Learning a new language: crash course week one
Welcome to the 5-Week Linguist Show.
Every year I like to share my five-week crash course, it’s January and lots of people want to improve and it’s a perfect time, you’re probably in to take advantage of what it means, how to learn another language. So the first week, our first lesson is what is fluent? So years ago I trained in something called language proficiency rating. So you learn how to rate people’s skills in a language. And it’s often used for testing for jobs or academic credits, placement, that kind of thing, but really the most useful place I’ve found it is in helping people, whoever they are, including myself, hit really specific targets in a language. And I took notes during the test and I actually made a graphic, I’ll leave it for you in the show notes. And if you follow me, you may have seen it before.
But I think it really well illustrates how we can become fluent in a language. And each one of the bubbles correlates to basically an ACTFL level, not so much CFR, but the American Council for the Teaching of Languages, from the very beginning of their scale, up to about advanced high superior, actually superior. They have another level now distinguished, but most people, you wouldn’t even need that.
So it starts with words, when we start acquiring and learning language, we do words and then, and phrases. So we start producing words and we start producing phrases. And then as those start working together, we then start producing longer phrases. And then those phrases become longer and more accurate and they become sentences. And then those sentences, as we’re building our skills, become longer sentences. And then those sentences start appearing in groups and they become more like paragraphs, and then they strengthen and they become paragraphs, and they become then longer, more accurate paragraphs. And then what we say becomes connected these long connected paragraphs, and then it becomes extended speech. So think about the college professor and usually it’s that sentences, that paragraph level is what we often consider fluent, so that would be the level that you might get. If you were majoring in a language in college that wasn’t a flagship program, or maybe you didn’t get a chance to study abroad, maybe you did a lot of work through classes and it’s often the test where they expect beginning level language teachers to be.
And while it’s not perfect. It’s definitely decent, it’s respectable, and it’s really good. And I also want to point out that you don’t have to be, in any way, to that level before you consider yourself a speaker of a language. It’s a continuum. So get out there and talk and say what you can, don’t worry about the level. So how long does it take? Different categories of languages take different amounts of time? So if we’re English speakers category one languages, I’ve seen different statistics, they say they take about 600, I’ve seen 600 to 750 class hours and I’ve also seen 750 to 1,000. But I think that the big takeaway is that languages that are similar or close to English are the easiest to learn. Category two languages take slightly longer. Category three languages, which for example, Tegala, Turkish, Armenian, Bulgarian.
They’re further away from England, and they take probably about twice as long. You’ll find different hours if you Google this. But again, the takeaway is it’s going to probably take twice as long to hit that same level. And then a category for language where there’s nothing in common, they’re very hard, they take about four, three to four times as long because you got to learn how to read. It’s really difficult. So to hit that point, that bubble, that paragraphs bubble, it’s going to take you, the easiest is going to be the category one languages, the second easiest are going to be category two, German’s in there, category three are more difficult, and category four.
And I know you won’t remember all of the language is so I’m going to list them. And I’ll also list links to the Foreign Service Institute and they’ll talk about that. You can see that in more detail. I also want to point out that the Foreign Service Institute, they’ve done a great deal of research, for some very practical reasons on how long it takes to learn these different languages. And the big objective is to get people prepared. People who work for embassies and counselors for their assignments abroad, that’s really important to them, that’s the big objective. So that’s why they’re pretty exacting. But I want to say that these learner profiles, they are not typical. These are people who are, a lot of them have already studied the language, they’re doing this full time, they’re highly motivated, and while they’re going through the Institute, they don’t really have anything else to, other obligations professionally, to my knowledge.
So bear that in mind, I have seen different numbers and I myself have quoted different numbers of how long these different categories of languages take. But again, the takeaway is some are easier and some are harder, and I think it’s really good to know what, where you lie, where your language lies, but more over the Foreign Service Institute publishes lots of courses and they’re in the public domain. So you can start in the next 15 minutes, go and Google Foreign Service Institute, and you will find the books, the audio, everything. So you can have a completely free language learning experience. I don’t recommend their… Some of their materials are based on what you would actually, they’re older, what you would actually do in the course.
So you would have had a teacher guiding you through the exercises. So some of the drills I wouldn’t recommend, but what’s really solid in every single one of the courses that I’ve seen are they build everything around these real life dialogues, real life situations that you would find yourself in, meeting people, greeting emergencies, study those dialogues. That’s the most powerful takeaway and listen to the audio. Again, all the courses, they’re free, they’re PDF, they’re in the public domain and they can get you learning right away. I’ll provide some links to some good resources that I’ve seen throughout the years. So until next week.
Want to master a language in the next year? https://real-life-language.teachable.com/p/the-5-week-linguist
Want another resource to set goals and meet them? Self-assessment workbook Levels of Language Proficiency: Self-assessment Workbook