Navigating phase five
This question came up last week as I met with an Arabic learner who is getting ready to begin phase five, the native-to-native discourses phase.
“How long will I be in phase five?” she asked.
Well, the response has a few caveats to it, so I’m making my response available to all.
Let’s start by asking first, “what is phase six?”
But first, “What is phase six?”
I like to think of phase six as more of a life position or state of being.
Most of the phases are defined primarily by the activities we use to grow in the language. However, phase five resources by nature extend into phase six because anything containing speech between two native Arabic speakers or intended for an audience of L1 speakers will offer space for Arabic learners to expand their knowledge and familiarity with speech for years to come.
All you have to do is move into a different area of speech and you will typically find new language being utilized, be it medical terminology in a documentary piece on doctors or therapists discussing mental health or a religious leader answering questions about the Qur’an.
The easiest way to answer the question about whether you are truly in phase six is,
- You understand, nearly all of the Arabic you hear.
- You are hearing a lot of Arabic on a regular basis, which keeps you growing.
Now this is already assuming you’ve spent 1600 hours or so in sessions that have helped you become familiar with no less than 10,000 words in the spoken Arabic dialect.
For phase six, you have to have a life full of opportunity to both hear and speak Arabic.
If you have no life integrated with Arabic speakers, there will be no growth. That is because acquisition is never truly over. Language learners should always be growing, and that’s OK.
In fact, it’s perfectly normal in your own language, to continue to expand your vocabulary well into your adult years. That’s why even at an advanced level, it is still good to continue with five hours or more of weekly Arabic classes or sessions that keep you developing.
After all, with anything we are pursuing with excellence, any skill or sport or musical instrument, we should continue putting time and effort into advancing our ability.
How much Arabic vocabulary should I be familiar with?
[00:02:36] Let me circle back to my point about the minimum threshold needed to understand the majority of high frequency speech around us.
In any language, the goal is to get to the place of familiarity with at least 10,000 words. That seems like a lot, right?
Well, in a four hour session with a tutor, that might mean doing activities that yield 25 to 30 brand new words that we are encountering for the first time. This needs to happen most days to get to that place in about two years time. Researchers have found that native adult speakers of English understand an average of 20,000 to 30,000 vocabulary words.
That’s in their first language.
Native speakers continue to learn about one word a day from age 16 to 50 years old. Sure, that’s twice as many words at the 10,000 words I mentioned before. But it happens over the course of a lifetime. Even among L1 speakers, those who speak a language as their mother tongue, there are huge vocabulary variations from person to person.
For example, a 33 year old English speaker who does not like to read has an average of 11,000 words in his vocabulary.
A person of the same age who reads a lot knows on average 30,000 words. That’s a significant difference even for native speakers.
All that to say, there’s no reason that we should all be done learning Arabic just after two or three years. After all, it took us a lifetime to grow the vocabulary that we have in our first language.