Date: 2008-08-17 11:23:00
on language learning
Language Log has an interesting article about spelling and language learning, with particular attention to English. The comparison table showing two dimensions of language complexity was interesting - it put English at the complex/deep end and Finnish at the simple/shallow end! Although I have never studied Finnish, I heard from [info]goulo that it's supposed to be one of the more difficult languages to learn. And, the vast difference between the error rates of first-grade children in various languages must mean something. English at 70% error rate while Finnish is less than 5%?

It would of course be interesting to see Esperanto compared to other languages, but I don't think there's a practical way to test that for native speakers. Perhaps one could organise a study of the learning rates of young children learning a language other than their mother tongue. Such an experiment would take a tremendous amount of coordination work. Ideally you would want to have multiple different groups of learners from each native language learning each second language in the experiment. I probably sound like I'm designing a comprehensive software coverage test!
I remember almost nothing concrete about Finnish now, but I do remember that the spelling and pronunciation seemed quite consistent and pleasing, so that agrees with the article you quoted.

They also mention French as being another of the hard European languages from this point of view, which agrees with what I've seen of French (where it often seems like the last half of any word longer than one syllable is not pronounced, or only subtly blown out the nose :)

A sad side effect of the vast influence of English is that so many other languages are taking words from English, and then those English words break the spelling rules of the other language. Polish is pretty consistent about spelling and pronunciation: "most of the time" if you see a word written, its pronunciation is determined (except for a few unusual cases about e.g. whether "au" is a diphthong as in "restauracja" or 2 syllables as in "nauczyć" (since that word is formed from the prefix "na" added to the root "uczyć"), and where the stress syllable is - normally the penultimate syllable, but not always). However now Polish has so many words from English that I suspect Polish children today are finding themselves in a similar situation to English children today with regard to confusing idiotic inconsistent spelling and pronunciation. My personal favorite is the Polish word spelled "cowboy", taken from the English, but absurdly humorously pronounced like the English "cove boy" (a rather different profession!), thus idiotically sounding neither like the original English word (which could have been spelled in Polish as "kauboj"), nor as a Pole would expect based on its spelling as a Polish word ("cowboy" should sound like "tsove boe-ih" if read as a Polish word).
[info]mankso : Learnability of non-ethnic v. ethnic languages
When talking about comparing the learnability of various second languages, it might help to first establish whether the mother-tongue is the same or not for all learners, or is at least in the same language family. Also, it would be helpful to state whether one is talking about the phonology, the writing system, the wordstock, the syntax and so on. It stands to reason that it is easier to master the spelling in a non-ethnic constructed language such as Esperanto, with a phonemic one-to-one correspondance between pronunciation and writing, than it is in English or French. Also Esperanto has very few of the capricious grammatical and word-building idiosyncrasies of ethnic languages. Having taught both Esperanto and ethnic languages to English-speakers, my estimate is that the former is about 10 times easier than one of the easier ethnic languages (such as Spanish), or in other words, progress is 10 times as fast. Is this the type of info you had in mind?:
The FSI has a scale rating various languages into 4 or 5 groups, depending on their ease of learnability for English-speakers, and the approximate time needed for an average learner in an intensive course to achieve communicative competence - unfortunately I can't lay my hands on it right now, even after 30 minutes searching!
(anonymous) : It is wonderful idea
I like your idea. Testing is finding the utility too.

I'm an Esperanto speaker and I live in Nepal.

All the best.
Razen Manandhar
Greg Hewgill <>