Free Training: The 5-Week Linguist
Welcome to the 5-Week Linguistic Free Audio Training. My name’s Nina Klimas, and I’ve been teaching languages in several different countries, in Asia and the United States, and in Europe, since the ’90s. I have a BA in theater arts, and a BA in foreign languages and I also have an MA in the teaching of languages. I speak six different languages to various levels of fluency and skill. And I’ve also trained in language proficiency rating with the Center for Applied Linguistics. By the end of this training, you’re going to understand how long it takes to learn a language, how languages are learned, how to create time for language learning and how to select materials and activities, over five week periods of time, to learn any language you want to any level of fluency that you want.
So let’s get started with how long it takes. So before we get into the actual time of how long it takes, let’s talk about a specific level of fluency that we can all agree on as a common goal. So your goal might be higher than the level that I talk about or lower than that, but either way, we want to just have one specific goal in mind. So the US Government’s done loads of research on this and for very practical reasons. So they train a lot of military members in the Defense Language Institute, and they also train a lot of people who work in embassies and do work at consular offices, people who issue visas, et cetera, abroad. So they have very specific reasons for training people in languages.
And that fluency that we’re going to talk about here is essentially on the ACTFL, the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, scale. It’s intermediate high, advanced low, that’s essentially the same level. So some very similar levels, or if you are European, the common European framework of reference. So a lot of the research has been done by the inter-agency language round-table, and they’ve published a lot of findings that you can easily find online, and they publish six different levels of fluency. So the levels are from zero, which means you can’t speak the language at all, no functional ability, all the way up to five, which means that it’s difficult to distinguish you from a native speaker. So that same level that we talked about that B2, intermediate high, advanced low is sort of a three on that level if that gives you any idea, it’s actually pretty high level of proficiency. It’s certainly not the type of skill that you’re perhaps used to in your own language, but it’s good, you can definitely communicate.
We have that level of fluency, so think of being able to speak without a whole lot of refinement, making plenty of errors, but definitely being able to get your point across on a lot of topics. All of your every day needs can be met. You can make appointment, you can order food, you can socialize, but it’s, again, we don’t have that refinement that you have that you’re really used to in your own language. You speak mostly in sentences to paragraphs. So we have that level. Now let’s talk about different languages. So we have category one languages, which are pretty similar to English, so think French, think Spanish, think Italian, right? Those languages that are really similar to English. To hit that level of fluency might take between 750 and 1000 hours of really focused practice and input. And you’ll find different hours attached to these categories and you’ll even find some languages categorized it differently depending on what you read, but I think it’s a really good basic guideline.
The lower end, 750 hours, that might be somebody who’s really skilled at learning languages, and that’s not necessarily a natural skill, that’s one that can be developed by anybody. Once you’ve learned a language or two, you start learning the shortcuts. You stop worrying about perfection. You start being able to take more risks. You start understanding the value of failure and errors in getting to that next level. You also learn to look out for patterns and you learn to apply patterns. You also can ladder, so meaning you can use what you know from other languages rules, et cetera, and sort of apply them to new one. So perhaps someone who is pretty skilled can get by with 750 hours, maybe somebody else might take a little bit… we have category two languages, which again, you’re going to hear mostly similar categorization of different languages, but there’s going to be some differences.
Some people say German, for example, is in that next category. Some people put it in category one and German takes slightly longer to learn out of those. Maybe Indonesia and Malay. Those are also in those languages that take probably twice as long roughly to learn, as it would to learn a language like French, which is very similar to English. Then think about something that takes three times as long. So think maybe 2000 to 3000 hours to hit that same level of fluency. You’re talking about like Arabic, Japanese, Korean.
They are so different linguistically and culturally, and they have different reading and writing systems that it’s going to take that much longer to learn them. So essentially, to hit that level of fluency, if the language is similar to English, think Western European languages, that’s going to take 750 to 1000 hours, roughly. If it’s less similar to English, maybe a language like Polish or Lithuanian, that’s going to take twice as long. And then when you have a language that’s really different, different writing system, culturally linguistically right? Think of this as the farther away you move from England almost, the more different than language is going to be, three times as long. And again, those are guidelines and we’re all individuals, but I think they’re really good to illustrate different languages take different amounts of time.
So this is a topic I’ve been fascinated with my entire adult life. So one person you may be familiar with, and if not, I’ll ask you to Google him, is Dr. Stephen Krashen. So he is a fantastic teacher and researcher of second language acquisition. And I think he explains the difference between learning languages versus language acquisition really well. So if you think about a learning language, it’s everything that’s really deliberate that you do to learn a language, it’s every audio program that you do, it’s every time that you pull out an app, it’s every time you try to learn verb conjugations, it’s going to classes, it’s going to a language lab, those traditional deliberate activities that you do to learn the language, right? They all work by getting new words and new patterns into your longterm memory. And that eventually they all work together to a level where you can start expressing yourself and creating your own language and sentences.
So acquisition is something that’s slightly different. Acquisition is the way that you mostly learned your first language. You were spoken to, you watched TV, you were read to, you went to school, you listened to music, and those are just a few ways, right? You were basically completely immersed in the language. And instead of learning different patterns and separate words or phrases with language, you absorbed it all naturally right, through the things that you’ve read, through the things that were said to you, through all that.
So many people who learn multiple languages, or they learn languages to a really high level, understand how these two things work together. Sometimes I hear arguments about children are better language learners. Children are probably better language acquirers, they don’t think it’s anything that’s really strange, and they oftentimes have the opportunities to acquire new language, whether their family moves to another country, or they go to maybe a playgroup in a foreign language, they have an opportunity that a lot of adults, by the time people have become adults, they don’t necessarily have, they have to go out and find or create a situation where they’re going to learn a new language.
So the beautiful stuff happens when all of this stuff goes together. So being deliberate in your study, so flashcards and a regular routine or habit of study, those things are going to really help you, those deliberate focused activities. But you also need to have time where you’re just dedicating it to acquisition. This might mean doing all of your pleasure reading in a foreign language, and it doesn’t have to be hard reading, it can be trashy magazines, it can be recipes online, it doesn’t matter. Watch YouTube channels, do exercise, watch movies, travel. Think about those immersive activities. The beauty happens when you combine these two things that you dedicate time to your deliberate focused activities, where you’re learning patterns and verbs and grammar and vocabulary. And you combine that with immersive communicative activities. That’s completely speeds that entire process up.
So what can you do in the next five weeks? So five weeks, isn’t a whole lot of time to learn the language clearly. However, if you think back to the periods of time that we talked about, right, those category one language is taking between 750 and 1000 hours to learn. And then those category three and four, those really difficult languages for English speakers taking three to four times as long, that gives you an idea. Think about all the time that you can find in your life. Do you commute? Do you walk for exercise? Do you work out? Think about how your mobile device can completely transform all of that time into time learning a language. You can do audio programs while you drive to work. If you take the train or the bus, you can do apps.
If you spend time walking, you can start listening to audio programs or audio books in the target language. So think about that, if you were to find 10 hours a week, over five weeks, that’s 50 hours. Now you’ve made a dent in that 750 to a thousand hours to learn a language like Spanish or French. Take that same five weeks. Let’s say you have a job that’s going to allow you to take five weeks off. Go to France, even if you took a 30 hour class a week, think about living with a French family, walking around, you’d be getting 100 hours of input easily if you spent all your time with native speakers, reading local magazines and newspapers, reading all the street signs, going to your class, watching TV, et cetera. Over five weeks, you’d have 500 hours, you would make massive strides.
So think about that. The more time you invest, you might be able to go have a completely immersive experience and do it quickly and get it done in three different chunks. One of the things that I have loved about being a language teacher in this time in history, is the availability of language and culture online. The internet has completely transformed that. When I was a student and a young teacher, I used to have to take back videos and shoe boxes full of photos to bring language and culture to my students or magazines, newspapers that I bought from abroad.
That’s all available online now. So you are very lucky that you have access to all of these people to listen to and to talk to you, on sites like Italki, where you don’t have to go abroad, you can connect with a native speaker and get lessons online. Add your phone in there, now you’ve got the ultimate language learning lab right in your hands, right? So you can transform all your time with house chores, errands, commuting, your pleasure reading to give just a few examples into language learning time, and you can do it anywhere with your mobile phone.
So sourcing materials. Again, that’s really easy now with the internet and your phone, you can get language and culture from anywhere. But one of the things that I want to talk about are the two things that as you think about all of the things we talked about, that I need for you to remember. First of all, think in terms of tasks. So as you wanted a language, you want to learn how to do different things. And I realized that I’m pointing out the obvious, but you want to think in terms of, what task am I going to be able to do at the end of my period of study that I couldn’t do before? A very simple example would be learning five different ways to greet someone, there’s an example of a task.
A much more difficult task is explaining and defending my political views, right? You might want to be able to talk about what you’re wearing, that could be a task. Ordering room service at a hotel, there’s a different linguistic task. You get the picture, very specific things. While it’s great to study verbs and grammar, et cetera, you want to be able to do something with every single period of time that you spend studying and acquiring language. You want to be more fluent, for example, you want to know more vocabulary to talk about a certain topic. Those are just a few examples. And if you want some examples of tasks, the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages have done something called Can-Do statements, and they have a whole list that applies to learning any language, a bliss of things that you can do at different levels. It is a great way to get going or take your skills from any point to a higher level.
And they give you very specific, so for example, I can introduce someone to someone else, for example. I can talk about the whether. They’re online, Google on the actual Can-Do statements. You can print them out, and they’re a great way to measure your progress in fluency. So keep that in mind, thinking in terms of tasks. The second thing is to have fun. I can’t tell you how important that is. It’s absolutely vital to have fun. So while it’s important to be focused and disciplined and have a routine with your language learning, it’s also really important to have fun. And that goes back to that acquisition that we talked about. So just a few ideas of things that you can do that are fun to learn a language. Sabbatical. Can you even take two weeks off and go to a private language school, live with a family?
A lot of times they only have classes during the morning, you go, you learn, they organize activities, or you can organize your own, and you can do a lot of visiting museums in the afternoon or day trips, excursions, a really great opportunity and your language skills will progress really quickly. You’ll get to travel as well, right? Go online, talk to a tutor on Italki, it’s fun, it’s easy, they’re experienced, they work with people from all over the world. They’re used to speaking with people who are learning a language. Do your pleasure reading, cooking, there’s tons of recipes online in the target language where you can learn how to cook and you can try target language food all while you’re learning a new language. Dating, right? There’s no better way to learn a language then to get really close to somebody who speaks that language.
Word games, think things like crossword puzzles and word searches in the target language. You can volunteer. Reading audio books, like we talked about, make your own playlist, watch TV, do your exercise classes. There are so many possibilities to have fun while you learn a new language. So I hope you enjoyed this free audio training on how to get going in a language in five week chunks. Please head over to the blog, so reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog, where every week there are new materials to help you learn a language on your own over the next five weeks.
Reading to learn languages http://reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog/2015/06/07/reading-in-a-foreign-language-multiple-passes/