Learning curves in "easy" and "difficult" languages

Paule89 de Germany

I´ve been noticing something weird...

I speak English, French and Czech and I´m studying Japanese and Esperanto. I also did some Latin, Swedish and Polish but I didn´t get far (lack of motivation) . I´ve seen estimates about how much time it takes to reach a "decent" level in these languages. It ranges from 150 (Esperanto) to 2200 (Japanese) and the numbers seem somewhat accurate - but....

It seems like the differences become smaller as the number of hours increases. If two people studied Japanese and Esperanto there´d be a giant difference after 50 hours, a big difference after 1000 hours, a relatively big difference after 2000 hours and so on and so forth.

Being a complete beginner is a completely different experience in Esperanto and Japanese but being at an upper intermediate level is basiccaly the same. You get input, occasionally look up words, occasionally learn them from context, you speak and write and get corrected here and there. Even learning Chinese characters becomes "easy"-ish once you´ve learned a few hundred of them. New Kanji are often made up of elements you already know . New vocab is mostly already known vocab combined or used in a different way etc.

Is it just me or does the difference between hard and easy languages disappear over time? Would you end up at the same level at some point - similarly to how natives are all roughly at the same level across all languages?

May 21 at 20:58
  • ftornay es Spain

    I think it happens every time.

    An interesting example is what happens when you learn a very similar language to one you know well. In you case that might be Esperanto. For us, native Spanish speakers, it might be Italian or Portuguese, you can expect to understand a lot in a short amount of time. Many people are happy with that and, in fact, it allows you to communicate pretty well. However, if you want to really master the language, speak it at a high level you'll find yourself struggling for a long time, which is unexpected. On the other hand, very different languages are very hard at first, you make slow progress and you may find that your communication skills are very poor even after, say, one year of intense study. However, once your level is decent, your progress will speed up dramatically. After all, once you know the language, it is no longer "difficult", you have all the advantages of the language that started up being similar to yours.

    The bottom line is that there are no "hard" or "easy" languages

    May 21 at 21:31
  • iaing au Australia

    As much is it would be great if this was correct - this isn't true , overall.

    For "listening and speaking" fluency, this is generally true, and more so for native learners.

    However, for "reading and writing" fluency, going from a B2 to a C1 -level word count takes *significantly* longer (total hours) in "hard" languages (where "hard language" is the differences of the script to phonetic AND to what scripts you already know).

    This is true even for native learners.

    As an example, with variables generally equal (such as access time to quality education), the average 12 year old (C1 transition) in China has logged 7-8k more hours in total reading time than the average English native speaker, for similar reading word count levels, and the main portion of this time is spent precisely at the B2-C1 transition ages.

    Countries that have both English and Mandarin as national languages , again just as an example, have outcomes that reflect the opportunity learning-time costs between the two languages.

    In the big picture, the total hour count to get to C2 is more like 40k hours for English and 50k hours for a language like Mandarin (for countries that learn these to true native level, without overlap).

    Note, I'm not saying that the opportunity learning-time cost for a language like Mandarin is a bad thing. There are broader benefits in going with a harder language. The percentage of Mandarin natives with perfect pitch, or close to perfect pitch, is far, far higher than English natives, as an example. And the ability to engage diligently and industriously is often forged by a tougher journey - *looks around for 50c tip*.

    May 23 at 05:24
    • Paule89 de Germany

      Thanks for the interesting reply.

      " In the big picture, the total hour count to get to C2 is more like 40k hours for English and 50k hours for a language like Mandarin (for countries that learn these to true native level, without overlap). "

      Do you have a source for that? How many educational institutions are using the CEFR for native speakers?

      Cambridge says it takes 1,200 hours of lessons to reach C2 in English. Plus an unknown amount of time outside the classroom. I´m a German teacher and I can tell you that it´s accurate up to B2. I don´t have much experience with C1 and zero with C2 (no demand)

      I´ve seen videos on Youtube by people who passed C2 but none of them were close to "true native". I´m not sure if applying that scale for anything else but "someone actually taking and passing an exam for that level" is useful at all.

      Does Chna even apply the CEFR?

      All countries using Chinese characters have good results on literacy tests, Ranging from 1st place (China) to 18th (Taiwan). Korea and Vietnam are in 9th and 13 position, respectively

      " The percentage of Mandarin natives with perfect pitch, or close to perfect pitch, is far, far higher than English natives, as an example "

      I´ve seen that study but it was about musicians. Has this been tested with non-musicians?

      May 24 at 21:13
      • marcossfernandes br Brazil

        I have over 1.500 hours of listening on lingQ, and over 1.400.000 words read. And I can say that I am not even close to C2. I am not fluent speaker nor can I fully understand a movie. My reading is my best skill, mainly I think because I can figure out the meaning by context.

        But I do think I got a decent level overall, specially listening and reading. As I did almost no talking or writting I am not suprise to state I am far behind on those two.

        Anyway, my point is I think that with 1.200 hours one might be at a level that one might be good enough to understand and be understood in general, at least at coversational level I might say.

        Ps: I didn't corret ANY of my writting and didn't even read it again before I have posted it, just to show how is my current english level at those stats.

        Please fell free to comment.

        May 25 at 17:27
        • MarkE us United States

          What do you mean by not even close to a C2 level? Are you saying you would fail a C2 Exam?

          May 25 at 17:33
          • marcossfernandes br Brazil

            Well... I think so. Mostly because my production skills are faaaaaar behind!

            But I must say I am not preparing for it.

            May 25 at 23:07
        • Paule89 de Germany

          Keep in mind that these numbers are about classroom learning and that there´s an unknowable number of additional time that students invest outside the classroom. I think you could triple the official numbers but that´s just my best guess.

          A friend of mine passed the C1 exam and even got a C2 in comprehension and vocabulary. I made him listen to a song about 3 guys not having toilet paper and he only understood half of it. He also makes (usually small) mistakes in almost every sentence and sometimes I don´t understand him or he doesn´t understand me (during a normal conversation).

          Same thing with another friend of mine who has a German degree and passed C1 with more than 90%

          Luca Lampariello passed C2 and his German is excellent but I don´t think anyone would think he´s as good as a native speaker.

          I think the CEFR scale is a good tool to see whether people are good enough to go to uni or something but I´m not sure if it´s always being used constrctively outside of these very specific contexts.

          " Ps: I didn't corret ANY of my writting and didn't even read it again before I have posted it, just to show how is my current english level at those stats. "

          You´re allowed to proofread what you write during an exam though.^^

          May 25 at 21:09
          • marcossfernandes br Brazil

            I think I wasn't clear before.

            An exam grade is one thing real life is another one. I believe almost anyone with a lot of focused study could pass it.

            But for me a C2 represents someone who is totally fluent.

            So what I was saying is that for me even 3.600 is not enough.

            I can easilly say that I have more then 3.000 hours of study english over the past two years and I feat I am way behind C2.

            I think maybe I am a high B2 on compreenssion but only a lower B1 in production...

            But maybe I am getting it all wrong LOL!

            ps: I am not correting myself, so you can assess my real level

            May 25 at 23:16
            • Paule89 de Germany

              I think people need to agree what words mean or else there´ll be misunderstandings. I think "C1 = passing C1 or at least getting C1 in a placement test" is the only reasonable solution.

              If the definition of C2 ranges between 1,000 and 50,000 hours (based on this thread) then we might as well not use the term at all^^

              May 26 at 18:32
  • khardy us United States

    "...does the difference between hard and easy languages disappear over time?"

    The child who speaks Euskara probably feels no more challened than the child who speaks Spanish. As foreign learners become comfortable and facile with either language, I would expect somewhat the same of them. From what I read, though, it would take much longer for the Euskara learner to reach that point.

    May 23 at 15:32