kitchen table math, the sequel: dreaming

Sunday, July 5, 2009


from Paul B --
I have an acquaintance who was taught Chinese in the Air Force. The training was even more intense than the article describes. He was immersed in Chinese language 24 hours per day, having to wear earphones, while sleeping, that continued the immersion.

Twenty years later, when he dreams, it's in Chinese.
I remember, years ago, a conversation with a woman whose sister was in the foreign service. She told me that the foreign service has precise ratings of people's level of fluency in foreign languages. (I think Concerned Parent knows all of this & may be rated or ranked herself. Hope she's around.)

As I recall, I think there is a very small group of non-native speakers who reach the level of native fluency.

(Is that right?)

Here are Foreign Service Institute courses in the public domain

And here's the book on second language learning Lefty recommended to me: Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning by Eli Hinkel.


Paul B said...

An Indian friend told me that the key to speaking a language like a native (accent free) is all in the hearing. His premise was that your brain 'hears' in your first language. By this he meant you literally can't hear foreign language sounds in the same way that a native hears it. This, he said, was especially true the later in life you approach that language.

I have no clue if this is true or not but it was his way of explaining why Indians have such a great command of English with such heavy accents. They learn it well but they learn it too late; after they've tuned out the sounds.

concernedCTparent said...

Well... still on vacation, but checking in.

There is a precise ranking system used by the state dept that breaks down something like this:

Speaking 0 (No Proficiency)
Speaking 0+ (Memorized Proficiency)
Speaking 1 (Elementary Proficiency)
Speaking 1+ (Elementary Proficiency, Plus)
Speaking 2 (Limited Working Proficiency)
Speaking 2+ (Limited Working Proficiency, Plus)
Speaking 3 (General Professional Proficiency)
Speaking 3+ (General Professional Proficiency, Plus)
Speaking 4 (Advanced Professional Proficiency)
Speaking 4+ (Advanced Professional Proficiency, Plus)
Speaking 5 (Functionally Native Proficiency)

There's a nice explanation of what this all means here:


As an aside, my first ranking upon entering undergrad was in the near-native range (4)-- I grew up in a bilingual home. After completing my degree in Spanish & Latin American Literature, spending a year of study in Mexico, and becoming certified to interpret/translate my ranking bumped up to 5. Point being these ranges are mobile (and sometimes subjective).

ChemProf said...

There is some research that shows that people lose the ability to identify sounds that aren't part of their language, even in the first year of life. Part of speaking a language without an accent is being able to hear the difference between (for example) an English "l", an Italian "l" (which is made with the tip of the tongue), and a Russian "l" (which is made with the back of the tongue). If you can't hear the difference, you can't produce the different sounds, and you'll sound "off" to a native!

For more info, see: