Do you just "Pick Up" a language by being in the country?
I think not... and here is what I've got to say about this "urban language myth", if anyone's interested:
If anyone's got any comments/opinions on the matter, I'd sure love to hear them :)
This article is interesting, and true for the bigger part. However, it undermines a few things:
There is a natural talent for language learning. Studies have shown for instance bilingual kids learn faster any additional language than monolingual kids do. Furthermore, just as you have a "musical" ear, you'll catch faster the local accent. The rest is work, dedication, interest (or passion in some cases - of course the kid who speaks 35 languages probably spends most of his day doing that).
No one said Dave will be magically bilingual. They simply said he will learn quite fast the basics, which is probably true. The author mixes a bit "speaking arabic", "being fluent" and "being bilingual", IMO. These are truely very, very different levels of mastery. So, yeah, Dave will know the basics, but won't be able to have a philosophical debate over Socrates' theories. But is any native able to do so? No, it's the same for your own language: a kid learns the vocabulary of philosophy at school, and never uses it again (let's be honest here.) (eg do you know what "arable" means? Do you use this word often? Do you give a sh*t about being able to say it in Portuguese? ;-) )
Let's take an example here: A good friend of mine moved to Spain. He spoke no Spanish, and wasn't requested to work in Spanish either, so he made no effort whatsoever to learn the language. But he was surrounded all day long by Spanish speakers: work colleagues, cashiers, neighbors, barmen... Guess what? He's fluent now... Of course he makes plenty of mistakes, and catching Spanish is easy if you're French. But he didn't take any special Spanish classes - but was surrounded by Spaniards, not in a French community. So you might say, yeah, he picked it up. What's his degree of mastery is a different issue.
All good and valid points, thanks for taking the time and effort to reply. If you speak a related language, e.g. French and you're in Spain, like you mentioned, it certainly helps. I think, at least in part, I've so little trouble with English because German is closely related, and more trouble with Spanish because it isn't.
I'm one of these people who actually cares about words like "arable" as well as philosophical debates, and when I really focus on a language, my aim will always be to get to that level. I appreciate, though, that that's not true for everyone.
I am one of those people too, but as you said, most of people won't care. :-)
I've learned a lot of Portuguese in Brazil. Maybe it wasn't grammatically perfect, but with Duolingo it's starting to get fine.
I've made a start in Portuguese. Am hoping to spend some time in Portugal over the next few years. Might even move there for a while, but not this coming year. The texbook/DL stuff is fine, but I need to get some 'real life language' into me as well.
I'm glad not everyone is wishing to learn portuguese from brazil instead of european portuguese. Duolingo could have the latter as well.
My teacher is from Lisbon... and, seeing as I live in Spain, Portugal is much easier and cheaper to get to compared to Brazil. I would quite like to get to grips with both, but you've got to start somewhere ;-)
Hum, not sure if that is really compatible for a foreign. I always thought that as a foreign you'd have to choose one of them and stick to it. But let me know later when you try it :)
I'm actually glad when people mix British and American English. It's basically only thick-headedness that separates the two. Shakespeare and Chaucer couldn't even spell one word the same way each time, but we (the UK and the US) manage to bicker about it like two unhappily married pensioners.
I will try to stick to European Portuguese for now. But many people learning English also draw from both main sources, UK and US English (plus Australian, etc), and it's not necessarily an impediment. But we'll see...
While I do agree with this article, I do not agree with the topic. The article itself is really saying that telling people they will 'pick the language up' doesn't help them. That they should invest time, energy, and focus into learning a language. I agree with this. I do not agree that someone cannot 'pick the language up'. Even if you just narrow it down to nessesity, most people can and will learn a language by simply being in the country. Obviously, some languages will be easier than others depending on your native language. I do believe some people are naturally better at learning a language than others, as with other things such as sports or art or music.
You do have a point, of course. It's just that I've come into contact with many people over the years who've been in a country for donkey's years and whose language level was pitiful. Sure, they could mostly trot out "shop and restaurant" language, as another commenter's just called it, but little more. If you want to go beyond that, a concerted effort is required, I think.
Agreed. You have to want to learn something in order to learn it well. :)
That will also be because the locals speak English. I know people leaving in Asian countries and having no necessity to learn the local language as they only go to places where they can be understood when speaking English. Others however will live in Spain or France, where, believe me, English is not enough for you to get around and people will talk to you in the local language.
No, I clicked on the link you provided about your childhood language-learning troubles!
Very interesting, btw. I've been born a few years later, in a different country and in a bilingual family. It is true language learning has incredibly changed, and is now highly valued regardless of the professional path you take.
But somehow, at least in France, language teachers remain the worst teachers there are -and still probably could not hold a decent conversation- and speaking flawlessly can be a source of teasing. I have always been in love with the English language, and I try very hard to speak as well as a native (if that's even possible without leaving in an English speaking country is another debate :-) ). But I was always mocked at school when speaking with a good accent. It only changed in College, once you get surrounded in majority by "well educated and open-minded people", if I may say.
I've recently put a lot of effort into learning Spanish, and I got really, really made fun of because of it. People just don't get why in hell I would want to speak perfect Spanish -which I'm far from- and not just settle with "being able to get around while on vacation". Truth is, I don't know myself why I am doing this, but is it really worth more mocking than playing dumb videogames all day long?...
The Japanese have a saying - The nail that sticks out is pounded down. Sadly, it seems that only once you can demonstrate that your difference has brought you some kind of recognisable success (very often that will mean a good job and money) will others value that difference. I'm trying to come up with another piece along the lines of ""(When) is multilingualism valued?", so I'm hunting around for ideas. Thanks for your input on this, it's very helpful.
Well you're welcome. I myself tend to overthink that kind of problems about language learning and speaking, cultural context etc.
I started reading your blog and I'm really enjoying it! Funny anecdotes and some interesting insights. Good job!
Thanks :) Glad you're enjoying it. I like exchanging my half-baked theories with others.
Unless you do your best to be isolated (and have enough non-native community around to support this) you pick up something, mostly what I call "shop and restaurant language", enough words and phrases to get by but not enough to carry a conversation.
I admit I learned more Spanish when I was one year in Spain than German when I was three years in Germany: in Spain I went to the language course and most of the people I interacted with were locals, while in Germany a large part of the people I interacted with were other foreigners and I attended a course only for the very basics. But I did pick up some German just by being there.
Good point about the "shop & restaurant" language. I want to write something about this at some point, but my ideas haven't coalesced yet to the point where I've got an angle, or even enough substance for a piece.
And yes, how much you learn depends on your social environment. I had English nailed in a few months, because I was surrounded by it 20/7, and nobody I knew in my social/work circle spoke any German in the UK. Now in Spain, it's very different. I work from home in English all day, so it's taking me significantly longer; after two years I'm at the level I was with my English after just six months or so.
I personally think the "Shop Restaurant" watermark is more to do with the amount actual conversation you can expose yourself easily to daily, while still being able to hike it quickly to avoid embarrassment. So in effect, it proves that anyone can pick up the words they need, just most people don't happen to need very many.
As far as the article, it made me chuckle a few times :). I'm still of the opinion that you can 'just pick it up', but of course it goes without saying that you have to work at it. I thought that was a given :). The real reason to learn while you are there, is because you don't have to wonder if you are talking sense or not. If you say something, and get nothing but a silent quizzical expression in return, you know what to focus on next. I always find it much more reassuring to learn from actual people, and one way or another you end up paying for it so you may as well take the 'educational holiday' route.
Direct and immediate feedback from real people is very valuable. For this reason, I engage in a lot of language exchange lessons, where it's 'safe' to try out a few things to see how they go down. It also stops me from just resorting to the same old words and expressions over and over again. Like you've already alluded to, exposing oneself merely to the "shops & restaurants" environment is inherently limiting.
I think you can pick up a language a lot more quickly if you are in the country where they speak it fluently. It's hard to learn if you don't speak and here the language everyday.
I completely agree. I moved to Spain mainly for that reason. It's also really hard to learn colloquial language if you're not living in the country.
Defiantly, I have been asking my parents if we could go to France ever since I was little, I just want to hear it spoken by fluent speakers
If I'd been waiting for my parents to help me with my language learning, I'd never learnt anything, nor wold I have gone anywhere. Follow your passions regardless. Well, I don't mean to suggest you run away from home if you're 16 ;-)
LOL No way, my parents aren't interested in language. If I relied on them Id get nowhere.I read books in French and sign up for all the language learning sites I know of
Way to go! When I was still at school, there was no internet, so it was really hard to get anywhere for me on that front. And my parents certainly weren't helping. If you want to read a short piece about my trials and tribulations during that time, here they are:
It wasn't so cool at the time. I'm not blessed with a lot of patience. When you're a kid or a teenager, one year feels more like three, and all that waiting until I could finally escape was extremely frustrating.
Well, my first spanish teacher went on youth exchange in Chile and she never had Spanish before. She picked up the language rather quickly.
Well, she clearly made a big effort and was motivated to learn, otherwise, I guess she'd not have become a Spanish teacher :)
The funny thing is, that she is not a teacher. She takes care of kids though. My school has a nasty habit of hiring people to educate us that is not even qualified. For example the engineer that teached 9th grade danish. She was such a pain in the ass, bad at it and obnoxious.
I haven't read the article but I also don't think that you just pick up a language. It actually depends on how much you are forced to speak the language.
I moved to Germany five years ago. I didn't speak any German, the M.Sc. program I attended was fully in English, half of my classmates were non-German so the language was also not German in social life. Plus, the city I live in is very touristic and there was a US army base so almost everyone in the shops, restaurants etc also could speak English. Not that I am any proud of it, but I didn't speak any German (except for basic things like Hello, thanks, sorry, one bier please) in my first years. I also didn't feel the motivation to learn it as I thought I would leave right after 2 years - but here I am, still living in Germany for five years and probably live longer :)
Another problem is people (at least I) can totally stop listening when they hear a language they don't fully understand. This happened to me really often that I was not even listening or trying to understand when my friends were speaking to each other in German. Then of course you don't pick up anything.
Luckily at some point I had some motivation to learn. Of course when you want to learn a language, it is a great advantage to be in a country where the language is spoken.
Yes :) I understand almost everything now (when spoken in Hochdeutsch and not too fast) and can speak quite a lot but still not fluent. Unfortunately I still don't have courage to speak to my old friends, it is very difficult to change the language you have always spoken to someone.
It is, I agree. I found it very hard to speak German with a former boyfriend who'd gone to the trouble of learning German, just because I was used to communicating with him in English.
I wish there was a way around that! My neighbours over there are old farmers, don't speak a word of English and its always a relief not to sink back into speaking English. Even when I went to the phone shops in Bautzen, which I would have thought was far enough east that there wouldn't be much English influence (indeed most of the older people I met knew some words of Russian), they could see I was struggling so they broke into English. I find it slightly embarrassing, knowing how rubbish we are at languages over here. Or maybe it's just torture to their ears when I say "ik browhe merr internet geshwindigheit!"
'tis a conundrum.... they won't stop switching into English as long as you're struggling in German, and you won't improve until they stop doing that! Annoying... sigh.
you are really lucky with those farmers! I think I should really move a little bit away from Heidelberg :D
My friends always say they will speak German to me and they will be patient bla bla but it takes only 10min to switch back to English unfortuantely