How long before fluency?

Fearless Leader

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Original poster
Mar 21, 2006
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how long before you considered your self fluent in your second/ other language? As in dont have to really concentrate to understand or reply to something.

Will it ever be as easy as a first language?
will third plus languages be easier?
Also anybody know of a good german tech(preferably Apple) forums?

Sorry if there multiple threads, edge is really craptastic rightnow, well more than usual.
 

OutThere

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Dec 19, 2002
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I considered myself mostly fluent in french after 4 years of (high quality, fast paced) high school french. I grew up with french speaking parents (who didn't speak french to me, so I never quite learned) and visiting switzerland often, so I did have an advantage, but basically I considered myself fluent once I could read french literature and actually understand it, watch french movies and understand, express myself in a worthwhile way in writing and hold a conversation in french.

An important marker on the way there was that I started 'thinking' in french while working on french assignments or in class.

I'm starting german in the fall, so I guess I'll see how a third language goes. :)
 

jng

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Apr 6, 2007
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Germany
how long before you considered your self fluent in your second/ other language? As in dont have to really concentrate to understand or reply to something.

Will it ever be as easy as a first language?
will third plus languages be easier?
Also anybody know of a good german tech(preferably Apple) forums?

Sorry if there multiple threads, edge is really craptastic rightnow, well more than usual.
I did some TAing in Germany and when kids ask you "why is something like...in English?" and you can't answer. You just know it's that way.

The first language is easier that way. After a while, you start to get a feel for the 2nd language, but of course you never just know 100% like you do in English, especially for random things, like the German "particle" zwar for me.

Depends on the Third Language. If you pick up Spanish, you can probably do Italian :)

German is technically my third language. I grew up in a bilingual household, but lost the first language. But from that, I have a wider range of pronounciation and sounds than most of my friends, so pronouncing German came easier for me.

I studied Latin in school, so German grammar came easier. If you count the fact that I also did French and Spanish in high school (and I did horribly in those subjects), then German is my 5th language and actually the one I'm best at.
 

Leareth

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Nov 11, 2004
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This is bit tricky for me to answer because I grew up in a bilingual household and was taught a third language from kindergarden on.
when I moved to Austria it took me about six months to be fluent in speech but about 18 months for reading and writing.
I felt comfortable with english after about 2 years but even now 15 years later I have to think about some things. so 2 years ?
 

Fearless Leader

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Mar 21, 2006
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well technically german is my third language, Spanish being second but I have very limited speech capabilities. I took some test and it basically said a 10 year old could probably beat my ass pretty bad on the same test.

But I did get enough out of it to make it where I could study german over the summer, by myself and walk into german year 2 without a test, I had a month(as in one) of german year 1. Its a goodthing.
 

Kamera RAWr

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May 15, 2007
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I personally believe it takes a lifetime to become fluent in any language... especially since language is living and evolving all the time :p... and I just mean that about the mother tongue. Takes just as long or longer, haha, in a second language :D
 

Fearless Leader

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I personally believe it takes a lifetime to become fluent in any language... especially since language is living and evolving all the time :p... and I just mean that about the mother tongue. Takes just as long or longer, haha, in a second language :D
So all I need to do is live longer than a lifetime? I think I just angered some powerful beings...

Also I couldn't think of it earlier but thinking in the language was my defition of true fluency. The extra language is like my iPhone. Right now I have to mostly get the words in to it and not of the expression I want to make.
 

Kamera RAWr

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Being able to "think" in a language I believe takes different lengths of time for different people. Also important is how hard you work at it... also how natural of an ability you have for learning foreign languages. I think many, for a long while translate languages back and forth in their head. Thinking in a language just takes time, dedication to practice... and immersion doesn't hurt one bit.
I honestly would think that a minumum of 4-5 years of continuous study would allow you to become very proficient to communicate effectively in almost any given circumstance. That is except for any situations containing specialized language, i.e. science, business, medicine, etc. Those would require specialized study, but still of course could be within the 4-5 year time frame :)

Just my .02
 

0098386

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Jan 18, 2005
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My grandad picked up languages really quickly during the war. In the period of about 4-5 years he learnt German, French, Italian and English. A distant uncle from Poland learnt English in the space of 2 years.
It's taken me about 5 years to get barely good at French :( so I suppose its completely varied from person to person.
 

BoyBach

macrumors 68040
Feb 24, 2006
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UK
I've been trying to learn French for about six months now and it's proving to be more difficult than I initially thought. However, I imagine it would be much easier if I were to be completely surrounded by the language (i.e. Habitant en France. Si'l vous plait.)

Although I do know the most important bit of French: how to ask a lady friend out to dinner! ;)
 

jng

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Apr 6, 2007
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Germany
Being able to "think" in a language I believe takes different lengths of time for different people. Also important is how hard you work at it... also how natural of an ability you have for learning foreign languages. I think many, for a long while translate languages back and forth in their head. Thinking in a language just takes time, dedication to practice... and immersion doesn't hurt one bit.
I honestly would think that a minumum of 4-5 years of continuous study would allow you to become very proficient to communicate effectively in almost any given circumstance. That is except for any situations containing specialized language, i.e. science, business, medicine, etc. Those would require specialized study, but still of course could be within the 4-5 year time frame :)

Just my .02
I studied Spanish for 7 years total and all I can say is "Donde esta el bano?" lol. I also studied in public school in a non-conducive environment. Plus, I didn't really want to be there most of the time.

Also I couldn't think of it earlier but thinking in the language was my defition of true fluency.
As for thinking in a language, it does require effort. If you're not immersed in the language, try to rent movies in a foreign language, listen to music in a foreign language and read books too.

You probably cannot manage it at year 2, but I tried to do things like read Harry potter in German after 4 semesters. It helps that you already know what's going to happen!


Once you can break into conversational level, thinking will become automatic.
 

Ish

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Nov 30, 2004
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UK
You might find this interesting.

I'm learning Turkish at the moment and enjoying it very much. The problem for me comes when trying to do a third language as my brain only seems to have two compartments! I can look at a word in a third language that I have learned in the past and know what it means, but I can't think of it spontaneously. People that speak multiple language have my profound admiration - how do they do it without getting them mixed up??
 

teflon

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May 28, 2007
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I studied Spanish for 7 years total and all I can say is "Donde esta el bano?" lol. I also studied in public school in a non-conducive environment. Plus, I didn't really want to be there most of the time.
You're not the only one. I'm going on my 6th yr of francais and i think BoyBach is better than me :eek:. Oh well, all i do in french is talk in anglais to the cute guy beside me ;).
 

powerdave

macrumors regular
Apr 24, 2004
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Hamburg
Here in Ireland we're terrible at learning foreign languages! I did 6 years of German in school but at the time I didn't really want to be there- I didn't take in the important stuff. Funnily enough, I'm trying to get a job over there at the moment so I better get my old books out!

We seem to have a poor attitude towards language learning over here, though. We have to learn Irish for all of primary and secondary level education (so 13-14 years) and at the end of it all we still can't speak it fluently... really because it's not in regular use, and most people don't have the desire. It's a lovely language though. :)
 

steamboat26

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May 25, 2006
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Arlington VA
I've taken 5 years of French and still don't consider myself fluent. There is just so much vocabulary that i don't know, especially verbs+ a, de, ou rien; we are expected to just memorize which verbs go with what.
Unless you constantly use it, it will never come as naturally as your first language. I actually watched something in my psychology class about language storage. Any language you learn before the age of 10, gets stored in the same place as your first language, so you will remember it better, and probably be able to become fluent.
 

Fearless Leader

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Mar 21, 2006
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Well I hope to eventually move there and maybe by senior year (I will have had 3 years of German by then if you count the month of in class and this summer as a year), I hope to study abroad.

My uncle, can speak the following fluently: Spanish, German, English, and French.
And he can speak not so fluently Mandarin Chinese, and a few others. He lives about 8 hours from where I live but will be seeing him and his family the week after next. So I'll ask him and post his answer.

He teaches High level German classes at the High School He teaches at, So he's a real inspiration to me. It's amazing to see him be able to talk to so many different people.

I got a book that teaches you German as if you were a little kid learning the language as a first, I really like it even though it was written in the 60's. Nothing wrong with the 60's its just old and is amazing its still in print and its an amazing find.
 

jakochampolska

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Jul 31, 2005
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To be totally flunet in a language you not only have to be able to conversate well but I think you need to be able to "feel" the language. I dont know how much sense that makes, but I KNOW three languages but I can say I'm only flunet in two of them-English and Polish. I can speak French pretty well but I dont "feel" it like I do with English and Polish. The werid thing is, my french grammer is ALOT better than my Polish grammer and I can write in French 10x better than I can write in Polish but I still feel more confident with Polish than I do with French. I dont know how much that makes sense but I hope it answers one of your questions :eek:
 

psycoswimmer

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Sep 27, 2006
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USA
I wonder what would happen if, someone who spoke English was "dropped" in a French (or German, etc.) society. They were to live with a French family who had absolutely no idea how to speak in English. It would be like being born again in a different country. Would you eventually learn to speak as good as a child in that country, just by absorbing the language through media, conversations, and listening?
 

Mitthrawnuruodo

Moderator emeritus
Mar 10, 2004
13,796
165
Bergen, Norway
I'm still struggling with English, which is my second language... :eek:

I've lived in Norway my whole life, but I could actually read and understand English (but not speak it!) before I started school, because I had some Norwegian/English educational children's books, so when I was in London just 5 years old in 1975, I understood most of what was said to me, but answered in Norwegian (to everyone's confusion :D).

Since then I've had English in school for ~10 years plus a college course in Technical English for Engineers, and for the last 12 years or so, almost all the literature I've read have been in English, and - of course - I've posted the odd post here at MR, but I still struggle with quite a few things (and thanks to the holy makers of computers for spell checkers ;)).

And then there's speaking English... I was recently in England for the first time in years, and apart form one university course with an English teacher I haven't really spoken English since 1994, the last time I was in England, i.e. before I really started reading English and a long time before I started posting here. I quickly noticed that, even though my vocabulary has improved over the last 12 years, my ability to actually pronounce all those (new) words hasn't. And more than once I got stuck on (relatively easy) words that I can write but, apparently, not speak... :eek:

So, to become really fluent in English, I think I would have to stay/live in an English speaking country for quite some time... How long? I have no idea...

Anyway, with language (as with most things, but especially language) I think there's always more to learn, that goes for both first and second language. I know that there's a lot I can get better at in Norwegian, just as my English skills has a lot of room for improvement... (and don't even get me started on my third language, German, which I'm extremely bad at).
 

Ugg

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Apr 7, 2003
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Penryn
I wonder what would happen if, someone who spoke English was "dropped" in a French (or German, etc.) society. They were to live with a French family who had absolutely no idea how to speak in English. It would be like being born again in a different country. Would you eventually learn to speak as good as a child in that country, just by absorbing the language through media, conversations, and listening?
Nobody is ever going to speak a foreign language completely fluently if they learn it as an adult.

Much of language is about culture, not words. I'm reasonably fluent in German but when I'm around someone who is talking about the TV shows they watched when they were children, I'm clueless. A lot of humor has to do with TV, Radio, Movies, Politicians, advertisements, school work, etc, etc.

My grandmother who was born in the US spoke fluent Finnish but her knowledge of Finnish politics, education and legal issues was non-existent.

Language equals culture.
 

Kamera RAWr

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May 15, 2007
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Nobody is ever going to speak a foreign language completely fluently if they learn it as an adult.

Much of language is about culture, not words. I'm reasonably fluent in German but when I'm around someone who is talking about the TV shows they watched when they were children, I'm clueless. A lot of humor has to do with TV, Radio, Movies, Politicians, advertisements, school work, etc, etc.

My grandmother who was born in the US spoke fluent Finnish but her knowledge of Finnish politics, education and legal issues was non-existent.

Language equals culture.
Thank you for that response, because I think there is quite a bit of truth in what you said. Culture often dictates language and language evolution. On that note, thats probably why you see classes on German literature, cinema, history, politics, etc. in some German language departments.
It is true that studying a language as an adult, you'll never pick it up completely. Of course that shouldn't stop anyone from trying :). Many people have learned second languages as adults quite proficiently.