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How do you become fluent in 11 languages?

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
Hebrew to English
Not this again Feb 24, 2012

This has already done the rounds on Facebook and has been thoroughly discredited.
The actual competition only calls for someone to be "conversant" in multiple languages. The primary definition of "conversant" is "familiar with", which is a far stretch from "fluent".

I can tell you for certain he isn't fluent in Hebrew, his range of vocabulary seems rather limited and he sticks to quite simple language, not to mention that his accent isn't great (his repetition of the same lexical chunk "נראה לי" comes across as restricted vocab/lack of ability to use synonomous expressions).
There were also speakers of Spanish and Catalan on Facebook who also lambasted his Spanish/Catalan (beyond my skill set to comment there though).
In addition, in some of the languages on the list he only says a few words (Catalan). In others (in which he is probably more proficient, i.e. Greek) he says more (and more than once).

It really is a distortion of the truth and one of those storys which impresses monolinguals no end, but linguists should always be wary of the use of the extremely non-linguistic word "fluent".

It should be quality, not quantity....

I'd be more impressed if he could speak 3 languages flawlessly rather than 11 languages at varying proficiencies.

It's quite irresponsible journalism in a country where we really need to convince our youth to bother learning a single language, rather than giving them the illusion that learning 11 is feasible/desirable.


 
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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
French to English
+ ...
Cutting through the media hype... Feb 24, 2012

In fairness to Alex, I suspect that what he is doing is following a passion for learning *about* languages and in so doing acquiring a moderate degree of proficiency in those languages. The claims of "fluent in 11 languages" are really down to naive overenthusiastic journalism as far as I can tell.

I think that what he has is a really useful skill: having moderate proficiency in and "overall" knowledge of a *breadth* of languages can be helpful when trying to arrive at plausible linguistic analyses ("this looks like a genitive if we only consider Romance languages, but bringing in data from Hebrew..."), or when trying to design material for people from a broad range of linguistic backgrounds, or even for more "utilitarian" purposes such as speaker/language recognition, overseeing a multilingual machine translation project etc etc.

Now, that's a *different* skill to being "fluent" in languages, say, for the needs of translation and interpreting. And there's a danger that the public misunderstand that. But I wouldn't wish that to detract from the inherent value of the skill that he has-- its uses might just might be a bit different from what the public imagine.

[Edited at 2012-02-24 23:42 GMT]


 

Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
French to English
+ ...
Well, Feb 24, 2012

at least he seems nice and cheerful about it all - brought to mind-
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Borrow


 

Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
Dutch to English
+ ...
Cutting through the media hype... Hear, hear Feb 25, 2012

Neil Coffey wrote:

In fairness to Alex, I suspect that what he is doing is following a passion for learning *about* languages and in so doing acquiring a moderate degree of proficiency in those languages. The claims of "fluent in 11 languages" are really down to naive overenthusiastic journalism as far as I can tell.



I think that being fluent is not necessarily the be all and end all of everything. It all depends when you use your language skills. I am truly trilingual in three languages (English, Spanish and Dutch) and can get by in German, Italian, Portuguese and French (hey that is 7!). I also did Latin at university (hey that is 8). This has been one of the most useful 'tools' in my trade and yet I have never spoken it with anybody. The fact that I am aware of grammar structures in different languages means I can make assumptions about other languages and usually I am right.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:40
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Spanish Feb 25, 2012

As a very quick assessment of his Spanish in the video, I must say that his skills are quite OK. At least he shows a genuine interest in languages, and that is also honourable.

[Edited at 2012-02-25 09:18 GMT]


 

Andreas Morgenstern  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:40
English to German
+ ...
Oh, another one of those stories Feb 25, 2012

In the end it all comes down to how proficient one is in one's languages.

Languages in which I can express simple thoughts: Russian, Japanese, (Latin)
Languages in which I 'get by': Chinese
Languages I can read a newspaper in without greater difficulties: Thai, Dutch, Italian
Languages in which I am very proficient, but that are not quite ready for translation: French
Languages I actually translate: German, English, Spanish

That's around ten languages, but so far only three of them are good enough to provide high quality translations.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:40
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Having a chat is not being fluent Feb 25, 2012

Although I must admit that being able to have a chat in 11 languages is quite amazing, the title of this forum is incorrect if you ask me.

This comes from the page explaining the conditions of the contest.

Throughout November, a relaxed and fun judging process will take place, with nominees chatting to the judges fluent in their individual languages over webcam. The schoolchild and student shown to be conversant in the most languages will be declared the winner.

Having a relaxed and fun chat is not the same as being fluent. I reckon that with some preparation I could be able to have a chat in 6 languages, but I would not say I am fluent in more than 3, which --I reckon-- is very much the average in our community here.

Or maybe I just like to think that the contest's requirements were very low to help me feel better!icon_smile.gif


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 16:40
German to Serbian
+ ...
Sensationalism Feb 25, 2012

How exactly does his uttering these rehearsed sentences in various languages prove to us he is fluent in those languages? Any good actor could do this.

Skiing, skating and tennis are Olympic sports, languages are not.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
Hebrew to English
Not inspired by the standards.... Feb 25, 2012

....when they make grammatical "mistakes/mishaps" in the wording of the conditions too.

"with nominees chatting to the judges fluent...[ly?] in their individual languages over webcam"

....someone throw them an adverb please.

On one hand I do see the competition as a bit of harmless fun which may/may not inspire language learning, on the other hand I fear it perpetuates certain language myths.

...and whilst I agree that a well-rounded knowledge of multiple languages has value (I have dabbled in more than just my source language), I also think it endorses, to some extent, the old "jack of all trades, master of none" philosophy (or if you want to be more critical: mediocrity in several areas over specialisation in one/a few).

I also find this type of linguistic bragging a bit distasteful. Learning languages to show off is, well....it's not big and it's not clever.

The problem with these celebrated "polyglots" is that they never live up to the hype...and at some point they usually come unstuck (Ziad Fazah....), which is a shame because they usually are talented linguists/language learners, but they lose all credibility when they try to exaggerate or misrepresent their abilities merely to impress.

[Edited at 2012-02-25 09:57 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 16:40
German to Serbian
+ ...
Exactly, myths among amateurs Feb 25, 2012

When you report you are a linguist, amateurs will usually ask: "How many languages do you speak?", while they will never ask: "How good/to what extent do you speak language X"?

 

Tania Samuelsson  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 16:40
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
polyglots in history Feb 25, 2012

This made me think of Berlitz

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Berlitz

"As a child, Charles was raised in a household in which (by his father's orders) every relative and servant spoke to Charles in a different language: he reached adolescence speaking eight languages fluently. In adulthood, he recalled having had the childhood delusion that every human being spoke a different language, and wondering why he did not have his own language like everyone else in his household. His father spoke to him in German, his grandfather in Russian, his nanny in Spanish."


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
French to English
+ ...
Showing off... Feb 25, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:
I also find this type of linguistic bragging a bit distasteful. Learning languages to show off is, well....it's not big and it's not clever.


Agreed, but the people making the fuss here are really Collins-- who run the competition to generate some media hype that mentions them-- and journalists, who take the bait and generate the associated churnalised "news" stories, twisting the facts/claims as necessary to sell more papers/ad clicks/brand awareness. It's just the same process as goes on in all the various other "news" stories about how the nation is getting increasingly obese (as shown in a recent survey by DietPill Ltd), students who eat at least two cereal bars per day are predicted to get at least three A's at GCSE (as predicted in a recent report by OatieCrunch Ltd) etc etc. The trick is to not read too much into it...

In the middle of this, I really see a student interested in learning about languages, not somebody trying to "show off". If you're just trying to show off, there are really easier ways of doing so than going to the trouble of learning 11 languages (even if "learning" just means "being competent enough to have a basic conversation" not "speak like a native literary author in each language and be able to interpret parliament proceedings for the UN"... so what?)


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
Hebrew to English
Other competitions are perhaps more beneficial.... Feb 25, 2012

Neil Coffey wrote:
Agreed, but the people making the fuss here are really Collins-- who run the competition to generate some media hype that mentions them-- and journalists, who take the bait and generate the associated churnalised "news" stories, twisting the facts/claims as necessary to sell more papers/ad clicks/brand awareness.


Also agreed, I find the events and competitions of "Routes into Languages" (http://www.routesintolanguages.ac.uk/index.html) are far more realistic and productive for young language learners.

Not to mention the motives behind it are less self-serving/crude/profit-oriented.


 

Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:40
French to English
+ ...
I agree Feb 25, 2012

Neil Coffey wrote: "...I really see a student interested in learning about languages, not somebody trying to "show off".

 
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