Sunday, February 05, 2017

Five Interesting Things about Learning a Language

I was checking out some articles about language learning and found some very interesting information. 

1. There are five sets of people on language acquisition (Source: Multilingual People). 
For one, here are five different categories of people depending on the number of languages acquired and their percentage of world population:
  • Monolingual: A person knowing only one language (40% of world population) 
  • Bilingual: A person using or able to use two languages especially with equal fluency (43% of world population) 
  • Trilingual: A person speaking three languages fluently (13% of world population) 
  • Multilingual: A person who speaks more than two languages, but used often for four languages or more (3% of world population speak more than 4 languages) 
  • Polyglot: Someone with a high degree of proficiency in several languages (less than 1‰ of world population speak 5 languages fluently)
I am not sure now if I can be considered a multilingual person if I can speak, read and write English and Malay but only speak Cantonese and some Mandarin.

2. There are five categories of languages on amount of time required to acquire them (Source: Language Difficulty Ranking)
Then I found out that the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has a list to show the approximate time you need to learn a specific language as an English speaker.

I found myself and most of my Malaysian Chinese friends in a very interesting position with our first languages (English and Malay) and so-called mother tongue (Mandarin and/or Cantonese) in Category I, III and V. This should make our learning of most languages quite effective and efficient. But I still find it difficult. 

3. We desire to learn a new language based on the prestige of the speaker (Source: What Makes a Language Attractive)
The allure of a language may have more to do with perceptions of that country's status and social values than its actual sound. Sociolinguists believe the attractiveness of a language is determined by how positively we view a particular group of people who share a cultural outlook.

In that sense, the languages that attract you well may show how you regard the country and its people. But I find that we are also attracted to the languages based on their utility. I have friends who learn Italian to sing in Italian, French because of a desire to visit the country and Korean all because of Korean dramas. 

4. What it takes to acquire a new language to an intermediate level (Source: How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?)
Depending on your availability of time and resources, here is an estimate amount of time required to learn a new language to an intermediate level:
  • One 3-hour course per week for 8 weeks, plus weekly homework assignment (1 hour), plus independent practice of any type (2 hour). 3 courses per year. You will need between 25-30 courses. At 3 courses per year, it may take you between 8.3-10 years to reach an intermediate level 
  • One year of language learning in school (4 hours per week + 2 hours of homework + 2 hours of independent practice X 12 weeks X 2 semesters). Between 5-6.25 years to reach an intermediate level 
  • Dedicated independent study (1 hour per day). Approximately 3 years to achieve an intermediate level 
  • Total, active immersion (8 hours per day). Approximately 3 months to have an intermediate level
I will only be able to dedicate an hour a day, at best and it will take me three years to learn a new language. That will be a very long and tedious three years. 

5. Chinese is the hardest language in the world (Source: Why Chinese is So Damn Hard by David Moser)
For someone who have been trying my whole life to learn Mandarin, I find this article amusing. Moser said that, Chinese is not only hard for English speakers, but it's also hard in absolute terms. Which means that Chinese is also hard for Chinese people.

There, Chinese is hard. But I am still trying. 


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