Easy/Difficult languages and understanding

Hi! :slight_smile:

Today I would like to open a topic about one of the phenomenons that happen during learning and practicing multiple languages, that is the level of understanding one is able to reach in a short time.

I am a native French-speaker and I consider myself as totally fluent in French, English and Italian. That means that I can understand everything that I hear and read and that I don’t have to “think” anymore when I want to speak, things are coming out when I open the mouth and it has become an automatic process to speak those languages, I even sometimes dream and swear in it too :stuck_out_tongue:

I also have very good reading and listening skills in Dutch, I would say I understand between 75-85% of all what I hear for Flemish Dutch but this falls down to 40-50% with Netherlands Dutch because I am not used to their specific accent. I speak so-so simply because I never practice speaking.
Finally, I also have very good reading skills for Hungarian. But I understand only 15-20% of what I hear when I watch TV for example. I often find myself in a very frustrating situation when I don’t understand a word of what someone is saying, but if it is shown to me written, I understand it directly and I know all the words.

One thing that I would like to know, is how you guys get on with this thing of understanding what you hear depending on the language you learn.
It’s been 2,5 years now that I study Hungarian everyday now and often I am deceived by how much I am able to understand when I listen to radios or TV. I have the impression to still be at a very low level, while my reading skills allows me to read Sandor Marai in his words without the help of a dictionary.
The difference between my level of reading and listening understanding skills amazes me, and frustrates me too sometimes.

I learned Italian very quickly, in 6 months I was completely fluent and I lived there so it helped a lot at reaching complete fluency… of course, the fact Italian and French languages are so close, nearly similar in everything, helped at reaching a great level quickly… but still I find myself wondering how much time I would need to approach this level of fluency for Hungarian. I started Portuguese not so long ago and I progress very fast thanks to the connections between this language, French and Italian.

I think one of the great challenge is that Hungarian has a structure that makes it so difficult to understand… There is simply no standard order for words, gramatical roles are shown by letters and endings added to words to show their funciton in the sentence. This makes that the order of words changes all the time and you simply can never anticipate how someone is gonna say something. It makes it very difficult for understanding because your brain cannot expect from a standard structure and get the basis of expression.

I started to learn Russian because my girlfriend is from there, and I wanna be able to communicate with her family in their native language. I will also surely move for a bit to Moscow, so it will be very necessary. I realized that though Russian also makes an extensive use of cases, the structure is less loose than for Hungarian. In Russian, there is still a certain standard order of words and it might be easier to develop understanding.
Still I hope I will progress faster than in Hungarian because sometimes it can be very frustrating not to get even one full sentence when you’re watching TV, even after more than 2 years of study.

So how are you guys doing?
Are there languages for which you struggle to develop skills, even after years of study? Maybe it is the case with Asian languages that are totally aliens to people like me who have a European language as mother tongue?
I would be very interested in getting to know how you guys can stay patient in your study… do you find yourself sometimes frustrated with your skills and knowledge, especially when you spend a lot of time everyday learning a specific language?

My experience is as follows.

  1. It takes a long time to be able to fully understand movies and TV programs. It is easier to understand a conversation where we are directly involved.
  2. It is much easier to learn closely related languages, such as the Romance group for example.
  3. French shares 60% of its vocabulary with English, so the first truly exotic language I learned was Chinese. I studied 5 or more hours a day for 9 months. I could read and translate at a high level. I still had trouble with movies. This was over 40 years ago. I am better how, but still understand conversations that involve me better than movies.
  4. I lived in Japan and basically understand most things but still struggle with the grunting dialogue of samurai movies, It took me five years to get there. I lived in Japan 9 years.
  5. I have done a lot of listening to my other languages, audio books and lessons at LingQ. I am better in all of them than I ever was.
  6. I spent over 4 years on Russian, about an hour a day. I understand movies quite well. Most of my learning time has been listening. It may even be more than an hour a day. I download interviews from Echo Moskvi and listen to them, daily, when I drive, work and exercize. I import the texts into LingQ to learn the words. I know most of the words now, so mostly I just listen.
  7. I have been at Czech for 2 months. I can read more and more of the newspaper. I have listened to the member created content at LingQ, and worked through it at LingQ. I import Radio programs with transcripts which I listen to. I understand much better when I can read. I expect to be able to enjoy a movie in another 6 months, much much faster than with Russian because the languages are related, although not as closely related as the Romance languages.

My advice…listen a lot!

I was raised bilingual French and English so I fully 100% understand everything I read and listen to in french and English as well as speaking them no problem. I’ve been dabbling with Korean since 2005 , however I Didnt start “studying” seriously until this year 2011. By dabbling I mean that I didn’t do any form of active study other than learning the basic grammar and how to read and write Korean (which is the easy part). For 5 years I mostly just watched/listened to Korean movies as much as I could and also went through a few Korean work/study books. Doing this for 5 years = me not knowing much more than basic grammar and perhaps a few hundreds words. BUT what it did help me immensely was with my listening! I must of racked up thousands of hours of korean listening making me very very familiar with the sounds and intonation of the language.

After marrying a Korean citizen By 2010 I decided to actually put effort into learning korean to communicate with her family. So I’ve been putting an effort to study korean at least an hour a day since earlier this year ( 2011). I also now live in korea.

Let me just say that I share your frustration =). So far learning korean has been a fun yet frustrating challenge. I don’t think its impossible for me to learn it but I know it will be a LONG and SLOW process… What keeps me motivated to learn is just hope =p. Hoping that I’ll one day be fluent in korean. What gives me this hope? watching other people on youtube / tv who have already succeeded learning Korean. If they can do it , I dont see why I cant. So I hope if i keep going I’ll eventually be at a level that I’m satisfied with. Since korean is the first language I learn as an Adult, I’m finding that I’m learning at a very slow speed because I’m not only struggling learning korean BUT I’m mostly struggling how to LEARN in general. I also dont have the confidence of someone who’s learned a language from scratch yet. I can imagine after learning korean, the next language will be somewhat easier to pick up mostly because I’ll have more confidence.

I’m in no position to give advice but I think its safe to say that if you keep practicing you’ll eventually improve overtime! Soooo just keep at it =).

Laurent, when you say that you listen to radio or television which you still can not understand, you probably can understand certain types of programmes better than others. I usually notice that news is relatively easy once you get some basic words, much easier than cartoons or films. Films takes quite a long time for your ear to get used to it. We had a Dutch friend to stay over at our place, she speaks french VERY well, can communicate correctly with the french, but she said that she had many difficulties to understand the french cartoon the children watched. I have noticed the same thing. Just try to keep listening to different types of material and the listening ability will improve. I spent 9 months in Budapest, and it is a very nice language. Not so difficult as many want to believe. I have forgotten most of it, but if Hungarian comes to LingQ I will try to study it again. Good luck,
Silvia

Some of the posts here seem really quite strange to me - because my own experience of learning German was so very different.

When I lived in Germany, I spent massive amounts of time watching TV (and I was at the cinema 2 or 3 times every week too.)

After about 4 months I could understand 90% (at least) of what I heard on TV and in films. But at that same point in time my comprehension of magazines and popular fiction was FAR lower - maybe only 65-70%

After about 12 months I could understand maybe 97% or 98% of TV and films. My reading comprehension had improved a lot by then - but it was still lagging behind my ability to listen and understand.

I don’t see how someone could read foreign books, yet not be able to understand TV or movies very well. I just can’t imagine being in that position myself.

Laurent, I have had exactly the same experience as you have with Hungarian, so what you say is for me an encouragement :slight_smile: I also read some books of Sándor Márai and I agree that it’s not so difficult. Perhaps because Márai often says the same thing in 3 phrases, though differently: this is very pedagogic :wink: But also because he writes in a very “natural” way, as if he were sitting beside you and telling you a story. I also tried to read Magda Szabó: her book for children “Tündér Lala” is very easy. But I was not able to read “Katalin utca” further than the 10 first pages, it seems to me very difficult. Éva Janikovszki is not so easy to read, even her books for children, because she is always mixing colloquial and literary language, direct and reported speech without any quotation marks and because her vocabulary is very extended. So in my opinion, Márai is a good case :slight_smile:

Listening to Hungarian and understanding it by ear is very difficult. In my opinion, the reason therefore is that the “music” of Hungarian is the exact opposite of the French one. You lose all your marks, your reference points. In French, the main stress of a word is on the last syllabe, in Hungarian it is on the first one. It is the same for the phrase: it begins loud and ends low, sometimes fast inaudible. On the contrary, in French the important thing is generally at the end of the phrase. In French, when you hear a louder stress, you know the phrase is soon ending. In Hungarian, when you hear a louder stress, you are already in a new phrase. The new or important information comes in French after the verb, in Hungarian always before the verb. Therefore I think it will take a long long time before getting mentally used to this reversed (from a French point of vue) structure. In fact, I think it’s only possible when you begin to think in Hungarian.

But Hungarian is a fascinating language, its grammar is amazingly clear and logical and the ordre of words has its own an subtle logic too.

Steve, mikor nyitunk meg egy magyar fórumot?
Steve, when do we open a Hungarian forum? (and a new language in LinqQ…)

@Jean: Every month LingQ will add a new language. People can vote on Facebook for the language they want to have added. Last month the winner was Latin. And here it is.

@ Vera: of course I already voted 3 weeks ago :slight_smile: Unfortunately Hungarian is still far away :(( So I thought… a forum as a beginning…