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5-Year, 4-Language Plan, 3 Hours Per Day, 5 Days Per Week

Dear Professor Arguelles,

Before my question, let me state my background: I know 3 Languages to a fairly decent level: Portuguese (my mother tongue), English (around C1), and while I struggle to speak Spanish, overall I can write, read, and listen to it to a rough B1-B2 (my levels are rough guesses, I never did any formal tests of proficiency at all). All my languages are self-taught (except my mother tongue, obviously) with a hand-waving help of school classes in high school, as I suppose I did learn some grammar there.

Long-term, I hope to learn as many languages as I possibly can. If anyone reading this wants to know more about me, I appear in the first and the last discussion circle videos in Dr. Arguelles’ lecture series about the book New Ways to Learn a Foreign Language. You also can see my very lengthy comments in many videos of Dr. Arguelles under the alias of “Fisico gamer. ”

Now, with that out of way, let’s go to my inquiries!

For the next 5 years (roughly) I want to learn: (Modern) Japanese to have a 99%+ reading comprehension of any modern-non-highly-technical text; Ukrainian to a comfortable conversational and reading level; French to be able to read technical and scientifical texts in it; and I would also like to improve my English, to finally cross the threshold of “proficient” towards “highly literate.” I think I have around 3 hours a day, 5 days per week to dedicate to all except Japanese (I can do Japanese on other times, I am decent at reading it already). In French, I am able to read with a dictionary with a lot of difficulty. In Ukrainian I am almost a completely beginner: I can read out loud the script, but I can’t understand the text. I want a language plan that involves these 3 parts: sentence learning, grammar learning, and immersion.

By “sentence learning” I mean try to memorize the meaning of all the words in a real sentence by doing translation. By “grammar learning”, I mean simply understanding the grammar concepts as best as I can, by reading a grammar book. By “immersion” I mean just reading/listening to the target language being used by native speakers, with no conscious learning involved. Those parts only apply to French and Ukrainian, since in English I just want to acquire more words. This isn’t really necessary, but feel free to give me any list of English books that would become (gradually) harder, as further down you go in the list!

A possible “ending date” that I could expect to hit my goals in all languages, as well would be appreciated.

I won’t stop learning them, of course, but I will study them in a more instrumental manner, changing the study routine. The date is just for managing expectations. Talking about them, learning routines are great, but I’ve learned that the feeling of progress is as important as progress itself. I feel that I am stuck, even though I am doing progress in a visible way. Some milestone activities that could really show my language skill development to my own brain would be of great help.

Now to some language specifics:

In Japanese I want to learn more words/expressions that are more culturally focused, like yojijukugo and kotowaza. I would like to see some recommendations on fiction books (or any books, as long as they are native Japanese books) that use those more, since I hardly see them being used at all.

Overall , I want to learn languages that gave out a lot of words to other languages. Some of them that come to my head are Classical Chinese, Ancient Greek, Latin, French and English. Are there others? An aspiring polyliterate like me wants to know not only the languages with most language manuals, but also the languages that have the biggest amounts of loanwords that were taken out from them. Expressions are also fine, but I want to focus on loanwords. The idea here is to learn as many “simplex words” as possible so when I get in a new language, I will (more) hardly see any non-cognates. By “simplex words” I mean words that aren’t made from joining other words. “Password” for example it is a “complex word” made of two smaller words :”pass” and “word”. Because those 2 lexical items are not made from joining smaller words, those are “simplex words.”

A plan for the future includes Latin and Ancient Greek (I am learning French specially because of Ancient Greek). Do you have any recommendations of books (real books, specially fiction, not language manuals) to see the “simplex words” of those languages being used in real contexts (Specially Ancient Greek)? Also, what are languages with the most amount of words that are untranslatable? By “untranslatable” I mean a word that, for you to explain what it means in another language you know, you always have to use a sentence or paragraph, because that concept is unique in such a way that it cannot be compared with any
single other word that is on your known language. A great example is “schadenfreude” from German. It is so unique that it wasn’t translated into English: it became a loanword.

Lastly, I am thinking about note-taking. What is/are the language/s (or mix of languages) faster for handwritten note-taking? One may think “Mandarin Chinese”, but the characters are too much complex to write fast and they take a lot of constant practice to be remembered fast. What is/are the language/s (or language mixes) that have as much as possible of all those 4 characteristics:
1-Fast at handwriting: I have a love-hate relationship with writing. The hate came thanks to school. Life taught me the love. The faster, the easier I will slip into loving it.
2-Almost no need for specific handwritten training: As of now, I have almost no time for scriptorium. Hopefully I’ll have in the future.
3-Not many people know it: Secrecy is important sometimes. Had some problems in the past with people reading my annotations.
4-Needs to pack a lot of information in a sentence : so I can reread faster and remember what I wrote on the fly.

Best Regards,
William aka Fisico Gamer

My reply:

Dear William,

Thank you so much for writing. One of the greatest rewards of this brave new world of virtual communication with people from across the globe is the ability to interact with students such as you and attempt to give you the benefit of my experience, which I am flattered that you seek, although you are a highly gifted and idiosyncratic learner of your own stripe. As you pointed out in the videos in which you appeared, you learned to converse in rapid academic English by methods that are very different from anything that I myself would ever have conceived of, let alone used, but since you ask for my advice now, I am happy to give you some pointers.

First of all, let me commend you on your commitment to 3 hours a day toward a long-term polyliterate goal of learning as many languages as you can. That is getting into the neighborhood of what is required. Yes, you can get a foundation in a single language by slow-and-steady-wins-the-race habit-formation time chunking into 15 minute blocks, but make no mistake, if you want to learn a good handful of languages, and those from very different families, to high levels, you need to consecrate a good portion of your waking hours to this task for the foreseeable future.

But what is with the 5 days a week part? In my mind, for habit formation to take place, let alone for slow-and-steady learning to be efficient, you need 7 days a week. I understand and acknowledge that there are those who need a Sabbath, whether for religious reasons (though in that case the day could be devoted to prayerful materials) or for the purpose of giving the mind a rest, time to recharge, relax, gather energy. But that is one day off, not two. We in modern society need two days away from our jobs because we hate them and they have nothing to do with who we are, but if you love language learning, why would you want such a long pause?

Now, on to your 5-year goals. In general, the targets you are aiming for are very high, and more to be aspired to after several decades than only 5 years. However, it is good to set high targets and come as close to hitting them as possible before readjusting for the next 5-plan. Above all, to be honest and blunt, 99%+ overall reading comprehension of Japanese is a lifetime goal, not a 5-year one. I lived in Korea for going on a decade and spent more than 3 hours a day on Korean alone for most of that time and never got anywhere close to that.

Then Ukrainian. May I ask, why Ukrainian? Is it out of empathy for the current geopolitical situation, or for some personal reason, such as a specific Ukrainian girl? That is all understandable, but be that as it may, it does not make linguistic sense. Unless one has specific reasons for learning another, for anyone from outside the Slavic realm, the first Slavic language should always be Russian. This is because there are probably more resources for learning and using Russian than there are for all the other Slavic languages combined. In any case, your first Slavic tongue, by whatever method (sentences, grammar, immersion) requires a major time investment in and of itself.

On to French, as a native speaker of Portuguese, a fellow nasal Romance language, this will be one of your easier tasks, particularly given your desire to learn by the “sentence learning.” For this I refer you with complete confidence to one of the giants of 19th century autodidactic language learning, Thomas Prendergast. Track down his Mastery Series: French, which is available in multiple incarnations online. Although the language is totally dated (horse and carriage) it is exactly what you want in this regard. You will surely find and use other resources as well, and certainly well within 5-years you should be able to use French as a base for study of Ancient Greek using the Assimil manual and other methods.

Finally, English and crossing the threshold from proficient to highly literate. Frankly and honestly, this is also something that could take all of your allotted time. The simple albeit snobbish fact is that most native English speakers are not highly literate. To become highly literate, you need to become highly educated. That is, you need to get a quality education, spending years and years, reading quality English texts, to become highly literate. I think your English is good enough that you could enjoy sitting and reading (or listening to audio books) in English for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, for the next 5 years. Devour the works of Dickens, Hardy, Faulkner, Maugham, Dos Passos, and others back to back, and you might get there, just as Joseph Conrad did, but in that case forget about Japanese and Ukrainian, though French could still fit in as a related cultural tongue.

Now on to some of your language specific questions. Modern Japanese fiction is hardly my forte, but at various stages of my life I have greatly enjoyed Kobo Abe, Kenzaburo Oe, and Yukio Mishima. Haruki Murakami is clearly the biggest name among still living novelists, but though he is classified under magical-realism – my personal favorite style, I must confess that I never been able to finish anything that he wrote.

For source-languages, i.e., etymological rivers that provide “simplex words” to others languages, I state for the umpteenth time that these are Greek and Latin for Western civilization, Arabic and Persian for Islamic civilization, Sanskrit for Indic civilization, and Classical Chinese for East Asian civilization.

Finally, on to your last four points about note-taking. It sounds as if what you are after is some form of what is known as “shorthand.” You state, somewhat incomprehensibly, that you have no time for Scriptorium, but here, to get at your desire for speed and secrecy, I am going to challenge you not just to learn and use “Gregg” or some other form, but to develop your own “Davinci-like” form.

I hope this answers most of your questions enough to give you some of the direction for which you were hoping,

With best regards for successful studies,

Alexander Arguelles

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Would you like my advice for developing a systematic, long-term plan for learning languages and accessing literatures? This website provides a place where you can describe your background, current activities, and goals in sufficient detail for me to provide you with meaningful advice, and where our exchange can remain as a lasting resource for others with similar scholarly aspirations.

My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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