What skills take the longest to assimilate?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Big_Dog, Sep 25, 2014.

  1. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    I've been absent from the forum for a while, due to business issues mainly. But you can read about another reason here. But that's off topic. What I wanted to talk about are those skills that just don't want to sink in. More specifically, I'm talking about reading, writing, listening, conversing, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Do you have an Achilles' heal? Do you work on something forever and ever, but see little results when you go to use it in the wild? Does it drive you nuts?

    Well, I've whined about it so much most people probably know my problem is grammar. Really it boils down to 2 languages - Japanese and Russian. When I learned Japanese, I was just overwhelmed by the amount of grammar to learn. After learning it on my own, I'd try to converse, and noticed that I was only using a fraction of what I studied. The same thing happened to me in a class in Kobe once. We all learned new constructions, and went out after class. It seemed that everyone was using the new construction except me. I tried, but for some reason it just wasn't ready to come out. This is when I realized that I am grammatically challenged compared to most other learners. But now, after 9 years of studying Japanese, even though I don't use all the grammar I've learned, I use most of it an speak for the most part correctly. Unfortunately understanding grammar is a problem in Japanese; it can be pretty complicated. I'm talking about understanding movies, TV and other people talking; I rarely have problems with one-to-one conversation.

    Russian grammar is a whole new nightmare for me. There seems to be as much to learn as Japanese, with a lot more exceptions. The up side is that it's not so hard to understand. The down side is that, even though I'm almost always understood now, I make tons of mistakes when I talk. I have studied the hell out of it, but improvement is super slow. At least I'm noticing improvement now; there was the longest time when I thought I would never get any better at grammar, no matter how much I studied it. And motivation to improve is not as high as it should be, because everybody understands me and even seems to enjoy my speech. But I will keep on trying and eventually hope to sound at least as good as a grade schooler :)
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2014
  2. Nobody

    Nobody Member

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    Speaking is my biggest weak point. I can craft a sentence perfectly in my head and then falter when I go to say it. Sometimes when I'm planning on saying something to someone I even repeat it to myself several times in my head while going to find them, only to have something far more simplistic come out when I actually speak to them. I know the constructions, I know how to use them, and I know how to express a fairly broad range of nuance, but when I actually go to speak, it all falls apart. Even in my native language I'm a much better writer than speaker; I never conversed much growing up. I suspect this is the source of my problem.
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  3. neofight78

    neofight78 Member VIP member

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    I think speaking is the hardest part, because you have to actively produce the language correctly with no or minimal conscious thought. When you have complicated grammar rules and infrequently used vocabulary, to assemble it all quickly is extremely difficult. Although I received a high score for speaking in a TRKI exam this summer, I suspect that this is only because it's something everyone struggles with and the average standard is not that high.

    Although Russian grammar is complicated and there's a lot of it, in terms of answering textbook questions on it, it's not too hard to master. I suspect it's the realtime application of it that's the killer.

    I would be interested in any tips on improving speaking ability, beyond just continuing with conversation practice. I am not encouraged by Serbian friend who tells me she was living in the UK 4 years before she could start speaking without lots of pauses. Especially as I have never been to Russia!
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  4. garyb

    garyb Member

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    Speaking too, definitely, for the same reasons outlined by the other replies. I also find that I can prepare sentences well in my head and then they don't come out as planned. But on the flip side, I can often produce decent language without really thinking about it beforehand, so I'm inclined to say that effective speaking is a more spontaneous activity rather than just thinking about the words and then outputting them like writing. And I can absolutely relate to having a good intellectual understanding of the grammar but still getting it wrong when speaking!

    Specifically, pronunciation and accent are the hardest things for me to master, as you've probably seen from my other posts. For me, undoing old bad habits and instilling new better ones seems to be a much longer and more difficult process for pronunciation than it is for grammar, for example. If I'm consistently making a preposition mistake and then become aware of it, I can fix it quite quickly, and just the awareness is often enough to correct the habit. But for pronunciation mistakes and improvements, implementing the new habits into my spontaneous speech takes me weeks if not months of practice. And even after that, maintaining them and not slipping back into the incorrect habits requires a lot of conscious effort.
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  5. Bob

    Bob Active Member VIP member

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    As far as getting things up on a usable level, listening. I think I've gotten better at it over time though. I think when talents were being given out they ran out of listening, so instead I was given an extra helping of reading ;)
  6. Peregrinus

    Peregrinus Active Member

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    How much listening and reading do you do in Russian each and every day? You have a lot of langs to maintain, but perhaps for a while a shiteload of listening and reading applied to Russian would improve spoken grammatical use. On HTLAL Linguamor used to emphasize that a learner simply needs lots of exposure to improve, especially with usage.

    Also, have you made a bucket list of your most common grammatical mistakes to work on systematically? Although I started with a basic overview of German grammar, I have mostly focused on input and now find studying grammar in more detail to be a lot easier. I try to be semi-methodical, as in taking a grammar area and studying it thoroughly, though I don't necessarily study such broad grammar areas in the normal order.

    I would think too, that spending more time on writing than on speaking would be the way to go, since you can go slower and not have to react to the speech of others, and can concentrate on different grammatical points that need more work. From past discussions here I realize you think it important to speak from the beginning while I do not. But all that I have read about language learning suggests to me that the easiest and most efficient order of learning is lots of listening and reading followed by conscious thinking followed by writing followed by speaking.

    Some day I will spend a lot more time on writing and speaking, but for now listening and reading and modest attempts at thinking have produced very good results so far. If I can get to where (lexical threshold of course) I can read and understand almost anything with ease, then I have to think that writing and speaking will follow quickly if I make the effort.

    You say that understanding Russian is easy for you, but how easy really? Do you understand the fine points of grammar even if you can't yet produce them? Such as with verbs of motion why a certain verb is being used instead of another? I have found with my listening that consciously concentrating on a couple grammatical points each day pays big dividends. It could be something as simple as a certain declension or passive voice, or something more complicated like subordinate clauses. Focusing on a couple such points each day while I listen and read helps to reinforce that grammar.
  7. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Peregrinus - This is what the thread's about:
    Care to respond?

    I agree with you regarding conversation. Have you done much writing though? You can see a sample of the corrections I get by following the link in the OP. Still a humbling experience for me, even though I take the time to go through it pretty carefully. I guess I have to admit that there's a lot more to learn.
  8. Cainntear

    Cainntear Active Member VIP member

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    It's a difficult question, because the skills are inherently different.

    There's not a lot to pronunciation (back-of-an-envelope estimate: 30-100 things in an average language) but it's a matter of training muscles. There are surprisingly few grammar points in any language, but they can seem weird at first if they're very different from your own language. There's a heck of a lot of words though, so while vocabulary isn't difficult at the individual word level, overall it's a very slow skill to build up.

    So certainly some people will find one thing more difficult than others, but that's going to be a personal thing based on your/your teacher's approach.
  9. Stelle

    Stelle Active Member VIP member

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    Listening (outside of one-on-one conversations) is definitely the trickiest thing for me. My brain can't move fast enough to assimilate what it's hearing. And the amount of exposure required to improve just increases exponentially.
  10. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    I agree with this. It's really hard to speed this up. I do some translating and reading transcripts, which seems to help, but it's still a really long process.
  11. neofight78

    neofight78 Member VIP member

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    I've had a quick look at some of your posts on italki, and I don't think there is anything to get too concerned about. Although, I guess it depends on how much time you spent on checking for errors and whether you immediately recognised the errors when they are pointed out.

    It reminds me of when I was an avid chess player. Given a puzzle with the instructions "White to mate in 5" I would solve it no problem, but given the same position in a game I may well miss the winning move because I wouldn't necessarily know there was a checkmate to be found at that point in the game. So I think with grammar when doing exercises from a textbook it's a lot easier to get right. When speaking or writing, something has to trigger in the brain that a rule has to be applied and that I think is perhaps more of a challenge than learning the rule itself. e.g. I know the the past tense follows чтобы, I can easily put things in the past tense, but somehow I frequently fail to do it in writing or speech.

    But as you pointed out in OP, usually one's Russian usually is quite understandable even if the grammar is all over the place (this is my experience too). It's perhaps almost inevitable with Russian that the communication comes first and then the accuracy comes later.
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  12. H.F.

    H.F. New Member

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    The thing that I struggle with currently is conversation-specifically translating back and forth between L1 and L2 as I am speaking (or reading for that matter).
    Is there any particular thing that one can do to break this other than the obvious, which is more and more time conversing in L2?
  13. Cainntear

    Cainntear Active Member VIP member

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    Many people would say "stop translating"... but that's easier said than done.

    The problem you're having is that you can't think about every single rule you know at the same time. Instead, what you've got to do is pick one or two rules to pay particular attention to until they're automatic, then start on other rules. It's amazing how it snowballs... slow and steady wins the race.
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  14. H.F.

    H.F. New Member

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    That sounds very intersting. I am going to try it.
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  15. iguanamon

    iguanamon New Member

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  16. neofight78

    neofight78 Member VIP member

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    I think this advice is spot on. Back when I used regularly do karate, I was sometimes paired up with a beginner. There might be 5 or 6 things obviously wrong even with a basic punch. But I quickly learned that if you pointed them all out, the beginner would struggle to correct any of them. So instead I would choose the worst aspect and let them concentrate on that, and the resulting improvement was immediate. Indeed when practicing the basic techniques up and down the hall, in one direction I might concentrate on footwork and then in the other hip movement etc.

    One instructor talked about the four levels of competence (not his original idea):

    Unconscious incompetence - You don't know what you don't know - e.g. you may not even know that Russian has verbal aspects
    Conscious incompetence - You are aware of what you don't know or can't do and start to work on it e.g. you started to read about a grammar rule in a book
    Conscious competence - You can do something correctly, but it takes conscious thought and effort - e.g. you pause to think of the right conjugation
    Unconscious competence - You automatically do something correctly without thinking - e.g. you choose the right gender for an adjective instantly without thought

    Completely fluent speech can only really occur when everything hits that final stage. But whilst you're practicing you can only really effectively concentrate on one thing at a time, and work to drag it up through the levels. I'm sure it's just like karate, it's just drill, drill, drill until it becomes second nature.
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