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ugh...frustrations with learning a language

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We're reading a book right now and the author (European) mentions being fluent in 3-4 languages, she and her whole family. It seems that is is fairly commone among Europeans, at least in the 20th century, to have that type of language background.


We've been trudging (emphasis on TRUDGING) through Henle I for what seems like years...heck, probably because it has been years...and still there is no real fluency or significant reading ability. At least that's how it feels to me.


So I wonder, what are we doing wrong here? How can anyone learn 3-4 languages to a skilled reading/speaking level if it takes us YEARS to plod through the very basics of Latin? And furthermore, it seems there plenty of students (public high school students who take Latin through the AP level) who don't take YEARS to get to that point of function.


I am soooo tempted to chuck it all and move to Spanish, though I have no good resources for teaching Spanish and would probably find it similarly frustrating.


Any advice? Any suggestions? Any encouragement?

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The first language is the hardest. The second is considerably easier, especially if the first was Latin (or any other highly inflected language.) By the time they got to the 3rd and 4th (probably all Indo-Euaropean languages), they knew all the grammar and lots of the words had similar roots.


Progress is also slower in the middle, when they are past the sponge stage but not yet to the disciplined stage. So, all those years in middle school, could happen in one year of high school or one semester of college.

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I think this is far more common in europe because they have so many different languages spoken near them. it'd be like every neighboring state to you speaking a different language - you'd really have no choice but to learn it, kwim? most euproean countries are smaller than many of our states and they interact a lot - it's just a natural consequence.


I also think the united states makes it way too hard to learn languages. It should be easy, encouraged, and affordable to find instruction from a young age in our country, but it's just not anywhere near a priority in this country.

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Have you seen any of the posts from Nan in Mass on how she and her boys have tackled French? They may be helpful.


Joan in Geneva had a wonderful suggestion of learning geography or history in another language. (Say your 9th grader could use a middle school geography book in French or Spanish.)


There have been some other good thoughts on the new Bilingual Education board.




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I'm just going to tell you everything I've figured out over the years, and hopefully it will at least be encouraging, if not useful in some way.


We, too, have been slogging through Latin for years. This is our 4th year of working on Ecce Romani and we are only about a quarter of the way through Ecce 3. We definatley can't read Latin well yet. We forget vocab and grammar as fast as we learn it. I'm not giving up, though. It seems like this year, even though we've only covered a quarter of the book, our grammar has suddenly solidified quite a lot. And I've seen other benefits, especially with my middle son, who is 18 and learning French and a bit of Japanese. Because he has had Latin grammar, he can do Pimsleur language tapes (conversational/travel foreign language) easily without getting confused. This wasn't true of my oldest, who hadn't had any Latin and tried the Spanish ones. He didn't know that "he is" and "John is" use the same verb, for example. The middle one has done about 1/2 of Pimsleur French 1, listened to me speak some French with his brother, listened to various French movies and tapes from time to time, spent 3 weeks in France (with English speakers), and is now struggling through French in Action. Last month, I discovered that he needed help with it and I began working with him. Due to his Latin, it has taken me almost no time at all to explain the grammar to him. He understands and can apply it with no trouble, once he manages to memorize it. It is very, very obvious that he is using what he learned about how a language works in Latin to learn the French. His spelling has improved. Latin is where he learned how to learn out of a textbook, how to memorize, how to review, and how to be patient and keep going if you don't understand something at first. It improved his English punctuation. Latin has been useful to him even though he is going to graduate before he can read original Latin.


It's funny about the French, too. You mentioned being discouraged by reading about European families who spoke 4 languages. I think, as other posters have said, that this is much easier in Europe: a father speaks one language to the child, the mother speaks another, he learns one or two in school, ones he's heard all his life from time to time and has plenty of opportunity to practise. Perhaps the family of his best friend speaks one of his school languages. Or he is sent to spend a summer with friends who speak it. And (here is where our experience with French comes in), having heard it from time to time all his life, he picks it up much more easily than someone who has only heard one language. I have noticed this with my middle one, who was exposed to some French. When he went to France for three weeks, he complained that he had to come home just when his brain had suddenly begun to make sense of the French. And although he has trouble remembering how to say "he is" (grrrrrrrr his memory grrrrrrrr), when we read the French comic book version of Wind in the Willows, he can transate at least half the sentences completely without my help, and only runs across one per spread that he can't partly understand. Admittedly, he knows the book in English very, very well, and there are pictures to help out, but he's translating aloud literally, in a word-for-word way, using the French word order, and then giving me a better English translation. All this confirms what I've suspected: that some exposure to a language makes it much, much easier to learn it. When I tried immersion (or sort of - very bad immersion, with my very bad French) with my youngest, I learned how much faster immersion is than a textbook, not in amount-learned-per-hour, but in amount-learned-per-week. A few months of immersion is a HUGE number of hours, something like 376 hours a month as opposed to about 20 (if you do an hour a day for school). A textbook is much more efficient, and much more organized, but still... All this should give you some idea how the Europeans manage, and why it is harder for us.


Here is what I have learned, in case it is any help to you:


-To learn a language, we have to take a multi-sided approach. We can't just memorize vocabulary and grammar and do excersizes. In Latin, this means that we have to read Latin passages in order to learn to read Latin passages, rather than just a sentence at a time. In French, this means we have to read story books, listen to French radio, watch French DVDs, and try to have conversations in French, not just do a textbook. Parts to whole is very efficient, very useful, but my family doesn't learn to use a language without a hefty dose of whole to parts as well.


-It goes very, very slowly at first, but if you keep at it, eventually it works. This is our 8th year of doing Latin. The first year, we tried a program that just was memorizing grammar chants and vocab and nobody could retain anything because they weren't using it. The second and third year, we used a Latin program meant for younger children. It worked fine, but didn't get us far. Then we tackled Ecce Romani, which works but is very slow because everybody forgets everything every time we stop to travel or for summer or whatever. It would be faster if I were an experienced Latin teacher, I'm sure GRIN. It would be faster if we did it for more than 5 months a year. I'm learning along with my children and I forget just as fast. It took us 3 years to get through ER1 and 2. ER3 is reading original Latin (along with a solidification of grammar). It is going very slowly, but I can also see that if we keep it up, it will work. I have every expectation of being able to read Latin, real Latin, in the end. How do I know? Because after 4 years of high school French and a semester of college French and a little travel, to keep from forgetting it all, I began to read a book a year. I began with a TinTin and looked up every other word. I can now, 25 years later, read an Agatha Christie mystery in French, or one of the Harry Potters, without a dictionary. And I only worked at it a little bit each year until I tried to teach my youngest immersion-style. If I had put in time daily, it would have been so much faster! Keep pecking away at the project and you will get there in the end. It goes faster at the end than at the beginning, too, as some parts finally begin coming easily and automatically.


-We can't learn a language unless we see it at least twice a day. That means we have to do Latin in the morning and in the evening. Unfortunately.


-We don't get anywhere with Latin unless we consistently review the chants and the vocab. Sigh. We try to chant something from the charts at the back of the book, and the current vocab list, and an old vocab list every day. If I were more consistent about this, we'd be doing better... More sighs. We are getting there, though! And after awhile, I don't think I'll have to do this anymore to keep reading Latin. It is only now, at the beginning. I don't have to do anything to keep being able to read French now. I just read it. I can not see it for months and it doesn't change my ability to read it.


-A good way to do two languages at the same time is to do one immersion-style, and one textbook-style. The older one is doing Pimsleur Japanese (after having spent 3 months in Japan four years ago) (immersion-style), and French with a textbook/video/tapes program, memorizing and doing excersizes and flashcards. (And he is reading a little easy Latin so he doesn't forget everything.) The younger one is doing French immersion-style by speaking it with me a bit and reading fun books, and Latin with a textbook. My plan for high school for him is to try to do one subject in French: history/geography. We'll see how it goes. He'll get less history, obviously, and history will take longer than it would in English, but it should still be more efficient than trying to do both separately. I hope. Maybe. And he'll keep reading it.


I hope you find something in all this that encourages you, something that made it worth wading through this lloonnnggg post. I truly, truly sympathize with your frustration. I would be very discouraged by now if I hadn't seen that finally, as this year has gone by, we are finally, finally getting some of the Latin easily and automatically.



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We're reading a book right now and the author (European) mentions being fluent in 3-4 languages, she and her whole family. It seems that is is fairly commone among Europeans, at least in the 20th century, to have that type of language background.


In Norway, they start English in first grade, then add German (or more recently, French or Spanish) in eighth grade. Upper high school (years 11-13) sometimes adds yet another. I think it is safe to assume that most European countries do the same.


Why? Maybe because they realize the importance of English, whereas we, who are already acquainted with this vast language, don't have such a pressing need.


Definitely study languages. It is such a blessing.

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24 hours in the day...I agree with everything people wrote above, but just thought that I would add the perspective of how some of that is accomplished later on...


It seems that in the US teens do sports, other extracurricular activities, and even hold a job...On the Swiss university application, there was no single question about what you did outside of school work. No awards, no jobs, no community service, nothing! Only basically - did you pass or will you pass the big test (which is different depending on if you are taking the federal or the cantonal maturity)?


I remember when some Belgian friends told me how their daughter was going to get some job experience by going into an office for, I think it was "3 days"!! one summer while she was in university. I could hardly believe that was what she called "job experience".


So while it is true that they have all these language possibilities (playing sports with a neighbor in another language), they also spend a lot of time just studying. Here in Geneva the sports are not linked with schools at all (makes it easier for hs). And they do the sport all year long if they even do a sport. But then they only practice 2 days a week and maybe have a game another day - for soccer for example. Lots of kids don't do any sport.


These things don't apply for international schools, but I'm talking about the local schools and where most people go.


I find the focus too narrow myself, but then I was raised in the US. At the same time, when teens spend lots of time on a job so they can buy and maintain a car...weeelll, maybe the time could be spend learning a language!


Also, it is not everyone who speaks 3-4 languages by any means! We had workmen outside our door yesterday who could only speak German. Neither French nor English. There are lots of people who have had no emphasis on other language and no interest and only speak one (and maybe a dialect of it). So don't feel like all of Europe is at that level...





Edited by Joan in Geneva
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