Part II of the abandoned book project on language learning. Part I here...
Why not to learn a language
The typical reason to learn a language is because it's useful, which for example pretty much limits most Americans to Spanish. The usual filter applied on top of this is what's offered in our local educational institutions, though the internet is changing this. Utilitarian motivations might work for reaching a survival level in a language, and perhaps even a basic conversational fluency, but like a rocket limited by fuel from breaking the orbit of earth, will not provide the critical thrust necessary to reach a new world. And we want to go to where they speak something more interesting. Like Martian.
I can think of only one reason to truly learn a language to fluency: you have been seduced by it. You have fallen in love with it.
There has to be something about the language that you've fallen in love with. Something that makes you want to court it for, yes, years of your life. No magic pill exists for learning a language (at least not for being able to understand a person or book, or communicate back in a clear, fluent fashion), so it will be something you'll be spending a significant portion of your life force doing. You'll never let yourself devote the requisite energy to it if you don't love something about it. And why would you spend years learning something you don't love anyway? That is why the Natural Method emphasizes, nay, requires consistently doing things in the language that you enjoy. See the connection? All it takes is one hook to get the cycle started- from there, your language habit will snowball as you explore further down the rabbit hole and find new things to enjoy about your adopted language. When I was learning Spanish, the hook was (don't laugh) a Spanish folk metal band called Mago de Oz- Wizard of Oz. I really fell in love with their music for a couple of years, and the seemingly inconsequential decision to begin listening to them changed the course of my life. As a direct result, I fell in love with the Spanish dialect, history, and culture. I became enthralled with the history and lore behind the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James pilgrimage. I read works like La vida es sueño and El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, which are still some of my favorite works today. More importantly, I decided to study abroad in Spain, instead of in Latin America (shameless plug: if you're interested in learning more about the four year story arc that arose because of this seemingly innocuous decision to listen to this band, I'd encourage you to check out my first book, available on Amazon, called The Itinerant: The European Misadventures of an Incurable Romantic).
In Italian, I devoured dubbed versions of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. In fact, I joke that I learned Italian because I watched it so many times over the course of two years, leaving it playing in my apartment around the clock, even while I was sleeping. Yes, I was (am?) obsessed with that show. I knew it got bad when the original voices of the actors, the English-speaking ones, started to sound weird to me. In Portuguese, I swooned for the works of writers like Saramago and Pessoa, but I really fell for the sound of the language itself. It's just a fun language for me to listen to and speak. I've written previously: "Such is my affair with Portuguese: I was enamored from the first syllable. I learned to love the harsh, dry Castilian like a couple in an arranged marriage; flirting with Italian is fun but there's a depth that's missing there for me. Ah, Portuguese on the other hand: fun, light, floating across the air in a dainty whisper, hinting at unseen depths and uncommenced adventure." I read history books about the Portuguese exploits in the 15th century, I dreamed about exploring the hidden nooks of the country, of walking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago to Compostela. With French, I am motivated by the thought of reading some of my favorite philosophers and thinkers in their native tongue. And, in the spirit of honesty, French girls are enough to motivate any young, curious man. I'd say that requires me to learn Dutch as well but they all already speak English from what I can see. Language is a medium for the things that are alive and important to us. There is no reason not to learn a language to fluency via these fun, interesting, beautiful, useful things. In fact, it is the only way to naturally learn a language to fluency.
To give a counter example of this, at one point in my life I signed up to work at a Bangladeshi company in Dhaka, the capital city, for two years. As it was, the job was not for me (that's a story for another time), and I was only there for six months. When I flew there, loaded down with way more shoes than I could ever need- I know I was planning on being there for two years, but Lord, I must have had ten pairs of shoes- running shoes, boots, dress shoes, weird water shoes- anyway, when I arrived, I had very romantic and well intentioned notions of learning Bangla, despite the fact that my job would be performed in English. I even tried out a *gulp* private class, though I only went to one lesson- the teacher was an inflexible bore. But you know what? Beyond the basics- mostly to order around the rickshaw pullers and tell off beggars (fun story- I once got a beggar to pay me money), I never did learn much Bangla. About the most accomplished feat I performed was inventing a fun insult: Tumi ukun baal-er. You are the louse on a pubic hair. Oh, and learning to play a Bangla pop song, Nitol Paye, on my ukulele to try and seduce a gorgeous Bangla girl. Which didn't work. The lesson here- I never did find anything that made me fall in love with the language. As such my efforts to learn it, beyond the basics of getting around, were doomed.
By the way, falling for a special someone who happens to be a native speaker of your adopted language, and the subsequent relationship, may be the best way to dramatically improve your language skills, though I would say this only applies if you are already at least conversationally fluent in the language- otherwise you'll just speak in English all the time and trying to speak in their native language will just feel weird once you get good enough to use it. But don't worry, I'll show you how- read on! Anyway, what could be more seductive about a language than loving someone in it? For a fun reflection on the relationship between language, and love and sex, I highly recommend an essay by George Steiner, The Tongues of Eros, originally featured in the compilation My Unwritten Books.
I've heard it said by my friend Hans Comyn that to seduce, we have to be seduced. To adapt this to languages, to be able to seduce in a new language- persuade, charm, communicate holistically- we first have to be seduced by the language.
I'll reiterate what I've already said on this point to flog it home, and I promise I'll leave it be. As I mentioned in the introduction, learning a language to fluency means, in some very primal way, crafting a new identity (more on this fascinating idea later) in your language, parallel to your native identity. We will never let ourselves become something we don't love and accept and view as a part of us (or like it could become a part of us).
Why learning the language in-country probably won't work
At any rate, "usefulness" is a vague, wishy washy concept because usefulness only becomes imperative when you're already in a country. At the risk of being excoriated for making a general statement about a complex topic, by then it is too late to learn a language for most people. Yes, you heard me. Learning a language when you're already there almost certainly won't work, for the same reason it didn't work when you were at home: the wrong methods and the lack of good habits in the right method. By the time you're living there, unless you're super motivated, you will probably give up because the frustrations of daily trying to perform in that language are too much. Most likely, unless you're somewhere very remote with very few foreigners or English speakers, you'll probably create a microcosm of your native language around you. This is why the "go to a country and learn the language!" idea isn't very practical. You arrive, and since you can only speak English, you continue your English-speaking habits with English speaking friends. Life gets in the way, we're all busy people (American culture in particular promotes often pointless bustle, as does bureaucracy in all its forms), and learning a language in rather demoralizing circumstances when it isn't, strictly speaking, necessary is a pipe dream. And I mean truly, extremely necessary- like being shipwrecked on a remote island with a tribe of 50 cannibalistic natives and needing to convince them that you are quite an unsavory appetizer. But at that point you're probably food anyway, so my point stands. You can obviously learn a language as a natural, using the method I describe in the book. But the whole point of this book is that you shouldn't wait until you need to use it to learn a language. You can start now by immersing yourself in your language of choice, wherever you are. The only prerequisite is an internet connection and a device capable of connecting to the internet. The same way you could be in China but always surrounded by English, you can be in Bumfuck, Kansas and always be surrounded by Chinese. I've done basically this. Okay, it was Romance languages in Oklahoma, but close enough. Not to compare Oklahoma to Kansas. To be honest I haven't spent much time there. But there is the old joke that goes: Why is Oklahoma windy? Because Kansas blows and Texas sucks.
Again, I will make it clear that I am not referring to basic survival language skills, which includes basic conversational ability and the ear-wrenching accent. This has its place. It is useful and good and people will appreciate you making the effort to speak their language. Unless they're French, in which case they'll tell you to stop trying to speak French and to work on improving your English. Yes, this has happened to me. Yes, I'm still cross about it. But my guess is, based on personal experience (Romanian, Bangla, Catalan, etc.), that you won't make it past a basic conversational ability, for the reasons listed above.
A brief aside: What does fluency mean?
There seems to be a lot of debate about what the meaning of this word is. Personally, I think of it a bit like something like love, or truth, or justice: as hard as it is to define, we all pretty much know it when we see it.
If you studied science or engineering at a major University in the USA, I'm sure that like me you can think of several (or many severals) foreign-born teaching assistants or professors that you could barely understand, and that when you asked a question they didn't understand until you finally gave up on trying to follow them at all. Maybe they can read and perhaps write scientific papers fluently, but they certainly cannot converse fluently. So fluency appears to be uneven. Which makes sense. I'm perfectly non-fluent when it comes to conversing in English about something like organic chemistry. But I don't want to be fluent in organic chemistry because frankly I'm not in love with the idea of learning more about organic chemistry. It seems boring to me. Nothing against it, it's simply personal preference. Likewise, our fluency in our adopted tongue will be uneven but can and should be stacked towards the topics and themes that we find meaningful, relevant, fun, and interesting. Life's too short otherwise. Indulging the "you-shoulds" of others is a sure way to spiritual bondage.
I've also met plenty of non-native English speakers who, though they have an accent, slight or moderate, are perfectly comprehensible, speak with few or no noticeable errors, have a large command of English vocabulary, understand a wide variety of accents in English, speak with the cantor and lilt of a native, pronounce things clearly and well... I may not mistake them for American or English but I would certainly call them fluent. Their language ability has reached a level where I can communicate with them as easily as I can communicate with another native speaker of English. In fact, I like this definition of fluency. Then there is native-level fluency, harder to get to as the returns on effort diminish greatly upon achieving vanilla fluency, though certainly possible to achiev with time and practice. This is where you begin fooling native speakers. Perhaps they detect something somewhat... disconcerting about your accent but otherwise can't say one way or the other whether you're a native speaker or not, at least not at first. I recall going to see a play while I was studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. It was put on solely by exchange students, and performed in Spanish. But I could swear that one blonde-haired beauty in the play was Spanish! The German friend I went with knew her, so I went with him to say hi afterwards. As we walked up, she was speaking in English to another cast member, and I did a double-take. Lo and behold, she sounded as American as I. When she and my friend started to speak in German, I finally blurted out, "Where in the hell are you from?!" Turns out, she was German. She had apparently nailed a method, and had invested the time, into learning Spanish and English to native-level fluency.
Notice how I said that she had invested the time, in a meaningful way (ie with a method that works), rather than that she was good at languages. When someone says that I, or someone else, is good at languages, my immediate response now is, "Yes, but so is everybody. We're all good enough at learning languages. Otherwise we wouldn't be speaking in English right now!" Or, whatever language we happen to be conversing in. Hence this book, a guide on how to unlock your latent capability as a language natural, the same abilities that enabled you to learn your mother tongue. The natural capacities to follow wonder and curiosity, sit in them, and let them nurture and shape us; capacities that are so central to the human spirit we usually don't realize we have them.
How not to learn a language
I will try to keep this brief as this is a subject I am wont to talk about a lot. The short answer is: if your goal is fluency, stay away from a classroom or other traditional methods of language instruction. Here's why:
Traditional language education is made for everyone, which means it fits no one.
A lecture classroom or even a dedicated software product is expensive to produce as is. Forget about tailor making a curriculum for each student. They must try to appeal to everyone, which means they succeed in appealing to no one. It's the same reason why good entrepreneurs start their business targeting a small niche of similar customers, because similar people can be made happy with one product. A product that tries to make everyone happy simply ends up being so watered down and tasteless that all, without fail, spew the lukewarm gruel out of their mouth upon tasting. Unfortunately, common perception is that we need classes and products like this to learn, and so we waste away precious hours of our life memorizing silly things like "It is hot outside." "Where is the pencil?" " John goes to the bathroom". Fugit, inreparabile tempus.
Of course, a fluent speaker of the language should be able to say these things. But teaching these tasteless, dessicated tablescraps of the language, and as the introduction to the language no less, goes against everything we know about human development and psychology. When in doubt, think about children. We didn't have to be taught how to say it is hot outside in our mother tongue. Really, and this goes to the core of what I'm trying to convey with the Natural Method, we were taught relatively little of our native tongue. Rather, we picked it up, because we saw adults talking about all sorts of interesting things and we wanted to be able to talk about it as well. The "tablescraps" as I call them were a beneficial byproduct of us following our curiosity and interest, just like real table scraps are the byproduct of a good meal.
Democratic pedagogic reformers like Sylvie Aston-Warner and Paulo Freire have long realized that we only learn things when they are meaningful to our lives, and that implementing this insight is the key to personal freedom. Aston-Warner even gave a fancy name to this idea, organic vocabulary, which I happen to quite like. Our organic vocabulary is the topics, ideas, and concepts that are most alive for us in our lives at that moment. Our organic vocabulary is precisely what we don't need to be taught or told to learn because we'd do it on our own (though being told to do it pretty regularly spoils the fun). In exploring our organic vocabulary, we're picking up on the fundamentals by happy coincidence. We can't learn something truly- can't make it a part of us- if we don't love it. And who can love a language class? Sure, teacher can do their best to make it interesting and engaging- but the fact that they have to do that in the first place mean that there's something nefarious about the whole shebang to begin with. Think about what you love in your life. Hobbies, passions, friends, lovers. There may have been difficult moments, but my guess is on a whole the process was engaging, interesting, rewarding, fun enough to make the bumps worth it. Be suspicious of anyone who makes you suffer for what you want. Aim for enjoyment of process, as it is the only way to grow and enjoy yourself in life at the same time. The ends never justify the means because the means are the ends. The way is the destination. We never arrive, this is as good as it gets. The more we delay living and loving the more we commit existential suicide. The sooner you start doing what you love in your language- the whole reason you want to learn the language in the first place- the more alive you will become, the more fulfilled you will be, the faster your feedback loop will cycle, and the more readily you'll achieve your goal of fluency.
They trick us into thinking that a class is all we need to learn a language- if we take enough of them. Take a language course- wait, here's another one for you, and another one. Education is big business, and they're laughing all the way to the bank. And the stripclub. To do blow off a hooker's ass. Infuriating, I know. I want to do blow off a hooker's ass, too. But seriously. First of all, because it is a business with laughable customer accountability, education businesses (this includes "non-profits" like most universities, most of which, the big ones at least, made bank during the financial crisis while raising tuition under the guise of austerity) have practically no incentive to truly measure results or create better (read: effective) metrics, to innovate, to truly help their students, or to make themselves obsolete, as any institution should. The other big issue is our misconception that taking courses is enough to learn a language. Even if the method were sound, the time invested just doesn't add up. Let's take a typical three hour college course. If we're being generous, that includes probably two hours of homework a week, including study time. Sure, you say, I'm a good student, I'd study more. Bear with me, the exact numbers aren't important, but rather the order of magnitude. Five hours a week of time spent in the language. Even then, barely any of that time is actually spent with the language itself, but let's ignore that fact for now. Heard of the 10,000 hour idea? Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the idea is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in something to become an expert. The actual research is more complex than that, but it's a good rule of thumb. Five hours a week times 52 weeks equals 260 hours a year. At that rate, it would take over 38 years to reach your 10,000 hours. No wonder, with classes being the primary language learning paradigm, we think it is impossible to learn languages! We just haven't taken 38 years straight of language classes. Double, quadruple the time per week if you want- it is still 19 years and 9.5 years, respectively.
Dude, I hear you, you say. We need to get shit done outside of classes, too. But there's only so much time in the day, only so many hours in the day to dedicate to memorizing vocabulary and drilling conjugation tables and responding to prompts like, "What was the weather like yesterday? What is your favorite weather?" Broseph, bromigo, how do we fit it all in?
Ah, young padawan, you must first empty your cup to receive the sweet nectar of ancient truths you forgot you knew. It's not about doing, at least not at first, it's about being. Be the language. This requires a complete paradigm shift that I'll get into shortly. The 10,000 hours, to continue with that useful heuristic, goes by much more quickly in the Natural Method because we're constantly soaking in the language around the clock (ideally). It is completely possible to reach fluency, depending on your motivation, willingness to surrender to the process I outline here, your success in developing habits, the ascendant sign in relation to your astrological symbol, the moon phase and the passing of Haley's comet, in one to two years. If you really throw yourself overboard, that includes native-level fluency. In my case, for example, I spent about a year and a half immersing myself in Spanish then a year studying abroad, where I hardly used English except to Skype with family. And even then I was bad son and Skyped only infrequently. At the end of my year in Spain, my second year as a Spaniard as it were, I had that lovely, excellent, blissful moment all language learners dream of: being mistaken for a native. I was hiking up the coast of Galicia with a friend, my backpack covered in the melted remains of a chocolate bar I'd forgotten about that the hot summer sun had turned to brown goo, breathing in the fresh ocean air. I passed by an elderly couple in their garden, bemusedly watching us hike by. I asked them if we were going the right way. We had a polite, pleasant chat about nothing in particular. Suddenly looking at me with curiosity, the Grandma asked me, "So, you're Catalan, right?" I could have died a happy man right then. It made all the frustrating moments, the inadequacies, the language goofs, worth it. Being confused for a native would happen somewhat frequently after that, but that moment is carved into my psyche as the first time. The other moment like this that stands out in my mind is a disastrous trip to Miami for a student conference. Due to two flat tires we missed the first day, and got drunk in a Cuban-owned Spanish tapas bar that night. By the way, in America at least, everyone always thinks you’ve said topless bar and does a double take. Which gives me a genius idea for a restaurant, a topless tapas bar. Anyway, at the tapas bar I was having a good time speaking to the waiters and owners in Spanish. As we were leaving, one of our waiters came up to me, and asked in his cut Cuban dialect of Spanish, "Hey buddy, how did you learn English? I just got here a few weeks ago and I'm really struggling to learn!" The night ended with the cops chasing us off the beach at three in the morning- not because of the mass crowd of skinny dipping students from the conference, but because the beach was "closed". How a beach can be "closed" is beyond me.
There were plenty of embarrassing gaffes along the way to this level of fluency, which I'll share later. My Spanish is still good but probably not great enough to pass off as native- too long out of the saddle- but I've been there. I have seen the land of milk and honey, and it is good, my friend.
A couple of years is still a long time, but it sure as hell beats forty. And if you have the constitution, the depth of faith required, I guarantee you it'll be a wild ride if you follow your adventure. Hopefully, there aren't cops involved. And the two years are gonna pass anyway- might as well come out the other side with the language you're flirting with. You know, DTR. I think of an apocryphal story I've heard. I remember hearing it a couple times about different famous dead guys, but the only one that I can remember definitely is Napoleon Bonaparte, so we'll go with that. As the story goes he wanted trees planted along a road to shade his troops as they marched. His advisors, doing what advisors do, advised him that it would be years before the trees were big enough to shade his troops. "Ah!" Napoleon responded in whatever early 19th century French sounded like, "Then we have not a day to waste!" The sooner we start, the sooner we arrive, because starting again each day is the only sense of arrival we'll ever have. At least the journey is fun and interesting, and I can guarantee you won't come back the same. If you come back.
Language classes are based on antiquated methods of learning dead languages. Sad but true: the same methods the founding fathers (moment of silence, please) used to learn ancient Greek and Latin, dead languages with no native speakers, we are using to learn modern, living languages. Memorizing vocabulary, drilling conjugation tables, practicing proper grammar through writing exercises- no one learns to actually use a language fluently or naturally that way. At the least, it's a boring, mind numbing way to do it, which is no recipe for long term success. We certainly didn't learn our native tongues this way. But educational institutions are slow to evolve. Reaaally slow. Glacial. The lecture has been obsolete since the invention of the printing press, and we still use it as the chief method of information transfer in schools. It might have made sense for learning a language that is dead, but for a living, breathing language with plenty of native speakers, and even better, tons of native media made for native speakers, by native speakers, and easily accessible on the internet, we can essentially emulate the process we used to learn our native tongue.
I do find it amusing that so many kids are still coerced into learning dead languages like Latin and Ancient Greek. If you want to because you genuinely enjoy it, find it fascinating, whatever, great. I wish you the best in your endeavors, and many fat, happy children to boot. But I've often heard educators, and heard students justify educators in this, tout Latin as a way to learn more English vocabulary and get a leg up on Romance languages. Let me get this straight- the idea is to learn a dead language to help learn a living language? Why not just learn the living language? If you learn Spanish, then learn French or Italian, as one example, I guarantee you'll get more benefit than learning Latin first to learn either French or Spanish.
Classes are necrophilic. Erich Fromm characterizes people and institutions into two categories: necrophilic and biophilic. Do they love life, in all its organic messiness? Or is there a sterile, overbearing need for control, a love of the neatness and cleanliness in dead things? Unfortunately, most of our education system- the institutions, the products, the apps, the books- are necrophilic. This is especially apparent to me in the language education industry. Language education almost always takes something living, breathing, organic, alive, messy, beautiful, poetic; kills it, dissects it, and turns it into something sterile, awful, repulsive, broken apart. It is stripped of context. Stripped of all that made it beautiful and vibrant. It is analyzed. It is discussed. It is never learned, for learning can only take place through the beautifully messy act of life itself. In this context, that means living the language, not endlessly debating it. It means experience, not discourse. Language is life, to the extent that we participate in life through language. We do not participate in life in a classroom, unless you are part of the 1% of the population called to be professional scholars. Even then, professional scholars don't attend lectures... they discuss, a very different thing. But the necrophilic approach placates our rational minds and gives the illusion of true learning. We accept necrophilic dissection for true learning, true living. And we've come to blindly accept that we do not know what's best for us, what we should be feeding our minds and souls with. I remember my English courses in school. Learning about long and short vowels, for example. A completely arbitrary distinction, one that confused me endlessly as well. And yet... I was able to read, write, speak, listen without ever knowing or understanding what in 'vastation a long or short vowel was. We learn to speak by listening, and trying it out ourselves, and course correcting based on feedback from the world around us. We learn to read and write by expressing our natural curiosity in this strange pattern that we see everywhere, that we see everyone using (as kids we all want to be like adults), and gradually piecing it together. We try both out, and in the case of writing, we improve primarily by reading. A lot. Same with vocabulary. The people who have big vocabularies have read a lot. Things they enjoyed, they found pleasure in. We all developed our abilities in our native language by our innate desire to participate in the holy, divine experience we call life.
Classrooms are an echo chamber for self-defeating attitudes and behaviors.
Brofessor, get off the soapbox, I hear you say. All this is well and good, but, like, my brain turned off at age five or seven or something and I can't learn languages that way anymore.
Young Padawan. There is a most heinous and atrocious myth we have been sold: that somehow our brain shuts off its natural language learning capacity at some arbitrary age. Hell, this could be true to a certain extent, for all I know. But from what I understand of the situation, some well-respected linguist back in the day (not naming any names, but you know who you are, rhymes with Broam Bromsky) made a theory, as theorists do, that our language center of the brain turned off at a certain age. Since linguistics was young at that time, and he was at the forefront of it, linguists in his department spread to every university in the nation like a virulent cancer and infected every single linguistics department across the nation, propagating this vile excuse. Because that's what it is: a convenient excuse for us to not do something that is difficult and that challenges our established identities, which requires a supreme confidence in oneself to bear. Never underestimate the human's capacity to deceive itself, a friend once told me. But as experimentalists have dug into this with objectivity rather than taking this theory for granted, evidence has mounted that adults can actually learn languages more easily than babies or tots. It may be that their brains are more language-learning focused, but neuroplasticity is a widely studied phenomenon. Basically, our brains literally change their physiology based on our thoughts, experiences, actions, and feedback. Learning your new language literally changes your brain, and every living person's brain is neuroplastic. Neuroplastic enough, certainly, to learn a language naturally. And it makes sense that adults could learn it more quickly than children. Think about how long it was before you could understand and express complex abstract concepts in English, or whatever your native language is- probably around a decade, if not longer, like me. And it wasn't easy- it was a long, frustrating process, often involving feeling powerless and unable to express ourselves. Unable to be independent. Ultimately we've simply forgotten how hard it was.
As adults, we don't have relearn abstract thought. When we are motivated and dedicated, we have more power to arrange our environment in such a way that we can achieve our goal more easily. We can focus on things that work and processes we enjoy rather than slogging through things that other people want us to do (school, homework, forced extracurriculars, etc). In other words, we have a host of advantages that tots don't have. Chiefly, the power of choice, a glorious thing. There is plenty more to say on this subject, but I'll leave it at that.
Emphasis on a formal, static, written language. Real language is fluid and evolves. We forget that writing came after speaking, and we almost tend to consider languages without the written word to be half languages. I think this emphasis on written language is one of the reasons why so many students struggle with the spoken language. First, the course tends to be text based. Anything colloquial or alive is discounted because it doesn't seem academic enough. And the emphasis is, as discussed above, on written, "formal" rules. But no one talks that way. In our native tongues, we don't think as we speak, "Okay, next comes the past participle... and here I need the appropriate preposition..." It comes out naturally because we've been exposed to the patterns so often, patterns that are constantly shifting as the language morphs. For example, formal French says that to create a negative statement, ne + pas is used. Yet French speakers have been omitting the "ne" for quite a while. In Spanish, the ends of past participles are often clipped in speech from, for example, hablado to habla-o. In other words, the rules are an explanation of the language, not a prescription. A language is a decentralized, ground-up phenomenon that exists because of a communal faith in a common pattern or code. Variations to within a certain degree fall within a dialect, and if a certain dialect morphs so much it can become a language. But even the dialect/language debate is more about geopolitics than linguistics. Case in point- what are regional languages in Spain (Basque, Catalan, Galician) are called dialects in China (Cantonese, for example, incredible considering that Cantonese is far more different from Mandarin than Galician or Catalan is from Spanish!). In Italy these languages are looked down upon as backwards, guttural utterances barely deserving of being called a dialect. E.g. Venetian- I had a Venetian friend whose parents spoke Venetian, and she spoke it too, but refused to because of how much it embarrassed her. As the author of The Power of Babel writes, the more accurate view is to see the geolinguistic landscape as a series of gradients based upon common history and mutual intelligibility.
...sees much and knows much