Goals in Language Acquisition

When attempting to acquire any language, in order to maintain motivation, it is very helpful to have a series of concrete goals so that one can actually notice progress instead of trying for the ever elusive goal of fluency. In light of this (¿debido a que?), I am making this list to show all the various things I know can be achieved, and other goals that I hope to achieve.

First Conversation

Whether it’s as simple as a ¿Puedo tener un café? or “Ça Va?”, that first meaningful (non-mother-tongue) conversation can make or break the start of learning a language, and is key to motivation. I would note that my first conversation in Portugese did not go too well, which as superficial as it sounds, was one of the reasons I did not pursue it!

The “Toki Pona” Stage

This is the lowest level of anything resembling “fluency” (which I hope a lot of people skip over), which I assert can be achieved with as little as 200 of the right words. This is when one can explain most concepts by stretching and juggling what one knows. Note: This may also result in extreme confusion and insult. Use at your own risk. For those of you who just want to “communicate”, this stage is for you. Taking the 80:20 rule to the limit, I reckon with a bit of knack, one could express one’s-self in another language rather quickly!

“I Can’t speak English properly”

Ah! When your brain starts to imitate foregin grammar so well, you start saying: I have hunger (tengo hambre), or “It makes cold” (il fait froid). This stage will hopefully be quickly followed by it’s matured version:

When one’s English levels up:

Now I know not everyone does study grammar, but when I started to reflect on grammatical and vocabulary differences between French and English, my English, after taking a dip, eventually started getting better than it was originally.

For example, as a result of learning how to use French pronouns: I now am a firm believer in the old use of the word “one” as a non-specific human potential pronoun (e.g. One probably can’t understand me). In a similar way, I now try to avoid the verb “to get” like the plague, and end up using phrases like “I will descend” over (“I’m coming downstairs” (doesn’t that sound so much better?;)

The Broken Translator

This is when you decide that it would be a good idea to incorporate the language you are learning into your life, by attempting to translate everything you hear and think. Good luck turning this little voice in your head off!

I Speak All-ish

This is when you begin to realise that some phrases simply mean more accurately what you intend to express in such as such a language. So of course, one inflicts this passion on those around him. As snobbish as it sounds, I only like saying “Nous Verrons” in french because “We will see” just doesn’t seem to fit. However, I have learned that not everybody cares to know!

Thinking in target language

Okay, I haven’t quite got here (not conciously anyway) but I did find myself noting something in Spanish the other day, and then translating it into english in my head. But sadly it was just two words (está allí), so not quite a victory yet!

First serious conversation

I heard a theory recently that you can’t have a serious conversation with somebody you’ve known for a long time in a language other than the language you normally speak. Well I am happy to say that I have recently broken this rule multiple times! (and in multiple foregin languages, I might add :)

Finally got a sentence right

Okay, so I use a website called Lang-8 to get corrections on things I write. And generally, I try to write the kind of thing that I might actually write about. This of course means I attempt to use grammar way ahead of what I even think I know, meaning that I very rarely have a sentence without even a small grammatical error. Well, times are a’changing – Today I wrote a 12 sentence text, and got not one, but half of them marked as “Perfect, no Correction Needed”!

Other Goals:

Mistaken for a foreigner – Nope, not yet achieved. The problem with this is the deeper subtleties of accent are very hard to imitate (unless you do principally sound based learning, which I’m not). I also think that one needs to know a fair amount of slang to achieve this, which I don’t intend to do! In fact I would go so far as to say my intention is not to sound like a native, since I’m not, and I don’t intend to be disingenuous.

Deliver a 1 hour debate on “Contrasting Shakespeare and Molière” in target language:

I think that what some people forget when searching for fluency in a languge (C2, european framework, for example) is that they might not even be too fluent, or able to express themselves, in their own language. So here’s a goal I am not even able to achieve in English, let alone another language!

So, I hope you (ye) enjoyed this article on language learning. Are you currently learning a language? If so, do you disagree, or have any further suggestions?



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