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Learning 3 languages or more
Thread poster: hfp
hfp
United States
Local time: 03:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 3, 2008

Hey, everyone. I am new to Proz and greatly apologize if this topic has been addressed before. I am interested in learning a third language, but I am not sure of the best way to go about that, and if that is the best decision. I have been learning Spanish for years and am continuing to do so here in Chile, but I can't help wanting to head over to Asia and take on Chinese after a few years. My plan is to stay here for a few years, maybe 3, 4 or 5, who knows, as long as it takes me to even begin to think like a native speaker of Spanish and then head off to China or Taiwan. One of my professors here in Chile went to China last year and taught Spanish. I would love to do something like that so I don't lose my Spanish.

I know there are a bunch of people that say they speak 6,7,8 or 10 languages, but right now that is not my goal. A lot of the time these people don't seem to be all that fluent in each language, but that is a generalization of course. Some people are truly dedicated and can speak all kinds of langauges. I am not looking into learning a third language with the idea of being a masterful translator of Chinese into English/Spanish and vice versa. It is more of a personal interest for my own benefit. However, I would also like to read and write in the language, not just survive.

What do you think about learning 3 languages and about what I have said? Thanks a lot for everything.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:10
Flemish to English
+ ...
My 2 cents May 3, 2008

A Chinese friend of mines ays that Japanese can read some Chinese characters and understand them and vice-versa. China certainly is a country with potential, but its boom is based upon cheap labour (a labour surplus of 220 million). I know from Ying (my friend) that if i were to go to China I would "survive" with translation (which is paid at almost Chinese prices) and language-teaching, but would have to live of foreign assignments.
Within the other major language-groups, there are similarities and if you know one languages, it is easier to pick up and learn another, this is true especially in Romance languages and if you have learnt Latin.
With regard to Germanic languages: I never learnt Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, but if I open my ears, I can understand them.
With regard to Slavonic languages: Russian is the "mother" of the others: If you can know Russian, then it strikes me how many words are the same in say Slovenian, Slovac, Polish, Bulgarian ... but spoken in a different way or incorporated in a different structure....
However, it is better to focus on a number of languages and try to assimilate them upto level C1/2 of the Council of Europe


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:10
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
The key to learning more than 1 foreign language efficiently May 3, 2008

(not counting mother tongue) is, to ensure that there is a reasonably good distance between the acquired languages.

hfp wrote:

... I am interested in learning a third language, but I am not sure of the best way to go about that, and if that is the best decision. I have been learning Spanish for years and am continuing to do so here in Chile, but I can't help wanting to head over to Asia and take on Chinese after a few years. My plan is to stay here for a few years, maybe 3, 4 or 5, who knows, as long as it takes me to even begin to think like a native speaker of Spanish and then head off to China or Taiwan. One of my professors here in Chile went to China last year and taught Spanish. I would love to do something like that so I don't lose my Spanish.


Your native language is not going to move anywhere but forward, generally speaking (there may be moments in which it suffers interference if you haven't touched base in a long time, but it is the language of life experience and growing up, which is something the other languages don't have; at any rate, such interference can only be temporary - few people with an initial native language ever become alingual in the same way bilinguals who have never effectively separated their two languages can sometimes be). You're bound to have activated your second language (Spanish) if you've been in Chile for a reasonable length of time (what I mean by "activated" is that you can think directly in it). When that time comes, you can start learning a third language with reasonably high expectations of success, since this third language is less likely to interfere with the activated language (i.e., you can start learning the third language even in Chile).

The real problems occur when the non-maternal languages reach similar levels of proficiency. This is because your linguistic instinct of what is correct and what is orthographically kosher developed in your first (maternal/native) language (i.e., to expect yourself to develop the same judgment of correctness in Spanish is pushing yourself a bit over the top). Hence, with activated Spanish and similarly activated Chinese, your progress will slow down unless you make the critical choice of which language to prioritize. This struggle with the acquired languages (that is, acquired after the age of 10) is the story of a lifetime: it doesn't have to do with the order in which you learned the languages, but rather, with the circumstances surrounding you at a given point in your life. For instance, if you stay in China longer than you've stayed in a Spanish-speaking country, chances are your command of Spanish will diminish as your command of Chinese increases. You could consider teaching English in a foreign country, but you cannot really guarantee that your Spanish will have the same stability.

Hope it helps.


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:10
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
I am not sure if it's the best way of explaining the situation May 3, 2008

Williamson wrote:
With regard to Slavonic languages: Russian is the "mother" of the others: If you can know Russian, then it strikes me how many words are the same in say Slovenian, Slovac, Polish, Bulgarian ... but spoken in a different way or incorporated in a different structure....


Dear Williamson

I am not an expert when it comes to Slovenian, Slovac or Bulgarian but I think that you may find it difficult to prove that Polish is in some way derived from Russian. I suppose that what you meat was some kind of simplification, however to significant part of 40 million people or so to whom Polish is native tongue this way of explaining relations between these languages may be rather upsetting. At least I find it quite disturbing to learn that Russian is a "mother" of my language.

Kind Regards
Stanislaw

[Edited at 2008-05-03 14:09]


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hfp
United States
Local time: 03:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, guys. May 3, 2008

Williamson wrote:

A Chinese friend of mines ays that Japanese can read some Chinese characters and understand them and vice-versa. China certainly is a country with potential, but its boom is based upon cheap labour (a labour surplus of 220 million). I know from Ying (my friend) that if i were to go to China I would "survive" with translation (which is paid at almost Chinese prices) and language-teaching, but would have to live of foreign assignments.
Within the other major language-groups, there are similarities and if you know one languages, it is easier to pick up and learn another, this is true especially in Romance languages and if you have learnt Latin.
With regard to Germanic languages: I never learnt Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, but if I open my ears, I can understand them.
With regard to Slavonic languages: Russian is the "mother" of the others: If you can know Russian, then it strikes me how many words are the same in say Slovenian, Slovac, Polish, Bulgarian ... but spoken in a different way or incorporated in a different structure....
However, it is better to focus on a number of languages and try to assimilate them upto level C1/2 of the Council of Europe


I was not aware of level C1/2 of the Council of Europe. I'll have to look into that. Thanks a lot for your input, Williamson. Your comments have been very helpful. My wish, and it may be difficult to carry out, is to go China some day and teach Spanish and English. My native language is English, if anyone was wondering.

I also greatly appreciate your comments, Parrot. You have written quite a bit and every part of it interests me. Thank you for your time.

Stanislaw, you bring up an interesting issue. I'm curious about Williamson's response.


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Tina Colquhoun  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:10
Danish to English
+ ...
Huh? May 3, 2008

Williamson wrote:

With regard to Germanic languages: I never learnt Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, but if I open my ears, I can understand them.


Hahaha! What? Because you speak Dutch?


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:10
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Try this site May 4, 2008

http://www.how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/active_topics.asp

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:10
Flemish to English
+ ...
Yep May 4, 2008

Tina Colquhoun wrote:

Williamson wrote:

With regard to Germanic languages: I never learnt Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, but if I open my ears, I can understand them.


Hahaha! What? Because you speak Dutch?




Correct. Not understand in detail, but more or less understand what is meant. Was in Sweden and I tried communicating with my Swedish host by speaking Dutch. She spoke Swedish. We got along.

What the "mother of Slavonic languages is" (like Latin) I don't know . With regard to Russian: 216 million or so speakers. Before E.U.-accession, not many people saw an interest in learning Polish. Being E.U.-Member upgraded the status of many Eastern-European languages (Baltic languages inlcuded ) and attracted learners.
Russian has always been of considerable influence.

[Edited at 2008-05-04 10:05]


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Evonymus (Ewa Kazmierczak)  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 09:10
English to Polish
+ ...
similarities May 4, 2008

Stanislaw Czech wrote:
Dear Williamson
At least I find it quite disturbing to learn that Russian is a "mother" of my language.
Kind Regards
Stanislaw

[Edited at 2008-05-03 14:09]

Fully agree with Stanislaw.
Williamson, sorry, but your statement that “Russian is the mother of Polish” and other Slavic languages, sounds (sorry) funny to me. Where do you find those striking similarities? Starting from alphabets? Since when the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets are so similar to each other?
Perhaps following the same reasoning one can say that English and German, and even Yiddish are very similar to each other just because they are all AFAIK within the group of Germanic languages. But which one is “the mother” there? )
cheers, Ewa


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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 09:10
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
personal experience May 4, 2008

I think we should all stick to the question at hand, namely, helping the author of this thread understand the ramifications of learning a 3rd language and avoid all sorts of politically loaded statements.

I could probably elucidate on the matter since I started my linguistic career by studying multiple languages at the same time. German at 14, then Sp/Fr/Jap at 16, then Russian at 18 (all the way to 26, when I finished my studies at Moscow State). I dabbled intermittently in several Slavic and Germanic languages (Ukr, Pol, Bul, Cz, Mac, Du, Swed) and only got to low intermediate level (covered verb conjugation, all noun/adj/pron declensions, basic syntax). Using Parrot's terminology above, I could "activate" any one of these dormant languages in probably six months but there's no economic need. So in my 20s and early 30s, Russian and English were pre-eminent; now it's English, Spanish and German.

Regarding interference: knowing Russian helped me assimilate Pol/Ukr/Mac/Cz only so far as the verb/noun roots and endings were similar. The fact that I took a course on Old Russian and Church Slavonic helped a lot. But most of the time it was old-school memory work. So in my case that false statement of "Russian the mother of all Sl. languages" did not help. However, knowing Eng and Germ was considerable help in remembering Swedish and Dutch.

So to answer your question of whether you would have trouble learning Chinese at such a late stage, it all boils down to skill, a good ear and perseverance. The first year you will slog through tremendous memory work: about 100 basic monosyllables x 6 tones (plus character(s) for each syllable/tone combination). Ah...hmmm...no! I'd rather learn Icelandic or Slovenian.


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Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:10
Member (2008)
French to English
learning an Asian language May 4, 2008

I think you should do it. You sound young - I mean this in the best possible way - so your brain should still be fairly plastic. If you immerse yourself in the culture, you will be able to pick up the language reasonably well. It may interfere with your Spanish, but as Marcus says, you should be able to reactivate it if you give it your sole attention for a few months at some future date. You can try working in both languages and see where the best work and money are.

Have you considered Japanese instead of Chinese? You won't have the same cheap labor pool to contend with, the Japanese encomony is quite completely "emerged". There is plenty of work in Japan teaching English, for sure, and probably a comparible amount of work teaching Spanish as to what is available in China anyway. Rates will be higher, but the cost of living may be higher still, so you will have to think about what that means to you - you may have to live a little frugally. I have only studied Japanese, not Chinese, so I cannot compare them directly, but I imagine Japanese is a little easier. The spoken language is pretty straightforward, one major dialect and no tonals. The written language is not so easy, with the three different alphabets. However, the Kana alphabets are fairly easy to learn, with only 42 phonetic characters. Kanji are harder, but you don't need to learn anywhere near as many as with Chinese I believe. A lot of translators work in both, you might consider a separate thread asking people to compare pay rates, learning curves, etc.


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Gabriel Arevalo  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:10
Member (2008)
English to Spanish
+ ...
If you want, you will certainly be able May 7, 2008

hfp wrote:

Hey, everyone. I am new to Proz and greatly apologize if this topic has been addressed before. I am interested in learning a third language, but I am not sure of the best way to go about that, and if that is the best decision. I have been learning Spanish for years and am continuing to do so here in Chile, but I can't help wanting to head over to Asia and take on Chinese after a few years. My plan is to stay here for a few years, maybe 3, 4 or 5, who knows, as long as it takes me to even begin to think like a native speaker of Spanish and then head off to China or Taiwan. One of my professors here in Chile went to China last year and taught Spanish. I would love to do something like that so I don't lose my Spanish.

I know there are a bunch of people that say they speak 6,7,8 or 10 languages, but right now that is not my goal. A lot of the time these people don't seem to be all that fluent in each language, but that is a generalization of course. Some people are truly dedicated and can speak all kinds of langauges. I am not looking into learning a third language with the idea of being a masterful translator of Chinese into English/Spanish and vice versa. It is more of a personal interest for my own benefit. However, I would also like to read and write in the language, not just survive.

What do you think about learning 3 languages and about what I have said? Thanks a lot for everything.



Dear hfp:

I'm also learning Chinese. Frankly speaking, Chinese is a wonderful language but it has been quite difficult for me. However, I will persist. Applying association methods has started to provide fruitful help.

My humble opinion:

In order to learn a language (or anything), you need:

1. Motivation (Set clearly your reasons for studying)
2. Disciplined study plan
3. Everlasting persistence

Regards!


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hfp
United States
Local time: 03:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks a lot, Joan and Gabriel May 7, 2008

Joan Berglund wrote:

I think you should do it. You sound young - I mean this in the best possible way - so your brain should still be fairly plastic. If you immerse yourself in the culture, you will be able to pick up the language reasonably well. It may interfere with your Spanish, but as Marcus says, you should be able to reactivate it if you give it your sole attention for a few months at some future date. You can try working in both languages and see where the best work and money are.

Have you considered Japanese instead of Chinese? You won't have the same cheap labor pool to contend with, the Japanese encomony is quite completely "emerged". There is plenty of work in Japan teaching English, for sure, and probably a comparible amount of work teaching Spanish as to what is available in China anyway. Rates will be higher, but the cost of living may be higher still, so you will have to think about what that means to you - you may have to live a little frugally. I have only studied Japanese, not Chinese, so I cannot compare them directly, but I imagine Japanese is a little easier. The spoken language is pretty straightforward, one major dialect and no tonals. The written language is not so easy, with the three different alphabets. However, the Kana alphabets are fairly easy to learn, with only 42 phonetic characters. Kanji are harder, but you don't need to learn anywhere near as many as with Chinese I believe. A lot of translators work in both, you might consider a separate thread asking people to compare pay rates, learning curves, etc.


Thanks a lot for your comments, Joan. They mean a lot to me and have made me more optimistic. I am young, only 22 and I definitely want to get over to China or Japan before too long. As far as Japanese goes, I haven't given it a whole lot of thought. Chinese seems just a little bit more interesting to me, but as you say, money is always important, so I have to take that into account. I imagine life in China teaching English and, if I am extremely lucky, Spanish, would be enjoyable, but definitely not luxurious. I've have to live frugally and keep track of my finances carefully as you say.

I really appreciate your comments too, Gabriel. It is always nice to hear from someone who is actually in China and can give a first hand opinion. Your 3 ideas for learning a language sound completely right to me. Thank you for responding.


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Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:10
Member (2008)
French to English
good for you May 10, 2008

You may have noticed that I only translate FR>EN and not JP>EN. That's because after 3 years of formal study, I still didn't feel ready. I should have done an immersion or internship at that point, but I was still studying for my Biology degree, running two businesses and had a husband and small baby. Which is exactly I say you should go now while the going's good. Now that my son is grown -- and actually just spent a year in Taiwan himself -- I could try again, but my brain might be too old and creaky now. Btw, my cousin, who never studied Japanese formally was translating after a 6 month immersion. I don't know if he was translating well, mind you, but he was working for the Japanese government. He also spent time in Taiwan and studied some Chinese, but I think he was mostly working as a journalist then, I don't think he translated. It's definitely worth asking translators who do both languages what they think of the business.

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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:10
Member (2007)
German to English
...level C1/2 of the Council of Europe... May 11, 2008

hfp wrote:
...
I was not aware of level C1/2 of the Council of Europe. I'll have to look into that. ...


I believe Williamson is referring to the Common European Framework
of Reference (CEFR, see e.g.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_Reference_for_Languages ) levels C1 and C2.

You might also be interested in glancing at the discussion under http://www.proz.com/forum/linguistics/62474-quasi_quantifying_language_proficiency-.html .
There, Kim Metzger set me straight on the distinction between the terms "native language" and "dominant language". As I understand him, a person's native language is the first language he or she learned. The dominant language is the language he or she speaks best. The native language is usually also the dominant language, but it need not be.

Henry Kissinger is a good example. He arrived in New York City as a 15 year old teenager speaking his native German. Now 84 years old and a retired US Foreign Minister, his dominant language is English.

Maybe someone with a formal academic linguistics or related background would be kind enough to tell me whether or not I understand this correctly.


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