How to maintain a rather advanced level of proficiency
[[lovelanguagesII]] aw Aruba apple 35 0
One of the members here at lingq (Peter from Australia) asked me to explain what I do in order to maintain a rather advanced level in my working languages. Actually, Peter asked me to make a video about this but I thought I might try and outline some of my daily language routine here in this forum.

The key element is consistent usage of the language. I use my working languages on a daily basis. If I do not translate and/or interpret in one of them on a specific day, I try to make sure I spend at least 15 to 20 minutes reading, writing or listening in that language.

I consider reading and writing crucial. I seem to retain information better when I see it written and read it aloud, while I prefer listening to work on my pronunciation. Before a conference, I practically always read some texts aloud in the language I am going to work in. Very much like a singer who trains his voice before he goes on stage.

Since I am lucky enough to be very busy with work, I get enough exposure to the languages I use professionally. So I use them on a daily basis. Translating a text automatically involves reading and writing. It is not enough to just absorb information but you also need to process it and that probably is one of the most important factors. I do not just take a sentence and try to render it in another language but I actually work through the content of the sentence and the entire text for that matter in my mind. I'm immersed in the topic of the text and that sometimes also requires further reading on a specific subject (both in the source and the target language).

I still enjoy writing by hand and I do so on a regular basis. Mind you, not every day but I probably write about 50 to 80 pages per month (in several languages). I find this to be extremely useful and as strange as it may sound I also very much enjoy doing it.

I mostly copy books and/or articles from newspapers and magazines.

I rarely revise grammar but I do when I'm in doubt as to the proper usage of certain structures. I also enjoy reading good dictionaries. I read them like I would read a novel. However, for this exercise to be useful the dictionary needs to be one with example sentences.

I often try to expand on the examples given, changing the subject or the object of the sentence and sometimes even making a little speech out of one entry in the dictionary which I use as some sort of starting point. So, a short and simple sentence like "Yesterday it was raining heavily" may lead to a "speech" about the damage caused by floods etc. This is an excellent way to see how comfortable you are with using words in context.

Should I find it particularly difficult to express my thoughts or realize that I lack important vocabulary when talking about a specific subject I have no trouble talking about in my native tongue, I look up all the words I need to fill these gaps. The more often I do this, the less frequent I run into this kind of problem.

I also enjoy "creative writing", i. e. I write essays, even poems, in some of my working languages. This helps me to explore all facets of the languages instead of just concentrating on the kind of texts I work with as a translator and interpreter.

What it basically comes down to is a lot of exposure and active usage of the language. Of course, I cannot do the same with all the other languages I am interested in. I have to set priorities. This is also why I don't think I'll ever be able to achieve the same level in all languages I have set out to study, at least not on a permanent level.

Whenever I can, I try to speak the languages both with native speakers and fellow learners.

As time goes by, you will be able to reduce the amount of daily practice to keep an advanced level of proficiency because you will have created a sound basis for your mind to work with.

I think a generally positive attitude towards the permanent learning process itself (I will never be able to say I really "know" a language, I can only hope to keep learning) is also very helpful. I consider learning not a burden but a very enjoyable task. And I try to put things into perspective.

When I have to prepare for a very technical conference, I know I will have forgotten about 80 % of the vocabulary I am studying just for that conference after a month or so and this does not bother me in the least. If I need it again, I will simply go through the same process again without getting all upset because I don't retain the meaning of words I probably hardly ever use in my native tongue.

I do make sure, however, that I regularly repeat high frequency vocabulary. I know there are quite a few people who don't consider these lists of words very useful. For me they are some sort of a safety net. In my line of work the topics and/or vocabulary I'm dealing with may sometimes be rather specific and thus limited.

In order not to lose the ability to use standard structures typical of daily life conversations I make sure I practise the aforementioned "core vocabulary". For this purpose, I mainly use books that contain 5,000 - 7,000 words with sample sentences.

I go through these books like every 3 to 4 months. The more often you do that, the quicker you'll be. Sometimes I just take a glance at an entire page and go through the sentences in my mind, sometimes I walk around and read them aloud.

In doing so, I often "play" with the words by putting them in different contexts.

Well, this is about all I do.

And, of course, I also make sure I get enough rest, I normally need my 8 hours of sleep ;-)

I also try to spend as much time outside as possible. That gives me the energy I need for my work - besides, I absolutely love hiking (mostly alone, so I can rest my mind for a while).

April 2012 0
  • ghenders us United States apple 50 9664
    lovelanguages,

    Thanks for the wonderful input.

    I have a question regarding books with "core vocabulary" for practicing "standard structures typical of daily life conversations." As a German language learner I would be interested in recommendations of any books that meet this criteria for German.



    April 2012 0
  • 2tmp011007 co Colombia apple 1 469 0
    @ lovelanguagesII
    superb post

    "I write essays, even poems, in some of my working languages. This helps me to explore all facets of the languages instead of just concentrating on the kind of texts I work with as a translator and interpreter.. ..In doing so, I often "play" with the words by putting them in different contexts."
    I knew poetry and playing with words had something to do with it, Imyirtseshem xD
    April 2012 0
  • Lilac us United States apple 3 12350 491
    This is immensely helpful. I've been wanting to badly to start studying Russian but I'm afraid it will cause me to lose all the progress I've made in German. I've been trying to think of ways to semi-keep my level of German strong(ish).

    Rewriting existing texts sounds like a powerful exercise that I need to start doing. I recently read a fascinating article by Luca over at womenlearningthai.com (maybe the link was posted here? I don't remember how I found it). In it he outlines a method for translating a text from a foreign language into your native one, and then back again. Copying articles does seem to be a useful but often overlooked method.

    April 2012 0
  • aybee77 us United States apple 34 22506 250
    Thanks so much Robert!

    You said: "In order not to lose the ability to use standard structures typical of daily life conversations I make sure I practise the aforementioned "core vocabulary". For this purpose, I mainly use books that contain 5,000 - 7,000 words with sample sentences. "

    Can you tell me what book you use for this for Spanish? Or is this something that you've made up yourself over the years? I think that something like this could also be good to use to reach a level of feeling comfortable in a language.
    April 2012 0
  • djc463 us United States apple 33 50 14344 4667
    @Aybee: I can't speak for Robert, and I would say that he is a superior Spanish speaker than I am, but La Sombra del Viento is a popular recently written book that I personally enjoyed reading, but of course his opinion would be better than mine! Best of luck!
    April 2012 0
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada apple 3621 2832 64121 47390
    La Sombra del Viento uses quite a bit of low frequency vocabulary. I think it is difficult to find " books that contain 5,000 - 7,000 words with sample sentences. "outside of language learning materials. Newspapers usually use fewer low frequency words and are easier to read. Beyond that I always find it best to follow my interests in reading.
    April 2012 0
  • [[lovelanguagesII]] aw Aruba apple 35 0
    ad aybee77 et al.: First of all, thanks for your nice feedback. I'm sorry but I'm at a conference right now and will be back only on Thursday. I will then try and name a few books (although I'm afraid most of them will be English - German, Spanish - German etc.) and answer any further questions you may have. Need to go to bed now, though, or I'll fall asleep in the booth ;-).
    April 2012 0
  • 2tmp011007 co Colombia apple 1 469 0
    @Imyirtseshem
    Moving from Intermediate Toward Advanced
    http://youtu.be/zbBdz80Vpr8

    btw, have you ever try to search or ask the same question on the HTLAL forum? maybe even he-who-must-not-be-named try and answer your questions (maybe xD)


    @lovelanguagesII
    eng-germ/spa-ger would be perfect for me xD
    April 2012 0
  • Ernie us United States apple 76 5065
    For the opinion that you should not expect to feel/be fluent until you "immerse yourself "in your language, after plenty of hard work such as you have done, take a look here: http://huliganov.tv/goldlist-eu/ , the paragraph that starts: "22. Need to activate". He says this in various ways in different places, and he generalizes it beyond his particular system more clearly in some of those other discussions, but this is what I've found at the moment.
    April 2012 0
  • 2tmp011007 co Colombia apple 1 469 0
    @Imyirtseshem "For speaking, nobody seems to be able to give me any sort of advice."
    are you kidding me?.. what about ProfASAr audio lingual pattern drills suggestion?
    April 2012 0
  • therightcoast us United States apple 5 15058 50 649
    I don't think there is a problem if you don't have an extreme high level of fluency after 4 years. Look at Steve and Luca, for example, when they were just starting to get into languages, they were hooked and addicted to their first foreign language experiences. After listening to Luca's story, it sounded like it took him a great deal of time to reach that true, upper level fluency. It seems a lot people are missing that and want to move onto the road of polyglottery too quickly.
    April 2012 0
  • Wulfgar us United States apple 304 14163 8745 26918
    Imy - first off, are you speaking to native speakers regularly in real life, on Skype or whatever, and do you realize that, regardless of what certain youtube polyglots claim, it takes hundreds of hours to become an excellent speaker? If so, then what specific problems are you encountering?
    April 2012 0
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada apple 3621 2832 64121 47390
    I don't think you need to move to the country. I think you can learn well anywhere. I learned Mandarin in Hong Kong where people spoke Cantonese. It is easier in the country, that is all. You just need to put in the time, be patient, enjoy using the language and stop second guessing yourself all the time.
    April 2012 0
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada apple 3621 2832 64121 47390
    Imy, I hope that your learning gives you pleasure.
    April 2012 0
  • peter au Australia apple 252 56303 74564 3700
    Thanks a lot for your comments Robert, I'm going to consider which of those tasks I'm willing to include in my language learning routine. Lately I've been leaning towards trying "reading out loud" more seriously, particularly when at a more advanced level in a language. I think I will also try more "writing by hand", be it a "Gold List" or just copying a text. I've got a feeling that it helps in ways that no one has been able to pinpoint yet. Although your routine sounds like it requires a bit of daily work (and discipline!), I'm sure it's all worth it for you. I wonder, however, if you'd keep maintaining these languages at this level if you weren't working as an interpreter (or, for example, when you retire).
    April 2012 0
  • aybee77 us United States apple 34 22506 250
    @djc463 Thanks for the suggestion. I actually started reading La Sombra del Viento quite a while ago, and the amount of words I didn't know was very frustrating to me, so I kind of agree with Steve in his assessment of that book.

    @2tmp011007 Thanks for your suggestions. I have used that frequency list before, and the first 5000 words, I know the vast majority. My problem is output, when I talk, the words don't come out, but I could read them and know what they mean. Also, THANK YOU for that link to the Goldlist Method post, it's very intriguing, and I think I want to try it.

    @lovelanguages Thanks again so much. You seem to have a very varied and disciplined approach to maintaining your level, it's very interesting to read about it.
    April 2012 0
  • Bortrun jp Japan apple 124 7473 6921
    This is on my mind as I'm now preparing to leave Japan. I have to admit that I do relatively little Japanese "studying". Since I live here, it just comes up in my daily life. I try to do LingQ lessons and Anki, and sometimes listen to podcasts, but I don't do a lot of deliberate study. I think that once I leave, I'm going to have to adopt a more deliberate pattern of study so as to not lose my ability. One huge advantage of living in the country is not really needing to deliberately dedicate large amounts of time to the language once you've gotten to a certain point as you can kind of learn from life.
    April 2012 0
  • [[Jay_B]] aw Aruba apple 2 1772 0
    @Bortrun

    Maybe you need to find out what Steve does, and do exactly the same thing!?

    It's been literally decades since he lived in Japan, but he still regularly makes videos where he speaks highly fluent Japanese. (And he seems to keep his Chinese in extremely good shape too!)
    April 2012 0
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada apple 3621 2832 64121 47390
    First of all, when I lived in Japan, I did a lot of listening and reading. I did not just rely on the vocabulary that came up in discussions. This ensured, I think, that the language was sufficiently entrenched in my mind that it would be difficult to lose.
    April 2012 0
  • [[lovelanguagesII]] aw Aruba apple 35 0
    ad aybee77 et al:

    When I talked about books that contain high frequency vocabulary I was indeed referring to language learning books. I use them for all my working languages and I have found them to be very efficient. Luckily, Langenscheidt has some great products for English, Italian, French, and Spanish. Jolanda already gave you the link for the English - German product (you can find the same product for the other languages I mentioned on the Internet). That CD Rom contains about 9,000 sample sentences covering a wide range of different topics. I absolutely love it. You have native speakers speaking each sentence in German and English. You can choose which language you would like to listen to first (I always choose to listen to the German sentence/word first and then to the equivalent in the foreign language I am practising. I don't like it the other way round). You can also read the sentences on your computer screen if you use the CD ROM. I only listen to the sentences on my Ipod though.

    If you wish, you can listen to one language version only, i. e. you can just download the German sentences without the English translations. I have done both. If I need to quickly review some vocabulary, I just listen to the version in my target language (since I basically know all the words but I sometimes need to refresh my mind ;-), and if I have more time I actually enjoy listening to both versions (English - German or French - German etc.). Sometimes people wonder why I review basic vocabulary and sentence structures. The answer is quite simple: No matter how basic or easy they may appear, if you don't use them you won't know them (anymore). And in my work I mostly use rather technical and/or formal language so that I need to brush up on my colloquialisms from time to time.

    Unfortunately, I have not yet found anything similar for my other languages. There are some really good products out there for English - Mandarin. But I bought all of them in mainland China or Taiwan (some of them you can also get on the Internet).

    As for Russian, I don't have any audio CDs to practise that core vocabulary with but I have bought some books which I consider to be quite useful:

    1) Pfaffen: Deutsch-Russisches Satzlexikon (two volumes), German - Russian
    2) A phrase and sentence dictionary of spoken Russian (Russian - English/English - Russian) by Dover book
    3) Langenscheidt: Grund- und Aufbauwortschatz (Russisch - Deutsch) - although I don't like the Russian version as much as the other ones. Somehow the sentences don't sound that natural. But it is still a good product to get the basics under your belt. Always provided you like using that kind of books.

    When it comes to reading, I must say that I have never really used "graded readers" (except in high school). I have always (and quite early, as a matter of fact) started out with newspapers and magazines reading articles I was interested in.

    Unless you choose a scientific text, you should not have too many problems reading a book with the help of a good dictionary. Many people seem to think that using a dictionary is a sign of some sort of failure on the part of the learner. As if looking up a word you don't know was something terribly bad ;-). I love dictionaries. I don't use them as often anymore because I normally don't need them for high-frequency words and because you understand a lot of other words based on the context, but I do read dictionaries from time to time (if I'm too lazy to get started on a new book ;-).

    There might be more resources on the Internet to get a list of high-frequency words in other languages. As I said, I find working with these lists (provided you get words in context, i. e. with example sentences) very useful and quite pleasant. But I also know that there are quite a few learners who find these lists boring. You just need to find out what works best for you.


    April 2012 0
  • [[lovelanguagesII]] aw Aruba apple 35 0
    ad peter: First of all, thanks for your kind words.

    (....) I wonder, however, if you'd keep maintaining these languages at this level if you weren't working as an interpreter (or, for example, when you retire). (...)

    Definitely not. You can still have interesting conversations and read books, watch movies etc. if you don't maintain that kind of "professional proficiency". And somehow I look forward to the day when people won't expect me to know every single word in a language simply because I'm a translator/interpreter. When I meet people for the first time, I normally avoid talking about my job because most of them will inevitably try to test me on some obscure word or technical term.

    When I retire, I will hopefully be able to take things easy which will also give me more time to do other things (including learning new languages I won't have to be highly proficient in ;-).
    April 2012 0
  • 2tmp011007 co Colombia apple 1 469 0
    @aybee77
    antes que nada: you're welcome.. si el problema es output tal vez te sea util una serie de productos desarrollados para hispanoparlantes aprendiendo ingles llamados "translation booklet" ( http://www.vaughantienda.com/translation-bookle... ), "focus pack" ( http://www.vaughantienda.com/focus-pack.html ) y/o incluso la serie "repaso general" ( http://www.vaughantienda.com/repaso-general-1.html )..

    si mal no estoy, los "translation booklet" son 8, los "focus pack" son 3 y los "repaso general" son 3.. no estoy seguro de que hayan demos de los mismos online, mas tengo algunas muestras de los mismos si estas interesado


    y a proposito, quien posteo el link para el Goldlist Method fue Ernie, not me xD
    April 2012 0
  • danchan jp Japan apple 2 1254 5754
    Kind of a side topic, but regarding speaking. The biggest improvement I saw in my speaking by far came from watching lots of TV and listening to lots of radio, after which things slowed down and it has just been a steady march. Vocabulary from heaps of reading is king of course, and listening helps immensely in getting you adapted to the flow, but speaking well is of course going to require a lot of time spent speaking. Myself I have spent over a thousand hours speaking Japanese and I am starting to get pretty good (but by no means perfect). Making good friends to chat with has especially helped a great deal.
    April 2012 0
  • Bortrun jp Japan apple 124 7473 6921
    I've done tons of listening, particularly with television dramas, watching some of the same dramas 5 or 6 times. But that was a few years ago. Now, I just watch things once. But my point was that it's easy to do that when you live in the country. All you have to do is turn on the TV. I don't read as much (mostly just on LingQ), but I do vocabulary study.

    Anyway, I don't rely just on vocabulary that comes up in conversation, but it's easy to keep my conversation skills sharp while living here.
    April 2012 0
  • [[Jay_B]] aw Aruba apple 2 1772 0
    @Bortrun: "...I've done tons of listening, particularly with television dramas, watching some of the same dramas 5 or 6 times. But that was a few years ago. Now, I just watch things once. But my point was that it's easy to do that when you live in the country. All you have to do is turn on the TV. I don't read as much (mostly just on LingQ), but I do vocabulary study."
    -----

    You know, this was exactly my experience back in those happy days of youth when I was living in Germany. At that time "language study" was just a matter of going outside my front door! (Or, failing that, grabbing a beer and switching on the TV...)

    What I didn't do very much of back then was reading; it has really been in the years since I left that I've done most of my reading in German. I have the feeling that I can actually read much better now than I could then. Yet, even though I can understand virtually everything on paper, I also know that it would take me a few days of complete immersion to get back into speaking fluently! (I'm also quite certain that my accent - never an ultra strong point - would be completely shot to pieces now!)

    I have sometimes wondered what would happen if I stopped reading? Would that skill go rusty too? Or would it go into "deep-freeze"? (I raised this on another thread recently.)

    It is kind of depressing to think of losing something which you have...
    April 2012 0
  • Bortrun jp Japan apple 124 7473 6921
    Yeah exactly. I've never had to be super diligent about studying Japanese, so that's a skill/habit that I'll have to develop. I'm considering a couple locations, but in one of them, there will be very few Japanese people so I won't have many chances to speak live.
    April 2012 0
  • aybee77 us United States apple 34 22506 250
    @2tmp011007

    Gracias por los enlaces. No sé si los voy a comprar, estoy pensando sobre ello.

    Oops, thanks Ernie for the Goldlist link
    April 2012 0
  • Ernie us United States apple 76 5065
    aybee77, you're welcome, for the Goldlist link.

    Imyirtseshem, I didn't list the Goldlist link to be discouraging (and I hope I wasn't). The point I was trying to make was that Mr. "Huliganov" believes that a person w/ extensive "passive" knowledge of a language will "activate" his knowledge after 3 days of true immersion in a milieu where the language must be spoken. Correlative to this, he says that such a person should not fret over not being "fluent" yet, as he has not so far found himself in a position where fluency is needed.

    Now, I don't know if I really believe that correlative bit, as I think that plenty of people have become fluent in a foreign language through other means than immersion, but that's what Mr. H. says. Myself, since I'm not planning any such immersion anytime soon, I'll simply try to write and speak more in Russian, the language I'm studying, rather than spend all my study time in passive activities--reading and listening.
    April 2012 0
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada apple 3621 2832 64121 47390
    I will be testing Huliganov's theory this October in Prague. I will also be having discussions with our tutors here at LingQ before hand.
    April 2012 0
  • Ernie us United States apple 76 5065
    Steve, from what I've read of Mr. H.'s idea, you would be a perfect test case, w/ a very extensive knowledge of the language before "immersing." We'll be fascinated to hear about your experience. He posits just about _total_ immersion, w/ no recourse to English when the going gets tough/hopeless, as you're probably aware.
    April 2012 0
  • [[Jay_B]] aw Aruba apple 2 1772 0
    Interesting. But the question I have is this: is Steve truly going to be "immersed" in Czech for these 3 days?

    Is he going to be in Prague alone, or is Mrs K going along too? (If so, Steve will surely be spending most of his free time speaking English, right?)

    Even if he is going to be over there alone, how much time is he actually going to spend every day interacting with native speakers? And how many of them are going to "help" him, by responding in English?

    (In order for this experiment to have a completely fair run, Steve would most likely need to spend the whole of his three days living with a Czech family who knew what his aim was, and who had thus agreed to speak to him only in Czech for the duration of the time, IMO.)
    April 2012 0
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada apple 3621 2832 64121 47390
    Jay, Mrs K is not going along, we are meeting later in another European country. I intend to organize my time so that I am truly immersed. I am also going to prepare properly. I intend to succeed, but who knows.
    April 2012 0
  • [[Jay_B]] aw Aruba apple 2 1772 0
    Well, best of luck, Steve. I hope you get the maximum benefit from your time ;-)
    April 2012 0