how many languages can a person learn?

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how many languages in addition to his/her native language can a person of average intelligence learn?

1
0
No votes
2
4
21%
3
1
5%
4
14
74%
 
Total votes: 19

FrogFace
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how many languages can a person learn?

Post by FrogFace » Mon Feb 26, 2007 1:58 am

i've been absorbing much in the last two days of reading and have thought of a question which i hope to be interesting and get lots of answers...

considering that Latin is an exellent language for understanding western culture from modern to ancient it seems to be also a good basis for most romance languages such as french/spanish/english.

thus the question is:

in concert with Latin how many other modern languages should a person of average intellegence be able to ascertain?
for example, if all goes well i would like in addition to my native language (which is american english) learn Latin, koine greek, and maybe some spanish over the course of about 15 or 20 years. Is this possible for an "average joe" like me or do my aspirations go too high?
what is the normal number of languages that average polyglots such as in europe where many countries are close and must communicate.

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Post by tico » Mon Feb 26, 2007 2:31 am

Why only 4 languages?

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Post by FrogFace » Mon Feb 26, 2007 2:49 am

hi tico

sorry about not making the question to include the many possiblities and talents of the people who inhabit today's world.

can you help me understand if you meant 4 as in the maximum of languages it is possible to know or that i only mentioned this many languages within the spectrum of the romance languages.

regarding 4 being the maximum on the poll it is because maybe i'm underqualified to create an ideal range on what is possible. in my mind i see 4 languages as being quite an achievement of someone who has mental qualities above a normal everyday person. i would think of someone who knows more than 4 languages as having photographic memory.

please respond and give me ideas on how to properly edit this question to reflect what would be the more correct range of what is possible and also interesting for discussion.

-jay

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Feb 26, 2007 4:43 am

It really depends on the languages. I am sure somebody of normal intelligence could master Spanish, Italian, and French, and Haitian Creole - especially if the person's native language is Portuguese. But if somebody could master Finnish, Sanskrit, Japanese, and Navajo in addition to their native language, I would consider them an extraordinarily gifted language learner.

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Re: how many languages can a person learn?

Post by modus.irrealis » Mon Feb 26, 2007 5:49 am

I'd say that knowing three languages should certainly not present any problems to anyone. I think in some places (Singapore) it's something that's very common, and where I grew up there were many people who learned English as the main language, learned French at school (to various degrees), and spoke a third language at home, so for a person of average intelligence, I'd say at least three is feasible, and I would not be surprised if the actual number was much higher. I think in the end it's a matter of finding the time and motivation (although I guess age plays a role too since it seems we're wired so that we're better language learners when we're very young).
FrogFace wrote:for example, if all goes well i would like in addition to my native language (which is american english) learn Latin, koine greek, and maybe some spanish over the course of about 15 or 20 years. Is this possible for an "average joe" like me or do my aspirations go too high?
No way -- you could cut the years in half and it still wouldn't be a problem. Two advantages of the languages your aiming for are that first, they have all sorts of similarities in grammar and vocabulary, and like GlottalGreekGeek says, that makes it much easier than if you had chosen four languages at random. And second, I'm thinking that with two of your languages (Latin and Greek), you'd be more interested in being able to understand them rather than being able to compose in them, and if that's right, then that sort of passive knowledge I've found is easier to gain than a more active knowledge of a language.

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Post by Chris Weimer » Mon Feb 26, 2007 6:10 am

You should definitely get those three down. They're all somewhat related too. I can actually get by in understanding Italian from my Latin and French, and learning Greek was a breeze due to its similarity to Latin. Hebrew was the oddball, but having picked up the basics, and trying to really make it concrete, it's not so hard to mess around with Aramaic.

You can do it. Even if you're just an "average Joe", diligence will get you much accomplished.

Chris

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Post by FrogFace » Mon Feb 26, 2007 6:17 am

thanks glottal and modus for the reply.

it is very encouraging to begin to see that its possible to not only ascertain the classical languages but actually add more languages to them due the learning load of Latin and Greek by not reaching a full rhetoric stage of composition but only reading and writing comprehension.

it seems that maybe rhetoric should be sought to full blossom within ones own native language.

for example me being an English speaker I should try to reach full rhetoric such as creating new ideas because it's what has been "wired in" since birth. but for other languages comprehension is the goal.

-jay
+

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Post by ingrid70 » Mon Feb 26, 2007 7:20 am

I won't say I still know these languages, but at high school I learned, beside my native Dutch, English, French, German and Latin. I still consider it a shame I didn't take Greek. This was the highest level of high school (in the Netherlands, there are basically three levels of high school, dependent on ability. Only the highest (and longest) prepares for university), but at other levels they usually take 2 or 3 foreign languages too.

Ingrid

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Post by EgoIoYoEu » Mon Feb 26, 2007 1:03 pm

Hmm....I myself know seven...and the late Pope JPII spoke, like, almost a dozen (help me out here, Catholic friends). Four is a low number, methinks, if you're aiming that question at philologists. For the average Joe, maybe three. However, there are exceptions. I have several Indian friends who know six or seven languages, all of which are regional. They grew up speaking these languages, and they've also mastered English, a few Arabic.

So, it really all depends on where you're from, your desire, necessity, and time. I can say most people where I'm from do well with just ONE language, let alone two or three. They barely speak English. Some of the older folks can't read or write either. (This is in the USA, mind you-purportedly the highest literacy rate in the world, like, 97% or something. Well...here's the 3%)

I don't know....a lot of factors here.
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Post by dmlawhorne » Mon Feb 26, 2007 7:43 pm

I don't think that it is possible to determine a set number of languages that a person is capable of learning. There are so many variables. They include the person's intellegence and work ethic, but mainly the amount of time available. If all someone does is study languages all day, you might be suprised at how many they could learn. Also learning two similar languages (like Latin and Greek) is easier than learning two completely unrelated languages.

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Post by Episcopus » Mon Feb 26, 2007 9:47 pm

the top philologist (or second top, i'm not sure) at cambridge knows (i.e. can read write well) 17 languages. i think he's around 45. is this good? i don't know. but at least that sets some kind of bar in place.

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Post by Voxforascausa » Mon Feb 26, 2007 11:04 pm

I had a teacher that learned at least five languages and spoke fluently in each one. The human mind has an amazing ability to memorize things. I could imagine someone learning many more than five.
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Post by edonnelly » Mon Feb 26, 2007 11:33 pm

42

...

or is that how many roads must a man walk down?
The lists:
G'Oogle and the Internet Pharrchive - 1100 or so free Latin and Greek books.
DownLOEBables - Free books from the Loeb Classical Library

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Post by Turendil » Tue Feb 27, 2007 6:36 am

ask the mice.
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Post by Aristoklhs » Tue Feb 27, 2007 3:52 pm

I don't think it is only a matter of intelligence, but a matter of organisation. If you give yourself 15 years, than you may take another 4.
However ancient greek and latin are problematic, because only translation is being exercised.
Europeans don't speak averagely that many languages. Mostly some English and that is that.
My experience tells if one wants to gain time one has to invest an awful lot of money.

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Post by FrogFace » Tue Feb 27, 2007 4:42 pm

Aristoklhs wrote:I don't think it is only a matter of intelligence, but a matter of organisation. If you give yourself 15 years, than you may take another 4.
However ancient greek and latin are problematic, because only translation is being exercised.
Europeans don't speak averagely that many languages. Mostly some English and that is that.
My experience tells if one wants to gain time one has to invest an awful lot of money.
Bravo Aristoklhs,
you have help me formulate a better idea of what learning a language really takes, and may i add to organization and materials, another ingredient which is a burning desire that drives one to success!

i have conclude from this thread that:
the average polyglot can know 3 languages well in addition to his/her native language because of time restrictions and other responsibilities , but for a philologist with the advantage of organized learning materials (such as in college environment) he/she may know well over 7 languages.

please someone correct me if i am wrong in this assumption.

thanks,
-jay

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Tue Feb 27, 2007 5:35 pm

I would agree, in fact, I think you underestimate the languages a person can master.

See, even remarkably dumb people manage to learn their native language fluently. That's because as children, we can learn languages fairly easily. As time progresses, it takes more work to learn languages - but it's just that, work. If you have enough intelligence to learn your native language, you have enough intelligence to master another language. However, people master languages at different speeds, and that's why I said I would be impressed if somebody mastered Finnish, Sanskrit, Japanese (actually, Japanese is probably by far the easiest language I list - perhaps I should substitute it with Basque), and Navajo. I'm sure even somebody of average intelligence could master all four of those languages too, but since they are all very complex and from different language families, it would probably take far longer than anyone would be willing to invest *unless* they were so good at learning languages they could learner them faster than the average person.

By the way, I think only about 20 people have ever mastered Navajo as a second language. It's that hard, unless you learn it as a child.

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Post by EgoIoYoEu » Wed Feb 28, 2007 2:01 pm

Osi yo! (Ego S.D. vobis!)


Navajo, yes. Inuit is also a bear to learn, so I'm told.

I learned a Navajo song when I was a child in Kindergarten. I still remember it. lol. An old Navajo woman came in to teach us about American Indians, and taught us an old lullaby. Does anyone here speak Navajo, perchance? I would love to know what the song means. I'll transcribe the song here, to the best of my ability.

Hay-nay yaw-nah
Hay yawch-ee ah-nah
Hay-nay yaw-nah,
Hay-yawch ee-oh.
Hay-yawch ee-oh.

I was told it means "sleep in beauty" or some such...

I would be interested to know if anyone here has any exposure to indigenous language. I've met one Anthropology professor who knows Sioux, but all other indigenous language speakers I've met are Native Americans themselves.

I've studied just a bit of Cherokee (which, oddly, has similarities with HEBREW--PM me to discuss), but not enough to claim any skill at it. It seems to me that (good) resources for indigenous tongues are hard to find, unless you're an anthropologist with a massive grant and a lot of time.

PS: Apologies in advance for the crazy tangent. Consider it a burning need to know in the depths of my soul. :D

Wah'do! (Gratias ago)
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Post by thesaurus » Wed Feb 28, 2007 5:46 pm

A linguistics professor of mine speaks and studies Wichita. He specializes in Siouan and Caddoan languages, but I'm not sure what that would include. My school (The University of Colorado) runs the "Center For the Study of Indigenous Languages of the West" (CSILW) as well as a project for the documentation of Wichita and other endangered languages.

I often wonder about these native and endangered languages. They are mostly ignored and almost extinct. Who knows what great literatures and stories will disappear with them? I've entertained the idea of entering into language documentation and preservation, but it's the kind of thing you'd need to dedicate your whole life to.

As for learning multiple languages, like others have said, the limitation is generally time and resources, not intelligence. If you were to spend all your free time learning languages then there would be no limit. Most people simply don't have the time or the will to do it.

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Post by Bert » Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:42 pm

thesaurus wrote: If you were to spend all your free time learning languages then there would be no limit. Most people simply don't have the time or the will to do it.
Spending all your free time may not mean much if you don't have much time that is free!

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Post by spiphany » Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:50 pm

hey, thesaurus, do I know you? I'm at CU, too...mostly taking language classes (Greek and German, and at the moment Russian). Any chance we've met?

~ Brenda

oh, and FrogFace, part of your question depends on what your standards are for "learning" a language. If you're attempting to achieve near native speaker proficiency in all the languages you study, the number is significantly different than if you're trying to achieve basic conversational ability and/or working knowledge of the grammar. Generally, learning a second foreign language is easier than the first, particularly if they're at all related. But mostly because you learn how to learn a language.

I've studied four languages (all Indo-European, two classical) since high school (~8 years), with varying degrees of competence. I have reading knowledge of all four, although my Latin is very rusty. I can speak German fluently. I would not, however, say that I've mastered the language and can now simply stop, check it off my list, and move on to something else. There's always more to learn. I'd like to improve my skill with all of them, in fact, but there's only so much time, and there are other languages I want to explore.

So, as others have said, there isn't really a set number of languages a person can learn -- it depends on a lot of things, especially on what your goals are. I would say, take it one language at a time and see what happens. You may decide after studying a language for a while, that you've gotten out of it what you wanted and that you don't need to continue with it. Or you may not.
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)

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Post by FrogFace » Thu Mar 01, 2007 5:40 pm

spiphany wrote:
I've studied four languages (all Indo-European, two classical) since high school (~8 years), with varying degrees of competence. I have reading knowledge of all four, although my Latin is very rusty. I can speak German fluently. I would not, however, say that I've mastered the language and can now simply stop, check it off my list, and move on to something else. There's always more to learn. I'd like to improve my skill with all of them, in fact, but there's only so much time, and there are other languages I want to explore.

So, as others have said, there isn't really a set number of languages a person can learn -- it depends on a lot of things, especially on what your goals are. I would say, take it one language at a time and see what happens. You may decide after studying a language for a while, that you've gotten out of it what you wanted and that you don't need to continue with it. Or you may not.

thanks for the sound advice spiphany, i believe the question that i pose for this thread is not specific enough to accurately reflect what can be accomplished by a person while learning language.

many humans continue to break world records accomplishing phenomenal feats that confound what is logically possible.

another dynamic i've noticed from this post is that a person may learn many languages as time and organized material will allow but unless a person maintains that knowledge proficiency will be lost. (but it is easily picked back up later if refreshed)

would anyone agree then that there is truly no limit on the languages that can be known by any one person but it is the time resource such as daily duties , and also in regards to ones lifespan a person just doesn't live long enough to learn them all.

lol, this is not to suggest that it is profitable that any one person learns all languages but it is very encouraging for me to read this thread and to remind myself that the boundaries of human achievement are seemingly infinite.

-jay

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Post by mariek » Sat Mar 03, 2007 12:31 am

Only 4 choices? :? I know people who are fluent in more than 4 ...

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Post by FrogFace » Tue Mar 06, 2007 4:38 pm

:oops: i apologize for making the poll selection below what is possible, i went back and tried to edit the poll to add more selections but it would not let me :(

maybe admin can overide this thread and change the poll to reflect more selections.

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