Another day, another kid named J.R. (different from the last!), all up in my email:
Your method when applied to languages like Chinese and Japanese makes perfect sense but I am trying to learn Korean and Finnish.
My problem is with Finnish. A Finnish word can have up to 14 cases so do I need to make a sentence for each case? If done that way, it seems like I could make it to 10,000 sentences quite easily, but the 10,000 wouldn’t be the same as say 10,000 in Japanese/Korean/Chinese.
Appreciate the feedback.
OK, first of all, I have a secret (the secret, the secret) to tell you. Come closer. Closer. ‘K, here we go:
Just make whatever sentences you need to make as things come out of your immersion environment. Just treat everything as if it were a different word. Focus on the difference in *meaning*, since that’s what actually counts.
Think about it in English — fundamentally, the difference between “I go to school” and “I went to school” isn’t one of tenses of the verb “to go” or whatever…the two words, “go” and “went”…the two sentences actually have different meanings. In theory, they are mutations of the same word. In practice, they are different words. “He eats the food”, “he ate the food” — these things are different.
Looked at this way, grammatical inflection ceases to be a burden, and instead becomes a tool for expressing oneself more precisely. You go from “Effing sonofa I have to learn all this effing mothereffing B.S.” to “SWEET! I can tell people what I will have done if I were to have been X; the future really is perfect!”.
So don’t think of the depth of variation of a single word. Pretend everything is flat. Treat everything as its own, independent word. Sometimes, it’s just easier this way. In practice, this does mean that every case will eventually be represented in your SRS, but not that you’ll necessarily have to decline or conjugate every single word that inflects — you are after all a human being; you know a pattern when you see it; you don’t need everything declared; you’re a gap-filling, pattern-matching machine. Do as much as you need to “get it”, and no more.
As for number of sentences, I doubt more than 10k will be necessary to reach a high level of proficiency. Remember that the sentences are just a tool/by-product for and of massive exposure to native materials.
For more, check out AntiMoon.com — Tomasz and the crew wrote about learning English, which is closer to what you’re trying to do in terms of certain language features.
Disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried to learn Finnish, but if I were to, this is exactly how I would do it. Starting with a phrasebook, I would just accept the sentences “as is”, and let the patterns present themselves to me over time. In any case the key is always to realize this: learning a language does not require pain, boredom or suffering.
*OK, maybe there are, but only because and as long as people keep saying so. They’re a theoretical construct that’s generally useful for analysis, and generally worth crap-all for praxis.