When Do You Know You’re Good Enough in a Language to List in On Your (CV / Profile / Etc.?)

Perhaps one of the more straightforward ways is “testing procedures”. But what if your target language doesn’t have that? What then?

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Let’s say you’re learning a language from the developing world for which there is no test. When do you know that you can list (Fijian / Dzongkha / Tuvaluan / Tok Pisin) on the list of languages you speak?

There are a number of milestones you must pass on the way to conversational fluency (being able to have bar conversations in your target language) and then, should you so desire, to professional fluency (being able to perform your job[s] in your target language).

  • Learning the most essential verbs (to want, to have, to be)
  • Learning how verbs work (this is going to be harder to learn in some languages than others. Spanish verbs may take you a month, Lao verbs will take you five minutes at most.)
  • Learning how gender works, if any.
  • Learning how politeness tiers work, if any.
  • Learning how adjectives work (do they go before or after the noun they modify?)
  • Learning the “pronoun zoo” (This can be very straightforward in some languages. In some languages like Tok Pisin and Fijian, you’ll have to deal with ungodly large amounts of pronouns [the two of us but not you, me and you, the large group of us but not you, etc. In other languages, especially in East Asia, this is noted via pronouns you’d use with your partner but not with your boss. Sometimes as a foreigner in Asian countries you will be expected to use only a narrow set of pronouns. Still, recognizing many of them can be useful).
  • How prepositions / postpositions work.
  • The case system, if any (in Finno-Ugric languages, for example, this overlaps with the previous point).
  • Any miscellaneous grammatical features that enhance understanding significantly (such as Finnish or English having “multiple infinitives”. To give an example in English “I want to eat dinner” vs. “I don’t feel like eating dinner”.)

 

Once you pass all of these “checkpoints”, your primary goal, then, is to fill in the vocabulary that is missing. It will mostly be nouns, adjectives and verbs, but sometimes more complicated prepositions can also be involved.

 

There is no singular way to acquire vocabulary but there are some very FUN ways I can recommend:

 

  • Television and videos (subtitles can be used if you’re disciplined enough, otherwise many YouTube videos can explain words through “context”, not also to mention in the comments and description).
  • Joke pages (remember that our friends at uTalk said that the best way to learn is to make things funny!)
  • Writing exercises
  • Apps (e.g. Memrise, Clozemaster, uTalk, Mango Languages, ‘n friends.)

 

Okay, now back to the question at hand, WHEN do you know you are good enough?

The same way that I described milestones above, you’ll have to pass a number of milestones that genuinely “prove” your worth. Think of these as “boss fights”, in a sense.

Some boss fights would include things like:

 

  • Understanding a 15-minute video or audio in your target language and understanding anywhere from 90%-100%.
  • Having a 15-minute conversation with a native speaker in which you get genuinely complimented or EVEN if you get mistaken for a native speaker.
  • Conducting your job entirely in your language for a substantial period of time (15+ minutes, again, is a good benchmark).

 

So when do I put a language on my list? If I can do tasks like these CONSISTENTLY. Usually if I have done any of these tasks ten or more times than I can put the language on my “fluent” list.

And the reverse is true: if I fail to accomplish doing that in a row several times, it is no longer on my fluent list.

You can also modify this list to include writing and reading as well.

 

  • Having a chat conversation for 5+ minutes in the language. (You tend to do more quickly with writing so I modified the time from 15 minutes to 5.)
  • Reading several articles in a row in which you don’t need to reference a dictionary (or barely need to).

 

A final note: there are those who will glorify testing procedures above all and say that fluency is binary (either that it exists or that it doesn’t exist). It is very possible to pass a fluency test and then forget absolutely EVERYTHING (I’ve met several people who have done so, actually). They are worth something and they are an accomplishment, but if you definitely show signs of fluency and belonging the likes of which I’ve shown above, and ESPECIALLY if you’ve been getting extremely positive signs from native speakers of your target language, don’t worry about having a test result or not having a test result.

Strictly speaking in terms of paper qualifications, I speak English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Danish and Swedish (to the exclusion of my other fluent languages). Sure, I know these well (although my contemporary Hebrew showed signs of decay at the tail end of 2018 but I’ll get it back in order soon), but that doesn’t show the whole picture of how I live my life. And neither should you be discouraged by narrow slips of paper. The world has been poisoned enough because of that.

Feel free to let me know what you think!

 

Fijian Mission After 1 Month: Progress Report

30 minutes every day devoted to Fijian every day of February (although I skipped one day due to illness). One phrasebook. One free dictionary. Many songs. Lots of struggles. How are things?

Well, for one I’ve mastered all of the basics although there are two areas that I’m still rusty on and don’t get consistently correct:

(1) Numbers.

dailyfijian blogspot snippet

If you know I know Finnish, you can probably guess which one I had the easiest time remembering. (For those unaware: one of them dangerously resembles a well-known profanity in Finnish)

(2) Plural pronouns (note: in Fijian all personal pronouns serve as relative pronouns as well. Instead of saying “The person who came here” you would literally say “the person he came here”)

But plural pronouns get mighty interesting in Fijian because they work like this. Prepare yourself:

wiktionary fijian personal pronouns

Singular – one thing
dual – two of something
paucal – a group of something
plural – a big group of, all of the, speaking about a group in general (e.g. in the phrase “woodchucks would really like the food you give them” = this phrase applies to all woodchucks in the species, hence the plural is used).

Aside from these, which need some brushing up on, I have succesfully assembled the puzzle frame of the Fijian language!

I want, I have (oh yeah, another confusing thing involving different types posession! Things to be eaten or things to be drunk, dranken, drunken, whatever or things you have in a more permanent capacity — well, they have their own posession categories in Fijian) I must, negation (like French or Breton, you use two words to indicate negation), the Omniglot phrase list (although there may be some things I’m missing on that) and tenses. And many more! I’ve done a lot in this month and I think I should be proud of myself.

Obviously concerning the issues of pronouns and numbers I’m going to need to harden my memory of them. I have some plans involving memory devices and the nuclear option: an abandonware edutainment game called “Super Solvers Spellbound!” that you can also use as a language learning tool with devestating efficiency.

To conclude, three good things about how my Fijian has gone so far and three bad things.

Bad first:

(1) I feel for some odd reason that my accent doesn’t sound as good. I’ve listened to various radio broadcasts to imitate the accent (a lot of Fijian singers tend to rely on autotune so music doesn’t always help then. Also listening to Fijians speaking English doesn’t really help in part because of the deep Australian English influence not also to mention that many may speak Fiji Hindi as a first language instead. With many European languages I perfected the accent by listening to native speakers speaking English [e.g. with Polish, Swedish, German, etc.]. In places that are language salad bowls and / or have English as an official language, that can’t always be relied upon.). One thing I’ve tried to do is pronounce Fijian closer to the back of my throat and intone it similar to the way I do Tok Pisin (a language that gave me HUGE advantages in studying Fijian, given the grammatical similarities and yes, cognates between the two languages.)

(2) I haven’t had as much speaking practice as I would like. This will change because I’m doing the Huggins International 30-Day Speaking Challenge with Fijian next month (March 2018). I barely feel motivated to complete the February Greenlandic one for some odd reason, and this is coming from someone who deeply loves the Greenlandic language. Can’t say why. Maybe I need a break from active study.

(3) In listening to radio broadcasts I can almost always pick out the general meaning but sometimes I’m reduced to “word hunting” (e.g. listening to it and see how many words I can understand). With songs I’m even more out of luck. But again, autotune. But Fijian Lyrics are readily available online (the only smaller languages with lyrics equally as available were Icelandic and Faroese, unsurprisingly.)

 

Good:

(1) I’m really picking up what variety of words in Fijian are English loan words AND also how to English code-switch (which is something Fijian speakers do readily).

(2) The morphology is a puzzle that I’m getting better at by the day. Suffixes are becoming more intuitive. I keep in mind a piece of advice (I think from a guest post on Fluent in 3 Months) that with languages that are not closely related to English you have to draw connections INTERNALLY between the vocabulary. moce -> sleep. imocemoce -> bed. katakata -> warm. vakakatakatataka -> to make something warm (because of climate change this is a word commonly heard. If you’re having trouble pronouncing it, pronounce it as “vakakatkatataka”. Fijian has been the easiest language for me that is very dissimilar to English (yeah yeah, I know that there’s a mountain of English loan words in Fijian, but still). Back when I started it my first impression was that it was moderate difficulty among the languages that I’ve learned but now it seems that it is on the easier end.

(3) I met someone who lived in Fiji at one point and she was extremely impressed. (Her Fijian was limited to a few words but she said I sounded great!) 🙂

 

Now for March, my focus will be

Fijian (Month 2) and a return to Lao!

For April, it seems likely although not certain that I will begin Fiji Hindi in earnest!

Have YOU ever learned Fijian or any language from Oceania? Let me know about your experiences with it in the comments!

vosa vakaviti

 

The Jigsaw Puzzle

Learning a language (or any other skill) is task that requires you to understand how pieces fit together.

Take a jigsaw puzzle, for example. You see the final product on the box cover (that is to say, what the completed puzzle will look like) and then choose to pick a puzzle based on which picture you like (I also know that there are three-dimensional puzzles as well so I won’t come to exclude those.)

You take it home, you open the box and all of the pieces come out.

That confusion is relatable in language learning.

I’ve experienced it many times. So much confusion in coming to grips with a new language (although obviously if it is closely related to one you already know, you already have a significant amount of the puzzle done for you).

I remember feeling similarly overwhelmed with a number of “frontier” languages that weren’t similar to those that I already knew. Hungarian felt like this (and I’m still studying it during my commutes), as did Greenlandic, Burmese, Finnish, Hebrew and Yiddish during the early stages. Even some languages that were closer to my native tongue—like Danish, Tok Pisin and Krio—also qualified.

In Hungarian, I was confused with how to use the cases (and I still haven’t mastered all of them despite the fact that they function very closely to the Finnish ones) as well as when to use “nem” and when to use “nincs” (the first is more like “not” with verbs and the second is more like “there isn’t”).

Burmese had me perplexed as it was a language in which a lot of sentences left out the pronoun. To say “we have it”, you would just say “is + present tense marker”. A lot of aspects that were not touched upon too readily in my previous language-learning projects came to the fore with Burmese (like classifier words or using different pronouns for yourself in various situations).

I could give more examples, but let’s delve into what this jigsaw puzzle means for you…

For one, especially in a two-dimensional puzzle, you want to separate the edge pieces first. In so doing, you will have the basis to fill in the rest of the puzzle.

The edge pieces in language learning are having mastered:

  • Pronouns (for some languages like Japanese with a lot of pronouns I would recommend focusing on the ones you are most likely to use or hear used given your environment)
  • Being able to conjugate verbs so that you can express the past, the present and the future in a significant capacity without struggling.
  • Being able to say things like “thank you”, “where are you from?” “do you speak (name of language)?” and basic question words, not also to mention speak about yourself in a small capacity.
  • Asking for directions
  • Being able to use adjectives and adverbs
  • Prepositions
  • A case system (if there is one. In the case [no pun intended] of the Finno-Ugric languages, the case system overlaps with prepositions).
  • Sentence structure (does the verb go first like in Irish? Or at the end like in Japanese and Turkish? Can I put sentences together with the same sentence structure found in my native language or in the other languages I know? If not, what’s different?
  • Articles and noun gender patterns (if any. Entire language families lack articles entirely, such as the Finno-Ugric Languages)
  • Conjunctions (although there are some languages like Rapa Nui that, according to wikitionary, “supplant the need for conjunctions”)

Your goal is to master all of these ten elements, and in so doing you will have assembled the edge of your dream puzzle. Some of these are going to be harder than others, depending on what your dream language is (and yes, sometimes entire items on that list will be lacking altogether. Bislama and Spanish have no case systems, but Finnish has no articles or noun-gender patterns).

Now what exactly do you do when you’re done with the puzzle?

You fill in the rest, but unlike the jigsaw puzzle in real life, the language-learning process never ends. Even for your native language, you’ll always be learning new words and new expressions. I’ve been speaking Yiddish for nearly a decade now, and nearly seven-eight years as a fluent speaker, and I’m always discovering new expressions, new words and new surprises. The same is even true with English, even if I count American English by itself! (And after having studied Trinidadian Creole and Krio, I’ve realized the true extent to which African-American culture has developed this unique language and made it distinct, expressive and admired the world over! And my journeys with Irish and Yiddish and German have also made me realize how many other immigrant groups made their mark on it as well! )

The portions you fill in next will be those that you deem the most important to apply in your life. You’ll notice exactly what you’re missing from your time spent with the language, whether it be with native speakers or using the language online or with your books (whether they are books for learners or books for native-speakers).

And perhaps the most important thing about the jigsaw puzzle is that it will involve rearranging the pieces and finding out how they fit together. You’ll look at the huge collection of pieces and think, “well this one goes over there, and I think it fits with that one? No? Well maybe I’ll need to try something else…all of these eight pieces go together! Great job!”

You may indeed be able to memorize words very quickly, but understanding how they fit together is another thing that may take time. If I were learning a language like Slovak (which I’m sort of letting sleep at the moment), given its similarities to Polish (for which I have already assembled the edge of the puzzle), I wouldn’t need to really “assemble” the edge again. But for Palauan I had absolutely no prior advantages, and I had to assemble the whole thing from scratch. Fun times.

Here’s hoping to you finding all of the edge pieces and putting them together! Happy puzzling!

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Yah, I know, it ain’t no jigsaw puzzle, but it’s all I got!