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Arabic, French, and Spanish in Two Years for Stay-at-Home Dad

Dear Professor Arguelles,

I want to start by thanking you for all your work. I have followed the polyglot “movement” for a number of years now, but I have found in your work a true language mentor. I have always regretted not having a classical education and a good foundation in Latin, Greek, and the Great Books tradition. I wish to remedy this and am very excited for your Academy. The people close to me are largely practical in nature, and they only see language making sense as a means to a high paying job, or function jobs (translating, etc.) They don’t understand that I want to be a polyglot, that is, an expert in the acquisition of languages, and that the language is subordinate to the material I can access in that language. I am very sad that philology does not exist as a discipline anymore, as I feel it would be the most appropriate place for me. Given my introverted personality, I am much more interested in polyliteracy than in polyglottery for the sake of conversation.

For background, I’m 28 years old, stay at home dad to 4 kids under 4 years old, and have Military Reserve Duty on the weekends. I have some success in Spanish (easily reading novels and nonfiction, although Gabriel Garcia Marquez is still inaccessible for his style) and French (about 60% comprehension through Count of Monte Cristo). This was mainly through the methods of Krashen, Kaufman, and Olly Richards. I also endeavor to learn Arabic and have largely wasted around 500 hours with inefficient methods. Recently, I have been formulating different methods to make some progress, and they were very close to shadowing and scriptorium. It was then that I found your material and am very happy to have confidence in these methods.

My first question is that I will be reentering the work force in two years and would like to have Arabic at the ILR 3/3+ for my resume, and certainly Spanish and French at least that high. I’d also like to study Italian and Portuguese eventually, plus the required languages in your Academy. Do you have any additional advice for Arabic specifically? I have several resources, mostly from Matthew Aldrich at Lingualism.com. I should also add I am certainly more of a observational learner.

My second question is of career nature. I’m looking at using my military experience to go into a government intelligence agency, mostly because those are the only ones that give value to language ability. However, like I said, I’m not interested in doing a functionary role as a translator, interpreter, or teacher. My ideal job would be something like a project in a foreign country, you have six months to learn the language and culture, then go and complete the project. The emphasis being on the expert ability to acquire languages and cultures, not just being a narrow expert in a single language or culture. Have you come across anything like that, in public or private sector, that could be a pointer or starting place?

Lastly, I was curious if you’ve ever come across the Mimic Method or Olle Kjellin’s work on prosody for pronunciation study, and if you have any thoughts on them.

I look forward to seeing you in the Academy and thank you again for all your work. It is changing my life.

Eythan Caputo

My reply:

Dear Mr. Caputo,

Thank you for writing. The fact that there are people like you out there in this world, who, with busy personal lives (four children under four!) and more of a military than a scholarly background, nonetheless still value classical languages and Great Books education, and who aspire to polyliteracy, is extremely heartening to me. It tells me that my values and ideals are not that rarified, and that they do not necessarily stem from a privileged educational background, but perhaps represent a fundamental yearning of human souls with certain sensibilities and dispositions.

I am also touched and humbled to hear what an effect my sharing of my experience has had on your life, so now let me try to give you some advice worthy of that trust.

As I understand it, you are planning to reenter the workforce in two year’s time, and you would like to have an ILR 3/3+ in Arabic, Spanish, and French, correct? It sounds as if your Spanish and French might be close to this, but you are still getting a foundation in Arabic – is that also correct? If so, then my first piece of advice to you would be to get tested in Spanish and French now. That will let you know where you stand, what, if anything, you need to do to improve these, and how much time you will need to do that and, conversely, how much time you can devote to Arabic. Your description of your reading abilities sounds relatively advanced in French and Spanish, but you have not mentioned your other skills. At any rate, because you have such a solid foundation in these and it is important to you to have something on your resume, as much as you want Arabic, I would concentrate on these up to speed first.

If you should test at or near that level in French and Spanish now, then you can put most of your time and energy into Arabic. However, you have not said how much time, or energy, you have each day, and as you are the primary caretaker for four children under four, I can imagine that these must be limited. I certainly want to encourage your to pursue Arabic, but we must honestly acknowledge that it is objectively one of the most difficult languages out there for someone of your background, and that getting to a 3/3+ in two-year’s time will be quite challenging. May I trust that you would be satisfied with making serious progress toward that goal even if you should still be far from it twenty-four months from now?

If you can ultimately devote several hours a day to this task, then you should be able to go a long way toward this goal. As you write that you have found applying my shadowing and scriptorium methods to be useful, then I am going to most strongly recommend that you begin with my stand-by recommended publisher Assimil for this. Most particularly, you want the courses authored by Dominique Halbout and Jean-Jacques Schmidt. The version that came out around 2006 supplanted an earlier, much-maligned hand-written edition, and it segues nicely into their Perfectionnement Arabe, which is truly outstanding. This will not get you to the C1 they claim, but if you were to get both these volumes and work your way diligently and systematically through them to the point of thoroughly internalizing them both, then I really cannot think of a better way to get a foundation in MLA (and get a French workout at the same time). You will want other resources as well after this, and I will be happy to provide them to you at that time, but this is definitely where to begin given what you have described about your goals and aspirations.

As for your career plans, I would think that given your military background you should be able to get the kind of security clearance needed not just for government jobs, but for firms that contract to the government, such as Booz Allen Hamilton. They may have the kind of mid-length assignments that would in fact require the ability to learn languages swiftly during preparation, but I do not know if that will be in the actual job description.

Finally, no, I am not familiar with Olle Kjellin’s work, but you are at least the third person to ask me that in recent months, so I have a feeling that I should become acquainted with it.

May I hope these answers have been helpful to you? And may I hope to welcome you into a French and/or Spanish reading and discussion circle, or a Great Books seminar, any time soon?

With all best wishes for your studies, your career, and your family,

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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