Comprehensible Input Part 23

I like and believe in CI. But if it’s ever proved false, it has at least kept me engaged in the language and relatively happy (and a little impatient) far far longer than other approaches. My word count went from 2000 with other methods to 12000 with CI (all perhaps generous to say “words known”).

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Some say that we cannot learn a language by explicit learning such as grammar drills. However, that is at least in part false. One can learn the names of common birds in the target language, and indeed people often rote learn words in their native language.

Anyway, to the point, I wonder if a little rote learning is useful? Even if it is heresy.

As to enjoyment, well if one gives up because it’s dull, that’s not good. Some research demonstrated that easy learning can be bad. Learn A by doing loads of exercises one week, then B the next week and C the following is much easier than learning A, then B then C in week one, then the same in week 2 etc, because you don’t struggle so much. But it’s much less effective. Curiously students judge the first method to be both more enjoyable and more effective.

I’m willing to do work that is not enjoyable, if I know it works.

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There are so many good ideas in this thread! I’ll add a few ideas, in case they help anyone. I’ve watched a bunch of polyglot videos, in addition to doing my own language study.

  1. Everyone uses different methods. Polyglots use different methods. I would not recommend that anyone else uses my method. It works for me. I learned that by trial and error (trying methods that did not work for me).

  2. My method changes at different levels. I use C+1 (or C+N) at the B1/B2 levels (in Chinese, Spanish and French). I tried it at the A1 level (in Turkish) and didn’t learn much. I guess I’m not one of those “dive in and pick it up” people. I need some grammar explanations – in English. I found that in Turkish, Now I do well.

  3. Krashen is all about education: teaching languages in schools. So his CI strategy might not apply to individual self-study using internet resources.

  4. Kaufmann learned multiple languages before he ever heard of CI. Today he uses CI, but he also uses other methods.

  5. Learning a new language takes a long time. Polyglots like Lydia M. say it takes 2 years for each new language (that’s for an expert who already has a method). If someone likes learning grammar, they should do it. Polyglots do similar things.

  6. As explained by Kaufmann, one reason for CI is avoiding burnout. A large percent of people try learning a language, grow to hate it and quit. If you are lucky enough to enjoy studying, that is great. If not, then learning more slowly is better than growing to hate the process and quitting.

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I personally hate memorization, even more than most people. But I used rote learning (using Busuu) to learn Japanese phonetic alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana), and Turkish noun declensions.

I suspect that, as long as you don’t hate it, lots of other things are good to memorize.

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The ‘n’ and ‘m’ sound are pretty much the same as in English, so you should be able to hear the difference, if they are pronounced clearly. Maybe at times people mumble them, but in any case, it often doesn’t change the meaning if you don’t hear them. “mit dem Auto” vs. “mit den Autos.” If you only heard “mit de* Autos”, your brain would correctly fill in the missing piece of “den.” There are some cases when it would matter though, but nothing to worry about really.

650 hours of classwork! For the average person. You are expected to do several hours per day of out-of-class work and more on weekends. It works out that they are doing about same amount of study out of class. So 1,300 hours of language study to graduate from FSI is what they are usually doing. With this, an English speaker should be able to reach basic fluency, which is their goal, before they get sent off to work in that language. They are by no means perfect, but they are decently competent in the language.

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Even in French, which I understand to a good level, I often struggle to hear the joining word in phrases such as la maison de retraite and la benne à ordures. Yes if spoken very clearly, it’s obvious. But finding suitable audio examples is impossibie. In German I regularly can’t hear the differences.

Children are exposed to clear, slow language, at first anyway, they have better hearing, they hear real life speech, rather than a recording and they are adept at paying attention. Plus they have massive amounts of CI. Witness how they pick up accents. Note that most loudspeakers have dreadful frequency responses, so the sounds are distorted. With French for many months I used some earphones with a bright sound, which made comprehension easier,

Also you have to be aware that a difference is present. Children seem to have that ability to pick up differences, which fly past an adult.

And yes I would be understood if I said Ich bin mit den Auto gefahren (sic) , to give a trivial example, but I want to speak correctly.

Where is your source for your assertion that 750 hours for French includes both classwork, and out of class study? If that were the case, the estimate would surely be meaningless. Here is an FSI page:

I’ve seen countless people referring to the FSI figures, and all assume it is the total time spent on study. Of course you might be right, and most of us wrong, but I’d need some evidence to accept your claim.

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The US Department of State’s official website is here: Foreign Language Training - United States Department of State

Category I Languages: 24-30 weeks (600-750 class hours)

Not sure how long students are expected to spend on homework.

Edit: lol crossposted with nfera!

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Yes, the vast majority of people incorrectly reference the FSI data.

The website you posted is not the official Foreign Service Institute’s School of Language Studies’ website, but rather just some random hobbyist. Though, at least he correctly references them, referring to class hours.

Here is from the actual FSI SLS’ website:

https://www.state.gov/foreign-language-training/

As to how much out-of-class study you do, you can find reference to this stuff in some of their white papers. But just think about it. Most of these people are full-time employees sent to do job training (to prepare them to work in embassies, etc.). Why would their employer (the government) tell them that 750 hours / 30 weeks = 25 hours per week for learning French suffices for their weekly hours? Their full-time job is to learn the language before being posted overseas.

If you don’t wanna check out their white papers, here’s someone’s experience report of going to the FSI SLS for Spanish:

The full Spanish course is 24 weeks, meaning it takes 24 weeks on average to get to a 3 in speaking and reading, which I think is equivalent to a b2/c1. The classes typically range from 2-5 students per instructor, although for about 12 weeks I was in a class with 1 other student which seriously accelerated my learning
Day to day, FSI expects you to spend 4-5 hours in class and 3-4 hours self studying. In practice it’s really more like 3-6 hours self study after class each day with another 3-10 hours on the weekend.

Although I’ve spent 1,300 hours, and can speak, read, and listen at a high level, I’d guess that after 600 hours I was practically fluent, in that I could functionally communicate almost anything I’d have needed to on a practical day to day level, albeit with errors. All that is to say that you can have a ton of fun with the language, and it can be super useful to you without being SUPER fluent.

Have a quick read of the experience report:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Spanish/comments/wqusu3/24_wks_1300_hrs_of_spanish_at_fsi_what_ive_learned/

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All very good points. I might add a few more:

  1. Even in popular languages, it can be hard to find sufficient CI. I’ve noticed in German lots of new CI popping up on YouTube, so good news for some of us.

  2. Personality is very important. Stephen Kaufmann is clearly a very outgoing person, and he is happy to speak badly to a native speaker in order to improve his language skills. More reserved people might feel very uncomfortable doing this. This comes back to your point 1.

  3. Whilst there is a wealth of material on the internet, much of it, maybe most, is best avoided.

  4. There is no magic fluency moment, and mistakes are normal. One just gets better with time, and makes less mistakes.

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Deleted. See later post.

Check the reddit link at the bottom of her post LG. That was from someone who actually when through the course and said 3-6 hours every day outside of class and 3-10 hours over the weekend. I think I had seen similar figure of 3 hrs a day outside of class somewhere (can’t pinpoint it). It wasn’t exactly clear if that was homework or just extra that people feel they need to do. It’s not exactly unexpected that there would be homework or necessary study outside of class every day.

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Deleted. See next post.

I have contacted the FSI to see if I can get a clarification. Their page could be very poorly written. Even Steve Kaufmann has it down as total hours spent:

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I’d forgotten this topic… Good to hear from you.

Glad to know I’m not the only person with difficulty hearing French! Your simile of the fog slowly lifting is apt indeed. I can tell I am making progress, so I’m betting on Slow and Steady winning this race.

At this point I have reset my expectations entirely. I had hoped I could reach B2 nirvana within a year at 4-5 hrs/day. I think I did so with reading, but my listening and output are nowhere near.

So, French is now part of my life. My reading speed has doubled in the past month. I’m reading adult novels in French at 8 pages/day. It’s going to take a while to learn French as well as I want to, but I’ll get there.

I think one can achieve an impressive language goal, if limited and well-specified, in a matter of months. But overall fluency I suspect takes years.

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That’s a good attitude.

I’m sure there is an awful lot of marketing from Stephen Kaufmann, Olly Richards and others designed to entice us to use their system, and part of the marketing spiel is acquire rather than learn languages, do it naturally. Well I think we forget how hard kids have to work, even if we often call it play. And Steve Kaufmann does often make it clear it’s hard work.

I struggled for ages with ice skating in my mid fifties, worked hard, always felt I was a slow learner, and often got dispirited, but kept at it. I can now skate quite well, and I am 60. Slow and steady did indeed work well. I’m sure the youngsters learned more quickly, but it’s not a race. And to be fair, many of them spent far more time on the ice.

French was my first second language, and I found it hard, as I had to discover so much about languages, and drop ingrained habits such as stress timing. I also went down a few rabbit holes, using apps such as Duolingo (scuse my French), before discovering a method that works for me i.e. as much CI as possible, with some Anki, and some grammar study. I have some talent for pronunciation, but a memory like a sieve.

Incidentally, I discovered that there are some wonderful old French films on YouTube, reminiscent of Ealing Comedies. I’ve always thought the French had a good sense of humour. Something to look at perhaps, when you feel you are ready.

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I was tremendously excited when I discoverd Comprehensible Input from Steve Kaufmann, Stephen Krashen, Olly Richards, Luca Lampariello et al. It made great sense and fit my self-directed learning style. I prefer to wade in wherever it looks interesting, start trying things, then learn what works and what doesn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I did become too optimistic from videos like this:

–Olly Richar"ds, "Student Learns Japanese in 6 Months… SHOCKS Best Friend!

If someone could learn Japanese in six months, I thought I surely could do so with French in 12 months.

Of course, I couldn’t tell how well Richards’ student managed Japanese. If I wanted to learn basic conversational French, I suspect I could have done so in 12 months. But I’ve been reading novels in French which is a different, larger domain.

It took me six months to hack my way through the first Harry Potter. Perhaps it wasn’t the most efficient, but it has paid off. I’m about to finish the first Zelazny Amber book in three weeks.

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I really hate the “stunt” pattern of YouTube videos. People are tripping over themselves to get traffic with bold claims. It extends to any aspiration a person might have. Run a sub-three-hour marathon with 2 weeks of training. AI creates a full e-commerce-enabled website with one button click. Learn Spanish in 1 month by drinking a gallon of tortilla soup every day.

I don’t click on em. If they’re obviously bad, I block the channel from my feed. I just don’t want to reward stunt videos with my attention. There might even be some claims that are true, but as soon as content leads with such a claim, I can’t trust the content.

One of the things that worked for me with the Steve Kaufmann videos is that he did not play this game.

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I started a new topic you may find interesting:

Amazing true stories of language learning … or what?

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We are all impatient to progress faster, but in my experience, the only way to progress faster is to read/listen more every day. I occasionally refer to a grammar book, but only when I’ve started to become curious about a particular grammar feature which I’ve seen a lot, and feel like I almost understand. Then a quick explanation can help a bit. I understand the grammar point better for a few minutes, but in a few days I’m back to where I was, really. It’s basically a waste of time, though it feels good for awhile.

Another example: this last autumn I decided to take the B1 exam, just to confirm I was somewhere between B1 and B2 in French. Of course, to pass a DELF exam you not only need to know the language, you need to know the test methodology, so I spent a good part of a month prepping for the exam. I did pass, but afterwards, I felt like I had lost a month of real study (i.e. input) and had actually fallen back a bit.

Instead of taking DELF tests to measure my progress, I am now using LingQ to measure words read, and to some degree, known words. I’m a little skeptical about the known words measure, because it only measures words I know when reading. It does not measure words I am able to actually use in conversation, which are much fewer.

However, I do believe that words read is a good measure of progress, because I think that fluency is directly related to words read. My goal this year is not to pass the B2 exam (which would require a large investment of time to prep for), but to read 2 million words.

BTW, I study French every day for at least an hour, usually more. I also live in the South of France, so am able to interact with real French people. I think that one level per year is a good and realistic goal, especially when you get past the basic levels. The difference between B1 and B2 for example is VAST – probably as difficult as going from A0 to B1. In other words, the road gets steeper and steeper as you go along. Looking for short cuts is a waste of time, in my opinion and experience.

We shall see!

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