Saturday, May 26, 2012

Some language reflections

We've just finished up week 9 of full-time Mongolian study.

Full time is not really accurate. I have 3 hrs a day, 5 days a week. I could spend the other half of each day using Mongolian, but I don't. I spend it reading Greek and Latin and studying 4th century theologians.

If I had to rank the 4 basic language activities in order of both difficulty and importance, I would rank them like this:

Listening (Hardest)

Listening (Most)

Now let me explain why. Listening to a spoken language is the most difficult. You have to hear clearly, process quickly, and recognise and know a high percentage of what is being said to make it intelligible and worthwhile. It's Input in a fairly pure way, and that's why it matters that it's comprehensible. Also, and I think this is becoming more and more clear, there is something qualitatively different about experiencing a language through speaking & listening (ie, conversation), than reading and writing (the traces of conversation). If you really want to internalise and acquire a language, listening is vital.

I think Speaking is the next most difficult, but not the next most in importance. I don't think Speaking contributes much to the actual acquisition process, because you can't actually learn anything from speaking, you can only use what you have acquired. However, I do think speaking as an activity is important for some other reasons. It gets the brain 'going' in the language. I think if you never spoke and only listened, you just wouldn't be able to process your own thoughts in the language with much rapidity. Furthermore, speaking functionally works to provide conversation, it continually elicits speech from others.

Writing is third in difficulty, but fourth in importance, for largely the same reasons. It's relatively easy to write, since you only need to work with what you know, and you can take, usually, all the time in the world. It's low pressure, and it's non-learning. It's only tough when you are trying to express things beyond your language ability.

Reading is the easiest to do, but it's also the second most important. Why? Reading is easy because, like writing, you can take your time, and there's no problem with missing words, you can just read them again. So, provided it's not way over your head, reading is relatively facile, and passive. But it's important, because extensive reading gives you extended comprehensible input, and continual exposure to 'correct' forms.

Okay, so that is fine for Mongolian. What I'm interested in is what it means for other languages I'm interested in. I've been trying to watch some school-produced videos in Gaelic, and to be honest it's very difficult. My ability to understand spoken Gaelic at pace is weak. Here is one area where minority languages  are at a disadvantage - volume of accessible, comprehensible material. So I need to work at listening to more Gaelic and finding ways to render it comprehensible.

The problem is compounded for Latin and Greek. The volume of comprehensible input is so low; the standard levels of texts is so high. Actually, this is why WAYK and simple basic conversation is so important. There is a great need here just to up the level of spoken language, that almost anything will do.

I need to work smarter on these. That's the take-home lesson. Plus more work on thinking and speaking in target languages. Tomorrow I'm going to trawl through language exchange sites for people who might like to practise more spoken Gaelic, Latin, and Ancient Greek.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nynz yw hemma marnaz prevyans.