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Hapax Legomenon
07-01-2007, 11:22 PM
Okay, I'm writing a fantasy story that has a sort of odd circumstance...

So, I have one character that's from another world, and, of course, he speaks a different language. That language does not exist in the world he's transported to, although one girl that he knows is able to translate any language by just being there. However, because this girl has a life, the guy is not going to be able to have her all the time.

I was wondering how long it would take for him to pick up on the local language. I know he could do a lot with body language, but this is kind of important.

Medievalist
07-01-2007, 11:32 PM
If he's got a facility for language -- maybe he knows two or three of his own world's languages -- and he's totally immersed with no choice but to learn, (or starve!) and their are locals willing to help; a couple months will give him enough to communicate basic needs, however crudely. Six months to a year should have him able to cope with ordinary life. Literacy, and competency will take a couple of years of very hard work.

Lyra Jean
07-01-2007, 11:36 PM
Only going by what I know on planet Earth as I realize yours is fantasy so these things may not apply.

1. If the foreign language is only spoken in the one country on your planet and that country has lots of non-native (to the country) visitors. The country could give classes on how to speak the language. I know the United States does this for English and the Philippines does this for Tagalog.

2. If the character has a pen and paper or the equivalent. He could write down words as phrases as he hears them and write them down. He could also ask the girl questions about what he hears when she's not around to translate and learn that way. Important phrases such as: "I'm sorry." "Where's the bathroom?" and "I didn't do it." or "I'm innocent." comes to mind.

3. Are there dictionaries? It doesn't necessarily have to be a foreign language to English dictionary. I assume there isn't one. But combined with his homemade dictionary it could help him a lot to learn the language.

rugcat
07-01-2007, 11:38 PM
Medievalist--

What would the timeline be for a 6 or 7 year old, say one who is alone but engaged fully in the society out of necessity? Just curious.

Hapax Legomenon
07-01-2007, 11:43 PM
Only going by what I know on planet Earth as I realize yours is fantasy so these things may not apply.

1. If the foreign language is only spoken in the one country on your planet and that country has lots of non-native (to the country) visitors. The country could give classes on how to speak the language. I know the United States does this for English and the Philippines does this for Tagalog.

2. If the character has a pen and paper or the equivalent. He could write down words as phrases as he hears them and write them down. He could also ask the girl questions about what he hears when she's not around to translate and learn that way. Important phrases such as: "I'm sorry." "Where's the bathroom?" and "I didn't do it." or "I'm innocent." comes to mind.

3. Are there dictionaries? It doesn't necessarily have to be a foreign language to English dictionary. I assume there isn't one. But combined with his homemade dictionary it could help him a lot to learn the language.

These are actually very good ideas that I hadn't thought of. I especially like the idea of going to the community center for language classes.

Medievalist
07-02-2007, 12:01 AM
Medievalist--

What would the timeline be for a 6 or 7 year old, say one who is alone but engaged fully in the society out of necessity? Just curious.

Gah. These are rough estimates.

Based on the little kids I've worked with, I'd say maybe a year to be at the same basic level of competency as age mates; possibly a year and a half.

Most little kids, as in pre-puberty (the brain changes dramatically in terms of language acquisition with age) in total immersion become age-mate fluent in two years, with few or no distinguishing markers.

newmod
07-02-2007, 12:08 AM
Also if the characters language is more complex than the new language things will be easier. For example many Rumanians/Ukranians/Poles pick up Spanish in a matter of months and often speak very well. Of course the reverse is also true - I have a friend living in Prague, having classes (he´s English) and he finds it very difficult.

As Medievalist said basic needs would be fairly quick for anyone. Expressing abstract concepts, emotions and so on would be more difficult. Having full expression takes time due to limited ability with structures and vocabulary. Perhaps there will also be pronunciation problems, false friends (words which are the same or similar in pronunciation but have a different meaning).

So I suppose it depends on your character´s ability with language, how easy/difficult the new language is, and how well you want them to speak it.

job
07-02-2007, 12:20 AM
Couple of points to consider.

-- It's easier to learn a language that is similar to your own.

German is relatively easy for an English speaker to learn. Japanese is more difficult.
If your native and to-be-learned languages can be related, the learning process is faster.


-- Some languages are harder to learn than others.

Can you make your new language relatively easy?
Perhaps it is a trade tongue? A pidgen or creole?
The people who speak this language in your here and now could be speaking a simplification of an older, more complex language? 'English' was greatly simplified after the Norman Conquest, losing all kinds of cases.


-- Some languages are quite difficult to follow if the speaker makes mistakes.

The French really do have difficulty following you. Unless those vowels are pronounced with absolute clarity, the meaning changes. It's not always clear from context whether you were alone last night, or drunk.


-- Some places, folks are used to deciphering foreigners' speech. They'll do a better job of it than someone who never hears their language incorrectly spoken.


-- Some folks learn languages easier than others.

So maybe your guy already has learned a few languages elsewhere and knows how to go about it, keeping notes and creating his own dictionary.


How long to learn a language?

Best case --- A skilled, but not phenomenal, language learner, going to a language with a simple grammar and accustomed sounds, where meaning could be approximated from 'near miss' attempts and folks have some practice in hearing foreigners speak,
(this is the ideal situation,)
could probably make himself understood in most normal conversation in six months or so.

The stages would be something like ...

One month --
"Apple cutting up choping on green green thin. Want."

Three months --
"I'd like apples slice on salads green. Is good to eat."

Six months --
"I'd like apple slices on the salad. You always make best salad. I enjoy eating at your house."

One Year --
"I understand the price of apples has gone up in the market. That's probably because of harshness of weather in three months last in the Northern province. You do not need to put apple slices on my salad. I enjoy them very much, but I do not want of you to spend the extra money for this luxury."

JoNightshade
07-02-2007, 01:17 AM
I had a friend in high school who took 2 years of crappy high school Spanish (I took the same thing and am NOWHERE NEAR fluent). She then went to Spain for one year. For the first three months she couldn't understand anybody, failed her classes, had no idea what was going on, had no friends, and hated her life. At the four month point, it was like BAM! Suddenly she got it. All that accumulated knowledge of basic vocabulary plus being totally immersed with NOBODY to rely on built up and just reached a point at which it exploded in her brain. :)

I, on the other hand, spent a year in China with a Chinese and English speaking coworker. Because I always knew I had someone to depend on if I really needed it, how much Chinese did I learn? Very, very little. Just enough to get by. I used sign language for the rest, which is actually all you really need to survive.

Fenika
07-02-2007, 01:41 AM
I agree with Jo- when forced, you can learn very quickly. I've known a lot of people who immigrated to America when young- they spoke their native language at home, and picked up english quickly at school. In no time they were fluent and translating for their parents (who seemed unable to catch on b/c they did not immerse themselves).

Also, someone brought up a good point about knowing multiple languages. I learned both Polish and English at the same time (and interchangably- apparently no one who did not speak Polish could understand me when I was 3 b/c I used both languages at once, lol)
Anywho, people have commented that I pick up and enunciate foriegn languages well (a rapidly declining skill I'm sorry to say). So if you can have your MC learn a hard language from his family, all the better.

Languages that are well structured, with straightforward words, make for easy learning. If your MC gets a close friend who speaks only the 'foreign' language, they he'll have tonsssss of time to practice and be taught new phrases.

Cheers,
Christina

PS- I just remembered trying to speak with a friend who knew mostly czech and a little polish. I knew lots of polish and about 3 czech words. When the langages didn't overlap we couldn't share our thoughts. Very frustrating. We'd lapse into silence for a bit until ready to try again with a new topic. Something to consider...

Hapax Legomenon
07-02-2007, 02:49 AM
Thank you all very much. This'll not only help me with my story, but it's also good to know because once I get into college, I plan on studying abroad. ^_^

Well, the main character can understand this character no matter what (he has a strange sort of one-way translator microbe, it translates everyone else, but it can't translate himself), but the foreign character is going to be staying somewhere with neither of them. It's my guess that he'd catch onto things like "yes" and "no" rather quickly, and etc... I'm not sure how long he's going to be with the characters.

And there's also the question of whether or not his clairvoyance will help with this. Fantasy can make for some screwed up stories.

katiemac
07-02-2007, 03:24 AM
A friend of mine studied abroad in France this past semester. Starting in January, she knew no French beyond "Bonjour." In the first three weeks, she took super-intensive language classes and by the end of May was pretty much fluent.

Fenika
07-02-2007, 03:52 AM
Question: When your MC speaks, or attempts to speak, in the new language, does it translate in his head? For ex- if he attempts to ask for salt and instead says 'Please pass the uber-hot-mineral-spice' will he realize he misspoke?
It would seem that this microbe (which btw, is a germ, but I know what you meant) would translates whatever he hears, including himself.

Hapax Legomenon
07-02-2007, 04:04 AM
Question: When your MC speaks, or attempts to speak, in the new language, does it translate in his head? For ex- if he attempts to ask for salt and instead says 'Please pass the uber-hot-mineral-spice' will he realize he misspoke?
It would seem that this microbe (which btw, is a germ, but I know what you meant) would translates whatever he hears, including himself.

I don't think it would... but it would be funny.

reenkam
07-02-2007, 04:54 AM
It's a lot easier to learn languages with a simple grammatical structure and not many exceptions...obviously.

If the language were very straightforward and he heard it all the time and maybe had a little explaination every once in a while he could probably be completely fluent at 6 months, assuming pronuciation wasn't a problem. It's when you get into verb tenses, complicated conjugations and declension of nouns and adjectives that things start to get confusing.

JoNightshade
07-02-2007, 05:21 AM
Well, the main character can understand this character no matter what (he has a strange sort of one-way translator microbe, it translates everyone else, but it can't translate himself), but the foreign character is going to be staying somewhere with neither of them. It's my guess that he'd catch onto things like "yes" and "no" rather quickly, and etc... I'm not sure how long he's going to be with the characters.

You don't even need to "catch on" to understand "yes" and "no" and other simple things. Or even complex things. Remember that body language is a HUGE part of communication. This is from someone who lived in a country where she didn't speak the language for a year... no, I didn't learn the language, but like I said, for all basic things, I didn't need to. You can shop, eat out, travel, and even get the gist of most basic conversations all by using and observing body language. I never got stuck once. Although sometimes I ended up with some strange food. :)

For example. I was with another English-only speaker when an elderly Chinese woman came up to the two of us and started talking a mile a minute to my companion. After a minute or two she turned around and left. My companion said, "I wonder what that was about." I said, "Oh, you didn't get that? She said that she loves how you're always smiling, because most people go around with frowns, and how you wear bright sunny clothing even if you stick out. You cheer her up and make her happy when she sees you." I didn't need to know a single word of Chinese to follow the dialogue because it was obvious from her body language-- the way she gestured to herself, my companion, etc. I would often do this with my Chinese speaking friend... we'd go to a restaurant and I'd point to another table and say, "I bet those people are talking about this and that." 95% of the time, I'd be right. You just have to train yourself.

So if your character needs to catch on fast, don't worry about having him learn the language overnight. He should be able to get along just fine even before he knows it (if necessary).

Hapax Legomenon
07-02-2007, 05:23 AM
You don't even need to "catch on" to understand "yes" and "no" and other simple things. Or even complex things. Remember that body language is a HUGE part of communication. This is from someone who lived in a country where she didn't speak the language for a year... no, I didn't learn the language, but like I said, for all basic things, I didn't need to. You can shop, eat out, travel, and even get the gist of most basic conversations all by using and observing body language. I never got stuck once. Although sometimes I ended up with some strange food. :)

For example. I was with another English-only speaker when an elderly Chinese woman came up to the two of us and started talking a mile a minute to my companion. After a minute or two she turned around and left. My companion said, "I wonder what that was about." I said, "Oh, you didn't get that? She said that she loves how you're always smiling, because most people go around with frowns, and how you wear bright sunny clothing even if you stick out. You cheer her up and make her happy when she sees you." I didn't need to know a single word of Chinese to follow the dialogue because it was obvious from her body language-- the way she gestured to herself, my companion, etc. I would often do this with my Chinese speaking friend... we'd go to a restaurant and I'd point to another table and say, "I bet those people are talking about this and that." 95% of the time, I'd be right. You just have to train yourself.

So if your character needs to catch on fast, don't worry about having him learn the language overnight. He should be able to get along just fine even before he knows it (if necessary).

Yes, I understand that... it's not even essential that he learns anything overnight.

ideagirl
07-04-2007, 04:10 AM
Hiya,
Speaking as someone who's bilingual, can get by in two additional languages, and has studied more languages than I care to count, AND lived in a foreign country whose language I could sorta read but not speak when I got there, I have some more thoughts here:

Body language works, BUT, body language is different from one culture to another. There are no universals, and MANY "faux amis" (same gesture/different meaning); a thumbs-up can mean "f*ck you" in Greece, the "OK" sign (finger and thumb) means "zero" or "worthless" in some countries, a head-nod means no in some places. Also, some cultures rely more on body language than others; I've seen French people conduct entire (albeit short and simple) conversations from across the street, solely by body language, using gestures I didn't even recognize. By that I mean that some of the things they were doing were things I not only didn't understand, but didn't even realize were intentional gestures. And some things related to body language (e.g. tone of voice) can be very different too; as many Americans who have been to Italy/Greece/France/Spain could tell you, sometimes to us it looks like people are having a knock-down drag-out horrible argument when to them they're just having a lively, fun discussion.

So this adds to the complication. The character in this story could run into a LOT of entertaining or illuminating misunderstandings this way; since he's from another world, his body language might be COMPLETELY different than what's around him, and he would have to learn local body language--perhaps several of them, if he's in a multicultural country--as well as local spoken language.

Richard White
07-07-2007, 08:09 AM
I studied Czech and Arabic out at the Defense Language Institute. I took Czech for a year and while not fluent enough to pass myself off as a native, I did well enough to pass the course. Arabic . . . well, let's just say, I'm not certain the Army got its money out of me for that eighteen months of my life in Monterey, CA.

What I can say from taking a class 6 hours a day, five days a week is listening and reading are a lot easier to pick up than speaking and writing a foreign language. Which, of course, makes sense since they're both passive skills. Even at my current lack of practice (been out of the Army since 1999), I can still pick up a Czech newspaper and gist out the meaning of most sentences. Now, I'd be hard pressed to write anything without using the dictionary and a grammar book (seven tenses of verbs will do that to you), but at least I have the starting point.

The students younger than me did much better in the classes, especially the Arabic class. It's very true, the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. (Trying to learn Japanese in my 40s is really painful, but at least now I know what the sensei is saying when he yells at me. *grin*)

So, to make a long story short (too late), if people can study a language 5 days a week for six hours and become proficient enough to survive, then they should do very well in a year in a total immersion situation . . . if they have someone patient enough to work with them.