On Language Acquisition

14-5-2020

Since I am not a specialist on linguistics and did not receive some systematical linguistic education, I shall just talk some pieces on language learning, and the article will be no referential value at all.


Mother Languages

My mother languages are Mandarin and Wu Chinese(A part of Sinitic language spoken mainly in Southern Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang). These years Wu faces a hard situation on inheritance and promotion, as young generations choose to speak more Mandarin instead of their mother tongue. In some families, parents also lack the ability to speak Wu well, not to say children. The government played a role in promoting Mandarin and limiting dialects in China at first, which was a vivid difference compared to Republic of China governments before 1949.

I may become the last generation to maintain Wu fluently, this gives me a great help after I learned International Phonetic Alphabet(IPA). Wu Chinese has many consonants and vowels that Mandarin does not have. It preserves many characteristics in Middle Chinese and becomes one of the languages which has most vowel phonemes in the world.


English

English is a compulsory course in modern Chinese education. Pupils start to learn English at 1st or 2nd grade, some even begin at kindergarten(I started at 2nd grade personally). English education quality does vary in different provinces. Shanghai and Beijing may be the first class, while big cities like Suzhou should be the second. Regarding to study methods, grammar exercises and words dictation are the most important parts in class. This gives Chinese students a good understanding in grammar structures, especially in English tests. In spoken languages English learners in Chinses will also prefer to use some complicate structures like clauses, making the dialog cold and stubborn. Situations like ignoring listening and speaking trainings will change a bit in high schools(situations here are all based on my experience, which is an average in China), so many students would feel difficult at the beginning of 10th grade.

University gives a different way to study English. Different professions vary in English requirements, Medicine and Law students will continue to study more English generally, while others, like science and engineering, will be taught at the same standard. For most students, the only goal is to pass the CET-4 and CET-6 exams, then the English learning period of their life ends. Graduation study can be written in Chinese(except the abstraction), the daily environment uses Chinese as well. It does need to much time to make these people’s English ability downgrade to a low level like Japanese(Just a comparison in East Asia). Some, willing to study abroad or holds a bigger goal, will learn English by themselves, takes IELTS or TOFEL, which is a driven need. They begin to pay attention to their writing styles, choosing synonyms and speaking tongues. These are the main representatives in global English families.

I began to get the tricks in English study at 8th or 9th grade. After that, I did not listen any English class in high school. At first, I just found it simple to read and understand English articles in exercises, then I tried to read some books, giving the same feedback. Even at Gaokao in Jiangsu, which is admitted as the hardest in English, especially in reading comprehension, I did not meet any challenge. The ability of listening and speaking may be improved later in high school, but it did not matter anymore. Mastering the English study opened a door for me as to select and compose words in English to express or understand as mother languages.

At this level, you should find yourself not be learning or fighting against English, you use it just as a tool like mathematics and mechanics.


Japanese

To be honest, anime and manga are the main purpose to learn Japanese for me. Another reason is, the time left for English now could be applied totally to another language study in high school.

At first the learning process was quite easy, since Japanese has the similar points on vocabulary and pronunciation with Chinese, and with quick glance at Kana and Romaji, you could speak Japanese as soon as possible. Before N3 there are not so many grammar rules in Japanese, simple conjugation can be understand quickly. It took me about four months to finish reading textbooks from N5 to N4.

I took a JLPT in December with level of N4, reading and grammar parts were handy while listening was a bit confusing as I didn’t take too much training. Anyway I passed at last.

I lost interest of continuing learning soon, leaving some ability to read, to speak and to collect new words till now. A ironic metaphor is that my Japanese can be regarded as “Twitter Japanese”, which means that I can only read tweets fluently. Despite some strange accents, I also have a small vocabulary collections in some real models. This comes to be a problem when travelling to Japan, I must deal with Japanese English at most time, which was truly a disaster. The speaking speed made me cannot divide phonemes into words timely, which is a typical problem when compared to some Germanic Languages like English and German that lay problems on identify single phoneme.

One last thing is that, I find my language learning speed can be different in aspects: Reading and grammar rules are the easiest part, while listening and sometime, speaking could be a huge weakness. In another word, I am much more comfortable with writings other than speeches.


Latin…and Linguistics

As a reader of western literatures from childhood, Latin and Greek are always beautiful languages in my opinion. I began to learn Lingua Latina at 11th grade. Books like Latin Grammars and 100 Latin Sentences You Have to know gave me a first glance. I spent most of the time in grammar remembering. I was exhausted before this super complicate system, so I decided to conclude similar parts in Romance Languages and Germanic Languages in order to simplify learning methods.

This is the very beginning of My interests on linguistic. From then, I read many books about basic idea on historical linguistics. At the same time I was reading books written by Heidegger, who focused on languages in Meta-physic. This made me excited that philosophy principles can be mapped into languages.

A roughly walkthrough into linguistics help me a lot in language acquisition, like German, Middle English and Atayal Language recently…

Even programming languages studying gain benefits from linguistic. Following the rule that, every language system can be represented formally, and some theories by Chomsky, it’s easy to think on the view of language designers and try to find a simple approach to master languages.

Deep thoughts on language philosophy, linguistic and computer science are always an interest for me. I will try to answer some big-picture questions with my works and personal understandings in future.


Should I quote myself as a talented language learner? The answer is definitely no. Common senses like “People with INFP type learn language much more easily” is just a relief in psychology aspect. however, there are some tricks I do can share to everyone in learning a language.

  1. Mapping: Map words and grammars like sentence architecture into your mother language or any other language you have learnt. This is a convenient way for you to build a head-first concept on new language.
  2. Eliminating: Think different cases where a word or something like an idiom can be used, try to write them down when met.
  3. Concluding: Make grammar rules in your mind as simple as possible. Are there any common characters between rules and concepts? Try concluding them.
  4. Corpus Bombing: To be honest, this is not a perfect way to improve your reading and speaking. But as to me, this is the only way. Don’t be afraid of reading raw corpus without dictionary, listening speeches, even speaking to yourselves.

Anyway, all experiences above are mine, who write this boring article instead of reviewing German one week before B1 Test(lol).