1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Speaking another language

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by OurJud, Nov 14, 2015.

    Has anyone here learned a second language to the extent that they can speak and understand it fluently? Despite it being something anyone can learn to do, I've always been impressed and rather fascinated by the ability.

    My fascination lies with trying to understand how a person 'hears' and processes a language which is not their own. For instance, if someone says to me, "Would you like a cup of coffee?" I don't need to process those words, or at least I'm not aware of processing them. I know instantly what I'm being asked and how I need to respond.

    But when a person who has learned to speak (for instance) German to a fluent degree, is asked the same question in that language, does their brain accept and understand it in the same way it understands their native language?

    I think what I'm trying to ask is do people who speak another language - even as fluently as the people from that country - constantly have to mentally translate when using it?
     
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  2. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I'm not really fluent in any second language anymore, and back when I was at my peak I was only arguably fluent. Real fluency is, as you suggest, being able to think in the language that you're speaking, and not just think something in English and translate it. This is why people who study a foreign language for a long time end up having dreams in that language--that's a pretty good sign that you're approaching fluency, IMHO.

    It also depends on the language. German is similar enough to English that you can get away with the "think in English and translate" tactic a bit easier, although it's still not ideal. Arabic, on the other hand, not so much.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    @Wreybies is multilingual.

    I'm not fluent in Spanish but I can tell you, yes, at some point when you hear a word or a sentence you know directly what it means without translating the words into English.

    I can think in Spanish without translating anything into English.
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The answer - for me - is yes, there is always some residual level of "processing" for a language that isn't your organic language. It's a matter of degrees, and though that degree may winnow down to something barely perceptible over the years, it's always there.

    English is my organic, native language. I don't have to think about what I'm going to say; I say what I'm thinking. I also speak Spanish to a very high degree of proficiency. You would have trouble discerning my Spanish from that of a native speaker, but there is always a small amount of processing. When I'm producing a sentence and a verb is coming along that's going to be in the future tense, I have to think a few words ahead "Is it an -ar, -ir, or -er verb? Perhaps irregular?" and then pick the correct future tense for that verb. You won't notice anything but a mild slowing of my speech, but in my head the process is very different than if the sentence were to have been in English where the future tense construction simply emerges to express itself. I also speak Russian, Polish and Czech, and though while I was in school those languages came to me with ease and there came a point where I felt as though I wasn't having to think about them at all, through simple lack of use once I was no longer doing the job of serving as a Russian, Polish and Czech interpreter, these languages have faded greatly. I can write in them because there's plenty of time to think and be sure of one's construction, but to have to reproduce them in real-time speech as I was once very able to, no, no longer.
     
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  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In fact most of the mods are multilingual.

    I've asked this question myself too, even though I'm bilingual lol. My husband, who's Czech and only learnt to speak English fluently when he went to England at the age of 17/18, doesn't translate English when he hears it. He just understands. However, he feels more at ease, more himself, when he's speaking Czech. There's a certain amount of freedom he feels within himself when it's Czech rather than English, even though he speaks English almost 24/7 (with me, and I don't speak Czech, and at work where all his colleagues speak English, and at church, where everyone's an English speaker)

    Over time, I believe my parents sometimes find English comes to them more naturally than Chinese, simply because they're constantly operating in English, so switching back to Chinese feels almost "unnatural". However considering they only emigrated to England when they were in their late 30s, early 40s, obviously going back to Chinese is still very easy for them. There have been times when they've forgotten words in Chinese that they know well in English though.

    The answer I usually get when I ask this question is that the person tends to think in the language they're currently operating in. So my husband would think in English when speaking to me, and Czech when speaking to his parents, for example. Even though I don't speak Czech, only last night, I found it came to me naturally to reply in Czech precisely because I'd heard the question in Czech. (it was a simple one. Staff behind the cinema counter asked if we wanted a salsa dip or a cheese dip. Instead of "Cheese" I used the Czech word "Syr" because "Syrove" - cheese as an adjective - was used just a second ago by the staff)

    I don't go through any conscious processing when I hear English or Cantonese. I just get it. However, speaking Cantonese is a different matter. I could either speak pure English, or I speak a mixture of Cantonese and English, but I find it incredibly difficult to speak pure Cantonese. English is my dominant language. And when I force myself not to code switch, as they call it, which is a natural method of speaking for multilinguals where you borrow words from multiple languages you know, then I get all tangled up. There have been times when there was simply no language in my head - by the time I'd figured out what the hell the word "complexity" might be in Cantonese, I'd forgotten what I wanted to say. Then by the time I remembered what I wanted to say, I find myself starting half a sentence, just to stop myself, because halfway through I realised I'm speaking according to English grammar and not Cantonese. Realising the mistake, I stop, go back, and try again. At times, if it's a complex sentence, eventually my mind just draws a complete blank where there's quite literally no language. There's just nothing. I wouldn't even be able to recall quite what I wanted to say.

    However, if I speak Cantonese often enough - even just an hour a day - I get to the point where when I speak English, I feel like it's the wrong language coming out of my mouth. (it's not the wrong language - no one around me other than my family speaks any Cantonese) It doesn't take long for some long-buried Cantonese expression to come back to me as naturally as if it's yesterday - like this sound you make, which sounds like "hor" (slightly high-pitched and lilting). I haven't used that sound in eons and I just started using it with my baby in the recent couple of weeks.

    The most interesting thing is the cry of pain - when I was a child, for years and years, something like at least 8-10 years, I said "Ow" - you know, typical English pain expression. Then I rediscovered my interest for Chinese and began to realise there's no need to distance myself from my Chinese background - and gradually, I started mixing "Ow" with "Eya" (not got a clue how you'd spell that sound really), which is the Cantonese pain expression. Now I think I use "eya" most of the time but I might still be switching - I honestly don't know. Not something I pay any attention to really. But I find this one particularly interesting because a cry of pain is extremely reflexive - how it changed from exclusively "eya" to exclusively "ow" and now a mixture of both, I don't know lol.

    Anyway my background is that I emigrated to England when I was 8 years old and from then on raised bilingual (almost exclusively Cantonese at home and exclusively English everywhere else - to the point when I started responding in English when my parents spoke to me in Cantonese, till now when I code switch all the time when I speak with them. Chinglish, essentially :D I started mixing English and Chinese even in writing as early as after just one year in England. By the 2nd year I was able to understand entire movies when before I was still reading baby books with just one 3 or 4-word sentence each on a page.)

    Now I'm in the process of attempting to raise my daughter trilingual (Cantonese, English and Czech). I'm switching back and forth between Canto and English, which isn't the standard approach for raising multilinguals, but I'm not sure how else to do it... :superyesh:

    ETA: I've always wondered what category of bilingual I am. 'Cause I wasn't raised bilingual from birth - I was very much monolingual at one point. But I picked up English as organically as I picked up my true birth language. I even dream in English - but a few weeks ago when I woke up half asleep I found myself speaking to my husband in Cantonese lol. It's fascinating to me, really, to consider the extent to which Cantonese or English is ingrained in me. People say multilinguals process their languages in parallel - and on some level there's conscious suppression of their other known languages when they choose to speak only one. We're connecting things we're not even aware of. How cool is that!? And then to consider the fact that a different part of the brain is called for when processing Chinese compared to an alphabetical language... It's just so cool :D
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015
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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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    Go Team Polyglot! :cheerleader:
     
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  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fascinating stuff! It's great when you can get definite answers, right from the horse's mouth, as it were.

    One of the things I really wish I could do was speak a second language or two. That and play an instrument. Yes, I know... learn, but it's easier to just wish.
     
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  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hehe. You and me both. How I wish I could speak Czech and Japanese! I hate language textbooks so much... :supersleepy:
     
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  9. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Welllll, I'm not fluent, but:

    I took a couple years of German in junior high, caught on really quick. The fun thing, particularly, about German is how simple it is. Once you understand the basic structure of their grammar (which, btw, makes a lot more sense than English), it becomes incredibly easy to follow along. I wish English was as structurally lovely as German.

    To all those people (usually Americans) who say German is an "angry" language: stop being ignorant. Stop it right now. Throaty consonants and firm cadence do not aggression make.

    I've forgotten most of the vocabulary I learned ten years ago, and I've never been to Germany. None of my family is German, but a lot of the music I enjoy is, so I still have pretty regular exposure to the language:



    As for how I hear and process German, it's pleasing to listen to. The bits and pieces I remember don't need to be translated, I just... understand. Context clues and remembering how German conjugates fill in the rest.

    As with any foreign language, I've never found translation necessary to appreciate it. Every language has its own flavor, its own voice, and because I view them as a form of — I dunno, music? — it doesn't matter whether I understand or not.

    I prefer my foreign films subtitled, not dubbed, so I can hear them how they're meant to be heard. An argument is obvious in any language, and so is an apology. So is a threat.

    I don't know a single word of Russian, but it's got to be my favorite foreign language, if not for the sheer fact that it is so damn exotic. I could listen to a Russian political debate and be whisked away to fairyland on those sexy, delicious accents...

    :love:

    ...um, what was the question? :whistle:
     
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  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You can always learn. I remember there was a time when the thought process was that if you weren't exposed to a given languages during the window of linguistic opportunity (between about 2 and 7 years of age), there was little chance of ever achieving any real degree of proficiency or fluency. This isn't true. It's harder to learn as an adult, yes, but it can be done with dedication. The school I went to (the DLIFLC) was extremely intense. Eight hours a day, five days a week. It's a military school for interpreters in the U.S. armed forces, but service personnel from many countries attend the school for training. It was kinda' brutal, actually. Full-on sobbing breakdowns in the dayroom were not unheard of. New lists of vocabulary were given daily. Instructors would report you to your sergeant for undone homework. Washing out (failing) meant you would probably end up a "cement specialist", which is militarese for undesirable job placement.

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I adore the German accent - more the accent that the language itself. There's few accents sexier on an attractive lady!
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ow! I feel so left out! :superfrown:

    I am the only monolingual moderator here. Wait - maybe that's my superpower! I'm Onelanguageman!
     
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  13. PrincessSofia
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    PrincessSofia Active Member

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    I find that subject fascinating too :) ! ( I'm a language/linguistics student so not very surprising lol) and I'm very interested by how the learning mechanisms work.
    My first language is French, and I'm fluent in English and Algerian Arabic, and I'd say I have an advanced level in Spanish.However, I suck at speaking Italian, which I'm learning at university. But I understand a lot of it, I'm just too lazy to learn the conjugation, which is why my italian is not good. I understand a little of portuguese too, since it's similar to spanish and italian. I don't need to translate words in my mind or anything in English Algerian Arabic and Spanish, because I understand/speak them so well,but for italian it's different, when there's a complicated past tense or something like that I have to think about it to recognize what verb it is :) , but when it's a tense I'm okay with, I understand automatically.

    Another thing, do any of you who speak another language fluently everyday start to think in that language, and sometimes have trouble finding a word in your first language, or you just end up having weird grammar when speaking in your first language cause you think in your second language ? This happens to me all the time ! It happens to my classmates too, but they say it's not as much as me ( probably because I speak English much better than most of them) My major is English, so I speak English everyday at university, and most of the things I do at home are in English, like reading, watching the news, listening to music, tv shows, writing etc.. I'd say on a daily basis the only things I do in French are talking with my family/friends, saying hello to the bus driver and people in shops, but that's it, and the fact that English is becoming more and more dominant in my life each year is a problem because when I was in highschool, I used to have a very good command of french, and now since I only have one hour a week where I have to speak/write in french ( my translation class) I make a lot of mistakes when I write, and sometimes when speaking I have to think about what I'm going to say because if I don't pay attention sometimes I end up using English grammar/ expressions ( example : using give instead of take, things like that). That's a real thing and it's called Language attrition so apparently I'm not a weirdo haha.

    Wow that was long lol. But yeah languages and how they work with our minds is weird !
     
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  14. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I took the defense language aptitude test, when I was signing up for the Marines. It was an awkward test and pretty difficult. It was all audible and it basically consisted of learning a brand new fake language on the fly and seeing how quick you could pick it up, without any pausing or cheating by writing things down. They would give you new rules, one at a time and then give you a list of examples, and you had to answer which one was correct. Say for example if a word was with a female subject, the noun, or adjective of the noun would end in an "a." So if you said, the woman owns a red car, the correct answer would be that it is a reda cara. Then if it was a male, it would end in something else. Then they would add more rules and the examples would include not only the new rule, but every other rule before it. I think there was a total of 8 or so rules. It really got to be pretty difficult. Despite the fact I took French in high school for three years, and I took two quarters of Latin at The Ohio State University, I wouldn't call myself even closely fluent in either. In fact by the time I took the aptitude test I could barely remember anything I had learned from either language. I was still somehow able to pass the aptitude test at age 28, so it shows that despite being out of the age range that @Wreybies mentioned earlier, it is just an ability that some possess that they can learn a new language at older years.

    Personally I would still like to learn Spanish given the number of people in the U.S. that speak it, and that I would eventually like to retire to some place in Central America like Ecuador. I'd also like to learn sign language as I think it would just be a good talent to have.
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But you can speak Canadian. :p
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Typo?
     
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  17. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    To me, English is the secondary language I am most fluent in. It's a bit like "switching" the button on and off. Whenever I hear English, I suddenly start talking English, too. It's a bit weird, because it happens subconsciously most of the time. I need a sentence or two until I realise that I changed language. Of course, my vocabulary is smaller and my grammar probably worse than if I talked in my native language. But it does happen.

    With French and Spanish, both languages which were taught at my school as well, it's a completely different story. I am not fluent in them. I can manage a discussion, and I could more or less create a formal text. But I could not express "nuances" like when I talk in English. There's a process of mediation before I manage any language performance: I need to translate back and forth in my mind.

    I suppose it's a matter of exposure, not of teaching methods. Immersion is important. It's far easier learning a language when you HAVE to talk and think in that language than when it's merely happening in the class room, and once you leave the room, it's back to normal.

    I hope this answers your question.
     
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  18. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    You don't think Ecuador is in Central America?


    Edit: Damn It is in South America but they still speak Spanish! :rofl:
     
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  19. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    My native language is English, but I'm reasonably fluent in PHP, and know a little Javascript.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've been to Ecuador and to all the countries in Central America except Honduras though I also didn't spend any time in Panama.
     
  21. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I thought about Panama and Costa Rica as well. It just comes down to how hard it is to become a naturalized citizen there. Any Ecuador you just have to have a retirement amount of over $800 a month or invest $20,000 in real estate or business. In Panama you just have to buy property, but in Coast Rica I believe you have to bring in $1,000 a month in retirement.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries.
     
  23. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would say, yes.
    In my case, no.

    I can't speak for others, but the way it works is that basically I have the minimum of two names for every concept. Like, if I see a couch, my brain identifies it both as a couch and sohva. There's no translation. I don't first think of sohva and then translate it to English if I needed to talk about it to an English speaker right at that moment. Granted, there are more complicated concepts that require translation. In high school, I studied biology, maths, physics etc. in English so my vocabulary for those concepts in Finnish is pretty poor. Then again, I did my pedagogy studies in Finnish, so certain concepts only exists in my head in Finnish and I would need to look for their equivalents in English. But in every day life, I don't really have to sift what I want to say through a Finnish brain and make it come out in English. I have a bilingual brain that understands both languages and makes mistakes in both languages in almost equal measure (they often happen in the same linguistic areas, too: declensions in Finnish and prepositions in English :oops:).

    It's only with Swedish and French I have to stop and think 'cause I'm not fluent in them. What is worse, for whatever reason they constantly get mixed up in my head. I try to think of some French word but I only remember the Swedish word or vice versa.

    I'm actually quite impressed how the human brain is capable of fluency in often very different languages. Like @Mckk speaks English and Cantonese or @Wreybies speaks English and Russian; there isn't just the way the languages differ grammatically, but also the way they're pronounced, spelled, and expressed ortographically that can be vastly different. Personally, I find that kind of ability somehow even more impressive than e.g. being fluent in two or three languages that come from the same language group/share lots of similarities vocabulary and grammar wise. :agreed:
     
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  24. PrincessSofia
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    PrincessSofia Active Member

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    I think that learning languages which belong to the same "group" is complicated too because since some are very similar (ex spanish and italian) in my experience and those of my classmates who studied one language before the other, you have to make a great effort to try and remember what word belongs to what language (It's very hard to do in exam, and for example my last exam, I wrote que , which is spanish, instead of che . I guess some people find it easy, but most people I know have trouble with the language similarities :)
     
  25. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    My native language is English, but I learned, spoke, read, and wrote Japanese when I lived in Japan. This is some time ago, and I'm rusty now. Particularly hand-writing, though I can do computer input fine.

    It didn't take me very long to get to the point where if I knew all the words in a sentence, I processed it as quickly and easily as I would English. Vocabulary was the slowest thing to acquire, simply because there is so much of it. Living in the country for years was a big help as I was surrounded by it all the time.
     

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