1. !ndigo
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    !ndigo Member

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    Learning a language through full imersion

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by !ndigo, Jan 3, 2015.

    My MC accidentally ends up injured in a foreign country. She comes from a native tribe that has had little to no contact with the other country and thus there is no common language or helpful people to translate.

    She get's found and taken in by some kind people who don't see her as a demon (as most people in this country would). Would it be reasonable to assume that in a month or two she could learn enough of the new language to effectively communicate? Especially if the family was actively trying to teach her?

    I'd love to hear any stories about exchange trips or any sort of immersion experiences! Thanks!
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If there were a concerted effort on both sides, yes, I think it's reasonable to think that in a couple of months she would be able to communicate with a low level of complexity, probably a lot of errors that the native speakers can hear around and stitch things back together. Natural languages are usually much more complex in their full form than they need to be for good communication and simplified versions can be (and are) used.
     
  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's perfectly possible if the girl was actively trying to study it on top of being immersed in the environment. There's an Irish polyglot (eg. someone who speaks multiple languages) who did a year-long challenge of learning a new language in 3 months, with focus on speaking and listening and less so on reading and writing. His aim was simply to make friends and be able to hold conversations, and of course he spoke with errors but native speakers easily understood him and he'd talk about movies and environmental issues etc in the language. One of his key tips is, quite simply, "No English allowed."

    People can learn a language at surprising speed I think when the need arises. Your MC likely wouldn't be able to talk about politics and literature, but she should be able to get by and conduct her daily life relatively smoothly and make a few friends. She would probably be able to read a lot of signs in shops, but she would probably struggle to read a novel. How realistic is it depends entirely on what level you have her achieve in that time. To communicate to the extent of being understood and being able to function - I think it's definitely possible. But she will still speak with mistakes and will struggle should the task involve more complex language - for example, applying for a passport, anything with specialised terminology.

    For example, I was fluent in English long before I worked out what sounds like a common English surname, and also long before I learnt all the different breeds of dogs. But I was in school and writing essays on the Spanish Armada and making school leaflets (for homework) about preserving the rainforests. Even more interesting might be the words sometimes you do not know - my husband (he's Czech), when I first met him at university, was studying for his masters degree in Psychology in England. He'd just completed his undergraduate degree in a different British university. Needless to say, his English is excellent. We were on one of our first dates and for some reason, I was telling him I love cashew nuts. He asked me, "What is that?" So I preceeded to tell him it's this nut in a crescent shape etc. And he said, "No. What's a nut?"

    He also didn't know what a pear was. And yet he could tell me about psychoanalysis and that he's a very somatic person. I'd never even heard of the word somatic. Just now I had to actually ask him what that word was 'cause I'd actually forgotten lol, and he told me how "soma" is the Latin for body. This, coming from someone who didn't know what "nut" was. Presumably because during his studies, those specialised psychological terms were words he needed to use, hence he knows them even though perhaps even some native speakers would not. But I presume he didn't know "nut" or "pear" because those are not the sorta words that normally come up in a casual conversation.

    Basically, the words you know depends entirely on whether they're used in your daily life. People rarely talk about breeds of dogs, so I learnt those way later. If your MC's adopted family are farmers, for example, your MC might end up knowing a good range of specialised farming terms and names of plants and animals far earlier and faster than she might be able to, say, talk about sewing.
     
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  4. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What kind of language is she trying to learn? What's her native tongue like? These might help or hinder her learning.

    I got the hang of the most common Bulgarian phrases and words within a couple of weeks, but the letters are still a mystery to me. Then again, I might struggle with Chinese because of tonality my mothertongue lacks, or French because to me their spelling is out of whack.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is true. Especially since, as the OP points out, the situation is not ideal in which the woman finds herself. These are not teachers that have rescued her. There are probably no textbooks lying around the cabin with which to teach. If her native language is one that doesn't have a case system, no inflections, and the new language she is learning does, it might be hard to grasp the concept in play. Questions that are posed here in the forum make it clear that even people interested in using a language at a level of storytelling and art are often missing educational facets about how their own language functions, the terms for different words, the names of syntaxes, etc.
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The Mandarin students at DLI would have full-on, sobbing breakdowns in the dayroom, it was that hard. A friend of mine in the Mandarin course showed me the way that their logograms function, the radicals of which they are composed that are discrete sub-images. I got the idea, but I knew I could never learn any appreciable number of those logograms as an adult. After that, the Cyrillic alphabet I was dealing with for Russian seemed like utter child's play. :)
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's a good point. For example, on average, Russians learn Czech to a very good standard after a few months because of the Slavic roots of the languages. My mum was able to learn Mandarin in about three months because her mother tongue's Cantonese, which means they share a common writing system as well as being familiar with tones. (Mandarin only has 4 tones, while Cantonese has 6-9, depending on who you ask) Most people find Japanese kanji (the Chinese words in the Japanese language) the most difficult aspect of the language, but I have the advantage of already being able to read and write their kanji words, so I'm left with simply memorising the pronunciation and how to vary the pronunciation based on context, so my work is halved.

    As well as that, if you already speak more than one language, acquiring more languages then is easier. If your MC speaks more than one language, she might try to find equivalents between the new language and any language she already speaks, if there's no equivalent in her actual mother tongue. For example, in English, of course you know there's only one word that means "to know" - namely, "know". In Czech, there's "znat", "vedet" and "umit" (don't have a Czech keyboard so am missing all the squigglies) and each "know" has a slightly different meaning, even though they all translate as "to know". In Cantonese, we have two words for knowing. Thus, linking the meanings of the Czech words to the Chinese is actually more useful than linking it to the English word "know", because the Chinese immediately gives me the nuance in meaning that I'd otherwise forget just thinking about the English word.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Full-on sobbing breakdowns? :eek: crikey, is it really that bad!?

    The other day my dad said to my mum in Cantonese that he's gonna bring her a "char" and my husband asked me if dad was bringing some tea, because he's learnt that "char" means tea. (and in my family people ask if you want tea all the time, so it's a familiar word for my husband) But I told him no, dad said he's gonna bring a fork :D Cus "char" with a higher tone means fork. But the article preceeding the noun gives it away, to be honest. If he were bringing "char" as in tea, he would have said "bui char" - cup of tea. Instead, he said "je char" - a fork (in this case, "je" sort of indicates anything small, or else usually an animal, and in any case is the article for a fork). The truth is, if you get your articles right in Chinese, even if you get your noun a little wrong tonally, people would probably still understand you.

    The trick with Chinese is - don't say just one word. Most words have one syllable and the same sound, as well as tone, could have different meanings when paired up with different things. Like the word "duck" (no, not the English word duck lol - just sounds like it) - it means "to only have", but it could also mean "yes, you have permission". Which one the word indicates depends entirely on the rest of the sentence and context.

    I think replicating the tones is possible if you think of it as music and singing. It's understanding the tones in the flow of conversation that seems the hardest o_O
     
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  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It was the timeline that made it so hard. The courses at the DLIFLC are 53 weeks long. In order to graduate you need to convince a native speaking instructor that you can converse with the same deftness and fluidity as someone born to the language in any reasonable subject. The instructors were nearly all native speakers of their respective languages. They tended to also be culturally correct to their respective language and frankly, many Americans are just not up to that kind of discipline. The teachers at DLI did not play. Not at all. The students who did the best, overall, in all languages, were students who already spoke more than one language. About halfway through the course, each class kinda' knew that the monoglots were doomed. Somehow they passed the entrance exam, but few made it to the end. And the stakes were high because the job that came afterwards was deluxe. One of the very few jobs in the military where you earned more than what the stripes on your arm said you should earn, and the extra amount was significant, not just a few bucks. And you were in the intel community, which doesn't have that great of a reputation these days, but this was the late 80's and early 90's. Working in intel made you elite. If you washed out of the school, you had no choice in the new job training they offered you. You had to take whatever they gave you and you had to take it. You couldn't just say screw this, I'm going home. You're under contract to the military and you must comply with that contract else go to jail.

    ETA: So, yeah, for the students learning Mandarin, it was that hard. ;)
     
  10. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    If she is naturally talented, then sure. Are you interested in making the language acquisition challenge a significant part of the story because it is interesting per se, or do you think of that challenge as an afterthought, as something you should try to "get right" or else face criticisms of unrealism?
     
  11. !ndigo
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    !ndigo Member

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    I haven't developed the languages for the countries beyond a few words and phrases. I suppose I could make them have a common root since they are geographically close. Also, I'm not too concerned with writing as illiteracy is fairly normal for commoners.

    I'm not really planning to spend much time on the actual language development part. I figured I'd just sort of skim ahead to the point where her broken bones have healed and then have her be able to mostly talk. I just wanted to check that my timeline seemed believable.

    Thanks guys!
     
  12. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Just had a conversation with a friend the other day about how some people just switch off when a new language is presented while others work to piece things together, even if the language is completely new. We concluded that this is due to having some language training in the past, so the person isn't scared out of their wits when encountering a new language.
     
  13. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    When we lived in France, and Brit kids went to French schools, the younger the child, the more rapidly they assimilated the language.

    Total immersion for a five- to eight-year-old could have them fluent and correcting every other Brit within three months. For a thirteen-year-old and older out there and thrown into the French system took significantly longer.

    Aptitude is one issue, increasing adult pressures in the world another, and desire to learn yet another. Then there's the similarity of the language - guttural as in English/German, softer Latin as in French/Italian, pronunciation of each letter (French vs. Spanish), structure and placement of verbal phrases (English vs. German).

    So, back to the OP's question - yes, all things being equal, picking up a language for a fighting chance in a month or two is possible.
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My goodness, that does sound hard. I gotta say, I would NOT have passed that exam either in Cantonese - I'm certainly fluent and technically it's my mother tongue, but it's rusty and I definitely can't talk about just any subject. I'd probably pick it up fast though if I were going through such a course.

    Anyway, that leaves me with the question: what on earth possessed anyone to choose Mandarin!? You would've thought they'd go for something a bit easier if the exam was that hard?
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The language you were tracked to had to do with some arcane manner of reading your DLAB entrance exam. You didn't really get too much of a choice. I was given Russian, Polish, Czech, and Magyar as my choices. I chose Russian and then after I graduated I was chosen to return for a shorter course in Czech they called "fam courses" that were meant to give you a working knowledge, but not an expert knowledge of the language. Russian was, at the time, the major language being taught, with two separate campuses on the base. Mandarin was the next largest school, followed by Persian Farsi. Again, this was the late 80's and early 90's so tail-end Cold War dynamics drove the demand for the different languages. There was also a very large English school that was for members of foreign militaries. They didn't mingle with us. Not sure exactly what got them chosen to come to our school. Desert Storm broke out shortly after I got to my first assignment in Berlin and DLI took a sharp turn to focus on Middle Eastern languages.
     
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  16. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem with this example is that he's already familiar with several languages (presumably from an early age) and this is a definite advantage...the brain seems to get hard-wired to resist learning a new language (especially to be able to recognize and reproduce nuances that are unfamiliar to their native tongue) at a certain age.

    I'm not sure that your conclusion is valid...my wife was taught German at school, but never took to it. However, something that distinguishes her from all her siblings is her accent...basically RP, while they all have quite thick regional accents. I'd suggest that there's some inability in her brain to hear anything other than English.
     
  17. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Actually, I think we're essentially saying the same thing. Learning one language helps you learn others.

    A person who has never been confronted with a new language might not have the tools to pick it up quickly. Sure aptitude is a factor, but while your wife might not have a perfect accent, she might do better in this situation than someone who had never studied any language.

    Also, what does RP stand for?
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Received Pronunciation. When you think of a very crisp, well pronounced, librianesque British accent, that's RP. RP is BBC standard for news anchors and other more serious television broadcasts.
     
  19. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks to Wreybies for the reply.

    We'd been on holiday in France for about a week, and my wife was so used to hearing French and not understanding a word of it...so she asked me what some other holidaymakers had said...and they'd been speaking English!
     
  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This guy says he was a monoglot all the way till the age of 21. The hardest language to learn for him, he claims, was Spanish, simply because his attitude was wrong, even though he was living in Spain at that time. Then he set himself the rule of "no English for a month" and decided to see how far he got and found himself speaking more Spanish than ever before (you would, if you couldn't use the only language you knew).

    However it's true that by the time he set himself the challenge of a language in 3 months, he was a polyglot by then and yes, that's an advantage.

    I would disagree that your brain is somehow "hardwired" to resist learning new languages after a certain age. My English friend began learning Czech only at the age of around 40, if I'm not mistaken - and anyone who knows Czech knows it's not an easy language at all and vastly different to English - and she's fluent. She converses with natives and prays in Czech and is able to read books in Czech. My husband, who's Czech, tells me her Czech standard is very good. I assume she doesn't speak like a native, but still, to become fluent is far from what you claim as being hard-wired to resist languages.

    I do realise that the older you get, the harder it is to learn - in general. I don't believe this is unique to learning languages at all. But in any case, I'd never put an age limit in when I think a brain is "hard-wired to resist" anything. Even slow progress is progress, after all, and I don't believe anything should ever stand in the way of someone learning, if learning is what they want to do, whether they're 5 or 50 or 90.
     
  21. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    In that case, I think your wife is better off. A thick regional German accent? Not for me, thanks. :)
     
  22. TheOneKnownAsMe
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    TheOneKnownAsMe New Member

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    I know this thread is a bit older, but since I have personal experience with this, I figured I would chime in.

    I was a monoglot my entire life. Besides a few spanish classes in High School, I hardly had any formal language training of any sort. However, I was able to become fluent in Spanish in 3-5 months, while living in the States. As in, it wasn't even complete immersion. I spoke in English all of the time, read in english, wrote in english, everything. I served a mission for my church which lasted 2 years, and as part of that they gave me basic language training for 9 weeks, at which point they let you go in the wild and expect you to communicate with natives on a daily basis.

    The training consisted of a study of all the different conjugations of the Spanish language, such as preterit, subjunctive, imperfect, present, future, etc. This included speaking, writing and reading. After the 9 weeks, I was in a position where I felt comfortable conversing with natives about multiple topics, but my grammar and execution were far from perfect. Pronunciation and accent were never an issue for me. After 9 weeks, I was sent to Louisiana where I worked with native spanish speaking, ranging from Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, and pretty much every Central American country. After an additional 2 months or so, I was able to confidently speak, read and write with fluency, and my accent, grammar and pronunciation often earned me compliments and surprised looks from those I spoke with.

    This was with around 1 1/2 hours of dedicated language study each day. 1 hour was spent studying specific concepts of the language, and then I spent half an hour reading out loud in the language. I oftentimes read alongside a recording of a native, which helped my accent, inflection and pronunciation greatly. That study was compounded by daily interaction with natives.

    So, full immersion is definitely not necessary to learn the language within the timeframe of a few months. Now, that may not always be the case, but in my personal experience, 3 months was sufficient.
     
  23. Megalith
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    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love learning about this subject. Here is a TED talks which really breaks it down.


    The learning curve is quite steep in the beginning of this process, which is a good thing, for you I mean. It levels out quite fast near the top, so in just a few weeks you can speak well enough to communicate your ideas and experiences, in a broken and ungrammatical way, but should be understood none the less.(in the least amount of time with a concentration of effort from the person learning the language) and after three months the learning curve flattens out and it takes just another three months to become fluent, which is where your average adult would stand who is from the native country. This of course isn't easy, children have a natural affinity to comprehend and absorb meaning from sounds and body language, but adults are just as capable, if not better once you understand what exactly is happening during this learning process.
     

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