Spending time in the unknown

I’ve noticed a few things that have been different in my experience with learning Dutch, compared to learning German. One that keeps coming back is that I don’t really hear that much Dutch “chatter” in my head. While I was studying German, it was common for me to continue to hear German phrases in my head if I had done more than 2 hours of listening, and sometimes sooner.

I took this as a sign that my brain was continuing to process things after the stimulus had gone, and while my attention was on something else. Perhaps I was working on it so intensely, that my subconscious got the signal that it should continue even while I had moved on. So why am I not experiencing this that much with Dutch?

When I look back at my notes and records about German, I see that I spent a lot of time watching German TV at the beginning, quite a lot of which was without subtitles, and I spent a lot of time reading Harry Potter in German while listening in German. I picked a couple of words per page to look up, but most of my time was spent doing solid German every chance I could get.

So, fast forward to Dutch. I’m spending more time each day on Dutch than I did on German (probably double), but my time is spent mainly with parallel texts. This has been great for my word recognition while reading, but not so great for my listening. I find dedicated listening hard to do anyway, because my mind wanders, but the more time I spend with just Dutch text and concentrated Dutch listening, the better my listening gets.

The challenge is choosing to do this when it’s much easier to understand the story when I can peak over at the English side. Going Dutch-only is more difficult, things are uncertain, I’m not getting as many details of the story. This is a necessary step though. At least some of my time, and perhaps a majority of it, would be better spent in the “sink or swim” situation of all-Dutch with no English.

I’ve spent far less time on Dutch so far than I did on German, so I probably shouldn’t expect too much yet…when I was at the point with German where I felt really confident in my understanding of both listening and reading materials, I had consumed about 350 hours of audio (ie, TV and audiobooks), and done 600000 words of reading. Currently I’m at the same place with reading in Dutch, and my reading skills are somewhat ok, but not to where my German skills were, and my listening is behind. The listening lag is to be expected with only 140 hours of total time spent.

So, where is this going? I plan to spend more time going back to the fundamentals that I used while learning German. I’ll listen to Dutch while reading Dutch, and try to get absorbed into the story and understand as much as I can. Less time will be spent with the parallel texts, although that will still add an important aspect to my study time.

I’m thinking that I need to adapt to something similar to Teango’s method, where he goes through the text carefully in segments at first with the translation, then more quickly, then just listening. Then he reserves time to just read freely, with no pauses. It seems to me that I’m spending too much time in the “comfortable” zone of looking up everything, and not enough time in the “sink or swim” uncertain place of just going through the story with no translation and trying to get whatever I can.

And getting back to the start of this, I’m hoping that such a change will bring back that feeling of subconscious “chatter” that I’ve been missing, because somehow I get the feeling that that is a key thing to achieve.

Comments or suggestions are welcome. Does anyone else experience the mental chatter that I’m talking about?


13 Responses to Spending time in the unknown

  1. surkova says:

    As my Swedish level is around mid-B1 in reading, I decided to do “pure” listening+reading. That means that I listen and read not resorting to the English version of the text. Matters are probably a little bit more complicated for me, as English is my second language (but it’s original of Harry Potter!) and there are several translations of HP into Russian which have not proved their quality (quite often I see complaints about mistakes popping up here and there). So basically I exercise L3 sometimes looking at L2 (usually ends of the chapters).
    What helps me a lot is that I live in Sweden now. Though, studies in English prevent me from immersion in the language. However, even if I do an hour of L-R per day, I hear those buzzez you’re talking about. Especially, when I am forced to speak.

  2. Andrew says:

    “I find dedicated listening hard to do anyway, because my mind wanders…”

    You’re far better off breaking down your sessions to short ones where you’re concentrating at 100% than trying to have a long 2 hour session where, inevitably, you lose focus. Go for 15-20 minutes at a time then take a break, wash rinse repeat.


  3. Claudie says:

    I know what you mean by “chatter” although I haven’t had too much of it. However, I would also suggest what Andrew has mentioned. And (although you might not like this one) taking a break or two from studying the language: I believe that sometimes, just like with muscles, you need a day of full rest and recovery to allow your brain to process the information. Perhaps you’ve been feeding it too much info? Having some time to organize everything in your mind might help.
    Another thing would be taking up a completely different text/audiobook which is easy for you and spend a day just “reviewing” old and easy stuff. It’s both a confidence booster and will give you the break you need without feeling like you aren’t doing anything.
    Hopefully any of the above might be helpful to you…. In any case, I want you to know that your blog and your method of learning has really renewed my enthusiasm in regards to foreign languages, so keep up doing what you are doing — you are bound to reach your goal.

    • doviende says:

      I don’t think a break is necessary at this point. I had a couple days last week where I did zero work, and the other days were low. I think I need the opposite. A good strong push for more hours, with those hours spent on intensive listening and trying to push myself. Durak mentioned that I’ve not been focusing enough on listening, and I believe that now, so I’d still like to take up the challenge of 7 days at 10 hours…I only managed 3 in a row previously.

      • Claudie says:

        I understand 🙂
        A full week of 10hrs per day is quite the challenge though — if you decide to do it and manage to, it’ll be an amazing achievement. But yes, focusing on listening might help you. I actually watched a video on youtube today by this guy “FluentCzech”, and he said that we too often focus on studying just one aspect of the language — reading, writing, listening, or speaking — rather than working on all of those as we should. (If interested:

        can’t remember if it was in this first part or the second one which follows)
        I definitely will be looking forward to seeing how you deal with Dutch. It’s really interesting.

  4. Teango says:

    I think you’re being too hard on yourself here. Your progress has been phenomenal over the last month, and your accounts offer genuine inspiration for the rest of us. And if you’re already scoring 95-98% with another adult level novel, then you’re right – it’s time to dive into the next stage: extensive listening and reading in Dutch only! Everything else will follow… 🙂

    • doviende says:

      Thanks for the boost. I just wonder if I happened to hit the “easy” places in those novels somehow, or perhaps even though I recognize individual words upon close inspection, they haven’t quite been automatized and put together into broader understanding of the text at normal reading/listening speed.

      Oh well. The only way out is forward. I’m not giving up until I feel solid in my understanding of Dutch. The only way to fail is to stop. Plus I need a nice success in my pocket before I move onto something more difficult 😉

  5. durak says:

    To my mind
    what you do wrong
    1. not enough sleep
    2. no soul-shattering awe that only good literature can give you
    3. you read instead of LISTENING (read L1 and LISTEN L2 at the same time, parallel texts are there only to help you with LISTENING)
    4. I am not sure if you do proper pronunciation LISTENING (minimal pairs, rhythm, intonation)
    5. you create artificial ‘challenges’ for yourself instead of just learning and enjoying the process

    Just out curiosity, I grabbed a Harry Potter book in Dutch and listened to it – I had no trouble spotting boundaries between words and I could understand at least 50% the first time (I don’t know any Dutch, but I do know German and English – no trouble with listening comprehension at least).

    • doviende says:

      Ya, it’s unfortunate that so far, the only audio I have that exactly matches the text is Harry Potter, but it’s enough for now. My focus has been too much on perfection, probably since I compare to German and expect to also have near-perfect understanding of Dutch, and it’s too early.

  6. janalisa says:

    I always enjoy reading your posts– they’re really motivational for me– and your progress with Dutch is impressive! I also think you’re being a little tough on yourself, considering you’ve only been learning Dutch for (just over?) a month.

    I do know what you mean about the “chatter” in your head, and I agree that it seems to be caused by large amounts of continuous L2-only exposure. Sometimes a certain word or phrase will just get “stuck” in my head, just like a song. The most exciting thing though, is when you find yourself forming your *own* thoughts in your L2, without thinking about it or doing it on purpose. (This started happening to me recently with French.) And you know intuitively that the phrase is grammatically correct and everything, because it just pops into your head, naturally. It seems to me that both of these phenomena– the “chatter” you speak of, and then naturally forming your own thoughts in the language– must be key stages in the learning process.

    The weird thing is that, especially just after exposing myself to a lot of audio content in French, my brain seems to “want” to think in French. If I start to form a thought in English or Japanese, my brain seems to protest– it just feels “wrong”! So I stop myself and try to form the thought in French. Often, though, I still can’t figure out exactly how to say what I want to say– I don’t know the vocabulary or I’m unsure of the correct grammatical construction. So I’m trying to fix this by doing a lot of reading to increase vocabulary, and going through some grammar exercises to cement the correct constructions in my mind. It’s great, because the reading and grammar reinforce each other– I often notice the grammatical construction I’ve been practicing in my reading, which really helps cement it in my mind. Then I listen to something or watch videos to keep myself thinking in the language. It seems to be working pretty well so far– I can feel myself progressing, and it’s exciting. =D

    Anyway, you seem to know for yourself what it is you need to do. I think you’re probably right, that you need to just dive into more all-Dutch content without relying on English for understanding. And I don’t think it will be long before you start hearing those sentences in your head. =D

    • doviende says:

      Yes, it’s only been a month, but I’ve always thought of the chatter effect as something about the process and not the result. That’s why I’m puzzled this time around where it isn’t happening. Maybe it only happens when I hear a language for 2 hours, but when I keep feeding my brain all day then it doesn’t need to reproduce the chatter on its own.

    • durak says:

      [quote=janalisa] The most exciting thing though, is when you find yourself forming your *own* thoughts in your L2, without thinking about it or doing it on purpose. (This started happening to me recently with French.) And you know intuitively that the phrase is grammatically correct and everything, because it just pops into your head, naturally.[/quote]
      The feeling might be misleading (and most often it really is). I think or write ‘naturally’ in English for instance, but I make hell of a lot of mistakes. The vast majority of foreign language learners use ‘interlanguage’ – a mixture of L1 and L2 (+ L3, L4….).

  7. Chris says:

    Wow, your progress seems amazing!

    I’m up to 130 hours of watching TV and about an 1 hour of cross talk (I use English, Dutch people use Dutch). I’ve also got some children’s story on me ipod and have probably spend about 10 ish hours on this.

    I get chatter in my head, expression that I hear very often, though I don’t necessarily know exactly what they mean. I mainly watch kid programmes as they’re fairly easy to follow and the language is simple. Though I certainly don’t follow word for word and when an adult programme comes on, my understanding is pretty low.

    I haven’t done any read as such. I looked at some Dutch websites and have browsed through some of the text and wondered what it means. Also I haven’t used translation yet (looked up the children’s stories I have in English to remind me more of the story) as I’m hoping to tune my ears into Dutch.

    I’m tempted to start reading soon but I like to have more human input first before I start that phrase of learning Dutch.

    Anyway, I’ll read some of your later posts to see how you’ve progressed.

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