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Thread: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

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    Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    This is currently my second semester taking a Russian course (currently enrolled in FLR 102). I took two years of french in high school and achieved a beginner/intermediate sense of french and I was never very satisfied with how much I learned. However, I feel like I have already surpassed by french skills in Russian, but in a completely different way. Rather than focus on the verb/conjugations/irregularities like our class did in french, my russian class is focusing much more on the overall grammar structure of russian. This is something which my french class wasn't great about.

    Anyways, my point being is, when did most people on here start to become comfortable with the Russian language (or whatever second language which you are proficient at)? Just to avoid confusion, I would define comfortability as the ability to understand and write in a language with the occasional small error (but the ability to figure out what you did wrong if corrected), having a large vocabulary of words, and general understanding of how the language's grammar system works.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    I have been learning Russian for about 14 months now, not in a structured sense but by reading grammar books, reading texts, listening to the language and using it mostly in writing. I have been doing so on an almost daily basis. I'm not comfortable with it yet in the way you define it.

    I learned English in school, and I know I was fully comfortable with it after four years, quite comfortable after two. Even here, I would say that most of the learning did not take place in school; I believe I learned much more by listening and singing along to English music, reading English books, watching Monty Python shows and using a single language dictionary instead of a translating one, which did wonders for my vocabulary and understanding and helped me to drop the necessity of translation. If the internet had existed back then, daily usage would have added to it as well.

    When it comes to Russian, at the moment I don't even have the impression that comfortability with it in the sense of being able to use the language freely will ever arrive... But I keep trying.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Wyrm
    start to become comfortable with the Russian
    starting to become comfortable with the Russian...after 3.5 yrs. I can't meet your small errors criterion though.
    Bitpicker - I know that feeling of impossibility, but if you stick with it you'll get over the hump.
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    Hanna
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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Wyrm
    Anyways, my point being is, when did most people on here start to become comfortable with the Russian language (or whatever second language which you are proficient at)?
    My native language is Swedish but it's not a massively big language, only 10 million speakers, so it's vital to understand other languages.

    ----------

    1) Learning to understand the (mutually understandable) other Scandinavian languages: From 8 or 9 years of age in school, through play and watching TV programs. This is second nature, I don't consider it a skill.

    2) English: From 10, fluent by 16 or so. Native level by 25. Most people now take me for British when I speak. But the pressure to learn English is enormous and the exposure is massive, so this is not really a big deal.

    3) French: From 12, I would not say I'm fluent but I can understand it and have basic conversations. I never really liked French though and never made an effort... The pronounciation is pretty hard for me and I have never spent any longer period of time in a French speaking country.

    4) Russian: Started studying it at 14 and learnt the absolute basics but then switched to Spanish. I decided to pick it up again as an adult. But I am nowhere near fluency or even feeling comfortable with it! Not worried about this though, I always knew it would be very hard. It's been almost a year since I started learning Russian.

    5) German: Can understand it reasonably and speak if it is necessary, just from exposure however without proper grammar, so I never volunteer to speak it. I would like to learn it properly -- i.e. basically learn the grammar and expand my vocabulary. Had thought I could study it alongside Russian but Russian requires my focussed effort if I am to make any progress. So German is on hold - what a shame!

    -------------------

    You are right that Russian is a hard language but it seems to me it's worth making the effort, particularly if you live or work in an area/field where you might be dealing with Russian-speaking people. Many would say it's worth learning for the culture alone.

    As far as I am aware Russian is the hardest to learn among the major European languages and you need to take a long term view: It will take you many years to get good at it. Even speakers of other Slavic languages consider it difficult -- really, this is the Mount Everest of European languages; start climbing!

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by sperk
    I can't meet your small errors criterion though.
    Meaning: “if I do I do them big time?”

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by alexB
    Quote Originally Posted by sperk
    I can't meet your small errors criterion though.
    Meaning: “if I do I do them big time?”
    "Go big or go home" is my motto.
    Кому - нары, кому - Канары.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Terminator! Got it.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Johanna
    As far as I am aware English is the hardest to learn among the major European languages and you need to take a long term view: It will take you many years to get good at it. Even speakers of other Germanic languages consider it difficult -- really, this is the Mount Everest of European languages
    Corrected it for you. Seriously, there is uncanny similarity between the two in that regard. Both are no doubt major European languages, and both somehow developed rather bizarre grammars, bizarre even when compared to closely related languages. Both robbed blind half a dozen other languages for their vocabulary. Both use oddball writing systems...

    So, if you speak one such language already, you no doubt can learn another one*. I learned English in school, and yes, it took about 6 years of (If I recall correctly) 2 hours a week instruction (and a few more hours of self-study) before I was able to read a book meant for native speakers without needing to look up a word in a dictionary every few pages. I had terrible accent back then (I still have an accent but it's at least understandable) and no understanding of style at all, but yes, I was comfortable with English as you define it.

    Then it both got easier (because I could do all sorts of useful stuff with the language instead of just exercises...) and it got harder. I mean, your English, or your Russian are only as good as things you're using them for. You don't use your language for expressing complex thoughts and it deteriorates, even if you're so-called "native speaker". You use it for challenging tasks (like talks about philosophy or attempts to joke) and it improves. Both improvement and decline of that kind could be very fast, by the way. My English is worse than it was three months ago, my Russian is better, and yes, I can feel it, and others see it.

    *ADD: And yes, I'm in that "children don't have any magic powers as far as language learning is concerned" camp. It's a bit easier to learn foreign phonetics as a kid, but as far as vocabulary and grammar go, it's the same as with adults, children just have tons of motivation and no jobs. You see a new word, you repeat it 20 or so times, you try to use it, people either understand you or they do not, you correct yourself, you go on... You hear a new bedtime story, you ask your mom to repeat it 20 times... Ok, children may still be better than adults at it, but not as much as some think, and they definitely use the same techniques.
    I often edit my posts five times or so, after I've sent them. Sorry for any confusion, feel free to correct me.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by ac220

    *ADD: And yes, I'm in that "children don't have any magic powers as far as language learning is concerned" camp.
    I have to totally disagree. A child learns a language subconsciously and effortlessly, absorbing proper grammar and syntax not to mention accent. An adult has to do all this essentially by rote memory and even then with highly suspect results as far as freedom of expression is concerned.
    Кому - нары, кому - Канары.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by sperk
    I have to totally disagree. A child learns a language subconsciously and effortlessly, absorbing proper grammar and syntax not to mention accent. An adult has to do all this essentially by rote memory.
    Let's agree to disagree then. As far as I know, it isn't something scientists have agreed upon yet, so everyone is entitled to their own opinion and childhood memories. Learning languages at that age is very fun, but it wasn't effortless fun for me. And that grammar wasn't really all that proper or that vocabulary particularly large.

    Quote Originally Posted by sperk
    and even then with highly suspect results as far as freedom of expression is concerned.
    Err... What do you mean exactly? Not every American has command of English equal to that of, say, Mark Twain. Not every Russian can write as if he is the new Pushkin. We make silly mistakes, we grope for words when discussing something unfamiliar... ( Do you know how that thingie, yes, this one, it protrudes from the wing of that airplane like a small cannon, how it is called? See it? Wha.... Um, could you repeat? Pitoh tube? Ah? it's written p-i-t-o-t, got it. OK. Err... And what it does exactly? ) We grope for them even more when discussing something common yet sublime, like love or meaning of life. Non-native speakers are in the same position as everyone else here. Fluency and even ability to pass for a native speaker don't guarantee that you would have remarkable style. It is not something most native speakers themselves have. And, on the other hand, they say Joseph Conrad spoke English with terrible accent...
    I often edit my posts five times or so, after I've sent them. Sorry for any confusion, feel free to correct me.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Heh... I kinda agree with ac220. English is just as hard for Russians as Russian is for those whose native language is English. English grammar, orthography, pronunciation are all really weird. Not as weird as Chinese, though.

    I started to learn English from the first grade at school, at 7 years old. I suppose I do have some capabilities when it comes to languages -- at least English was never a particularly hard subject for me. But then you see, we were not required to actually speak and produce speech at school. We memmorized texts (I was good at it) and I didn't have much trouble with pronunciation. But I had HUGE trouble with grammar (the tenses). I kept getting "5" (A) for all the memorizing stuff and "2" (D) for grammar tests. I only got it (the tenses) at 14. So at that stage I could read relatively easy texts (intermediate level) and understand them. That was considered a high level because most of my classmates couldn't read transcription. Leaving the school at 17, I couldn't speak fluently or speak at all for that matter. Only after 3 more years of intense self-study I began to feel more or less "comfortable."

    So that makes it, what, 13 years. But we had only 2-3 hours of English per week at school. You can never arrive anywhere with so little. Supposing I started learning English as an adult (as I did French), I think it would take me no less than 4 years to arrive at a comfortable level of speaking and understanding spoken language.

    I started French at the uni. It was a really intense process, but because I never really cared too much and didn't work hard at it myself in my free time, I can't say I felt comfortable after those 5 years of learning it. I'd like to improve it now. I think a year of intensive self-study would do the trick.
    Alice: One can't believe impossible things.
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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by starrysky
    Heh... I kinda agree with ac220. English is just as hard for Russians as Russian is for those whose native language is English. English grammar, orthography, pronunciation are all really weird. Not as weird as Chinese, though.
    I do not agree, Russian people are exposed to latin alphabet from early childhood thanks to ads, etc. We hear and see these words more frequently than an average European is exposed to Russian. Most Russian kids know at least how to read latin letters.
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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by starrysky
    English is just as hard for Russians as Russian is for those whose native language is English.
    I disagree also.
    In Russian, all nationalities and their corresponding languages start with a lower-case letter.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    I do not agree, Russian people are exposed to latin alphabet from early childhood thanks to ads, etc. We hear and see these words more frequently than an average European is exposed to Russian. Most Russian kids know at least how to read latin letters.
    Well, in this respect, yes. But knowing the Roman alphabet doesn't make you in any way comfortable with English and able to speak/understand it. English just gets a lot of exposure, as Johanna said. Otherwise, it's difficult because it's different. You wouldn't maybe notice it now that you're at a good level but I have had to deal with a lot of people who struggle awfully with English for years and with little result. It's a known fact that if you go to Russia, you'd better be able to speak a bit of Russian because the majority of population, like taxi drivers and shop assistants aren't going to understand you.
    Alice: One can't believe impossible things.
    The Queen: I dare say you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    I do not agree, Russian people are exposed to latin alphabet from early childhood thanks to ads, etc. We hear and see these words more frequently than an average European is exposed to Russian. Most Russian kids know at least how to read latin letters.
    Yes, they do. It doesn't help at all with "ough" or thousand or so other... Creative uses English has put it to since the Great Vowel Shift.

    I don't know how it is in Russia proper now, but here and in the 80s "Latin alphabet" kids learned was either Latvian (And there "A" is [a] not [ei]... Not to mention all the other differences.) or slightly mangled variant of French used in math, chess etc. ("дубль-вэ, икс, игрек, зет..." not "дабл-ю, экс, уай, зет.)

    If you meant "exposed to English language"... Well, they are, but that isn't quite the same thing as systematic study, or else every Russian would speak English already... Not all Americans speak Spanish, for that matter, despite all the study, exposure, motivation to learn it, etc...

    Of course, English has that prestigious status of modern lingua franca spoken by upper-class people while Spanish or Russian do not, and of course we have different attitude to foreign languages in general, but that does not hide the fact that English is still difficult to learn, and stands apart from other Germanic languages.

    Anyway, that's not really what OP asked for, I suspect. All I wanted to was to point out that Russian is hard, and yes, it may take years to learn foreign language, but that doesn't mean you need to be a genius. You don't need superpowers or some "language instinct" of a 4-year old to do it and do it very well. You don't need ones to learn English either, and whatever everybody says, it is about as hard as Russian in its own way.
    I often edit my posts five times or so, after I've sent them. Sorry for any confusion, feel free to correct me.

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    You're missing the point. Our kids are exposed to many words, labels, slogans, names, movies, songs, etc in English much more than kids in some other European country are exposed to Russian language. Starrysky said that:

    English is just as hard for Russians as Russian is for those whose native language is English.
    and I objected - No, not just as hard.
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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    You're missing the point. Our kids are exposed to many words, labels, slogans, names, movies, songs, etc in English much more than kids in some other European country are exposed to Russian language.
    I doubt this kind of exposure matters very much. You may learn maybe a few dozen words (often changed beyond recognition by the way Russians pronounce them) and maybe a few scattered trivia about grammar and morphology. (like "-er" suffix being similar to "-ник". ) But that's really a drop in an ocean compared to what you need to form intelligible sentences in a foreign language. You can pick up more by just leafing through a cheap phrasebook than by exposure of this sort.
    I often edit my posts five times or so, after I've sent them. Sorry for any confusion, feel free to correct me.

  18. #18
    Hanna
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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Interesting question. I TOTALLY understand acc's point that English is hard for Russian speakers.
    What's more, it's a lot more important for people to learn English as a foreign langauge than any other language, including Russian. So this balance should be taken into consideration.

    I feel particularly sorry for speakers of Slavic langauges in the EU. They can't really have a serious career unless they learn English. But English is much harder for them to learn than it is for a French, German or Swedish person (for example). As far as I understand it's at least possible to have a serious career in Russia without knowing English.

    There was a Bulgarian guy whom I dated for a short while. He was RUBBISH at English (I stopped seeing him because I got so frustrated about that).

    He was a computer and business genius extraordinaire, and told me that he could speak fluent Russian. But decent English was beyond him... Poor chap! (I must say that I wondered why he had moved to England but I guess it was finanacially motivated).

    Personally I think that English is UNSUITABLE as a lingua franca in the EU (and we need one). It should be Esperanto or a neutral language that is super easy to learn, and which has no history or culture that can annoy people. French, German, Russian etc are unsuitable too.

    But why should I, Swedish, speak English with people from Greece, Romania, Portugal, Holland or Latvia???

    And why should Czech and Portuguese people have to torture themselves with English idioms and irregular verbs. We need a language for cross border communication in the EU and English simply isn't right for that...

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Wyrm
    This is currently my second semester taking a Russian course (currently enrolled in FLR 102). I took two years of french in high school and achieved a beginner/intermediate sense of french and I was never very satisfied with how much I learned. However, I feel like I have already surpassed by french skills in Russian, but in a completely different way. Rather than focus on the verb/conjugations/irregularities like our class did in french, my russian class is focusing much more on the overall grammar structure of russian. This is something which my french class wasn't great about.

    Anyways, my point being is, when did most people on here start to become comfortable with the Russian language (or whatever second language which you are proficient at)? Just to avoid confusion, I would define comfortability as the ability to understand and write in a language with the occasional small error (but the ability to figure out what you did wrong if corrected), having a large vocabulary of words, and general understanding of how the language's grammar system works.
    With English it took me some 6 years.
    German - 3 years
    Hebrew - 6 years
    Italian - 1 year

    The difference was due to the methods I used in language learning.
    The most important thing is communicating with natives - I mean not during classes, but within just chatting on daily issues, having fun together and so on - and asking them to correct you, no matter what. And of course, writing on different issues and asking natives to correct you, too.
    Language is the history of a nation. Language is the path, that culture and civilization are going along. Therefore, learning Russian language is ... a vital necessity. / A. Kuprin (1870-193, Russian writer, explorer and adventurer

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    Re: Comfortability with Foreign Language?

    What is that Esperanto thingy anyway? Has anyone ever met a person who speaks it? Even if I knew it, what would be the use if there are only two and a half freaks in the hole of Europe whom I could speak to in it? A total waste of time, that’s what learning it is.
    When in school I remember our physics teacher talking about possible applications of polarized light told us inspiring story of how in the not so distant future cars would be fitted with polarized headlights and wind-screens, oriented in such a way that polarized light coming from the automobile going towards you would be absorbed by your wind-screen, thus preventing your eyes from temporary blinding. Simple and effective. But where are those headlights and wind-screens? There was more than enough time, it seems, to transform dreams into reality. I don’t observe any lights so far.
    So is Esperanto, bright and simple but nowhere to be found.

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