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What happens when you learn a language - Japanese as an example.

What happens when you learn a language - Japanese as an example:

By "your LL" I mean the language you are learning and getting advanced in.

Your brain gets adjusted to it gradually:

  • 1: At first, you translate words in your head. Then, you translate whole sentences at once.

  • 2: You start thinking in your language.

At this phase, your brain starts to connect whole concepts instead of simply looking for translation in your memory. You see a chair and think of a word and sound for "chair" in your LL, instead of trying to remember what the translation was.

  • 3: You have dreams in your LL.

This is a pretty fun phase ;) You dream that you speak in your LL - may it be successful or not ;)

  • 4: You think of a word or concept and can't remember it's translation in your mother tongue - but you know it in your LL.

You are already so advanced that you may know words in your LL that you do not know in your mother tongue.

  • 5: You start using your LL more than your native one.

You read more (ie. books and articles on web) in your LL than in your mother tongue. You talk to people more frequently in your LL than you do in your native one.

  • 6: You are actually better at your LL than you are at your native one.

You can translate things more accurately in your LL than in your mother tongue. Sometimes, you are better at speaking in your LL, too. You may even loose your mother tongue's accent, especially when living abroad.

For English, I got through all of those six phases. It was pretty fun getting there, to think of it now, as I've been fluent since I was about 16 (some years ago).

How it went for me with Japanese: I already got to the "dream" phase. But I'm not sure if I'm going in the right direction...

Recently, I practised both the regular and the reverse Japanese trees. And, to by big suprise and shock, I noticed that I actually started to have trouble with the phonetic readings in the regular course, because I associate the pronounciation with the kanji from the reverse one. Best examples are: watashi - 私; motte imasu - 持っています; shoes - 靴; children - 子供; etc. ...

At first, I was like:

Okay, so maybe I didn't practice enough and forgot those.

But then, after more exercises, I was like:

What is happening, have I broken my brain?

What do you think? Is it a backstep for learning Japanese or an advancement? Is it natural to get more used to kanji that to phonetic readings? I really love Japanese and am willing to invest a lot of time and effort to it, so I hope I haven't messed up somewhere and switching from phonetic to logographic reading is the right way to go...

Edit: Yesterday, I fell asleep during studying and my mother woke me up - she claims that I responded in Japanese when asked something while half-asleep. She even gave me a call just to laugh her (the part of your back where it looses its name ;P) off about it. I shall burn with shame eternally! (#.#)

January 31, 2018



I can definitely relate to all that. I have been learning English for as long as I can remember and I went through all those stages. Actually, I have noticed that situation number 4 happens a bit too often lately. I'm reading way more books in English than in my native tongue (I'm Polish), and I'm gonna have to change that if I don't want my vocabulary to suffer.

As for new languages, I did a course on Japanese a few months back and am now going through Duolingo and LingoDeer simultaneously. Lots of fun, from the stages you've mentioned I have so far reached number three. Those apps are a godsend. I just wanted to learn a third language, but I'm enjoying it so much that when I'm competent enough with Japanese, I'll probably pick up another one. Maybe Spanish or Italian. Wish me luck.


We share the same mother tongue then, fellow Polish speaker here ;D I just calculated that I've been using English for 19 years now, since I was a little kid. It's pretty standard to teach English and mainly German at schools, not much luck with more exotic languages in that aspect.

I prefer to read books in their original English versions as the inaccurate translations irk me a bit. Could you maybe recommend some way to buy them in Eng? There used to be a foreign language section in Empik, where I got a fair share of books, but was removed unfortunately. And getting books shipped by Amazon surely would rack me up quite a bill... I kind of miss reading actual paper books, I'm stuck with digital versions for now ;)

And I wish you luck in your studies - がんばってください! ^.^


Hey, great to meet another Pole! Yeah, I have a similar experience time with English. I've always loved that language. Only learned German a little bit in high school but wasn't into it.

When it comes to translations, I also can't stand a poorly translated book. And I'm similarly on the lookout for a good place to buy from. I'm afraid I don't know any great source. And what would I give for an Empik with a foreign section in my town! The only English book I can buy where I live is a dictionary :) My collection is mostly digital as well, aside from a few classics I really wanted like Alice in Wonderland or Frankenstein. I bought those from bookcity.pl and just made a list with my brother of what we want to buy and each paid half. And last time I bought from Amazon they still offered free delivery for bigger orders :P But right now I have to switch back to Polish books, or I'll forget my own language completely :D

Thanks for the wishes and nawzajem!


Również miło mi Cię tu spotkać! There're not many Poles learning Japanese, or at least I haven't seen many. I learned "a bit" (8 years) of German in elementary and gymnasium (when it still existed) schools, but due to a horrible teacher in the latter one, I kind of given it up back then. I went for French in high school, only 3 years but I'd say it's still better than my German.

What I wouldn't give to finally get my hands on Silmarillion, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Shutter Island, (and likewise) Frankenstein and Alice in the Wonderland...

And the classics: Shakespeare's, Charles Dickens', Chuck Palahniuk's, Thomas Harris', Neil Gaiman's, Fyodor Dostoyevski's, Kafka's, Jo Nesbo's, Masterton's, Hemingway's and Orwell's works... and many other books in paper and original language... And did I mention Stephen King? Ehh...

Maybe I'll really go for a huge Amazon delivery. As soon as my student's budget allows it ;)


Recently, Ive been studying Italian pretty intensively - a language in which I can read fairly well (B1-B2), but which I am very weak at speaking. What has happened is interesting. I’ve started to dream in French, a language I have not studied in decades but was once reasonably fluent in, as some of my family lived in France for a while.

Lest that sound too great, I will add that these are dreams of frustration...trying to say something complex to my French SIL, and all the wrong phrases coming out; getting lost and trying to ask for directions. Basic and frustrating as it may be, the French is correct, if halting. So...I think my brain is trying to force out the Italian in favor of French. Quite odd.


I had this problem too, when I tried out some of the Romance languages. I can't effectively handle more than one at a time or I start mixing up words and inflections. I learned a bit of Esperanto and it prompted my brain to go into the Romance-lang-mode, I started remembering words from French that I thought I have forgotten.

Curious thing is, I studied German for much longer than French (8 years compared to 3, it was a couple of years ago, so I've forgotten them both a bit), but never had a single dream in German. I had some in French, though - the "lost and asking for directions" one, too ;) I'm also better at French than German currently, even though I got to about the same level with them - as French is "freshier", time-wise.


Dcarl1, Talk about a frustrating dream!!!

That has happened to me before (not with French though). I have had those with languages, but I have had those the most with math.

The equations and figures would slip off of my paper during my test, and I had to freeze them mid-space using a beam from the center of my forehead, and use my pen to capture them and forcefully trace them back down onto my paper... only to have the other diagrams I had just placed there wriggle away under my elbow.

Thank God I haven't one of those in ages!!!

For Italian, though, I can not recommend Pimsleur enough!!!! I mimicked the intonations and speaking exactly of the female speaker (since I'm a girl too) and everywhere I have travelled, I have been complemented- by native Italian speakers. Unfortunately, my grammar is terrible though. Pimsleur will not teach you that. But, if you are just looking for the speaking portion, Pimsleur is it! :)

I would recommend using the whole Conversational 30 days kit. You can buy them second-hand for just under $100, but you can do the whole thing for free via your local library. If they don't have it, request an "interlibrary loan." This is where your local library requests to borrow an item from another library. If it is for educational purposes, they are usually excited to help.

In bocca al lupo!!!


Interesting, I have experienced some of those phases in different languages, but in a somewhat messy and intertwined way, among several different languages ​​that I started studying simultaneously here, about two years ago.

Oggi sto studiando/ripassando un po' di italiano. L'italiano è la prima lingua straniera che ho iniziato a studiare qui, su Duolingo, due anni fa. È stato il primo albero (corso) che ho completato su Duolingo, più di un anno fa. Negli ultime settimane sto studiando principalmente tedesco, perché ancora non mi sento così comodo, e voglio avere la stessa scioltezza in tedesco come nelle altre lingue, ma non è facile.

Maintenant je peux lire des livres en français comfortablement aussi, mon esprit ne se fatigue pas quand je lis des livres en italien, français, portugais et catalan, mais l'allemand est différent. Je me sens vraiment fatigué après avoir lu 10-15 pages en allemand. C'est curieux, parce que je sens que je peux comprendre presque tout ce que je lis en allemand, mais mon esprit (ma tête) se fatigue plus tôt, parce qu'il doit faire un effort inconscient pour interpréter un lenguage avec une structure très différente.

Você também deve praticar a escuta, porque você pode aprender a ler perfeitamente e até mesmo a escrever muito bem, em várias línguas, mas se você não pratica ouvir, escutar as pessoas falando, você terá problemas ao tentar assistir a um filme ou ao ouvir o rádio. Ainda tenho problemas às vezes ao ouvir francês ou português, dependendo da pessoa que está falando.

Ich werde versuchen, auch auf Deutsch etwas zu schreiben, aber das ist jetzt schwierig für mich. Wenn ich versuche auf Deutsch zu schreiben, muss ich aufhören und viel mehr nachdenken. Es ist noch nicht natürlich für mich. Aber versuchen ist der einzige Weg, um zu verbessern, und ich weiß es. Vielleicht ist es zu viel, um all diese Sprachen gleichzeitig zu lernen. Ich weiß es nicht. Ich kann nur sagen, dass mir alle diese Sprachen gefallen und ich hätte gerne mehr Zeit und Energie, um in Zukunft noch mehr Sprachen zu lernen.

I also started the Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Russian courses on Duolingo few months ago, but I had to stop before finishing them. I thought that it was maybe just too much for me now, I thought that it would be better to consolidate all that I have learned about Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan, Esperanto and German, and maybe in a few months (or maybe later on, next year or later), if I have more spare time, I could try to start again studying Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

Vaig a dormir ara. És fantàstic poder escriure en diferents llengües en el mateix missatge, m'agrada molt poder fer-ho. Així puc practicar moltes llengües al mateix temps. A més és que si no practico una mica cada llengua, cada setmana, començo a oblidar ràpidament. És important practicar, encara que sigui una miqueta cada setmana, i millor si és una miqueta cada dia.

Así que sí, he experimentado varias de las cosas que comentas, pero en varios idiomas a la vez, y he tenido sueños realmente extraños, no sé cómo intentar explicarlos, era como si hablara todos estos idiomas, pero exactamente al mismo tiempo, no secuencialmente, sino que cada palabra, o cada frase, aparecía en mi mente, en el sueño, como en una "superposición" de cómo se diría en todas estas lenguas. Al despertar me sentía muy fatigado mentalmente, casi mareado, y me ha ocurrido varias veces.


Wow, the way you can write in so many languages at the same time is fantastic!

I understood the sense of almost everything you wrote, though I don't speak all those languages, by recognizing words that are similar to others.
I agree that German is rather tiring to read, mainly because the words can get pretty long when they are compounds of multiple meanings, ie. Krankenhaus, Überrashung. As I read them, my mind also provides sound (something like I try to read it aloud inside my head), and German is less easy to pronounce that, for example, Spanish.
The more languages I learn, the more meanings my brain tries to provide when faced with a concept - just as you described, it gets all jumbled up, very much so.
I think that to get to phases 5 and 6 one has to get more listening and speaking comprehension - there's no way to get fluent without it ;)


Your Italian is simply perfect. It felt like you were a mothertongue.


Je trouve tres cool ce que tu as écrit XD

Ich werde das Gleich machen, aber ich weiss nicht, was zu schreiben :/

Vado dire cosa sto facendo ora, mmm, sto scrivendo e scoltando una canzione di Young Thug XD

他喝紫色的可待因,我在我的车干你的妹妹。我认为你不说中文,所以你没读懂我 :P

Ich habe auf Chinesisch gesagt, dass ich Kalanisch und Portugiesisch verstehe, weil Spanisch meine Muttersprache ist.


MyaRexa, Wow! I have never gotten to that last stage... that would be AMAZING! Unfortunately, I can not relate with your experience with Japanese because I JUST started- this is week 4 for me- huzzah!!!

This post was inspiring to me though. My heart is set on learning Japanese. One tiny typo: Under step 3 you wrote "may it me successful or not" Not a biggie or anything, just letting you know. :)


Thank you, corrected! :) The last phase is not all roses actually, it can get pretty weird.

I once tried to explain the concept of being "socially awkward" to someone, it kind of backfired. It went something like:
"So... uh, you know... you could say it like... wait, let me get back at you in a moment (pulls out phone, googles translation, nothing accurate found. starts sweating as the other person is looking expectantly)... eee, so that means that... you act weird around people..."

And that conversation was, well, socially awkward for me - pun very much intended ;)

Sometimes conveying my thoughts just flows better in English, there are more idioms that apply, it sounds more natural and less stiff. And yeah, the "language flow" doesn't have a good translation either, you have to rely on describing things instead of providing a word or a phrase.

As for the accent, my English one could use some polishing up, but in my native language, my tongue often slips on the more difficult, tongue-twister-like words. Fortunately, my orthography is still pretty good, or I would fear that I'm slowly turning into an analphabet ;P

The words in cursive are the ones that I would have trouble translating concisely without describing them instead. Same as when I tried to explain the word "wacky" to my Eng teacher - I ended up giving her synonyms instead.


MyaRexa, Man, I totally relate with the socially awkward experience.... I LOVE the way you described that!

In some ways, taking on another language provides another outlet. I love the saying you posted about more than one language equates more than one soul (from another post). I am not sure about soul, but I definitely explore different shades of my own personality with different languages.

So far, I feel the most at ease with Italian (outside of my own language)... it flows easily... and I guess that Italian is just one of those languages with a laid-back personality. It helps that all of the Italians I met were gracious, met my mistakes with humor and always encouraged me to speak more and taught me somethin... rather than mocking my attempts or staring me down for trying. Italian is just a very generous language and culture. :)

As for cursive, EVERYONE has difficulty with deciphering cursive. I have trouble reading even my own writing at times. There are a lot of strange terms like "wacky".... such as kitty-corner, slipshod, quirky, etc. The problem with slang is that it is constantly changing and really depends on the region of the country.

Did you know that a men's bag (for odds and ends or toiletries, etc) is called a "ditty bag" and that they even call it that in the military??? It just... doesn't sound very masculine. "Purse" sounds more masculine than that. Some words... I just don't get.


I hope I can get there with Korean. Qual post. +1 Lingot.


2 of my friends are korean, I bet they could help youu


I had the dream part from when I was learning french at school. I dreamed I was a little french girl. Although when I recalled what I was saying in my dream I realised I was getting somethings wrong and whilst I was dreaming I stopped dreaming because I had forgotten the french for what I wanted to say.


I have a bad habit of randomly thinking in Spanish.I've never had dreams in Spanish though.


I know 1% of spanish


I love those cat pictures! Just as much as I love manga


I hope you are doing a cost-benefit analysis of the investment you are making in this learning. Does it still feel as worthwhile to you as when you started or are you noticing the disadvantages somewhat outweighing the benefits?

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