Estimating your pre-lesson competency of a foreign language
[Before I start – pre-lesson competency = how good you are before going for formal lessons. It’s important to know this so that you have a good idea how fast you’ll pick it up in each of the different areas. Here goes…]
There are four components to a language: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Let’s give each of them a scale of 10.
Good news: We don’t start every foreign language with a ‘0’ in every component. For languages that we’ve heard since we were young, we probably have a 5-6 for listening already. For languages that are close to our native ones in script, we start with a 3 on writing already. For languages that borrows a lot of words from our native one (e.g. native = Spanish, new = Portuguese), we start with a 5 on reading already.
Bad news: Some languages are almost totally unrelated to others. For instance – Mandarin versus English. You will start at ‘0’ in almost every component, and remain at ‘1’ or ‘2’ for a long time. To learn these languages, we may need to change our paradigm. (For Chinese specifically, read my previous post.)
Observation: Most languages that are close enough to yours, or are spoken in countries close to yours don’t really fall under the ‘foreign’ language category anymore, but belong more to the ‘uninteresting’ language category. However, these are probably the easiest to pick up with minimal effort.
Observation: Currently, I don’t think there is a test / software that can quantitatively determine how difficult it is to learn language X if you know languages A, B, C, D, E… it could be a linguist’s dream to do this! Not that easy from an engineering perspective still: imagine there are 200 living languages in the world and there are 4 parameters to determine ease of learning a language -> it’s a matrix with 800 entries for every single language you want to put into the system to sort this out! I challenge someone to write this program!!! [not that hard, but having a proper data set is harder – need 800 x 200 entries i.e. 16,000 inputs]
Conclusion: Before the quantitative version for estimating your pre-lesson competency comes out, let’s work with a qualitative one. It can help you determine how much effort you have to put in to learn a foreign language and you can then compare it with how much time you have at hand to do so. If you’re not that sure about your own qualitative estimate, you can always write to me and I can give you a second opinion 😀 – Caveat: if time permits, and if you’re sincere. 😀