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Old 18th August 2018, 02:31 PM   #1
Bob001
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Tell me about learning a new language...

The most heavily advertised language training programs are Babbel and Rosetta Stone, but there are others. Some are free. Anybody used them to learn a new language on their own? Did you actually get beyond the basics? Recommendations? Pitfalls? Warnings?
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Old 19th August 2018, 09:08 AM   #2
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I am also interested to know. A few years back I tried a free program, but after a few weeks it just didn't move fast enough. I had the basic idea with Spanish, but wanted/needed to learn more quickly.
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Old 19th August 2018, 09:42 AM   #3
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I've used a few, the ones I've stuck with and found useful are Memrise (for vocabulary) and Lingvist (unfortunately pay to play now, but even the free version is good)


None of them will get you very far as they won't help you actually speak the language, for that I found Italki very good, it's basically an agency for freelance language teachers who teach by Skype (or Google hangouts or whatever video conference software you like). There are other similar sites too I believe. The price for an hour of language teaching is pretty good, and you can also link up with other learners and have interchanges with them where you help each other practice.
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Old 19th August 2018, 10:53 AM   #4
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I used Rossetta Stone to build vocabulary in Turkish but you won't learn grammar from it or verb conjugation. I know some people swear by Babble but I haven't used it.
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Old 19th August 2018, 11:26 AM   #5
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My Japanese SIL used Rosetta Stone for French several years ago for a trip to France we took together. She was by no means fluent, but got along very well - at least as well as me. I was an exchange student in France in HS and fluent back then, but you lose a lot over the years not speaking. a language.

My personal advice would be to find a local group that focuses on the language you're interested in. There are several around here that meet informally for dinner or drinks or other outings, and speak exclusively a chosen foreign language. Pair that with learning the basics via Rosetta, Babel, etc... and you can be conversational very quickly.
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Old 20th August 2018, 04:34 AM   #6
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There is a lot of material online comparing, contrasting and critiquing these applications.

I haven't used any of the sorts of things you mention but I find that watching lots of films and TV shows in your target language is really good, especially if they have subtitling that you can toggle on and off as you desire. YouTube is great for this nowadays.

Last edited by TX50; 20th August 2018 at 05:57 AM.
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Old 20th August 2018, 06:54 PM   #7
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Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?

I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?


Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?

Any personal stories?
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Old 20th August 2018, 07:49 PM   #8
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I would think it would partly depend on whether you've already learned another language. Once you've done reasonably well in a second language, the pathways are there and it's easier to add more. Disuse may make things very very rusty, but something is retained and you can build on that.
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Old 20th August 2018, 08:46 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by wasapi View Post
Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?

I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?


Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?

Any personal stories?
It was easier when I was in my 20s, but in my 50s I can learn "getting by" phrases. You don't need that much to get by.

I pick up - and lose - Spanish all the time, depending on where I'm working.

My résumé says "comfortable in conversational Spanish."

I am counting on being able to learn new languages in my 60s. It's kind of all I ever really wanted to do. That doesn't mean I'm ever going to be able to read Chinese, though.
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Old 20th August 2018, 09:44 PM   #10
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I've been trying to learn Swedish on Duolingo. I have learned the following invaluable sentences:

1. Jag talar inte svenska.
2. Jag är en fisk.
3. Mina föräldrar tycker inte om att du äter myror.

1. I don't speak Swedish.
2. I am a fish.
3. My parents don't like that you eat ants.


Also the Swedish word for turtle, which apparently comes up in conversation surprisingly often, literally means "shield toad."

I'm getting a tiny bit tired of the present tense. I'm reasonably certain that Swedish must have a past tense and probably both strong and weak verbs, but Duolingo doesn't think I'm ready for such excitement yet.
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Old 20th August 2018, 11:07 PM   #11
dann
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Originally Posted by Bob001 View Post
The most heavily advertised language training programs are Babbel and Rosetta Stone, but there are others. Some are free. Anybody used them to learn a new language on their own? Did you actually get beyond the basics? Recommendations? Pitfalls? Warnings?

You should specify what you're interested in learning: reading, writing, listening, conversation. For my high-school exam in French I used Linguaphone for about four days, five hours a day, which helped immensely with pronunciation. My teacher had warned me that I might flunk if I didn't learn the rules of French pronunciation. By using the combination of text and tapes, I learned to pronounce the words correctly without having to learn a single rule.
I later used Linguaphone for the same purpose in German at a point when I had taught myself to read political and sociological texts at university level but couldn't speak the language.
12 years ago, I learned to read Spanish from high-school books. They contained glossaries so I didn't have to look up every single word in a dictionary. I started out by finding texts that I was actually interested in understanding so I usually ended up with third-year-level books. The problem with self-study books for beginners is that the texts are so incredibly boring ...
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Old 20th August 2018, 11:11 PM   #12
dann
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Originally Posted by Lucian View Post
Also the Swedish word for turtle (...) literally means "shield toad."

Skildpadde in Danish!

By the way, it will make it much easier for you to learn Norwegian and Danish:
Danish:
1. Jeg taler ikke svensk.
2. Jeg er en fisk.
3. Mine foręldre bryder sig ikke om, at du spiser myrer.
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"Stupidity renders itself invisible by assuming very large proportions. Completely unreasonable claims are irrefutable. Ni-en-leh pointed out that a philosopher might get into trouble by claiming that two times two makes five, but he does not risk much by claiming that two times two makes shoe polish." B. Brecht
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." K. Marx

Last edited by dann; 20th August 2018 at 11:14 PM.
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Old 20th August 2018, 11:28 PM   #13
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Can't speak to the 'programs' but I can speak to learning a second language as an adult. I don't believe it matters how old you are. Once you pass the age of about 6 or 7 your brain does lose that ease of learning languages. I will never be able to roll my rs, it's too late for that. But I still learned to speak Spanish.

The secret is immersion. You need a teacher or program that teaches almost all in the language you want to learn.

You cannot learn a language by trying to memorize words and sentences.

Language gets laid down in its own section in your brain. If I'm speaking Spanish, I think in Spanish. I don't think a Spanish word then the English translation then the thing.

And one gets rusty if one doesn't keep it up. It takes me a good week or more in a Spanish speaking country to get back up to speed with the language.
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Old 20th August 2018, 11:41 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Lucian View Post

Also the Swedish word for turtle, which apparently comes up in conversation surprisingly often, literally means "shield toad."
Also German: Schildkröte
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Old 21st August 2018, 01:06 AM   #15
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There is no age limit. I'm an old fart but I'm totally confident about acquiring new languages (working successfully on Mandarin, Arabic and Russian just now). As with all learning, the keys to success are spaced repetition and active recall. Try to get speaking and writing as soon as possible and continue that way. YMMV but just reading on its own doesn't work as well (unless a reading knowledge is all you want - I can read Greek, Latin and Egyptian in hieroglyphs but I would struggle to actually speak or write any of them fluently). Foreign films and TV are great for a sort of ersatz (I can do German too ) "immersion". Almost as good as being there.
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Old 21st August 2018, 01:38 AM   #16
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Im using the duolingo app at thr moment to learn some Portuguese from scratch. its relatively painless and has been useful to start but a lot of time spent learning that the turtle does not have a house which im not sure will help me much in an emergency
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Old 21st August 2018, 06:18 AM   #17
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Also using DuoLingo for German. My eldest lives in Germany and on visits there I've discovered how little I remember from school. She does have confidence on my "survival" german though - ordering food, drink, train tickets - all the general tourist stuff.
The problem is I think "I know that" and try to skip ahead only to find out that it's gone above me.
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Old 21st August 2018, 01:31 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by TX50 View Post
There is a lot of material online comparing, contrasting and critiquing these applications.

I haven't used any of the sorts of things you mention but I find that watching lots of films and TV shows in your target language is really good, especially if they have subtitling that you can toggle on and off as you desire. YouTube is great for this nowadays.
Originally Posted by wasapi View Post
Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?

I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?


Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?

Any personal stories?
My mother tongue is French. However, I moved to the UK when about 7 years old, so my native tongue is English. Learning at 7, a piece of piss although I only lost my French inclination and sounded like a true South London boy around 12.

Roll on 18 years - Germany. I lived there for 7 years not knowing anything about the language. Within 6 months, following a very short course (30 hours) on the basics, I could get around. After 7 years, I was near fluent and still am in speaking and reading.

Move on another 24 years, working in Spain (over 4 years now), I have nowhere near made the same progress. I understand a lot, but producing it is very hard. My right ear is partially deaf which might be a reason.

What has helped though is TX50's advice. I have Netflix and watch it either in English with Spanish subtitles, helps with the grammar, or Spanish with Spanish subtitles, helps with association of sounds and words.

I would say it gets harder with age but language learning is a fun challenge.

Secret is - do not be scared of making mistakes. Treat it like being a child speaking for the first time. They don't give a toss if they foul up on some grammar issue.

Act the same.

Also, "Natives" are very usually pleased if you make an effort in speaking their language. I have experienced very little judgement, but then again, I might not have understood their insults - like a child.
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Old 21st August 2018, 01:54 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Belgian thought View Post

<respectfully snipped>

I would say it gets harder with age but language learning is a fun challenge.

Secret is - do not be scared of making mistakes. Treat it like being a child speaking for the first time. They don't give a toss if they foul up on some grammar issue.

Act the same.

Also, "Natives" are very usually pleased if you make an effort in speaking their language. I have experienced very little judgement, but then again, I might not have understood their insults - like a child.
Very well said, especially the part about 'do not be scared of making mistakes'. As a 67-year-old struggling with the (very difficult) Greek language, I do find I'm inhibited by the thought of making stupid mistakes. Get a verb inflection slightly wrong and "I paid for it" would become "You paid for it", but it can get much worse than that I was once on the very brink of asking for "cauliflower repellent" rather than "mosquito repellent" down at the pharmacy, all because of an insignificant syllable.

In addition, I'd say there are two other major factors. One is a mental facility for language learning, the other is the enjoyment one might find in it. MrsB has both, in spades. I have neither. She's steaming ahead into the realms of reading complex Greek novels while I just accumulate vocabulary and useful phrases.
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Old 21st August 2018, 02:08 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by GlennB View Post
Very well said, especially the part about 'do not be scared of making mistakes'. As a 67-year-old struggling with the (very difficult) Greek language, I do find I'm inhibited by the thought of making stupid mistakes. Get a verb inflection slightly wrong and "I paid for it" would become "You paid for it", but it can get much worse than that I was once on the very brink of asking for "cauliflower repellent" rather than "mosquito repellent" down at the pharmacy, all because of an insignificant syllable.

In addition, I'd say there are two other major factors. One is a mental facility for language learning, the other is the enjoyment one might find in it. MrsB has both, in spades. I have neither. She's steaming ahead into the realms of reading complex Greek novels while I just accumulate vocabulary and useful phrases.
I feel for you. I loved the people we met and the places we visited in Greece, but the language was just too much. Coming from Italy where I was able to scrape by based on my meager Spanish skills and focusing on reading as much as possible, Greece as a **** show.

Also, the coffee gulf between Italy and Greece was huge at the time. Should have done Greece first and then Italy.
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Old 22nd August 2018, 06:06 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by wasapi View Post
Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?

I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?


Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?

Any personal stories?
I started learning Swahili after I turned 40. I got pretty good when I was working at it and traveling to Uganda and Eastern DR Congo a lot (where they speak a close form of it called Lingala). I found I lost a lot of it fairly quickly when I left Africa the last time. I don't think it's hard to pick up a language when you're older but I've found you lose it pretty fast if you don't keep working at it.
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Old 24th August 2018, 04:26 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Belgian thought View Post
Roll on 18 years - Germany. I lived there for 7 years not knowing anything about the language. Within 6 months, following a very short course (30 hours) on the basics, I could get around. After 7 years, I was near fluent and still am in speaking and reading.
I'm in Germany 7 years now and my German is pretty rubbish. I can understand reasonable conversation, speak enough to get around ok. I cant read to save my life though. I havent done any courses though and have simply learnt by immersion.
My Aussie family and friends think I'm super fluent when they hear me speak, but other Germans treat me like you would someone who had been lobotimized. Which is not a bad thing, I'm great when they slow it down a notch.
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Old 24th August 2018, 04:29 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Belgian thought View Post
Secret is - do not be scared of making mistakes. Treat it like being a child speaking for the first time. They don't give a toss if they foul up on some grammar issue.

Act the same.

Also, "Natives" are very usually pleased if you make an effort in speaking their language. I have experienced very little judgement, but then again, I might not have understood their insults - like a child.
Oh and this advice is perfect. Just jump in!
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Old 24th August 2018, 04:52 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by wasapi View Post
Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?
Yes. By around 35, there's a marked increase in difficulty.


Quote:
I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?

Depends what you mean by "learn". If you mean get a job as a translator, it isn't going to happen. You won't get to that level of fluency, where you can instantly translate between your native tongue and the newly acquired language.* However, that doesn't mean you can't become reasonably proficient, being able to read a book and comprehend it, or learn "tourist level" conversations.

It's not likely to be as easy as it was when you were 20, or 40.

Quote:
Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?
That's realistic.

Quote:
Any personal stories?

Around 5 years ago, at age 50, I decided I wanted to get past very basic French to somewhat more passable. It worked. I got to the point where I successfully made it through two French novels, without reading the English. (They were "Tour de Monde en Quatre-vingt Jours", by Jules Verne, and "L'annee de l'Isle", a modern "young adult" work, whose author I don't remember. I also started on "Notre Dame de Paris", known in English as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". I found that level much more difficult. Victor Hugo used a lot more sophisticated vocabulary than Jules Verne.).


I also taught myself a bit of Hebrew, to where I was reading children's books passably, with no prior knowledge of the language. I found, though, that after taking a year off and picking it up again, I had lost almost all the knowledge of it. That's a common complaint among older learners. I remember more German, which I studied briefly when I was 20, than Hebrew, which I studied five years ago.

I used Hebrew vocabulary cards for vocab building. I didn't need that much in French, because I had some prior knowledge. After that I tried to read stories in the native tongue. I read "L'annee de l'Isle" as a Kindle edition, and when I didn't know a word or phrase, I dropped the sentence into google translate. It is quite good these days.


A program I haven't used much, but that looks good to me for vocabulary, is Anki, a free flash-card style program, with an awful lot of community produced vocabulary decks.
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Old 24th August 2018, 02:22 PM   #25
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I've spent a fair amount of time learning languages, and am conversational in many and fluent in English, Spanish, and Japanese. I haven't used Babbel and am not much of a fan of Rosetta Stone. The best I've found of the big names is Plimsleur, which is expensive but also available at most libraries. Basically the idea is that you learn naturally through repeating what you hear on the CD, and then soon start answering and learning organically that way without really ever having any grammar explained to you. In practice, it can get you quickly to a basic level of knowledge, maybe enough to understand a bit of native speech.

But I really think a lot of the best tools are available online. And SRS is popular these days, and I think it has some value. Basically, SRS are digital flashcards that learn what you know and ask you that less frequently, and also learn where you have trouble and ask you that more frequently. This mostly helps with vocabulary, but I think vocabulary is one of the more important aspect of learning a foreign language.


Originally Posted by wasapi View Post
Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?

I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?


Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?

Any personal stories?
This is a controversial topic, but I think the consensus is that there is a quick drop-off in language learning ability when we are really young, and then that slowly, logarithmically drops off as we age. I knew a guy who became fluent in Spanish from age 50 to age 57 or so.

There is also a huge difference in the difficulty of learning different languages. For native English speakers, Japanese is the hardest, and Italian, Spanish and Dutch are the easiest.
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Old 26th August 2018, 02:22 AM   #26
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Almost any course will gain you reasonable mastery in reading a language. I had five years of elementary and high-school French and I could probably read the Three Musketeers in the original version. But give me a French film without the subtitles and I'd be mostly going by visual cues.
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Old 26th August 2018, 06:21 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Almost any course will gain you reasonable mastery in reading a language. I had five years of elementary and high-school French and I could probably read the Three Musketeers in the original version. But give me a French film without the subtitles and I'd be mostly going by visual cues.
Yep. My French is reasonable - about the same school experience as you - and I spent some time living and working there, but when I experimented and switched off the subtitles to a drama series called Marseille I was mostly floundering hopelessly.
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Old 26th August 2018, 12:46 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Almost any course will gain you reasonable mastery in reading a language. I had five years of elementary and high-school French and I could probably read the Three Musketeers in the original version. But give me a French film without the subtitles and I'd be mostly going by visual cues.
I found that setting DVD's to French language with French subtitles to be a good way to get better at the understanding of spoken words. The cue of seeing the words written out was enough to make the spoken words comprehensible, and often to realize that the subtitles were always shortened, and sometimes significantly changed from the speech.
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Old 26th August 2018, 07:17 PM   #29
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For my part, I am only fluent in English and autotranslator.

Wikibooks:Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world and AR 611-6 Army Linguist Management :: Military Publications - Army Regulations - USAHEC contain the only sizable lists of languags ranked by difficulty that I have been able to find, and they are very similar. They are also only for English speakers, and I have not been able to find any comparable lists for speakers of any other language.

For the FSI, the difficulty rankings are for the number of 25-hour classroom weeks necessary for a target proficiency of level 3, "General Professional Proficiency" in both reading and writing. All the FSI's languages are ones used in everyday use in the present. No past ones like Old English or Latin or Classical Greek or Sanskrit.

Category I (24 weeks): all Romance languages and most other Germanic ones.

(30 weeks): German
(36 weeks): Jumieka (Jamaican creole), Swahili, Indonesian/Malay, Javanese

Category II (44 weeks): most languages, including Icelandic, the remaining Germanic one.

Category III (88 weeks): Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese (the champion in difficulty)


But YMMV. To all you readers of this post, you may find amounts of difficulty different from what is listed here.
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Old 28th August 2018, 03:10 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
I found that setting DVD's to French language with French subtitles to be a good way to get better at the understanding of spoken words. The cue of seeing the words written out was enough to make the spoken words comprehensible, and often to realize that the subtitles were always shortened, and sometimes significantly changed from the speech.

I used Gloria Esefans DVD Que siga la tradición with subtitles to learn Latin American Spanish.
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Old 29th August 2018, 04:38 AM   #31
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As a small datapoint, one thing that can make a language difficult to learn is when you can't hear the difference between sounds. English speakers mock Asians confusing "r" and "l" sounds but in Cantonese, for example, there is a difference between the "p" sounds in "pin" and "spin" (aspirated and not). I should have a slight advantage there having spoken a little Gaelic as a child which aspirates differently but I cannot get myself to hear the difference.
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Old 29th August 2018, 05:18 AM   #32
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Over the years, I've tried my hand at Japanese, Russian and German.

I think the most helpful thing, once you get some basic vocabulary and syntax, is to watch TV shows in that language. When I want to brush up my HS spanish, I'll listen to spanish radio.
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Old 29th August 2018, 02:13 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Wudang View Post
I should have a slight advantage there having spoken a little Gaelic as a child which aspirates differently but I cannot get myself to hear the difference.

When (some) Germans can't pronounce the voiced th [š] in English, it's not just a question of pronunciation. They very often can't distinguish it from other consonants. We have a very similar consonant in Danish, the so-called "soft d," and some Germans can't tell [š] and [l] apart.
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"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." K. Marx
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Old 29th August 2018, 02:14 PM   #34
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personally, I love rosetta stone. yes, it is very expensive. however, most people seem to give up and sell their copy pretty quickly. I got spanish for my daughter, unopened, on ebay for $38.

I know spanish and latin. I started both in public school. for spanish I used RS, flashcards, and translating books I got from the library. I am proficient enough that in my previous job I was a translator.

latin I used workbooks and reading. I got RS from a friend for $40 (again, unused) and I am okay enough now to read simple things.

I used duolingo. its nice for practice but you cannot learn a language with that.

I also know some american sign language and some signed english. books and dvds for those.

when my ex was in the military, I found a group on base for people who were native speakers of spanish to get together. they were happy to have me join, and I learned a TON. for asl there are groups like the flying fingers, specifically for people to learn the language. id be willing to bet there are groups like that for you. if not, find a friend and practice, even just writing emails is a lot more educational than you might think. (if youre looking for spanish or latin, hmu)
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Old 30th August 2018, 04:37 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by dann View Post
When (some) Germans can't pronounce the voiced th [š] in English, it's not just a question of pronunciation. They very often can't distinguish it from other consonants. We have a very similar consonant in Danish, the so-called "soft d," and some Germans can't tell [š] and [l] apart.
I recall reading a paper years back about how the brain gets trained to pick sounds from noise and tries to make sure it hears a definite known sound rather than an unknown one.
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Old 30th August 2018, 06:00 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Wudang View Post
I recall reading a paper years back about how the brain gets trained to pick sounds from noise and tries to make sure it hears a definite known sound rather than an unknown one.
apparently this is also why many asian languages are hard for non native speakers, because they use stressed phonems to change the meaning of the word and if you didn't grow up with it, you can't even hear it.
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Old 30th August 2018, 07:34 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Magrat View Post
apparently this is also why many asian languages are hard for non native speakers, because they use stressed phonems to change the meaning of the word and if you didn't grow up with it, you can't even hear it.

Oh, you can certainly hear them as a non-native, but it does take lots of listening practice. The carefully enunciated sounds of my delightful Chinese teacher are never so clearly apparent when listening to "real" speech though (hence the efficacy of "immersion" - however you manage that).
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Old 30th August 2018, 10:12 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by TX50 View Post
Oh, you can certainly hear them as a non-native, but it does take lots of listening practice. The carefully enunciated sounds of my delightful Chinese teacher are never so clearly apparent when listening to "real" speech though (hence the efficacy of "immersion" - however you manage that).
you're correct, I misstated. they're very difficult to hear without intense practice. personally I can't hear them at all, but I haven't had the practice you've had! part of why I've stuck to romance languages
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Old 4th September 2018, 03:04 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by wasapi View Post
Does anyone know if learning a second language diminishes with age?

I mean, is it unrealistic for someone in their 60's or 70's to think they could learn a second language?


Not fluent, but 'get-by-well' with what they know?

Any personal stories?
There is nothing to stop a person in their 60's or 70's from learning a new language. However, it is a recognised phenomenon that with very advanced age, people forget their learned languages and revert to their mother tongue.

It probably doesn't happen to everyone.
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Old 4th September 2018, 03:09 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by Guybrush Threepwood View Post
Also German: Schildkröte
Also Finnish: kilpakonna (toad is rupikonna)
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