I have been reading about 40 pages a day and watching TV for about 2 hours a day. I have been coming across the new words and the new idioms that I learn over and over again, just like you said in one of your articles. It feels really good to know that I am making progress and to be able to use those new words and idioms in my conversations with native French speakers.
I have one more quick question, if you don’t mind. I know Polish is your dominant language, but it appears your English is as good (or nearly as good) as your native language. Do you think your German will ever be as good as your English?
It seems like there are so many people in this world who have mastered English. I have met Germans that could speak English as well as they could speak their native language, but all of the Germans learning French that I have met so far could not speak French very well (even though they learned it for many years). I know people from Japan that have learned English very well, but those learning French or German could not speak those languages very well.
Why do so many people master English, but not their 2nd or 3rd foreign language? Even those who can speak multiple languages, such as the polyglots on YouTube, tend to speak only their native language and English "fluently" and they are only at the advanced or intermediate level in the other languages they claim they speak.
That’s a very interesting question. I don’t have any scientific data on this, but I think my personal experience may be part of the answer.
I have always found it hard to learn languages other than English. I have tried learning German and flirted with Spanish and Italian. I got the farthest with German – at one point, I was able to write a two-page e-mail message with few mistakes using careful writing techniques. This went on for a few months, after which I slipped back to my usual “lower intermediate” level.
The fundamental reason why this happened was the simple fact that English is a far more influential language than German, Spanish or Italian. It is the lingua franca of today’s world. Virtually all books and articles published in the world are either written in English or translated into English soon afterwards. English-language discussion groups lead the way in the amount of available information. Of all languages, English offers the highest number of high-quality books, films, TV shows and websites.
(Even if you think the average quality of an English-language movie is worse than, for example, a French-language movie, it is not the average quality that matters – it’s the raw number of high-quality movies. America makes so many movies that even if only 5% are good, there are still far more good English-language movies than good French-language movies.)
The overwhelming importance of English means that it’s not only the most useful language to learn – it’s also the easiest. Other languages lack two crucial things: the availability of content and motivation.
Let’s talk about the availability of content first. You need a lot of input to learn a language, but my experience is that there’s very little quality content in other languages. Let me take a look at The Pirate Bay’s list of top 100 most pirated content: True Blood, Breaking Bad, TED talks, Max Payne 3, Futurama, Game of Thrones… See any German or French content in there? The people want English content. This is why, when I was learning German, I had enormous difficulty finding German content that I might actually want to watch. Where’s the German equivalent of Curb Your Enthusiasm? Where are the French TED talks? The Spanish Guns, Germs and Steel?
Yes, you can get German or French subtitles, translations, etc. That’s what I did for a while. But watching shows translated from English gives rise to the question: what for? Why am I watching this in German if I could watch the original English version? You can do it for the sake of learning German, but then you need some separate reason to learn German in the first place.
Which brings me to the second problem: motivation. If there is little good content in languages other than English, why learn those languages? Unless you have a Spanish spouse, plan to live in Spain, are fascinated by Spanish culture, or have another personal or professional reason, why would you embark on a Spanish-learning project? I have never been able to come up with a good enough reason to justify the time expense.
I think it’s likely that learners of languages other than English run into the same problem: after an initial period of enthusiasm, they find themselves unable to sustain their level of motivation because they eventually realize they’re not getting that much mileage from their study.