Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Learning a new language when older is like learning Dvorak

Once upon a time I learned Dvorak -- or rather, I memorized the key layout so that I could touch type (type without looking at the keyboard or a reference picture). I was initially attracted by the promises of higher-than-qwerty speeds once you mastered it. But my typing speed dropped to something like 15-20 WPM, and wasn't getting faster very quickly, I was fighting my muscle memory at every turn. Before I learned to touch type in 7th grade, I was actually pretty fast with finger-pecking (around 20-30 WPM). My normal typing speed post-7th grade has been around 85-110 WPM depending on focus and context, which is already pretty fast.

Dropping down to about 20% my normal speed turned out to be intolerable. I ditched Dvorak and didn't try to improve, and have since forgotten the layout. I've told myself, if I ever develop RSI symptoms, I'll go back to it (since supposedly it helps with that, which I can believe) but so far my hands have been healthy in that respect. Besides, for absolute speed, I'm more interested in one day trying to learn stenography. I've got a spare n-key rollover keyboard to attach the big keys to when I eventually try it.

I had the thought that this sense of intolerableness compared to what you know and are used to can be related to learning a foreign language, especially as an adult, especially trying to do it on your own. When I speak (or especially when I write) I'm used to expressing myself in certain ways, with longer sentences, more complex grammar, and varied vocabulary. Getting to anywhere near an equivalent level in a foreign language takes time. But that time has to be spent on expressing yourself in simpler ways, of being willing to look kind of stupid as you say things in weird ways (or childish ways, or in some languages in other-gender ways) or ask about meanings and for slower speech. Until you get to a point where you can pickup new vocabulary in the target language, and not have to reference an English dictionary every time, picking up vocab is also a lot more difficult than in every day life.

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