Monday, February 22, 2010

boy learns 2 languages watching TV

A HTLAL forum member from Azerbaijan claims to have learned 2 languages from watching TV. Original post here: Learning Turkish and Russian from TV. It is the 4th post on the 4th page (maybe some significance?), marked as message 28. His username on the forum is vusalgustav. He seems to be quite a polyglot.

I will reprint the post below:

OK. Allow me to narrate my experience about the language learning through TV watching.

In the beginning of the 1990th the USSR collapsed, Azerbaijan gained independence and iron curtain was lifted. During the reign of the Soviet Union only couple of state TV channels were available; some in Azeri language, bur majority in Russian language. As an independent Azerbaijan failed to produce its own quality TV channels, the Russian channels still were in demand. However, another country's TV channels started to challenge the position of the Russian TVs and consequently Russian language. Those were Turkish TV channels. Actually, Panturkism ideas were one of the pillars of the independence. So it was not surprising that Turkish channels were so successful. From here I will relate the learning Turkish and Russian through the TV separately.

1) Turkish language and Azeri language both are from Oguz branch of the Turkic language and therefore have many things common. First my encounter with Turkish language was on TV in 1994 (I was 11 years old). At first it seemed to me funny language, as I could understand some words similar to my own language but I could not comprehend the conversations. It took me 6 month more or less to start to understand the sentences and the differences in our languages. After 3 years I could understand nearly everything. I had not taken any Turkish language courses, I had not read any Turkish book or conversed with any Turkish speaker. I just watched TV. I watched it at least 1-2 hours per day. After 2000 I had couple of opportunities to visit Turkey and first time to try my Turkish. Soon I realized that although I don't have any problem understanding, I had huge problems expressing myself. Usually, after saying the sentences I was realizing that I actually used Azeri words in some occasions rather than Turkish. As Turks themselves were exposed to the certain extend to the Azeri TVs as well, it was not big problem. In worst case scenario, they could ask me what that word meant. After couple of visits to Turkey, the problem with the expression had gone away, although still I could use some Azeri words unconsciously. I haven't had any formal test regarding the Turkish language, but probably my Turkish knowledge is C1 in listening and reading, B2 in speaking and writing.

2) As I was born in the USSR, probably I have been exposed to the Russian language since my birth. However, my first conscious encounter with the Russian language was at the second year of the primary school. We had Russian class once a week. These classes lasted 10 years, without teaching any useful stuff, apart from the basic grammatic structures. I started to watch the Russian language TV in 1993 and primarily because of the cartoons. First I could understand only little, but steady increase in the comprehension was obvious. It took me 4 years to me to understand that, I could nearly comprehend everything on TV. After that I started to read classic Russian literature; Dostoyevski, Pushkin, Lermantov, Chekov,Tolstoy, etc. Those were joyful times. During the reading or watching I had never used dictionary. Actually still I don't have any Russian-Azeri dictionary. On contrary, I started to learn English language with Russian books, including English-Russian dictionary which I used to learn English words. By 2000 I had confidence in my Russian. But I must confess it was a little bit funny knowledge. I had never written in that language and although we did have huge community of the Russian speakers I had practiced it rarely. And in the reading, although I could understand nearly everything, there were the words, which exact translation I did not care to know (This is true for my own native language as well). For instance, I knew that word "мансард" means part of the house, but I did not know which part exactly. The reality of my Russian language came to me, when I traveled to UK to study English language in 2006. I met there a lot off Russian speakers, and first time I was involved in active conversation with natives. I must say, sometimes it was embarrassing. As with the Turkish, I could understand everything but could not express myself properly, making a lot of gender related mistakes, having a slightly archaic language. 
Fortunately, I was involved in a relationship with a Russian girl and after one month active contact with her, my Russian looked like proper, modern Russian. Nowadays, I would estimate my Russian as C1 in listening, reading, B2-C1 speaking, B1 writing.

As can be seen, the TV helps only with the passive knowledge, which requires activation. 

-- end of quote --


  1. I think he makes a good point at the end... It's certainly possible to learn to understand a language just from practicing understanding it, but to learn to -use- a language requires you to practice using it.

    But he almost made another unintentional point, I think: You don't have to start trying to output right away. If you learn input first, you can ramp up on output pretty quickly.

  2. This is a pretty sweet article. I think it really makes clear exactly what one can expect from the TV method. It's also interesting to note that he didn't exactly watch TV for inordinate amounts of time each day - just a steady 1-2 hours per day.

  3. @Ross
    It also took him longer to understand a lot in Turkish. Imagine if you would double the time you spend watching TV, it would most likely also let you make progress twice as fast.

    An interesting point he addresses is the fact he still had problems expressing himself. I've noticed the same thing when I started with Spanish. Sure, I could understand a lot, but using these words and expressions myself was a bit harder.

    Still, after thousands of hours of input, practice will take you very far.

  4. @Ramses

    So what happened with your Spanish? I mean about using the words and expressions that you understood but weren't yet in your active vocabulary. Do you think that your speaking practice is what helped with being able use it yourself, or was it just a result of more input?

    The author of the post seems (to me) to indicate that it was in fact the speaking practice that gave him the active vocabulary, although I'm sure it could have just been a result of more input that I'm sure he would have been getting at the same time.

    And your definitely right about that double the input thing. I spoke out of turn.

  5. It seems this guy had already a basic knowledge of both languages before starting to watch TV regulary.
    Keith, it still is a deep mystery for me how can you use effectively the TV method from the beginning without some initial knowledge of the target language.
    For example, a month ago I started to listen to Vietnamese TV everyday for a few hours but I still don't understand almost anything. I can barely recognize that the language is Vietnamese. It is still impossible to identify the words.
    I know one month is nothing but I can’t imagine how could I start to understand the language even after one year of daily TV exposure without some kind of linguistic miracle!:-)
    Anyway, maybe I don’t use the method well though.
    Don’t you think that its necessary to use other ways and approaches to learn the target language in addition to the TV–method?
    Thanks for your attention.

  6. @5, you are at the point where most people would give up, where they would proclaim, "It's impossible. I've tried." At this point, you cannot imagine how much you will be understanding after even 1,000 hours. Just focus on understanding what you see, instead of what you hear.

    I don't at all think it's necessary to use any other way in addition to the TV. Everyone can learn the same way if the method is natural. Greatness requires patience. Haste makes waste.

  7. Thanks for your answer Keith.
    When you started to use the TV-method to learn Chinese, you already had studied some Assimil lessons right? Was it helpful or not?

  8. Yes, that is right, I did some listening before, so I knew some words. But you know what? It was no big help. Even though words that I actually knew were in the dialogs, I missed them and never knew they were being spoken half the time. And when I did hear them, that caused my mind to get stuck on them and to miss everything else going on.

    It is interesting to note in vusalgustav's post, he said it took him 3 years to understand everything spoken on TV in Turkish, and 4 years for Russian. And it was Russian that he was having a once weekly class. So it appears the Russian class was not advantageous to him at all.

  9. Yup and I think hear and read the subtitle will be help..couse use that trick and it works..

  10. Hi Keith, thank you very much for you blog!

    I'm italian and I'm learning Hebrew with the TV method. I'm at the beginning... 200 hours of films.

    Now I have to stop because I have to improve my English for working reasons. I'd like to learn it the TV method for some weeks.

    Do you think it's possible learning 2 languages with the TV method at the same time? And if I stop learning Hebrew for some weeks will I have big regresses?


  11. Hi Alfonso, thanks for your comment. I think there's no problem learning 2 languages at the same time using the TV method. Stopping is no problem. I put Chinese on hold for 6 months.

  12. keith, I found your interesting method, but to learn Japanese is good?
    because then I'll have to learn hiragana / katakana and kanji, what do you think?
    And the method can also serve to complement, EX: I study English at LingQ and use the method to add, what do you think?

  13. Can you change the color of background ? It has black and it is difficult to read . Thank you.

  14. The background is dark but the font is white. Do you not view it that way?


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