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The language learning curve

I've seen a learning photography curve that has inspired me to create a "Learning a New Language" curve on my own.

alt text

It's the general idea, it doesn't take into account the "plateau" phases, the doubts you may have etc. So, what do you think? Where are you on that curve?

Note: here is the link to the enlarged pic: http://i.imgur.com/hx6GhYH.jpg

January 22, 2014



I think the reality is much more nuanced than this graph. I believe that how good you are at a language is directly related to how much exposure you have had to it, because being 'good' at any language is an excercise in mimicry more than anything else.

I can read all five of the languages I have duo flags for, I would never have been able to progress so easily throught the tree if I couldn't, and reading is often cited as the easiest skill to develop - this makes sense becase I can slow down to make sense of things, and no one is waiting for me to respond. My hearing comprehension is in second place, I can recognise so many words in so many different languages, that watching any news program reporting on a different country makes my brain fight between the interpreter and the person being interviewed, like trying to listen to two people at once. I started being exposed to French when I was 5 years old, and I learned it naturally because it was the thing to do, and I decided to study German at around 25 years old on a whim, and while I still find it frustratingly difficult to add much to a conversation, I understand at least 75 percent of what is said. I'm not going to win any debates on politics or religion anywhere in the world, but you could drop me anywhere in western europe with nothing but a bag of clothes, and not only would I survive, I would enjoy the experience immensely - I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

What I don't have, is any sense of focus. Languages to me offer the 'tyranny of choice'. I have no idea which one will serve me best in my life, so I try and devote time to as many as I think I can swallow. It doesn't always work out for the best, but there isn't a language I have tried that I don't like - to put that in perspective, before I tried to actually understand German, if I am honest, no, I didn't really like it, superficially because of the harsh and monotone sound of it to my ears. But when I sincerely tried, I found a world that was deeper than my expectations.

Anyway the point I am trying to make to counterbalance your wonderfully simple infographic, is that I don't think anyone actually struggles to learn languages. I think people just fall in love with them, and that how good they are at them is a simple function of how long they have been in love. I think that would make a much nicer graph.



You know, It's just supposed to be a light-hearted graph :-)


I'm sorry, you are right of course, I'm afraid once I start typing, I can't usually stop until I have bored even myself, its a thing :)


Oh it's not boring, don't worry!


So painfully true!!! Took up Lituanian recenently and I think that I am still on that over confident stage!

¡Otro vez y otro vez el mundo me molestas! :)


thanks :-) in fact, I think I might be going back and forth on that confidence thing... One second I'm "My Spanish is so freakin' good, I understand everything" and the next one (usually watching a movie or eavesdropping...) I'm "I suck. I suck, I suck, I suck and I'll never be able to understand everything." :-)


Where did the chart come from? It's very fun!

I'm in that second phase. But, I'm also practicing a lot less these days. (I used to do 500pts a day. Now i'm getting a little above or below 100.) Time for me to spend more time practicing! :D

PS The graph is very visually pleasing to me, with the low stim colors and the rounded wave-like curves. I might save a copy just to look at while I'm going through the morning 40, in case any notifications set me particularly on edge. :)


I did it myself! :-) Glad you enjoy it!


Hahaha, it's similar for me. One second I think the same thing as you, and then I try to watch a "vine" in Spanish (super colloquial speech) . . . All I hear is "güey." It's a disaster.


Ahh, Lietuviskai! :D I'm really looking forward to it eventually being added, so I can fill in the gaps in my knowledge (Mostly grammar and reading/writing)


haha, I like this. So true. Although I think there could be quite a few more sinusoids thrown in there (trying to speak on the phone...) :P


Thanks! I love it! :D I think in german, I'm in almost, "First movie/book" and in French, I'm in "First words and sentences", which means, I barely know French, hehe.


it is brilliant perhaps it will help me understand the Polish now that it will now soon be out


One small problem I have with this is that I was watching movies and reading books in English for half a decade before I started having conversations in English. Would the curve shape change if I change the order of the events?


Well, to be fair, that wouldn't apply to my English either, it's really more focused on learning a language from scratch, like with Duo for instance :-)


I think the graph is probably an accurate representation for many people, but I too watched tv/(tried to) read books before I ever attempted conservation. But that may just be lack of people to practice language with and my overall low-language confidence level.
(I am a 'from scratch' learner - pre-duolingo, I hadn't even taken a Spanish lesson, ever)


It's just general, don't take it too specifically. It just depends on what you practice. For example my Spanish and French background knowledge is pretty solid, so I read a lot of books in those languages and it's not too hard, but when I meet actual speakers I find it difficult to talk with them. It just depends on the skills you practice.


I think I'm probably on the 'First Conversation' stage, as I've been talking to some Germans recently. But it'll probably really undermine my confidence when I watch Harry Potter in German or something!


How fun and true! Thanks for the laugh! :-)


Very cool! Thanks for creating and sharing :)


I love it.... especially the variance in the "how good you think you are" curve. I continuously under- and over-estimate my abilities, managing well when I predict I'll fail and blowing something I expect to be easy.


Wow, this is cool! Thanks! :) As for me, with Italian I think I'm over the "first movie/book" part, and my self-confidence has been recovering since.

As for my other language, Japanese, I'm afraid my green curve has reached the minimum, where the two lines meet for the first time...


I'm way past the first movie and the first book in Spanish, and my confidence had recovered; but then I downloaded some Spanish comedies, with people using a lot of slang (I guess, I don't understand everything, but they say "Joder" and "Ostia" a lot) and my self-confidence started drowning again.


I felt the same when I watched Les Visiteurs in French. They used a lot of slang, a lot of curse words which I didn't know. But it wasn't much problem as I googled them up one by one :)


Les visiteurs is worse than slang: it is a kind of ancient French, or at least it imitates ancient French. They even made up some words, that you can only understand with an excellent knowledge of the language. That is really hard to understand for a non native!


I agree, there were some ancient forms, but with googling I could find the meaning for most of them. And I learned a lot about old French speaking! I think now I can speak more old French than old English! :D


When i started learning another language it was with the intention that i wanted to experience other books/films in their native language.

After being a 'beginner' for some time now, i can say i still have no real idea about another language, but im far enough to know i have a long hard slog ahead! The 'experience' element in Duolingo helps break down the journey somewhat. But to be honest, now i get an idea of how far i need to progress to even enjoy a 'young adults' book in another lnguage. Im thinking maybe m time is best spent elsewhere.


If you think your time could be spent better elsewhere, you have to ask yourself both how much time you are spending on study and what else you could be spending it on. It might take you five years to become comfortable with a language, but you can do it spending only 10 minutes a day. You can waste that much time on facebook, or on youtube skating videos, or on folding all your underwear, or on making posts on the internet like I am doing right now ;)

The point of duolingo is to make the minimum amount of study necessary accessible to everyone. If you spend 10 minutes in a taxi or a bus every day, or if you read the paper while trying to sleep, that’s time that can be diverted to opening up a whole new world for you. You don't have to go completely native, it is just adding to the parts of the world you understand. You also shouldn't underestimate the achievement of being able to read a young adults' book, because it is 90% of the vocabulary you will ever need to know, it is just lacking the nuance of scientific, mathematical and historical vocabulary etc, which becomes self evident in context anyway,


I understand what you mean, as I sometimes find myself thinking "this is pointless! I'll never achieve native speaker level (Spanish) / fluency (German) !"

But then, I agree with chilvence: isn't it a much better way to spend your time? You may not become fluent in a month, it may take you 5 years, but what will you take from watching videos on youtube for 5 years? Nothing; you are indeed far better off playing with the owl 10 minutes or 30 minutes a day than wasting time on facebook or Candy Crush.

But then, if this is time you could spend doing some sports, hanging out with friends, playing an instrument or whatever else, yes, it might not be the best use of your time if you aren't really motivated and don't really care, in the end, whether you learn the language or not.


Probably kind of farther than "you actually start learning."


Just like me. I've started German 2 months ago, I'm clearly not ready to have my first conversation and I'm well aware I suck.


I can have small conversation in French..like introducing myself and telling about my family. But I can't do it in german or portugeuse yet.


This is so accurate. I've been studying Chinese for five and a half years and I'm living here and it still feels like I'm wavering between totally functional and beginner like it's some kind of twisted comprehension roller coaster.


finds interesting. working really hard on German. any body give me some guidelines???


Really? That's amazing!


This is fun. I don't think you have quite as many cross over points as you need though. I am regularly finding myself out thinking that I am better than I am.

It might be fun to put a graphic at the crossover points, something like a hand slapping a forehead :), just to catch the emotion of it.


I love the hand slapping a forehead thing :-)

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