There are no quantum leaps in language learning – but that doesn’t mean you can’t sprint
Today's video marks the half-way point of my mission to learn Egyptian Arabic to fluency in 3 months, while in Brazil. The above video shows how I'm doing after 44 days, and you can follow along with the basic interaction by activating the subtitles in English, original Arabic, or Portuguese.
Unlike in the previous video, this time I tried to interact much more with the person I was talking to.
Today it was Henry, an Egyptian who lives in Australia, and it was the first time we ever talked. He's a reader of this blog, and offered to let me record our Skype conversation.
I'm glad to say that I understood over 80% of what he said to me (although of course, he was speaking slowly and basically for my benefit). I think I explained my points more or less at a good enough level considering I've only been learning the language for about 6 weeks, although I am indeed speaking very choppy and could have used much better words.
A couple of times when I asked him to repeat what he said, it was actually because my Internet connection kept cutting the audio off! The conversation isn't so complex, but we didn't have a plan and made it up as we went along.
I hope to discuss more specific and interesting things soon enough, since I generally find small-talk videos tedious, and am only really uploading them as a frame of reference for where I am in my language skills right now.
7 weeks left
By December 18th, I'm hoping to break into a solid level B2, and perhaps scrape the beginnings of C1, as described on this scale. At this half-way point I can confirm that I'm not backing away from this target, but as always I promise nothing except that I'll continue to try my best.
For the moment, my sights are actually set on reaching conversational level B1 by the two month point, at November 18th.
I'll travel to Rio that weekend and if I can find someone in advance, I'll have (and record) my first ever in-person conversation in Egyptian Arabic, doing something much longer and more interesting than these recent videos and I hope to be able to “describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans”, and do so in a less choppy way compared to what I'm doing now… إن شاء الله,
I have about 16 days to reach that level, so the intensity of my flashcarding, Skyping, studying and the like will definitely continue!!
The whole point of this entire experience, and the reason I'm not simply spending all my time properly soaking up Brazil and partying all the time, and am instead working my ass off from sunrise to midnight (except one night off a week, as stated in the video), is because in January I will be in Egypt and I want to experience it exclusively through speaking Arabic, and after that experience I want to be able to speak Arabic for the rest of my life, and have something to expand on to let me travel in other Arabic speaking countries.
I'm going to be surrounded by people who don't speak English (especially once I get outside of Cairo), so traditional language learning advice of “take your time” or accepting a very basic touristy level of the language is not acceptable. I have a practical need to learn the language quickly, and when you have a looming deadline, impatience is a virtue.
There are no quantum leaps, but break down continuous progress and it becomes much more manageable
In today's video I'm slightly better than before. And in the last video I was slightly better than the one before it.
I can understand much better (unfortunately, I could barely understand most of what I heard two weeks ago) now, after biting the bullet and going back to some grammar now that I was ready for it. At this stage, I can deconstruct familiar words with an OK understanding of how consonant-vowel combinations morph in Arabic, and do so in the middle of an actual conversation. Being able to do so just when filling out book exercises is useless to me.
As I continue to progress, I hope to understand more each day, letting the other person speak faster and more naturally with time, and have enough words to keep up a much nicer flow in my end of the conversation.
(I'll never stop hesitating entirely, because I hesitate even when I speak English – I have no delusions of elitist standards to aim for, because I'm not a pristine orator in my first language, and hold my target language to precisely the same standards I speak at, and topics I am comfortable discussing, in my first language.)
And then it's just a case of making the conversations more complex, learning more vocabulary, and tidying up my grammatical mistakes, and of course expanding my “input” to much wider range of actual native content, and I could actually land on my target or close to it.
I don't see why this would be so mystical. If you break up a seemingly impossible task into the various steps to get there, everything becomes much more manageable. When climbing any mountain, focus on the steps, not on how steep it is.
It's true that there are a lot of steps involved, which you can either do part-time over a year or so, or really intensively over a few months as I'm attempting, but not a single one of those steps requires supernatural powers.
I really hope I'm conveying this with these videos. Whatever level I end up on, come December 18th, there will have been NO quantum leaps that got me there. Just working my ass off, going through plenty of pain and discomfort, and making continuous progress with a difference that can be seen between the snapshots of these videos I'm uploading. No genes or special luck-powers are at play here.