The Language Plateau

3 thoughts on “The Language Plateau”

  1. Great post as always, Mary. It’s interesting to see the techniques different people use to learn languages, but I have to say, you’ve gone far above and beyond what most people do. I’m impressed to say the least. Of course, your job does require a higher level of expertise and technical vocabulary than most foreigners would need.

    Like you, I also noticed in the past that my expressiveness was much more limited in a new language, and this often led to frustration. Full story here: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~rfguo/blog/?p=1176

    I’m also very lucky that I’m not in a rush to achieve full fluency in a language in the shortest time possible. Instead, I’m using tapes, news, and other tricks you listed to gain a little more each day.

    Actually, that reminds me of a story. I met a 50-60 year old American man in South America. He was a wanderer, never married, owned apartments in Argentina, and spoke pretty good Spanish with a terrible American accent (he didn’t even try to pronounce each word correctly). We were chatting with our host family one evening when the matron asked him how many languages he speaks. His reply was “almost one”. That I thought was quite profound. It shifts the mentality from a fixed predefined goalpost (usually a certifying exam) to that of language as a lifelong learning process. It keeps things in [incredibly humbling] perspective. And with any lifelong journey, it’s best to pace oneself lest the frustrations build.

    Mm, I have other stories about languages, learning, foreigners, etc, but I’ll save them for another time. I’m cluttering your blog too much as it is and long drawn out replies are a bit of a hassle for you to reply to. Anyway, hope to talk to you again soon.

  2. Hey! Clutter all you like, I’m always happy to get your comments!

    I read your blog post, and I thought nothing was more true than this line you wrote here:

    “I boldly went ahead and used what I knew to build what I wanted to say. If I didn’t know a word, I’d sometimes talk around it using words I did know. I cut down on the number of complex sentences I used.”

    This is exactly what I did when I first moved to Japan. I think it’s the only way to really immerse yourself in a language–and survive. Cause really, when it all boils down to it, isn’t communication the main goal? I mean, even in English sometimes native speakers will over complicate things to the point where we’re not really sure what they want to convey.

    Interesting article about the host family! Living with a host family must have been a really impacting experience (and I’m crazy jealous you went to South America–it’s on my list).

    “Almost one.” What a perfect answer. I think when you learn a foreign language it gives you a new perspective on your native language, and just how much you haven’t even mastered that (especially when you go into interpreting/translating). Cause really, there’s no way you can learn a foreign language WELL unless you have a good command of your native language.

    Ah, it’s great to swap language and travel stories (probably the two favorite things in my life). Would love to hear more of your travels!

  3. Would be happy to swap stories. Care to do so over email/chat? I think the last message I sent over has been languishing in your inbox for a while. It might be lonely!

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