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linguaphile's avatar

How quickly were you able to acquire a second or third language?

Asked by linguaphile (13523 points ) July 9th, 2012

For those who acquired a second or third language later in life, say after age 8 as opposed to those who learned two languages concurrently, how quickly were you able to acquire fluency in the second or third (or fourth or fifth…) language?

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14 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I studied Spanish in 7,8 and 10th grade. Also a year in college. My Spanish was not fluent at all, but I understood enough to communicate fairly simple things. Then I dated a person whose family spoke Spanish and I got a little better. Later I married a Spanish speaker, and his parents didn’t speak English. Two years into our marriage I lived with them for three months and my Spanish became much much more fluent. I still make tons of mistakes when speaking Spanish, and I am amazed when people become fully bilingual by studying in school starting in secondary school, but not surpised when people are fully emersed in the language even if it begins in the teen years. Everyone I know who came to America in their teens speaks English extremely well if they were mainstreamed into American schools and in communities where English was primarily spoken.

cazzie's avatar

I moved to Norway 10 years ago, when I was 34. I get by, but social and economic isolation is a factor in my fluency.

bookish1's avatar

I started French in middle school. I was one of the best students in my high school French classes because I am a linguistically oriented person, just lucked out that way (English and French were my best subjects) and because I was a hard worker in high school (in fact, I wish I could get that work ethic back, lol).

But it was still American classroom French. It wasn’t real French until I lived in France for 3 months during university while simultaneously taking intensive grammar and phonetics lessons. The phonetics helped me so much, to not think of French as the way it is spelled, but the way it sounds. The teacher even wrote on the board in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It was fantastic. My vocabulary (especially idiomatic) is still extremely limited compared to a native speaker, but Parisians complement me on my fluency all the time now and that is no mean feat! (Also, having sexy Parisians you want to impress helps a lot… ;)

I tried studying Arabic for my second foreign language but my French kept interfering, and I didn’t have enough time to devote to language study as a graduate student :-/

gailcalled's avatar

I started classroom French in eight grade and after five years, spent the summer between high school and college living with a native-speaking family in Burgundy.

I had the grammar, vocabulary and bare bones when I arrived. The activities of daily living combined with my seventeen-year old enthusiasm catapulted me into being very comfortable with everyday exchanges and social chic-chat.

Falling in love with a young man who had been an English to French translator for the US Army in Paris was the next step, and the one that was the most fun.

jordym84's avatar

I grew up speaking Portuguese and Capeverdean Creole (African languages mixed with Portuguese). My father speaks French fluently and was also a high school French teacher, so I picked up some of it from him. When I was in the 7th grade I started taking French in high school and my parents also signed me up for French classes at a French Alliance school. I moved to the US when I was 15 (10th grade) and couldn’t speak a word of English. I started out in ESL classes and the following semester I was moved up to college English and, the semester after that, AP English – it’s been almost 9 years since I moved to the States and I barely have an accent now. While I was learning English, I also started learning Spanish by watching soap operas, listening to music, and reading. I took some Spanish courses in high school and college, which helped me improve my grammar. I tried my hand in Arabic, but it was only a 6-week course, so I didn’t pick up much besides the alphabet and a few words (tough language). My next goal is to improve my Italian (I can understand it, but have trouble speaking it) and German. To summarize, I’m fluent in Portuguese, Creole, Spanish, English, and French and know some basic Italian.

My suggestion to you is to immerse yourself in the language. It may be tough at first and you might find yourself wanting to give up, but it’ll only get easier once you get past the initial fear of making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of being judged by native speakers of the language(s) you’re trying to learn. They might laugh at you, but not maliciously, they’re probably just happy that you’re making an effort to learn their language. Most importantly, allow yourself have fun with it :)

thorninmud's avatar

Pretty quickly, but I was in a situation where I really didn’t have any choice, and that makes all the difference.

Your level of language has a huge effect on how you’re treated: if you speak like a three-year old, then you find that people don’t engage you on an adult level. That’s bearable if you’re just passing through, or can retreat to an enclave of your linguistic cohort. But if you’re trying to make your life in that culture, as I was, then you get sick of feeling like the toddler at the dinner party.

Learning a language thoroughly is really very hard. It’s mentally exhausting. Your ego takes a massive beating as you make one ridiculous mistake after another, much to the general amusement. You languish in that awkward hell of half-understanding, pretending that you catch more than you really do and praying that your pretense doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass. I think that most adults will only undertake these rigors if they’re forced into it by their circumstances, as I was.

fundevogel's avatar

@thorninmud I’m curious which language you were immersed in.

bookish1's avatar

@thorninmud: It is indeed exhausting! I found it particularly frustrating, when I was earlier on in my study of French, that I could understand complex/abstract questions and statements pretty well, but only felt like I could express myself at the level of a 6 year old.

YARNLADY's avatar

I still have trouble with my first language, and I have never been able to get past a few words of any other language.

fundevogel's avatar

@YARNLADY Maybe you could work on peppering your native tongue with those borrowed words and phrases to add that certain je nais se quoi.

YARNLADY's avatar

@fundevogel Que sera sera

fundevogel's avatar

@YARNLADY C’est la vie.

snapdragon24's avatar

Dont mean to sound pretentious… But I knew how to speak three languages by the age if six…and now im on the quest of wanting to learn some arabic – shucram! :p

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