Foreign Language Acquisition

From: Warren Fulton (
Date: Tue Jan 25 2000 - 04:38:04 EST

The discussion of language acquisition yesterday distinguished between the living and the dead
objects of study. I would suggest refocusing the discussion on the differences in the the 4
ways language is used, i.e. the 4 skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Linguists agree that each skill domain needs separate, dedicated practice and that one doesn't
necessarily learn to write by speaking.

However, the active and passive skill domains tend to reinforce each other. By reading and
listening, we develop an inner sense of "what sounds right," close to what Dr. Conrad was
calling "idiom."

> Linguistic usage is so much a matter of what Hume called "the custom and habit of confident
> expectation"--and that's precisely what I mean by "idiom."

The active domains of speaking and writing also spill over into the passive skills, lending a
sense of "confident expectation" to the listening/reading experience. And here is where
students of ancient languages have trouble. They are not getting reinforcement from the active
domains. Their experience of the language is confined to only one of its manifestations and
they end up decifering code instead of reading. They examine one code item at a time with no
confident expectation of what is about to come.

You can verify this by comparing the reading experience of a language you know vice (or, for
those who don't know Latin, versus) one you don't know. If you read a language you are fluent
in, you will "hear" it, you may even move your lips as you articulate it in your mind. I bet
Dr. Conrad has this multi-dimensional reading ability in Greek.

My bout with Greek in college was one-dimensional. Having no sense of what the language sounded
like, I applied my analytical skills and knowledge of linguistics to the problem. But I did not
really learn to read Koine Greek until I had learned to speak Modern Greek.

The best advice on language acquistion I heard yesterday was from Randall Buth:

> An answer that is both serious yet may sound flippant, come spend a year or two in Hebrew in
> Israel. You need to learn enough Hebrew that you know which low level phenomena are not
> problems and which ones are problems. (probably a vocab level around 4000+.)

Language, GLOSSA, has something to do with the tongue. If you try to acquire it without the use
of that vital organ, it may take you a while.

Warren Fulton
Inlingua School of Languages
"facilitas loquendi in lingua est"

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