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Old 07-10-2014, 04:12 PM
 
Location: Berkeley, S.F. Bay Area
374 posts, read 366,024 times
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This is really directed at the native english speakers that travel often, but does speaking english make you feel powerful, privileged, or impressive in non-English speaking countries? It sure seems like it does in my experiences and the way the world treats first-language, fluent English speakers.

It seems that in a world filled with Americanized Globalization, speaking english to natives of other countries makes me feel incredibly powerful. I don't mean to gloat, I must emphasize this, even within 1st world countries like France--for example--my French friends love hearing me speak English and I can often make people feel great or terrible if I make a remark in english. Same happened in Germany and Denmark. I don't have that power when speaking their tongue, but as soon as I make a demand or try to speak to someone in English, they pause and either aggressively do what I ask or give me special attention.

In Asia, it's even more emphasized that I speak english around my Asian friends. In China I can make close friends quick by speaking Chinese, but whenever I'm walking around with them they always wanted to me to speak English with them in front of other people. When I did I would get even more stares, people would rush to advertise either themselves or their business to me, and people wanted to shake my hand or talk to me.

When I spoke back in Chinese, they sternly insisted the conversation continue in English or would keep talking in broken English to get me to respond in English. This all applies for every Asian country I've been too besides South Korea.

So, for those English speakers, do you experience this too? Especially for American, Canadian and British users, do you ever feel the need, or desire to flaunt your national origin via your language because you know people with yield to you? Do they yield in general or are my situations just special cases?
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Old 07-10-2014, 04:35 PM
 
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That hasn't been my experience. When in France, I spoke French (badly), but it was a fun ice breaker, and people were quite willing to chat with me -- they could tell right away from my knowledge of French and my accent that I was Canadian. The one time I had to deal with a rude waiter, I got my way by speaking French to him, not English -- I personally doubt that I would've gotten anywhere with him if I'd tried speaking English. It was in a restaurant in an area of Paris where they had many customers from all over the world.

When visiting Japan, I spoke what little survival Japanese I knew and nodded my head politely as is the custom there when saying hello, goodbye, thank you, excuse me, etc. I found that I drew attention just by being a white woman, which is still kind of unusual there, especially for kids who saw me. I don't think speaking loudly in English would've gotten me any more attention or special treatment.

I think either the people that you ran into were responding to your attitude, not your English. An assertive attitude probably gets faster action from waiters, store clerks, etc., than being more quiet. Or, maybe they were enthusiastic about having an opportunity to practise their own English with a native English speaker... like in China, that would not be a common opportunity for most people.
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Old 07-10-2014, 04:42 PM
 
Location: Vancouver
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Never. In fact the opposite. I felt others I met and could speak English were the more powerful ones since they had several languages. If they didn't speak English, and I was trying to communicate with hand gestures and a few words in their language, I felt frustrated, but not powerful.

I haven't been to Asia, but friends who have, said that people do want them to speak English to them, but that's ONLY because they want to practice their English.

The English language is the language of business, and in that regards it's powerful. However I don't see how that translates into me feeling powerful when I'm just conversing in non-business interactions.

Honestly, I find it really strange that it makes you feel powerful. Your French friends and others…are you sure that they just want to hear you accent? I had a friend from Georgia and while we were in France the French loved to hear him speak…unfortunately they were really kind of laughing at him.

I also find it odd that you think people yield to you because you speak English? In what way do they yield?
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Old 07-10-2014, 04:51 PM
 
Location: San Antonio/Houston
37,981 posts, read 55,740,290 times
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Quote:
Speaking English in non-English speaking countries make you appear Affluent or Sophisticated?
In contrary! It always feels better to try and speak the language of the visited country. Even if just few basic sentences. Or even try to use translating app or dictionary. They appreciate the effort, and I noticed, they are always friendlier and more eager to help, and accommodate. It surely put a smile on their face.
Maybe that's the smile most Americans miss in other countries??

I mean, really... just imagine e.g. German or Italian come to visit the US and start to speak their language, AND expect everyone to understand it, smile and be helpful - or complain that they can't understand a word, and people are rude to them
So, why to expect it in other countries?
People in most other countries speak languages, that's the advantage THEY have, as opposite to most Americans who speak only one language, but expect the whole world to speak it too.

BTW: it's interesting how people in other countries WANT to learn/practice English from their English speaking visitors (they also do the same in other countries, and try to learn/practice their language), but most Americans don't feel that it would be a great idea to take the opportunity and learn few words while they are already there.
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Last edited by elnina; 07-10-2014 at 05:06 PM..
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Old 07-10-2014, 05:42 PM
 
Location: Berkeley, S.F. Bay Area
374 posts, read 366,024 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Natnasci View Post

Honestly, I find it really strange that it makes you feel powerful. Your French friends and others…are you sure that they just want to hear you accent? I had a friend from Georgia and while we were in France the French loved to hear him speak…unfortunately they were really kind of laughing at him.

I also find it odd that you think people yield to you because you speak English? In what way do they yield?
It might have more to do with my nationality perhaps, but it seems to be triggered when I start speaking English. I see English everywhere, and everyone is trying to learn it since its transcending nations. But my accent isn't very interesting, it sounds standard American with a hint of Californian but nothing special.

I mean I'm not saying that I felt like I dominated the world when I spoke English, but it felt as if I was 'privileged' to be speaking a language. Everyone is trying to learn it and always mimicking it, so personally I felt a little inflated. I understand it has nothing to do with my personality, but whenever I had an issue, I would reluctantly start talking in English and things seemed to move quicker. That's what I mean by yield, like the put down their objections to me. But that happens primarily in poorer countries, or in France's case, with African Immigrants (I should also note that I'm black American.)

It's perhaps the most global language that almost every non-native speaker tries to learn, but when I use it, and my friends as well, its like it elevates us. However in Europe, amongst the people who weren't immigrants or were White, they're just interested in my English--they don't inflate my ego or anything, I'm talking primarily those on the poorer side in Europe, or solidly in the blue collar class.

Asia is a whole different field.
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Old 07-10-2014, 05:47 PM
 
Location: Berkeley, S.F. Bay Area
374 posts, read 366,024 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ottawa2011 View Post

I think either the people that you ran into were responding to your attitude, not your English. An assertive attitude probably gets faster action from waiters, store clerks, etc., than being more quiet. Or, maybe they were enthusiastic about having an opportunity to practise their own English with a native English speaker... like in China, that would not be a common opportunity for most people.
I wasn't very assertive, but especially in Asia, people just didn't seem interested in speaking their native tongue with me unless it was a close conversation. I'm reminded of this: Marketing: How to Be a Rent-a-Foreigner in China | Global News - Advertising Age There's (especially in China) this strange trend of the popularity of Westerners, and subsequently English. On my trips, people were just more interested in me and paid me more attention and in many cases 'respect', when I started speaking English.

My Australian friend thought that the language indicated I was from a wealthier country and likely have a lot of money or they're just reacting to stereotypes about Americans as bossy people.
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Old 07-10-2014, 05:52 PM
 
Location: Berkeley, S.F. Bay Area
374 posts, read 366,024 times
Reputation: 289
Quote:
Originally Posted by elnina View Post
In contrary! It always feels better to try and speak the language of the visited country. Even if just few basic sentences. Or even try to use translating app or dictionary. They appreciate the effort, and I noticed, they are always friendlier and more eager to help, and accommodate. It surely put a smile on their face.
Maybe that's the smile most Americans miss in other countries??

I mean, really... just imagine e.g. German or Italian come to visit the US and start to speak their language, AND expect everyone to understand it, smile and be helpful - or complain that they can't understand a word, and people are rude to them
So, why to expect it in other countries?
People in most other countries speak languages, that's the advantage THEY have, as opposite to most Americans who speak only one language, but expect the whole world to speak it too.

BTW: it's interesting how people in other countries WANT to learn/practice English from their English speaking visitors (they also do the same in other countries, and try to learn/practice their language), but most Americans don't feel that it would be a great idea to take the opportunity and learn few words while they are already there.
I absolutely agree, and that's why I was puzzle (especially in Asia) why nobody was concerned beyond a few seconds that I spoke the language. They would be stunned that I could say something, and then when introducing me to more friends or family, I was advised to "speak a lot of English." Same with purchasing things at a store. Speaking English indicated that I was a a tourist or wealthy foreigner who deserves concern. Same with contacting the police, my Japanese friend remarked after a bike was stolen, "I think if you speak more English the police will work harder to find the bike." And I asked him why and he replied, "Because you're an American foreigner."

I tried to get him to elaborate but he always cuts off conversations like that. But yes, I'm not saying that going abroad we should be boastful, but I'm wondering if there's a very obvious set of privileges that come with speaking English
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Old 07-10-2014, 06:04 PM
 
Location: The Pacific Northwest
6,015 posts, read 6,365,710 times
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No, I didn't feel powerful at all. When I visited Switzerland in 2012, I felt sort of cliche and bland speaking English because most people there know 2-3 languages and quite often more. I did meet a girl from Zurich who had traveled extensively through South America and we actually spoke in Spanish and I felt better at least doing that.

When I lived in Spain, I was too concerned about actually learning the language (I was there to study abroad) though it was a bit irritating because quite often people would answer me back in English when they heard my accent. This was less of a problem outside of larger cities where English isn't as prevalent. I suppose I could see how some people might see everyone speaking English as a luxury. But I've never really experienced what you are talking about.
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Old 07-10-2014, 06:09 PM
 
3,431 posts, read 3,046,217 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GalacticDragonfly View Post
I wasn't very assertive, but especially in Asia, people just didn't seem interested in speaking their native tongue with me unless it was a close conversation. I'm reminded of this: Marketing: How to Be a Rent-a-Foreigner in China | Global News - Advertising Age There's (especially in China) this strange trend of the popularity of Westerners, and subsequently English. On my trips, people were just more interested in me and paid me more attention and in many cases 'respect', when I started speaking English.

My Australian friend thought that the language indicated I was from a wealthier country and likely have a lot of money or they're just reacting to stereotypes about Americans as bossy people.
It's interesting, I guess the reasons for the reactions would kind of depend upon which country it was, and what the local stereotypes about Westerners might be. In Asia, I think it's pretty much assumed that if you're a Westerner, you're affluent. Many parts of Asia still don't have huge tourists industries, or large numbers of Western travellers. They most likely assume that you're there on business...

I would guess that in Europe, they might be responding to the fact that you're American -- as opposed to British. In Europe, I got the impression that there are still more Brits running around as tourists there than Americans. I certainly saw more British there than Americans. Just a theory.
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Old 07-10-2014, 06:41 PM
 
318 posts, read 407,570 times
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I've been to 15 countries in Oceania/Australasia, North America, Asia and Europe. No, I don't feel powerful at all, in fact I feel it often puts me at a disadvantage. Getting screwed over by vendors in Asia, for instance, 'oh look another clueless foreigner, lets take advantage of him.' Asians aren't impressed with people who can just speak English, why would they be? Why is speaking English impressive anyway, it's the most widely spoken second language, in fact it's kind of bland being a monoglot English speaker, you feel you don't have a language of your 'own' to define your identity with, since English has become so global.

I'd say my Australian accent is more of an asset in the States, less so in the UK. English people aren't as enamoured with the Aussie accent as Americans.
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