    The topic of studying foreign languages ​​has been discussed many times here. In the archives you can find many different interesting ways and practical tips on learning languages. At some point, I decided that I, too, probably should share the experience gained in the process of learning foreign languages: I can speak six languages ​​more or less fluently.
    All that I write about here is my personal understanding of the problem of learning languages ​​and my vision of possible solutions. I do not pretend to be any truth or scientific and do not have a complete professional education in the field of linguistics.
    I will not consider here learning a language at the tourist level, where a sufficient level is the ability to understand the main menu items in a restaurant, make an order or be able to ask for directions and understand what was answered to you. Knowledge of a language at such a level is, of course, useful, but it cannot be called "language proficiency." For me, the level of proficiency begins from the moment when I can easily read texts in this language using only the dictionary built into the electronic reader (formerly AlReader, then CoolReader, now finally PocketBook Reader).

    For starters, some obvious or non-obvious facts from my experience about learning languages:
    • Language is not just a set of grammatical rules of how this or that time or degree of comparison of adjectives is correctly formed. Language is a means of expressing thoughts. Therefore, in the study of the language, it is necessary first of all to concentrate on how to express this or that thought, and not on how to grammatically correctly conjugate one or another verb. I do not urge to completely ignore the grammar - without it, no communication is possible - I just want to draw attention to the fact that the courses traditionally take too much time in grammar - namely, how to say it correctly - and too little semantics - what a person wants to say .
    • You can’t learn the language “in reserve”, “in order to use it later”, “in order to make a good impression at the interview”. Ilya Frank in his books compares learning a language with climbing a hill of ice: either running up or inevitably down. As soon as we stop learning the language, we immediately begin to slide down, and this movement grows exponentially.
    • Generally speaking, you cannot learn a language. Language can be learned. All life. Even native, not to mention foreign. Such an expression as “fluent in the language” is used only by marketing advertisers and those who have not yet tried to master the language in this “language perfection”.
    • Even knowing the language well, it is impossible to speak it always well. Changes in moods, biorhythms, just hunger and fatigue can have a significant impact on the level of the language: many, I am sure, from a hangover and in their native language can not formulate something correctly, not to mention a foreign language.
    • It is impossible (if you are not bilingual from birth) to speak well simultaneously in two different languages: inevitably, language interference arises. To speak a foreign language well, you need to speak only it, and not in any other. It takes me an average of 4-5 hours of conversation to completely switch to another language, after which the level rises significantly.

    Stages of learning a language.

    1st stage - grammatical.

    At this stage, the grammar of the language is mastered: how verbs are conjugated, how a sentence is built, how different tenses are formed, how different degrees of comparison of adjectives are formed, what is the word order in different sentences, etc.
    At this stage, the main emphasis is on (whenever possible) a complete study of the grammar of the language, so that when reading texts it would be possible to use only the dictionary in the future without the need to look into the grammar to understand the meaning of the sentence. Within UniCert, this level corresponds to level B1 / B2 (without taking into account other skills, such as listening, writing, etc.).

    2nd stage - lexical.

    Although I have this second stage, it begins long before the completion of the first stage and never ends: the study of new vocabulary takes place daily. For this, I always highlight for myself the “word of the day” in those languages ​​that I learn. Today these are the words to yank (en), schmachten (de) and suerte (es). (I will write more about the “words of the day” in the second part.)
    Within the lexical phase, three phases of study can be distinguished:

    Recognition phase: when a word is recognized in the text and its meaning is correctly defined in this context. This may not always be easy, because the context can greatly change the meaning of a word, especially in the case of multi-valued words, such as peg (en), einstellen (de) or sacar (es).

    Active use phase:when a word or phrase is actively used, in the right context, and when native speakers would use it. It is important here to grasp the moment which words and expression are usually used to express a specific thought by carriers. Examples of such expressions are, for example, at the end of the day (en), im Endeffekt (de) or en último término (es) for expressing the result of an action, which in Russian corresponds to the expressions “in the end”, “in the end”, "As a result."
    The main problem here is that dictionaries very rarely indicate the frequency to be used by carriers of a particular expression, and therefore without a lot of reading and listening experience in a language, it can be difficult to understand which expression is used more often and take from a dictionary such a translation that baffles the average its complexity and unusualness (perhaps in this context the dictionary expression is not used or is used only in book speech).

    Phase of creative application: when a word and its meanings are already so familiar that you already begin to understand the play on words and use of this word in an unusual context in order to express any feature, play with words.
    Here is an example of such use from Stashef’s novel “Escape velocity”, where he’s a pun (I have highlighted a key word for understanding):
    "Oh, they know how, well enough." Sam smiled. "I asked about it on my way out here. Seems there's very little free metal on Falstaff. Even the iron's all locked up in rust, in the soil. ”
    "Oh." Dar pursed his lips. “So what do I use for money here-nails?”
    Sam started, surprised. "How'd you guess?"
    "You're kidding!"
    "What do they do around here when the Revenue Service comes calling?"
    “They pay their tacks , like honest citizens. What's the matter? Culture shock? "

    3rd stage - productive.

    If during the first two stages we learned to understand a foreign language, then at this stage we begin to actively use the language for communication and expression of our thoughts. And here, going beyond tourist phrases and basic vocabulary, you begin to understand that for the correct and natural expression of your thoughts in a foreign language, you need not only to learn the language, but also to rebuild your thinking under this language. Only by starting to think the way the speakers think (or who speak the language at a very high level) can we learn to express our thoughts on it naturally.
    For example, for adequate communication in English, you need to pay much more attention to the (grammatical) time of our actions: its length (continuous tenses) or its completeness (perfect tenses vs. simple tenses), degree of confidence (going to vs. will + vb vs. continuous ), attachment to a certain moment or regularity (simple tenses) and so on. Also, unlike the Russian language, logical dependencies between individual semantic units of sentences are much less likely to separate into subordinate clauses (“I saw how she left” and “I saw her leaving”).
    The German language, for example, is similar in its syntax to Russian: here, too, quite often clauses are used to express dependencies. But for the German language, in contrast to Russian and English, where the action (verb) is in the sentence in most cases in second place (and in general at the beginning of the sentence), it is necessary to think in details and circumstances. That is, if a German wants to say “I have to submit my work tomorrow no later than 12 hours in the dean’s office”, then he will first say when (morgen spätestens um 12 Uhr), then (meine Arbeit), then where (im Prüfungsamt) and only then he will call the action itself (abgeben): and in the same way his thought will develop (Ich muss - morgen spätestens um 12 Uhr - meine Arbeit - im Prüfungsamt - abgeben).
    Skills of “thinking in a foreign language” are the most complex skills, for the acquisition of which in adulthood (when the process of thinking has more or less formed) it is necessary to make considerable efforts. Few (if anyone at all) manage to achieve here a level of "comparable" with native speakers, even after many years of learning the language and being in the language environment. But here it is important not to despair and if possible soberly assess your abilities, knowing how to enjoy every achievement.

    Assess your level.

    In conclusion of this (first) part, I would like to give a slightly comic tablet that helps to assess your level of language by the way it is evaluated by native speakers or people who are fluent in the language. The nameplate is based on my experience and may not have anything to do with your reality.
    Level reached
    Level characteristic
    Characteristics of the assessment of carriers
    First level
    I learned from the phrasebook “Please give me two beers!” and was able to build on this model “Give me two servings of Munich sausages”
    Usually characterized by the fact that you are praised for your knowledge of the language, especially waiters, taxi drivers, bartenders and other random people - that is, where the language level is required the smallest.
    Middle level

    Good active vocabulary and good knowledge of basic grammar. Moreover, as a rule, most phrases sound for a native speaker either funny, or artificially, or too “twisted”.
    Understanding, as a rule, does not suffer much, since the conversation is usually about simple things. However, to say the same thing correctly, you must completely rebuild the phrase or use other words. Therefore, usually no comments are received from anyone at this stage. They understand you, smile, prompt you words - but at the same time only separate words, without correcting the "global shoals".
    Advanced level There is a rich active and passive dictionary, good knowledge of the whole grammar of the language and a certain level of language feeling. The phrases are more or less natural, but often contain small grammatical errors: an extra or missing article, a slightly spoken word, etc.
    At this stage, the media can fix your small flaws, as they are easy to fix and, in general, the proposal is built correctly and sounds natural. However, as practice shows, usually the least corrections usually come in here: your accent or pronunciation features are perceived as your characteristic and simply stop paying attention to it.
    High level (in a foreign language!)
    You are mistaken for media until you make some kind of mistake from an advanced level. Depending on the level, this time can be from 5 minutes to several days. Usually, this level is “given” to those who move to the country of the language they are studying under the age of 18 years, or who very actively and consciously study the language before this age.
    If you suddenly switch to another language - for example, in a telephone conversation - they are interested in what kind of language and how you know it so well. With the phrase "and this is generally my native language" they are surprised even more and sincerely.

    If this topic and my “unprofessional” approach to it (as I already wrote, I do not have any professional education in linguistics) will interest readers, then in the second part I will try to formulate some more general and language-independent learning practices and in the third part (if the second succeeds) I will share my personal experience of learning the German language.

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