View Full Version : How long does it take to become bilingual?
07-13-2003, 08:30 PM
What level of proficiency does it take, that is, before you can consider yourself "bilingual" for any practical purpose such as a job?
And, short of moving to a country where it's the only language you'll hear spoken, what's the most efficient way to do so?
07-13-2003, 08:49 PM
Probably, I should have added, "bilingual [b]in Spanish if you already know English[b/]."
07-14-2003, 01:47 AM
Welcome tot he SDMB, Bandersnitch
Here's a thread from about six months ago that may interest you: Fluent in another language - Fast!!! (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=161102)
07-14-2003, 01:48 AM
It depends on your age really. I was trilingual when I left highschool (Dutch, English, German), which I achieved by the school's lessons, supplemented by watching English and German TV, reading books, and goiing to countries with these languages on holidays. I also has a reasonable knowledge of French, but without TV, books and holidays, that degraded over the years.
At age 42, I tried to learn mandarin. And failed. At age 45, I tried to improve my French (See location) and struggled to get any result.
07-14-2003, 01:50 AM
I also has
Given the fact that I claim to be able to speak English, this is an embarassing typo. It should read had.
07-14-2003, 04:36 AM
For a job? When you can understand what people working in that job area can say or write without looking it up every five minutes in a dictionary, that's a good sign you're fluent enough for the job.
A good way to help you with the language is to find something to read and listen to in that language.... a short book, some short stories, newspaper articles, music... You'll need a dictionary at the beginning to figure what it's written and being said, but once you know that, it's easier to decipher the sounds and the words later on. Oh, and if you have friends fluent in the language that can help you practice, let them know.
07-14-2003, 04:55 AM
The real fun is being trilingual.
07-14-2003, 07:34 AM
I think once you can maintain a decent level of conversation (not that 'the weather is lovely today' crap) with someone without responding with "¿que?" after every sentence, then you're okay ;)
Your second question: Having conversation with friends who speak the language, books and news websites are all helpful. YupiMSN (http://www.yupimsn.com/) is a good Spanish portal (if Spanish is what you'er lookig for).
MC Master of Ceremonies
07-14-2003, 07:47 AM
I don't know, I would never call myself bilingual, though I can chitta-chatta in Turkish at a fairly inane and functional level (which I'm quite proud of as I only took it up seriously this year, which just shows how much easier a language is to learn through immersion) and I can read French newspapers without having to reach for the French Dictionary (though my level of spoken French is not great).
There is a continium of different levels of multilinguism with the only real requirment being that you use the language often (othrewise it's called 'dormant' bilinguism) and to a 'decent' level.
07-14-2003, 08:22 AM
There are squillions of scientific studies floating around, differentiating between almost as many types of bilingualism. For example, whether you learnt both languages at the same time, from parents who spoke language, whether you where taught a second language as a child (e.g. after immigrating), learnt it as an adult etc.. And to what level of proficiency.
I personally wouldn't refer to someone as truly 'bilingual' in general terms unless they had a grasp approaching that of a native speaker and they were able to 'think in' more than one language.
For the purposes of a job, on the other hand, it very much depends on what you need the language for. Unless you want to be an interpreter or shorthand secretary, once you've got basic conversational skills it's definitely worth listing that language on your CV. Once you've been hired you'll probably pick up the bits of language you need fairly quickly on a 'need to know' basis.
As for the most efficient way of learning, there isn't one. Different people are receptive to different teaching/learning methods.
07-14-2003, 08:25 AM
Correction - ..."think in two languages" would be more appropriate. Any more and it's multilingualism.
07-14-2003, 08:40 AM
There are 4 skills you need to be fluent. Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. And the best way to do that is practice each of those skills. So read a newspaper, write in a Spanish chat room, watch telenovelas and put up a note in the library to set up a language exchange (meet with a Spanish-speaking someone who wants to learn english and speak in English for the 1st half hour and Spanish the next).
07-14-2003, 08:55 AM
So read a newspaper, write in a Spanish chat room, watch telenovelas and put up a note in the library to set up a language exchange (meet with a Spanish-speaking someone who wants to learn english and speak in English for the 1st half hour and Spanish the next).
Excellent advice, unless you want to learn a language other than Spanish... ;)
07-14-2003, 09:06 AM
It does depend on your age, I think.
At 45, my dad decided to try and learn Spanish. He had a terrible time with it. He would sometimes ask Hispanic people on the street for help with a word or phrase, they were all very nice.
In his 50s he married a Columbian lady, with two almost grown kids, and eventually that is how he learned. He practiced with them all day, every day. But he's still not great.
07-14-2003, 10:39 AM
It does very much depend on the level of proficiency you're going for, and what your goal is. If your goal is to be able to read it and understand it when you're spoken to, that would probably only take 2 or 3 years of (perpetual) study. If you want to be able to read it, write it, speak it, and understand it nearly as well as a native speaker, it's gonna be a lifelong effort.
If this gives you any indication...my Japanese professor started learning English in middle school in Japan, and has not stopped her exposure to it since then. She's lived and worked in the U.S. for 6 or 7 years now, teaching Japanese to English-speaking students. I would call her bilingual, but she definitely is not a great English-speaker...she still says "I gonna" and "stuffs" and "be careful the particles" and such. It's kind of discouraging to think that even if I went and lived in Japan for 7 years I'd still sound to the Japanese like she sounds to me. (But, you never know; they say English is one of the hardest languages to learn.)
07-14-2003, 10:57 AM
...she still says "I gonna" and "stuffs" and "be careful the particles" and such.
Sounds like she's still doing better than a lot of native English speakers I know...
07-14-2003, 11:34 AM
The LDS church has a language training program (Language Training Mission, or LTM) for it's missionaries that is usually 8 to 12 weeks depending on the language.
At the LTM, the missionary is immersed in the new language. The training is intense. They then serve the remainder of their two year (for young men) or year and a half (for young women) listening, speaking, teaching and studying in their new language in their country. (In some cases, they are even speaking Spanish in the United States or Portuguese in Japan and so on.)
After the mission is over, the returned missionary is generally fluent enough to qualify for 16 to 18 university language credits after passing an exam.
07-14-2003, 11:36 AM
I should add that they are generally considered "conversant" at the end of the 8 to 12 weeks course and "fluent" at the end of the mission.
07-14-2003, 11:40 AM
I think the ability to learn language has a lot to do with left brain, right brain. Some people seem to have a natural ability with languages (I'm one, according to MLAT and other testing).
The U.S. Foreign Service Institute classes language fluency with respect to speaking and reading over a five level range (with intermediate minus and plus ratings), with zero being no familiarity with a language to 5+ being a native speaker. These ratings are based on tests given by native speakers of the language in question. For instance, I tested at a (speaking/reading) level of 2+/2+ in Portuguese and at a 2+/3 in French after six months of intensive training in each. Since my method of study hasn't changed much since high school (no work=passing grade), I was appropriately chagrined.
My wife, who had four years of French in school, and who worked her ass off for six months, ended up with a 3/3. Had I applied the same effort as she, I would have probably ended up in the 3+ or 4 range.
Age may have something to do with it all, but I saw a whole slew of middle-aged diplomats who were very adept at languages and could switch back and forth with ease.
07-19-2003, 04:50 PM
Thanks! Interesting answers in both threads (I mean the new one and the one from 6 mos. or so ago). I guess the most important thing is to start on it.
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