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Learning English as a second language

For those of you who speak, read, and write English as a second language: where did you take it, and what did you do that gave you the most practice when you first had to start using it intensively for work and study?

Yes, I'm asking on behalf of a few new grad students. I have some hope for this group, though their scholastic aptitudes vary as ever. Like hpguo, almost all of the new grads have had recent ESL coursework, but a couple of them are hitting the language barrier hard.

hpguo told me back in the day that he learned the most English just by watching prime-time network TV. Banamum watched Let's Make A Deal. I wonder: how much practice do you suppose suffices for being able to follow lectures? A hundred hours? A thousand? 400,000 practice words? 4 million? Yes, very yes?

ETA, 11:10 CDT Sat 02 Sep 2006 - I forgot to ask: what was your first language (or what were your first languages)?



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 2nd, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)
I had a professor who would ask them to come to his office in the morning, and he would ask them to read the Wall Street Journal to him.
Sep. 2nd, 2006 04:07 pm (UTC)
Well, that's a good deal for him!
... though I'm sure it was to give you a good learning experience. Did it?

Also, I forgot to ask: what was your first language (or what were your first languages)?

Sep. 2nd, 2006 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Well, that's a good deal for him!
My first language was Persian (Farsi), but I learned English at a young age and don't remember it very much. The professor who mentioned doing this was a professor in Manufacturing Engineering who spoke three fluently and knew about four more. I think he was originally Polish, and he worked in Brazil so he was fluent in Spanish as well. He said that he worked hard to develop an accent in English that made it sound like he grew up in Pennsylvania.
Sep. 3rd, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
Trivia for yah
They speak Portuguese in Brazil, not Spanish -- unlike the rest of South America, Brazil was a Portuguese colony.
Sep. 3rd, 2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Trivia for yah
Okay, I am a moron. I accept that.
Sep. 3rd, 2006 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Trivia for yah
Nah, with most of South America speaking Spanish, it's an easy mistake. One of my best friends is Brazilian, and regularly smacks Brazil-related trivia in my head on a regular basis :)
Sep. 2nd, 2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
Slightly off-topic, but possibly helpful, the figures I keep in mind when working with young children:

Cumulative words heard over first four years of life:
Child of welfare parent -- 13 million
Child of working class parent -- 26 million
Child of professional parent -- 45 million

Average rate of meaningful vocab growth in the elementary years: 2500-3000 words per year
about 15 words per school day or 7 words every day of the year

Now, consider how many years the person acquiring English has not learned words in that language and that's how far he/she has to go -- and that's just for vocabulary!

(Sorry, no references -- I remembered that I had the info in a PowerPoint printout and it's listed only as "Johnson, 2001" but nothing further in any of my notes)
Sep. 2nd, 2006 12:16 pm (UTC)
I picked up a lot of english and hindi by listening to news regularly.

When i was a kid the english news followed the hindi news on the national television and that helped me pick up quite a bit of both languages,
Sep. 2nd, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
Promise me you won't laugh ;] I read the (by then) complete works of William Gibson. Most of those were unavailable in Hungarian, and those that weren't were horribly translated.

Yup, and I also corresponded with Americans extensively... the wonders of the Internet!
Sep. 3rd, 2006 05:14 am (UTC)
Cyberpunk: ESL
Laugh? I'm impressed!

Also, I need me a cyberpunk icon.

(but do you wibble randomly about blue viruses?)
Sep. 3rd, 2006 05:55 am (UTC)
It'll take sometimes for foreign students to get used to the communication but eventually (may be 2-3 semesters), they'll be able to follow lectures (C.S courses related) well, their understanding level is absolutely the same as others. The writing however will not develop too dramatically as communication. That's the impression I get from our grad students at Penn State. In short, nothing to worry about, just takes sometimes to get used to the environment.

My native language is Vietnamese btw ... My English actually is awful for someone who have been in the U.S that long (13+ years). That's fine, never intended to make it my prime language :)
Sep. 3rd, 2006 07:00 am (UTC)
aight, so i can't come from the prospective of learning english as a second language

but, i have learned a language (french) fluently enough to be able to successfully take higher-level coursework in that tongue (and do well at it), and live in an area where fairly few people spoke my native tongue

i learned french literally the month before my courses started, in an intense FSL course that met 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. the hardest part wasn't so much the grammar (as i'd taken spanish in high school) or even the daily vocabulary but the *technical* vocabulary...

anyway, what probably gave me the best experience for general vocab were the communal meals in my flat -- nobody spoke the same native language (except for the 2-3 french students), so we were forced to speak french to communicate with each other -- and going window shopping in places like super target ("everything but the kitchen sink"). movies did a good job of helping me understand the spoken french, too, but the communal meals forced not just *listening* to french, but having to *respond* as well.

my homework and reading did a spot on job for teh technical vocab i needed, and my profs were nice enough to let me tape lectures so i could listen to them a few times and really understand what was going on.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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