Saturday, January 28, 2017

Portuguese through incomprehensible input

Sept. 18, 2016

Portuguesification. What an ugly word. Nevertheless, I am happy to report that I have watched 10 hours of Portuguese-language programming this weekend. That's the most time I've ever spent on Portuguese. Prior to this, I may have spent a few hours listening to a Portuguese-language audiobook in short 5-10 minute bursts. That was maybe 2 years ago. I have noticed a difference in my comprehension level between yesterday and today. I needed the full ten hours and one night of sleep to be able to make such a claim. I am far from being able to claim I actually understand Brazilian Portuguese, but I can now catch entire sentences. Portuguese is still largely incomprehensible.
Jensen (1989) showed that the Portuguese (speakers) understand speakers of Spanish to a significantly higher degree than the other way around. I am still far from being considered a speaker of Spanish but I am hopeful that my background in Italian will be of help too.

Sept. 23, 2016 Portuguese: 20+ hours of TV.

Spanish TV: 500 hours since January. I can now follow some crazy "fast" stuff in Castilian.

I have also sampled some audiobooks. Feels like a walk high in the Alps. One moment you're groping around and the next you can see for miles. Listening to a passage from Brothers Karamazov was easier than watching Caillou. A show glorifying Roman debauchery was easy. Abelha Maja, in European Portuguese, was incomprehensible several days ago. Today I was able to follow the story. Maja is still hard, however.

Sept. 26, 2016 30+ hours of TV.

"Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting...

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more."

Sun Tzu (also) said:

"There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:

1. By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey.

This is called hobbling the army."

In other words, at the very least, learn to differentiate your front from your rear. Learn the pronunciation, master some vocabulary and develop basic listening skills before you start engaging in other activities.

Portuguese castle:

I estimate that the friendlies outnumber the enemies 3:1. There are numerous ogres in the tunnels below (low frequency items), but they come out rarely and when they do, more often than not, they're on my side. Half of the remaining enemy force are potential deserters. The rest can easily be surrounded and captured once the friendlies become a cohesive, maneuverable force. The friendlies' uniforms take a little getting used to, but I can now easily recognize entire regiments charging full speed in the heat of battle.

Portuguese subtitles are not available for any of the programs that interest me at the moment. Maybe it's a good thing. I didn't look up any words. I don't own a Portuguese dictionary. I could live without it, but in order to have the freedom NOT to use a dictionary, you need to own at least one.

Sept. 30, 2016 TV (Br. Portuguese) 40+ hours

I listened carefully to three different episodes from the same TV series. In each case I counted 30 consecutive sentences and in each case I fully understood approximately 28 sentences. When I hit a hard spot the main reason for a breakdown of comprehension seems to be the inability to make out individual syllables. I didn't try to assess whether I would have been able to understand a troublesome word/words. I can spot new words and I have picked up new vocabulary and expressions. I am able to sink into the content at which time my ability to make observations is limited. Recognizing and decoding cognates in real time leaves no time for thinking (or conscious recognizing). If the sentence is isolated and I hear something like "O meu chapéu!" I may snap out of it and notice the similarity to French. If I heard "melhor" in a similar situation I am not sure I'd be comparing it to other languages. I don't think I can remember when or how I first noticed most of the words I am now able to comprehend. Sleeping on previously covered material helps. I am more likely to analyze and notice if I'm not particularly interested in the content. The more vocabulary the better, of course, but decoding and processing takes precedence.

Oct. 1, 2016 Br. Portuguese is going well. Regarding Portuguese being an enemy castle... it turns out I missed the "hotel e churrascaria" sign in the back. Everything's 50% off. Live and learn.

I can follow detective shows. My comprehension dropped after I switched to a different show but it quickly recovered. Today I spent 50 mins watching a program in European Portuguese. Listening to European Portuguese feels like I've just started listening to the language. I got a bit of a discount compared to where I was when I started listening to Br. Portuguese, but in order to cash in that IOU I'll need to spend at least 20-40 hours listening to European Portuguese.

The idea to start listening to Portuguese was born while I was watching a football game in Romanian. I'm tired of being a conformist so I officially give up calling the game "soccer".

Oct. 19, 2016 According to Kodi, I have spent around 150 hours on Portuguese-language TV programming. The first 20-30 hours were almost pure incomprehensible input and now I have no trouble understanding detective type TV shows. The best way I can describe the process is that it's a bit like turning on the world's slowest defogger. I cannot routinely string together 30 fully understood sentences with some material but I am getting close. I am learning new vocabulary daily. I am also hearing the newly learned words and expressions on a daily basis: droga, cara, legal, Nossa, mandachuva, a gente, ainda, barulho, turma, tá ligado, tá this, tô that, achar (several meanings), lembrar... My Oxford Portuguese is still shrink-wrapped. Cognates remain my no.1 priority. Not bad for a month's worth of TV watching.

Conscious vs subconscious noticing. Eh, I don't have time to contemplate what's happening between my ears. Here's a couple of studies instead:

An Evaluation of the Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning

The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning

Nov. 06, 2016

The idea to start listening to Portuguese was born while I was watching a football game in Romanian. The game was at first impossible to follow. Before the game was over, however, I was able to pick up words, expressions and shorter sentences. Watching the commercials was very motivating.

"Mastering the vocabulary of most European languages means simply learning to recognize a number of old friends under slight disguises, and making a certain effort to learn a residue of irrecognizable words, which, however, offer less difficulty than they otherwise would through being imbedded in a context of familiar words. The higher vocabulary of science, art, and abstract thought hardly requires to be learnt at all; for it so consists either of Latin and Greek terms common to most European languages or of translations of them."

Henry Sweet, The Practical Study of Languages (1899) .

Portuguese: around 250 hours of TV watching. No subtitles. I can comfortably understand dubbed shows.


You are still watching a staggering amount of TV every day Unless you are a millennial. Then you’re only watching an enormous amount of TV every day.

Nov. 16, 2015 Portuguese-language TV: 300+ hours. My Portuguese dictionary is still shrink-wrapped. My listening comprehension keeps improving. The idea that I would not improve, that I would keep parsing Portuguese through my knowledge of other Romance languages and that my knowledge wouldn't grow because the brain is "happy" with simply understanding a message and everything superfluous gets ignored... is a load of theorizing nonsense. On the other hand I do believe that particles and word endings do take a fair bit of time to filter out from the stream of (in)comprehensible audio input. There's always a chance that the brain isn't catching everything. Tá Falado, "Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation" course is supposedly good and I should probably check it out. Wireless headphones are the best language learning tool I've been able to discover in my quest for improvement.

I will soon start watching "real" Brazilian movies:

I've ordered over a dozen books in Br. Port. including non-fiction (mostly history) and a couple of Portuguese classics (Saramago). I'm aware of the spelling reform since newer books advertise their compliance with the new rules but I'll be damned if I pay $50-$90 for popular fiction. Since I'm shopping the bargain bin my collection is rather varied and contains books by Umberto Eco, Dan Brown, Brazilian pulp etc.

Speaking... Brazil is already full of parrots and while the same can be said for Mexico I have plenty of practical reasons to practice Spanish.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is alive and well. Most of the time, however, I am not encountering obscure words and the a-ha moment is a culmination of many encounters.

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