In my ongoing struggle with Japanese, I’ve been looking around at some websites, and found some interesting YouTube clips by this guy Steven Kaufmann.
I found him at first because he was criticizing the Irish polyglot Benny. I found Benny a long time ago, but his writing put me off because it seemed to be blaming people for not being good enough at learning languages.
So what Kaufmann said made some sense to me. His method is to spend a lot of time building vocabulary and listening, before jumping into conversations.
That makes a lot of sense to me. So does this, from one of his clips, “How long to get to a conversational level in a language?”
I’ve taken four years with Russian.
I would say, in terms of Russian or Chinese, operating on the basis of one hour a day, I would say that anywhere from two to four years is realistic, in terms of being able to speak intelligently and understand.
I stress that, to my mind, conversation is two-way. Conversation is not just about you saying something and just being at a lost when the person replies. Conversation implies a more or less balanced exhange, and where the other person doesn’t have to make too many allowances for you.
And where you don’t give the impression of not understanding.
From English, with no previous experience in language learning, the first language is going to be very tough. I should mention this as well, there is no question that … language learning is a skill. There is a language learning fitness level that you achieve by doing it.
The first language you learn is very difficult. The second one gets easier, … and it just gets easier as you go.
So, conclusion: If it’s a very closely related language, I would still say six months, like Spanish to Italian. … If it’s a difficult language, like Chinese, I would go two to four years — based on one hour a day of input-based learning.
But you choose to take the plunge whenever you want.
OK, that’s a long excerpt, but the takeaway for me is that perhaps I’m not being as slow at learning Japanese as I thought I was.
That’s the plus side. The minus side is that I haven’t really been doing as well as I should be. After all, I’ve been learning Japanese sort of seriously since this time last year — so that’s one year of learning it for about an hour a day.
(That’s being generous. If I were to be absolutely strict, I’d count the three years I was here previously, plus the year I was here this time, before I began learning “in earnest.”)
The thing is, that I’m learning at about the right amount, and I’m probably right to be focusing on vocabulary.
But! I need to do more listening. As Kaufmann says, conversation should be two-way. I should be able to understanding what people say to me.