The word 几 (some, how many)
This confuses me a little, because it can be used as "some" but also in a question. For example:
Does this mean " he has been studying chinese for a few months" or "how many months has he been learning chinese"? (I omitted a question mark on purpose because when spoken you don't hear it)
Are there definite ways of expressing these two meanings?
I think the sentence can have either meaning, but it depends on how the person sounds when saying the sentence. For example, if it sounds like they're asking, then that's how you know. Chinese is a language all about context so you really have to pay attention to how someone says something.
Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm just a beginner to Chinese, but from my understanding, this is what I learned.
Although intonation is not easy to master, it is unavoidable.
On your side (speaker), you can also ask: 他学了 多少个月 (的) 汉语？ If it is not a question, maybe you can say 他学了“好”几个月汉语. 好几个月 means “quite” a few months.
No better alternatives I can think of without altering the meaning a bit more, such as substituting 几个月 with 多久/多长时间. More important: if the intonation is really strange that the sentences sound sarcastic, then … ;-)
The sentence can be interpreted in both ways in written language without question mark. However, in spoken language, if it's intended to be a question, you must put a stress on the question word 几 and lengthen it a little bit, so that its tone (3rd in this case) is cristal clear. Alternatively, if the statement reading is intended, 几 cannot be stressed but blended in with the other words.
Hope it helps!
That's very interesting, I totally wasn't aware of these subtleties. Also, I just thought it's possible to make a "questioning" facial expression, probably this also occurs in conversations.