What 40 Hours of Learning Really Does to a Language

Right before I started my document review job, I decided to try and calculate how many hours I’ve been learning German.  I tried to be as accurate as possible and account for those times when I didn’t pay attention in class (or go to class), and I deliberately left out reading time because I have no way of figuring out how much time I’ve really spent.  So by my very rough estimate, I calculated around 400 hours.

So, I was very interested to see what would happen once I started my German document review position and was suddenly forced to read it all day.  Although I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve made any enormous jumps, my reading comprehension has improved dramatically.  When I began the project last week, I had to look up just about every other word, especially because there is a lot of legal terminology that you just aren’t taught outside of law school.  Now, about a week and a half later, I can say that my reading has become much faster, and I comprehend much better than I was that first day.

Of course, it’s not just about how many hours you spend, it’s also about how you use those hours.  If any attorney reading this has worked a document review job, you know it’s really easy to fall into the trap of quickly skimming the subject line to see if the document is relevant, and spending as little time as possible actually reading the whole thing.  For one, it’s typically not necessary to read the entire e-mail/spreadsheet/contract, and also, if you do that with every document, your numbers go down (not a good position to be in).

In foreign language document review, you have the same problems; you want to keep up your total reviewed for the day, but you also want to improve your skills during this time.  What I’ve started doing is when I look up a word I don’t know, I write it down and keep the list next to me.  This way, I have an easy reference point.  I do this with words that keep showing up, or words that look interesting.  Also, when I receive a document like a shorter e-mail, I do try and read the entire thing and make sure I understand every word on the page.  So far, this hasn’t made my numbers and accuracy go down.  Any words that I write on my list, I go  back and review, and I just updated it to include only the ones I really haven’t been able to remember.  I think I’ll probably continue doing this even after the project ends.

So far, I would say that 40 hours in the first week doesn’t push you into a completely different level.  I never actually thought it would, but I certainly wouldn’t have minded!  What it does do though is make you better able to comprehend the language.  As I’ve said before, it’s easy to become focused on the magic A1-C2 scale, as though you can quickly move from one level to another within a certain amount of time.  In reality, there are many smaller stops along the way, and the extra time helps you get there faster.

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