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The Languages Thread


KJHenley
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I don't think this topic exists in another thread, but feel free to let this fade into obscurity if it does.

What languages do you speak? Are there any languages you'd like to learn? What are the best apps/books/podcasts out there?

I'm currently using Duolingo to learn Spanish, due to us making a habit of popping over there each summer as its ideal with a young family. My reading far outstrips my writing and speaking at the moment, which is a bit of a pain, but I'm enjoying the little breakthroughs and revelations that come through regularly, and as an app it is very handy to use whilst commuting or sitting on the toilet. I'm open to using other resources though, so share the wealth.

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Thanks, Keith! 

To be honest, things are a lot easier now for anyone who wants to learn a language from scratch. Duolingo are excellent, and there are any number of free apps that you can download.

Also, another good way is YouTube - search "learn [whatever language it is you want to learn]" and someone will most likely have done videos on that language. I started learning Farsi, Arabic, and Russian this way.

Basically, don't bother with the heavy courses like Rosetta Stone, unless and/or until you want to go properly in depth. They're very good, but they're very expensive for people with a passing interest.

Obviously, the best way to learn any language, bar none, is to go to a country where they speak it, and immerse yourself in the culture, making sure to avoid speaking English whenever possible.

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I speak French, German and Spanish (and have the certificate to prove it) alongside smatterings of Italian, Galician and Welsh. I've largely forgotten my one year of Latin, mind. I can read bits of Dutch, Catalan, Portuguese and the Nordic languages despite no formal teaching in any of those, due to their close relation to the ones I've learnt, but I'm hopeless at reading/writing/listening to them.

I'll gladly admit I can't handle any language that's too different from those – different writing systems, massively divergent grammar etc. – and admire the ability of anybody who does. It takes massive dedication to pick up a language just through an app, as well as when you're busy and your brain's old. I started picking up my main 3 in my teenage years when my mind was still more of a sponge, which helped. 

EDIT: What Carbomb said about actually going to a country and immersing yourself too. That's the best advice! Since he mentioned YouTube, if you're interested in linguists and phonetics generally, I can recommend the LangFocus channel.

Edited by Fog Dude
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I’m learning Spanish on Duolingo too. Got to a point a couple of years ago where I thought, “I don’t really have any skills outside what I do for a day job” so decided to teach myself a second language. Opted for Spanish as it’s widely-spoken, and been to Spain and Mallorca a fair few times.

Duolingo’s good for building up vocabulary I’ve found. I know lots of words for things, but still struggle to put them into useful sentences. Think I need to start looking at other forms of learning, i.e. meet-ups. Seen on meetup.com that there’s a couple of local ones, so it’s just a case of plucking up the courage and heading along.

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I've been trying to teach myself Spanish for the last year or so - I'm far too proud of my Duolingo streak which currently sits at 387 consecutive days!

Duolingo is a great way to get started in a language, mostly because it's free and the way it presents itself as a game can be good for getting you to keep coming back. It's certainly not enough on its own though - it's useful for vocabulary and giving you some decent elementary reading skills but it totally fails to explain any grammar to you. This leads to a hell of a lot of confusion when nasty things like the imperfect subjunctive or the differences between past preterite and past imperfect are introduced - there's absolutely no explanation as to why things are happening.

It is great as a tool though, just one I'd strongly advise you to use along with others. I also use Memrise which is very good in a quite different way to Duolingo. Why Duolingo is teaching you things like "the bear is reading a book" or "the woman is in the fridge", Memrise is teaching things like "to get drunk (verb) and "this is bullshit!". So it's much better for teaching conversational set phrases you might actually be likely to use. They also have hundreds of very short video clips of real Spaniards speak sentences or phrases which is infinitely more useful/realistic than the robot voice Duo exclusively relies on. Again though, there's no grammar explanation at all which is a serious drawback.

Apps will only get you so far - to better your understanding, I highly recommend you buy a couple of good grammar books. These are great either for picking up and reading to get your head round something or as a handy reference guide. 

One other quick point about Duolingo - it teaches Latin American Spanish. It's still perfectly functional if you want to learn Castillan but you should be aware that the complete lack of "vosotros" (you plural) will definitely throw you when you see how often Spaniards use it. 

Having totally taught myself so far, I would say that my reading ability is pretty good but that my speaking is absolutely appalling - simply because as ridiculous as it sounds, I've never actually spoken Spanish! The other day, I reached a personal milestone by reading an article in Spanish for Spanish speakers about politics and history and was able to understand the vast majority of it. That contrasts pretty sharply with the fact that if I actually tried to start a conversation in the language, I'd probably have the ability of a primary school child! I'm hoping to move to Spain in the near future to give the whole TEFL thing a go, so I'm already cringing at/looking forward to the baptism by fire I'll be undergoing when trying to interact in Spanish!

Language learning is great though and I highly recommend everyone does it. Not just because I think everybody should speak a second language but also because of how challenging and rewarding it can be. Language learning is generally simply good for you. 

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10 minutes ago, SpiritOfTheForest said:

Language learning is generally simply good for you. 

Absolutely. Quite a number of studies have turned up strong evidence that being at least bilingual gives people a much higher chance of defending against Alzheimer's.

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/news/2018-05-15/bilingual-brains-are-more-resilient-dementia-cause-alzheimers-disease

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I'm not a great language learner which is ironic considering i'm a language teacher. I do speak Vietnamese to some degree though, enough to have a quick chat with the wife's family but not enough to go too deep and them realise i'm a waste of space who is no good for their daughter. I tried using duolingo and memrise for that but it didn't click. I ended up finding a teacher and very quickly picked up the language, even by going to a country I really feel most people need a teacher and a class to work with in order to hammer things like pronunciation and real comprehension. Apps are really coming along but in a really language there are so many variables of how someone can say something which a computer programme can't teach you but if you have a passing interest in learning a language casually they are great!

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I'm very glad this thread has come up. I've been giving Spanish a go on Duolingo and am really enjoying it. I'm travelling solo to South America next year so am trying to get to a level where I can meet people properly. I find that, as has been mentioned, it's better for reading and writing than listening or speech. I tend to say the sentences to myself as I type them to try get used to it. I sometimes don't look at the screen to test my listening as usually I'm translating the sentence by the text rather than the audio.

I'm planning on going to a Spanish meet-up in Manchester as I think being pulled up on my cack speech and listening to how people actually talk will help me improve a lot.

On the topic of speech, I can't for the life of me roll my R's. Does anyone have any tips/a timescale of how long it can take?

A good indication that I'm learning - I realised I was making some progress in Spanish when I went back to the Los Guerreros theme recently and recognised the words.

@SpiritOfTheForest I'm relatively early on in Duolingo but I feel like some of the grammar is explained to me in the comments section from the community for certain sentences I don't understand. Also, when you're a kid you're not told about imperfect subjunctive and the like so I wonder if it's possible for someone to figure certain parts out for themselves? In fact, I don't remember those principles from lessons and reading about grammar as much as I do from reading text in general and listening and working out what works. Saying that, I guess you're at a more advanced stage than me - and perhaps more advanced than a kid is likely to be - so you're likely to encounter things that need much more understanding than I do.

Edited by Sphinx
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I'm an MFL teacher these days doing German and French. I toyed with learning Spanish and/or Catalan so that I know when my girlfriend's family are talking about me but I'd rather not know. I've got a few friends learning/teaching Mandarin too, so I expect that's one on the rise in the next few within education.

I did teach myself Dutch last year though as I was dealing with a lot of Dutch customers in my job and so thought it'd be good to be able to speak their language.

Duolingo is still pretty good as an on-the-go type thing, I used that to help with Dutch. Some phrases it gives are a bit random.Memrise is fantastic though, I can't recommend it highly enough for learning useful phrases and sentences. 

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11 hours ago, PowerButchi said:

Was it Ronnie that spoke Esperanto? He was a polyglot as well. But yeah, your best bet here is Carbomb.

Thanks man, much appreciated. Would've thought you could provide some insight, seeing as you're (at least) bilingual, no?

Ronnie does speak Esperanto, I think - he has a passion for languages that vastly outshines mine, I'm pretty sure. But then linguistics is his actual focus.

 

 

One thing I'll say which I think is a general rule for learning anything, not just languages, is that everyone's brains work differently, so if you're not getting anywhere learning a language via one particular means, it doesn't necessarily mean you haven't the aptitude for languages, it's just that you haven't found the optimal method yet. I personally don't do very well just learning from books, or even just apps - I need to be able to interact with someone, who can correct my mistakes and direct my learning via conversation.

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2 minutes ago, Carbomb said:

One thing I'll say which I think is a general rule for learning anything, not just languages, is that everyone's brains work differently, so if you're not getting anywhere learning a language via one particular means, it doesn't necessarily mean you haven't the aptitude for languages, it's just that you haven't found the optimal method yet.

This is very very true.  On my first day of my Training Deliverer course I did, the first task was centred around "You've just bought a new TV, how do you set it up" and were given 4 options.  This was to show us the 4 main categories that are the most effective methods in learning.  

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55 minutes ago, Carbomb said:

Thanks man, much appreciated. Would've thought you could provide some insight, seeing as you're (at least) bilingual, no?

Ronnie does speak Esperanto, I think - he has a passion for languages that vastly outshines mine, I'm pretty sure. But then linguistics is his actual focus.

 

 

One thing I'll say which I think is a general rule for learning anything, not just languages, is that everyone's brains work differently, so if you're not getting anywhere learning a language via one particular means, it doesn't necessarily mean you haven't the aptitude for languages, it's just that you haven't found the optimal method yet. I personally don't do very well just learning from books, or even just apps - I need to be able to interact with someone, who can correct my mistakes and direct my learning via conversation.

I'm not actually fluent in Welsh. Coming from the border (not as much as Mr Danger who is a Caer fuck) i can make a good fist of it and tell people why Popty Ping is dogshit, but I couldn't go to see GarYnysMon in Llangefni or whatever and fire fast and true.

 

I know who Mistar Urdd is though, yn yr coch, gwyn a gwydd.

 

The Urdd is vital to Welsh language.

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