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Old 06-21-2012, 11:47 AM
 
Location: Whittier, CA
494 posts, read 1,911,297 times
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I have spent time in many different parts of the world and interacted with various groups of people, many of them learning a 2nd language (my focus is primarily on Spanish since it is such a popular and prevalent choice)... I am going to make some bold generalizations about what I have observed when it comes to language proficiency:

Europeans - will generally understate their proficiency level in the 2nd language and surprise you with their actual skill level. I feel Europeans are generally naturals at picking up other languages and this is possibly due to the very mixed nature of Europe.

Asians - Mixed experience... many Asians exhibit a disinterest in learning the native language but those that do have pretty good success at it due to their diligence. I have interacted with Japanese and Chinese students in South America who lived there just 1 year and they spoke well for their level. Accents can be hit or miss.

Americans - Hugely over-inflate their language abilities. Most Americans I have met have an extremely poor grasp of the 2nd language, especially Spanish. With Americans it's more over promise and under deliver. Will speak 20 words in the target language and claim they are fluent. Accent neutralization is a HUGE problem with most Americans having a very poor ability to replicate the natural accent. I guess a good majority of Americans are uninterested in anything that is not American so those that do know even a little about the outside world (like 20 words in another language) stand out as knowing a lot.

Brits - Somewhat poor at learning or speaking, accents are generally terrible.. usually will self-admit to their poor grasp, expats usually exhibit a disinterest in learning the language and prefer to just speak in English among other Brits they can find.

Aussies - Better than the Brits for sure, but largely do not brag about linguistic skills at all... much more open to learning the language but accent neutralization is still a big problem. I HAVE seen an Australian speak fluently in Japanese which was impressive.

Remember, these are **generalizations** based on my experience, there are definitely exceptions to the rule in every group but I am referring to 90% of the people.

I'm sure my comments will rile up a few here but feel free to disagree
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Old 06-21-2012, 01:29 PM
 
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I know that Chinese people are interested in doing business. Therefore the ones that want to do international business are usually very interested in learning English.

Americans who are the first generation of their family born in the USA usually do speak a second language (the native language of their parents). Also Americans who have lived overseas for an extended period in a particular place also usually speak quite well the language of the place that they lived if they had to interact with the locals who didn't speak English on a regular basis.
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Old 06-21-2012, 02:40 PM
 
Location: Texas
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I really can't say how all Americans view their language skills, so if you say that your experience is that most of the ones you met don't measure up, well then, who am I to argue. However, I do take slight issue with the statement that most Americans are not interested in anything not American. Again, I know you said this was a generalization and you couldn't possibly know every one (neither do I) but I have to disagree.

You mentioned that since Europeans might be the best at learning languages b/c of their proximity to so many other languages, you might also apply that to Americans. Most of us didn't grow up hearing a lot of different languages so that might account for less than adequate "accent" but don't mistake that for disinterest.

I've taken French, German and Italian...I can understand it a lot better than I could ever speak it. I didn't know who to practice with and the opportunity for real life interaction was limited. I do think things have changed in more recent years, but again, not exactly as positive a review as your other generalizations.
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Old 06-21-2012, 02:54 PM
 
770 posts, read 1,174,156 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ducviloxi View Post
Americans - Hugely over-inflate their language abilities. Most Americans I have met have an extremely poor grasp of the 2nd language, especially Spanish. With Americans it's more over promise and under deliver. Will speak 20 words in the target language and claim they are fluent. Accent neutralization is a HUGE problem with most Americans having a very poor ability to replicate the natural accent. I guess a good majority of Americans are uninterested in anything that is not American so those that do know even a little about the outside world (like 20 words in another language) stand out as knowing a lot.
I agree with this. I know so many people who say they "speak" a language after they've taken a year of it in high school or college. I remember in one of my classes in college, the professor wanted to see how many people knew a second language. When he said "How many of you speak another language?" almost everyone raised their hands. When he specifically asked "Can you have a conversation in another language?" or "Could you get by if you went to that country?" there were barely any hands left. I've learned that when asking an American if they know another language you need to ask specifically about their level of fluency, because if they know 5 words, they'll probably say yes.
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Old 06-21-2012, 03:15 PM
 
Location: Quakertown, Pa., USA
385 posts, read 856,931 times
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My wife is from Beijing and has learned English very well in the four years that we have known each other, I have learned Chinese ( much more then 20 words ) because I lived there with her for 2 years ( 1 year solid and 1 year off and on ) and when we want to discuss something in front of our kids and don't want them to know what we are talking about we do it in Chinese but lately we are going to be doing it in private because our kids are picking up on the Chinese, but I see what your saying about most Americans only knowing about 20 words and thinking they speak the language very well, my cousin is one of these people, he started learning Chinese with a disc, ( Pim******) and has stopped already, he thought he would speak with my wife in Chinese and all she did was laugh ( he screwed it up that bad )

Edited to say: I can hold a basic conversation, read a news paper but never learned to write in Chinese
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Old 06-21-2012, 04:41 PM
 
Location: PriBaltica!
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Russians, just like Americans, tend to over-estimate their foreign language abilities.
And some of the small European nations are very good at picking up two or three foreign languages. For example, where I live, it is very unusual if an educated and success-oriented person doesn't speak two foreign languages(Russian and English).
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Old 06-21-2012, 06:48 PM
 
Location: State of Transition
102,081 posts, read 107,088,272 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ducviloxi View Post
Americans - Hugely over-inflate their language abilities. Most Americans I have met have an extremely poor grasp of the 2nd language, especially Spanish. With Americans it's more over promise and under deliver. Will speak 20 words in the target language and claim they are fluent.
This tends to be more true of the male segment of the population. Women are more humble about their abilities, and often could out-do the aggressive men who claim to be fluent, if they were given a chance. They're not interested in showing off though, more typically.

Some people have an ear for language and can sound like native speakers when learning a foreign language(even Americans), some don't. It's a gift.

And don't forget Canadians! When I was a teen, I knew a number of Canadians who were required to learn French in school, but their heart just wasn't in it. You could compare them to Americans who study Spanish in school.
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Old 06-22-2012, 06:11 AM
 
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English schoolchildren are the worst in Europe at speaking foreign languages:
English pupils 'bottom of European league for languages' - Telegraph
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Old 06-24-2012, 05:13 AM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
24,606 posts, read 55,831,141 times
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Most Aussies cannot speak a foreign language, although it's becoming compulsory in schools, I'd still say only a minority are really fluent. I studied Japanese for two years but scarcely remember more than a dozen words/phrases. Wish I'd applied myself, but I also don't feel the teaching was as good as it could have been.
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Old 06-26-2012, 04:37 PM
 
Location: God's Gift to Mankind for flying anything
5,921 posts, read 13,798,617 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trimac20 View Post
Most Aussies cannot speak a foreign language, although it's becoming compulsory in schools, I'd still say only a minority are really fluent. I studied Japanese for two years but scarcely remember more than a dozen words/phrases. Wish I'd applied myself, but I also don't feel the teaching was as good as it could have been.
I do not think that one can ever become *fluent*, by just studying two years of any language *in school*.
If you take the term *two years*, how many hours does that really end up as ?

If you did two years of the language, in the country where the language is spoken, then you would be far better in the use of that language. You *hear* it all day long, and you *have* to speak it.

So I am not sure, if you can *blame* the teaching methods.

I was taught four languages total (Dutch - because we lived in The Netherlands, English - easy for me because my Father was from Scottish descend, French - compulsory in Holland, and German - another easy one for me because my Mom was German), for a very long time in school, and when it was all over, I was fluent in Dutch and German, and I could make myself understood in the two other languages. I did grow up in a bi-lingual household !. A far cry from being fluent in *all* the languages I learned in school. Only when I started working in the neighbouring countries, did I become fluent in the language of the country I was working in.

Today, I am also fluent in English (after 40 years in the USA), and French (because I worked many many years in the French part of Switzerland).
I also worked a few years in Sweden (for Volvo and other Engineering Companies), and friends in Stockholm always ask me why I speak a funny kind of Swedish ...

The majority of the people here on CD, who are truly multi-lingual, are probably multi-lingual from childhood on, or do speak their Mother's Tongue, but live and work in another country (with a different language) for at least a year or so.

True is that I have not met many people from Australia who were at least bi-lingual, except for my cousins who live in Brisbane, but they have the same background as I have. Most *English-speaking* tourist I have met in Europe, speak the language we call Grocery-.......... (fill in the appropriate language), because after a while, they will be able to get by, and getting what they want from the groceries or restaurants. When it comes to doing business in the local language, it always comes back to *proper English*.

I am not sure if you get the TV travel series, conducted by Rick Steves, but that show proves that most tourists, and he truly is a professional tourist, do speak some words or sentences in a foreign language, but often with a really deplorable accent !!!

Last edited by irman; 06-26-2012 at 04:46 PM..
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