In a 30 year software career I was fortunate to travel widely and learn from many smart and wonderful speakers of German, French, Swiss German, Spanish, Catalan, Dutch, Japanese and even American. Sadly being a dumb Brit the only (Spanish Linkword) phrase that I can remember remembering now is 'My dentist needs new curtains'.
As is often the case, Fat Tails makes a great comment.
Here in Macedonia, I'm very spoiled. I live in a small country where a lot of people speak English, so my need to learn Macedonian is limited. Also, my wife gets her contracts doled out a year at a time, so on any given day we expect to be here less than a year, despite being here longer than that. Sadly, I had to check "one" on the poll.
My suggestion, go hungry. I'm only half kidding.
Recently when driving down from here to Greece, we stopped in the last town before the border. (Gevgelia) For a long time we had heard about a famous restaurant that served amazing lamb and wanted to check it out. Getting off the highway exit, we looked for signs that might point the way, but there were none to be found. After driving around a bit I stopped at a gas station. Lisa looked at me like I was nuts, a local guy in a smaller town would probably not speak English, and there was no way I knew enough to get directions to the place. He didn't and yet 5 minutes later out I came with directions.
I actually didn't try that hard, the words just kinda came out. It never ceases to amaze me how when you really want something, the deeper layers of your being make it happen. But if you try to think back on the role that wanting things played in learning your first language, you realize it is not so surprising, just that it hasn't happened much for a long time.
And once we got there, MAN did we EAT!!! ...Talk about motivation!
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I wonder if one learns one language they'll find it easier to learn a completely different language. I'm curious if one's brain can be conditioned to learn languages faster, not from the similarity between the languages, but by sheer skill. I ponder if once someone knows a few languages they end up thinking in some sort of pseudo logic based lingo or if they always revert back to their native tongue.
It is much easier to learn a language which has similarities to a language which is already known. Exposure to unfamiliar speech sounds is registered by the brain as indifferentiated neural activity. The brain has not yet learned - that is established connections between adjacent and distant neurons - to identify the acoustic patterns. It will take further exposure, before the brain is able to activate the neural networks required to understand the meanings of the work. For a language that is similar to the mother a tongue or another well spoken language, existing neural networks can be used. If somebody speaks to me in Italian, I will already partly understand it, because my French neural connection is activated.
There is no such thing as sheer skill. There are methods that can be used - for example audio visuel training or conversations with native speakers using the capabilities of mirror neurons - which speed up the process. But even in this case it is much easier to learn similar languages as the neural network which is required is already partly available.
The process of thinking is affected by the language. If you learn a language correctly - that is my mirroring native speakers -, you will start to both think and dream in that language sooner or later. Thinking in that language has a feedback on your own personality. You will think in a different fashion and be - to some extent - a different person.
Interesting enough thinking in a foreign language is usually less intuitive, affective and heuristic than thinking in the mother tongue. Thinking in a foreign language is slow thinking and may reduce decision biases as described by Daniel Kahnemann (also see: Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow). Attached is a paper that confirms that the roloe of slow thinking is reinforced, when a foreign language is used.
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Albanian does not belong to any of the three clusters, which explains that it is much more difficult for him to speak Albanian, as he needs to build entirely new neural connections to get along with this language.
This shows precisely that the similarity between languages is the key to fast learning, as it puts you into the position to grasp the meaning of the spoken language by listening to friends, TV or radio.
Narberth, Pennsylvania or Narberth, Pembrokeshire?