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Re: Language Fluency

From:Mark P. Line <mark@...>
Date:Tuesday, August 31, 2004, 19:10
David H said:
> Hi. I was wondering about how many languages you think it is possible for > a person to achieve fluency in, one who has only been brought up speaking > one language, and would have to learn the others from scratch.
I think it's only limited by the amount of time you can spend on exposure to the languages, not on the number of empty "language slots" you have in your neocortex... I think you can be quite adequately fluent in any language if you've got passive control of 3,000 morphemes. You can certainly do with less, but that seems to be a common plateau reached by people who learn to understand (and sometimes speak) numerous languages reasonably well.
> Also, do you think it is necessary to live in the country where the target > language is spoken in order to become properly fluent?
A good answer to that would require a good definition of 'properly fluent'. If you're after something sufficiently less than the ability to pass for a native speaker at all times, you wouldn't necessarily have to live there as long as you're willing to use some technology to provide yourself with a broad range of native input. (If no such technological resources exist for your language, then I guess you'd have to go there, of course.) I recommend that you google or amazon for 'Stephen Krashen' if you want to know more about how foreign languages are acquired (as opposed to learning their grammars and memorizing phrasebook entries). You may find that the process is very different from what your experience with foreign language instruction might have led you to believe.
> I have heard of cases where people speak 30 or so languages, but I highly > doubt they would have been spoken fluently.
I had a professor who admitted to being fluent in 20 languages, but most of us knew he was being modest. (IOW, we had what we felt was adequate corroboration for more than just the 20.) His language was sometimes perceived as "bookish", presumably because he was a linguist and *hadn't* lived in all the relevant speech communities -- but he regularly took part in conferences held in any of his languages. As for myself, I'm working on achieving (or regaining) reading fluency in all the national languages of the EU. That's going to take a long time, if I stick with it, but I have no lack of confidence in the ability of the mind to acquire that many languages. So I wouldn't dismiss those claims you've heard out of hand. Just make yourself a learning plan, and go for it! (After reading up on Krashen, that is.) -- Mark


Chris Bates <chris.maths_student@...>