Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Language Goals

When I started entries in this blog, my intent was and still is to track my progress with the three languages I'm taking on. I've started them at different times, so they're all at different levels, but my goal, of course, is to get them all up to a good, speakable level.

I'm not big on testing, per se, but in the past I've taken a couple exams to prove my proficiency in languages. I had to take a proficiency exam just to gain admittance to the Italian university system. I also took the same proficiency exam for Spanish to prove my competency in that language for work purposes, albeit indirectly. I later took another, more suitable exam for Spanish to work as an interpreter.

Really, when I say I took the same proficiency test for both Italian and Spanish, I mean that the grading and proficiency assessment were done in the same way, to the same standard. This assessment is referred to as the CEFR, or Common European Framework of Reference, and I believe it to be a fairly accurate measure of a person's language proficiency. So I've been measuring and will continue to measure my progress by these levels, even if I don't actually sit an exam. I'm including them here for reference:

A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

OK, now that I've established the levels, here are my very brief reasons for choosing the languages I've chosen, along with what I believe to be my current level of each language.

I initially chose Norwegian because I have relatives that came over from Norway, and I figured if I was going to study a Scandinavian language, Norwegian was the most neutral. I could easily move to another if I wanted, I reasoned. I can indeed read Danish and a fair bit of Swedish with no trouble. I've half-heartedly studied it for a couple years. It wasn't until this last summer that I truly got interested. It was due to finding a lot of old family paperwork in Norwegian after inheriting a piece of property. And it brought up old family pride. I currently see myself at a B1 level.

Polish became an interest when I moved to Chicago. Chicago has a pretty large Polish population (in fact, it's the largest concentration of Polish/Polish ancestry outside of Poland). My first job in Chicago was in the Loop and all I ever heard from any of the building maintenance people was Polish. How could I not be curious? So I started to study it. I became discouraged pretty quickly with its seemingly advanced grammar, and slowed my studying to a crawl, almost losing interest in the language. For whatever reason I was able to get through that phase and realize the grammar's not hard, just different. So I'm back to improving Polish. I current rate myself at an A2 level.

And lastly, there's Turkish. I became interested in the language because people told me to! OK, that's not really true. It's convoluted, but here's the reason: A couple years ago, I took a trip to Morocco and was absolutely blown away by the cuisine. By far the healthiest food I'd ever eaten in my life. When I would tell people about it, nearly everyone said “Oh, if you like Moroccan, you've GOT to try authentic Turkish”. When I say nearly everyone told me that, I really mean that. So I started digging. It led me to Turkish culture. That led me to the language, with all its reforms, political or not, in th early 20th century. If that weren't interesting enough for me, I became fascinated with the structure and grammar of the language. I jokingly tell my friends that Turkish seems to have been designed and created by a bunch of linguists with nothing but a case of beer. It's incredibly logical. And very different than anything else I've taken on. I currently have a little less than 2 months with this language, and I would place my knowledge at A1.

So that was a long ramble to get to the part where I state my goals.

For 2011, I want to take my Norwegian up to a C1 level. I believe that's a very doable goal. I'd like to get my Polish up to a B2 level, with the goal of traveling to Krakow. I'm over the grammatical hurdle, so I don't see that being a problem, as long as I stay the course. And finally, I'd like to get my Turkish up to a B1 level. Because I'm still fresh with this language, I have no real reference to judge whether that's practical or not, but I think I can get there based on these last few weeks. The language is so different from anything else I've studied, and there's a real passion to learn it, to delve as deep as I can.

On December 31, 2011 I'll compare notes and with luck, I'll have matched my goals.


  1. Good luck! I have interest in two of those three language myself, so I'll be curious about your progress.

  2. At this point I think my plans are doable.

    It may seem chaotic working on three languages at once, but there's actually a method to the madness.

    I'd never set out to actively learn three languages at once before, and this was part of my experiment; to see if it would work for me, after reading of others doing it. So far, it is and I'm pleased.