https://www.duolingo.com/polyglosi

Should Americans be required to learn a foreign language to some degree of fluency?

Personally, i can only count to 20 in Spanish, and say a few words. I know that many countries, students are able to have a conversation in English while still in school, so i was curious to if you guys think Americans be required to learn a foreign language to some degree of fluency? (Not talking about completely fluent, but maybe conversational?)

9/6/2017, 6:31:05 PM

41 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/_Little_Shadow_

Hmm, maybe not required by law, but they should learn it in school. Unfortunately, schools often pick a different language for the students to learn every year or so, instead of letting them stick with it. sigh It's quite sad, really.

9/6/2017, 6:33:11 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
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I think the other issue is purely that good language teachers are hard to find. A lot of people (happens a lot in Britain too, even though language aren't chopped and changed that way) just end up assuming they can't learn a language so there's no point trying/it's too late.

In Britain, a certain number of years of language learning are actually required in secondary school but that means that a lot of people didn't even start until 11-12. These days, there's more language teaching in primary schools, but I've seen the results of it, and the teachers usually aren't very good. (And they do tend to chop and change languages.) My eldest nephew learned more (and with much, much better pronunciation) from playing around on Duolingo (once I finally convinced him to give it a go) than he did from the lessons at school. And I really can't overestimate how appallingly bad his pronunciation was; given that the stuff he learned on DL, he can say with really not a bad accent at all, so I kinda have to assume the teacher who did the language lessons in school.... really didn't do a good job.

Until we anglophone countries actually start valuing foreign language skills as highly as non-anglophone countries, I suspect the people with conversational fluency are going to be the exception, not the rule :/

9/6/2017, 6:53:39 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/_Little_Shadow_

I agree. It's harder this way, but it's better if the teacher if bilingual.

9/6/2017, 6:59:27 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
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That would be excellent, but tbh, just having a teacher who was fluent would be a start. I remember having a French teacher in secondary school whose French was... not the best (his speciality was German), and if I had to guess, I'd say those teaching French at my nephews' primary school most likely isn't even have basic French and were teaching from someone else's material. I can somewhat forgive a lack of fluency if they're just trying to give kids a taste, but if the person who's supposed to be teaching the language pronounces "Bonjour" as something like "Bond-your" then... honestly, I don't know if that's better than leaving it a little later but having competent teachers :/

I'm wildly far from bilingual in any language, and certainly not French, but I would be much more capable than those teachers. And frankly I don't even know if it's their fault in any fundamental way; it should be a no-brainer that you give teachers some basic training in language teaching and, you know, make sure they know essential pronunciations of basic phrases before you expect them to teach them to kids, but I don't think that's the case.

(One of my cousins teaches geography and French at secondary school, and her French is so good and so fluent, she's been known to accidentally try and teach geography in French... but a few years ago the school basically told her she had to learn and be able to teach Spanish, too, or she would lose her job. We have precious little respect for language skills in this country :()

Basically, I agree bilingualism would be ideal, but just basic conversations fluency or eve moderately accurate pronunciation would be a step in the right direction, so I'm not holding my breath with regards to bilingualism.

9/6/2017, 7:08:19 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/_Little_Shadow_

That's so sad! I wish she could have stayed as a teacher.

9/6/2017, 7:32:14 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
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She did - she studied Spanish at evening classes and stuff, she's pretty amazing tbh, but to take a teacher who's that good and undervalue her so much is just... really appalling, you know?

I think her Spanish is pretty darn awesome at this point, but she shouldn't have been put in that position :/

9/6/2017, 10:59:31 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
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You're right, I did - tired and not thinking! I've changed it!

9/7/2017, 1:40:16 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/_Little_Shadow_

Cool! (but you kinda swore in that comment tho)

9/7/2017, 12:49:36 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/_Little_Shadow_

Thanks! :) I know this isn't my discussion, but I'm sensitive to that.

9/8/2017, 8:57:53 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
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I tend to try and keep to Duolingo's standards when I'm on here - it was purely a tiredness thing. I'm glad you pointed it out :)

1/7/2018, 2:00:49 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Fire-ergens
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I think everyone should have the oppurtunity to learn another languge. If you want to have everyone learn a language it must be useful to all the people learning it. Think of it this way: would someone not very fond of language in general, spend time on learning another language if their mother tongue is spoken by quite a lot of foreigners? They would probably not do it. "Why would I learn another language if I can already communicate with most people using my mother tongue?"

I have seen this argument in action quite a lot of times. When people can be lazy, they will often do so. If the language they speak (English in this case) is already spoken by so much people and pretty much understood worldwide, why would they learn another language if they will not use it very much? This,is the fundemental problem in the mindset of many anglophone language learners: they have no real use for the foreign language as English is the current lingua franca, thus it does not stick.

If you want every single American to learn a foreign languageto some degree of fluency, you have to find a way to make learning a new language useful for them in everyday life.

See, the reason that I am capable of communicating in English is because Dutch ihas a fairly small speaker-population spread over a very small area. If I would not learn any other language besides my mother tongue, I would be 'stuck' in the (very small) Dutch speaking area and unable to even cross the German border as I would not be able to communicate with non-Duch speakers. I need to learn English in order to go anywhere. Learning English is useful for me. Because it is useful for me, I am motivated to learn it.

To put it in perspective:

Argument for learning a foreign language. (Dutch speakers)

  • I speak Dutch

  • In order to travel with little trouble in communicating I need to know the lingua franca

  • Dutch is not the lingua franca

  • English is the lingua franca

  • Thus: in order to travel with little trouble in communicating I need to learn English

Argument for (not) learning a foreign language. (Anglophone)

  • I speak English

  • In order to travel with little trouble in communicating I need to know the lingua franca.

  • English is the lingua franca

  • Thus: as I already know the lingua franca, I do not have to learn any other languages to properly communicate when abroad.

Making a requirement of having fluency in at least one other foreign language really work, means the language has to have long-lasting usefulness and relevance. Adjustments to the mindset have to be made in order to get the language to stick long after graduating school.

9/6/2017, 10:12:54 PM

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Great post.

I have seen this argument in action quite a lot of times. When people can be lazy, they will often do so. If the language they speak (English in this case) is already spoken by so much people and pretty much understood worldwide, why would they learn another language if they will not use it very much? This,is the fundemental problem in the mindset of many anglophone language learners: they have no real use for the foreign language as English is the current lingua franca, thus it does not stick.

All of this.

I think additionally, anglophone countries tend to devalue language skills in general and/or assume that learning a language is a magical gift only some people have, and in combination, it just makes us as nations incredibly lazy. I have a reasonable (though far from perfect) command of French and Russian, am learning Hebrew, and have Esperanto enough to get by, and anglophones who aren't linguists tend to think this makes me some kind of language learning genius.

OTOH, I know people in non-anglophone countries who have 3 or 4 or 5 languages at their command, and speak all of them well and many of them regularly, who even write fiction and conduct most of their lives online in a non-native language (something most anglophones do not do), for whom this is entirely unremarkable thing which is common to most or all of the people in their lives.

We have this weird combination of laziness/not considering languages worthwhile AND we view languages as this magical thing some people Can Do Naturally, and it's not worth anyone else trying. Net result: As nations, we are so, so bad at languages, and don't seem to care enough to change that :/

9/6/2017, 11:06:31 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/_Little_Shadow_

clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap It's a good exercise for your brain, too! (language learning. Don't know about clapping)

9/8/2017, 9:00:55 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Midnightwards666

That is a very good post, well done. I completely agree with what you say!

9/6/2017, 10:28:17 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Pominaus

I don't really know about required, but every student should have the chance to. I think it's fair to say that an education should include at least 6 years of language study, however if someone doesn't care about failing the class, what can you do about it?

Personally I would like to see languages be being taught by age 7 in schools, and continued right up until like 15/16 (I don't know the US educational system). After that, actually I think leave it up to the kids. If they want to choose other classes let them.For me what's important is that they get exposed very early in school, and it continues well into their teens. After that.. it's up to them. I don't think they need to be forced to do anything as they have to start planning for their own future... and really there's no way around the fact that they probably don't need a specific grade in a second language as much as students in many other countries.

I see a lot of people saying the US would have a shortage of language teachers? Really that's the easiest thing to over come, aside from the fact that the US has more native Spanish speakers than Spain, you could just do what every other country does and set up teaching visa programs.

9/6/2017, 11:13:01 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Midnightwards666

Excellent post. Usefulness is actually not a great deciding factor in whether or not to learn languages at school, given that we learn many things in school which other than grades, are really never of any use. Not all, but a lot. The education system is not to blame for the monolingualness of America; it's the surroundings the American citizens live with. Exactly the same here in Britain. They don't need or want or find uses for a second language, so they don't do it... it's that simple. We shouldn't be disrespecting or forcing them either. If they want to, they can... if not, it's their choice.

As for the shortage of teachers, we have to do the best with what we've got, which is a general rule of life, not just language learning. Online resources are there though, so self-teaching is not impossible. I've got pretty far in 5 months of French with hardly any surroundings other than English in real life, no paid French teachers/classes and virtually nothing in school.

9/6/2017, 11:19:22 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/skyflakes95
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I agree with a lot of what you've said, mainly that the opportunity to learn a language is important and more practical than a requirement, and that children should be introduced to these languages at a young age. However, there are a number of logistical and political issues that prevent all of that, plus a lot of Americans in general don't see the value in learning more than one language.

In US public schools, foreign language education is very low priority. Most school systems don't require their students to take any foreign language classes at all except for students in certain programs. It's rare for elementary schools (for children ages 5 to 10) to teach foreign languages. In many cases, middle school students (ages 11 to 13) have the opportunity to start learning Spanish or French, but only once they've fulfilled other requirements of the base curriculum. Most students don't really get to take a foreign language until high school (ages 14-18). Spanish and French are usually the languages offered, but more may be available depending on location and funding. Nobody actually expects students to retain the language that they studied past their high school graduation.

I was in the International Baccalaureate Program for middle school and high school, so I was required to take 7 years of Spanish. Because it was forced on us and lower priority than other classes, most of us studied only to pass the assessments. The vast majority of us haven't used it since graduating and have forgotten most of it.

The teacher shortage is particularly bad in foreign languages, but it's a shortage of teachers in general. Nowadays teaching isn't viewed in America as a desirable or well-respected profession like in some other countries. Teachers aren't paid very well and they're treated terribly by students, parents, and the school systems. The teacher shortage is so bad in my old school system that they've started giving high school students scholarships to help pay for college under the condition that they'll teach at their old schools once they've earned a bachelor's degree.

My friend just started as a high school Spanish teacher in that same school system (though not through that scholarship program). She was hired at the last minute and turned down for positions at schools in 4 other systems in the area despite highly publicized shortages because they didn't think she was qualified to teach Spanish. This is despite the fact that she took the 7 years of IB Spanish, earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish, has a certificate in Spanish-English interpretation through the biggest university in the area, and she's been working with children for 2 years. According to her, highly qualified native speakers are being turned down just the same. Some systems around here are finding it more economical to offer fewer language classes and have teachers commute between schools rather than hiring more people.

As for bringing native speakers in with teaching visas, that was pretty common in my area for a short time 10 years ago, but a lot of schools stopped as soon as they could. When I was in middle school and my brother was in high school, our schools each had a Spanish teacher from Spain (along with teachers from other countries teaching other subjects). In that time, my teacher was treated awfully and parents went to school administrators and blamed their kids' bad grades on the teacher for speaking in an accent. Her Spanish accent. While she was teaching a Spanish class. Those teachers were around for 3 years (which is how long those visas last) and then our schools never brought anybody in on a visa again. We were told that this was due to budget issues, but I wouldn't doubt it if they just preferred to hire American citizens rather than bring subject experts over on visas. Based on the current state of American politics, I expect that there will be no change there.

9/7/2017, 6:35:58 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Keikou_
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Here in Germany you actually have to learn english and another language (french,spanish or russian for example) I think that's great, it is not that special here to speak more than one language. America's population should show A LITTLE bit more respect to langauges and stop assuming that EVERYONE is fluent in english (only 20% of the people there are billingual like wow). I think the problem is in finding good teachers and that no one cares about languages. I am fluent in english, but I doubt that that's because of me having english lessons for 6 years or something now, I don't really listen because it's just BORING. I don't want to imagine what it is like in America . , . (I have to admit that like only 5 out of 30+ students in my class are somewhat ''good'' in english, the others struggle with basic-sentences, which is pretty sad.) in short: YES

9/6/2017, 7:32:08 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Austrins
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I think it would be very beneficial and great to see Americans learn more languages. It would open so many opportunities that they wouldn't have otherwise. But I think it's important to realize that not everybody has good access to learning foreign languages. It's much more common in large cities such as LA, San Francisco, New York, etc because there's a much larger amount of language diversity than say somewhere like rural Nebraska. In San Francisco (where I live part of the time) there's a large amount of Mandarin, Russian and Spanish speakers, along with French, German and Mandarin schools that people have easy access to. But when I visit my father's parents in rural Georgia nobody speaks anything other than English, partly because they don't need to and because they don't have the access to good language facilities. It's a lot easier to learn a language if you're immersed in it, and I don't think many foreign language teachers want to move somewhere so rural. But overall, I think it's a great idea for Americans to branch out more and see what the world has to offer them.

9/6/2017, 10:39:49 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/NicolasHIk

French Canadian here. I was forced to learn English from 9 years old. I hated it, but was forced to learn it. Back then I didn't understand why it was useful. Today, I am so glad to be a C2 English speaker, thanks to the "forcing the kids to learn English" system.

My point is that, at a young age, the kids do not understand the benefits of speaking multiple languages, thus the reason why we should force them to do so. It's actually the same thing in forcing the kids to learn math: they are too young to know which skills they will or will not need. In fact, I met a few anglophone Canadians that were quite disappointed by the fact that they never had the chance to be forced to learn any French in school.

Should the American kids be required to learn a second language? Yes. When they get older let them decide if they want to use it or not (the math class analogy).

By the way, here in Canada, French is an official language (along with English). However, most anglophone Canadians never had the chance to learn any French. There are also anglophone Canadians living in Montreal (French speaking city) that can not speak one word of French. I guess the root of the problem has to do with the "English is the best language in the world, everybody learns it, therefore I do not need to learn another language" mentality.

9/7/2017, 4:07:25 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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Interesting, I'd thought that French was a mandatory school subject in English-speaking Canada, although I knew it didn't seem to yield much in the way of concrete French competence.

9/7/2017, 6:56:09 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/NicolasHIk

It's not required by law (Except in Quebec). Some school will still offer French class, but unless you are in a really good school, you will not learn much from it. One hour of French per week is not enough, especially if the only thing they are learning is saying Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in French. Here in Quebec, we have 1 hour of English per day.

9/8/2017, 12:09:49 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Joy12689

I've heard you get paid more to be bilingual, so it's better to give students a start and it should be required by law for students to take at least one course of some foreign language. I know my high school requires you to take two courses of Spanish to graduate. (They only have one teacher that knows Spanish)

9/7/2017, 8:57:41 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/-EmirWinchester-
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Si claro, muchos hablan francés, español o alemán.

9/6/2017, 6:32:16 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/swingbeatnik7
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Not by law, but I think the Dept of Education should encourage school districts to have a program where a child is required to take language classes all the way up through high school. I doubt many people would regret sticking with another language alongside English and becoming fluent by the time they are in their 20s, or sooner...

9/7/2017, 3:34:28 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Ritterworld

I think it depends on where you live. Some learn languages out of interest, but most learn out of necessity. There is absolutely no NEED to learn a foreign language when you live in Ohio. If you live in New Mexico, it would make your life infinitely easier to learn Spanish, as it is ingrained in the culture and a lot of the people. Thus, it may be a necessity. In states with large Spanish speaking populations, there might be a huge benefit to introducing Spanish lessons in elementary school to those kids who need them, so they might soak up the information young and really learn it. But why should students in Idaho have to master a language to conversational level (which is still a huge endeavor)?

EDIT: Also, just worth adding, America already has a pretty massive bilingual population according to (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1825/about-one-four-americans-can-hold-conversation-second-language.aspx) (my little disclaimer: of course polls are never entirely accurate and this has a somewhat small survey group, but they do come from somewhere and I believe that this might be a very good representation)

About 43% of people who are 18-29 years old, with a trend that younger generations create more bilingual speakers shows that this amount is only increasing. This is a rate that is on par with many other countries. I have noticed, as a college students, that most of the people I know are at least bilingual. Also this, reasons for our continued skewed perceptions about language in the US: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/are-we-really-monolingual.html)

9/7/2017, 4:27:01 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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I think it's hard to have achievement level outcomes like "conversational." I think I was lucky, for an American, to get to start a language (French in my case) at 12. In my six years of public school French (including two with a native French-speaking teacher), we hardly spoke the language or heard it spoken. Unsurprisingly, I finished those six years with limited speaking or comprehension ability. I'd be happy to see foreign languages be required subjects in school, but improvements also need to be made in language pedagogy.

9/7/2017, 7:56:20 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/skyflakes95
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I feel like requiring a certain degree of fluency is a little idealistic and mandating x number of years of classes is really de-motivational and can even reinforce negative beliefs about language learning. I think that increasing exposure to other languages and providing the opportunity to learn at an earlier age can change some of the attitudes about language learning and make it easier for the students.

I'd like to see foreign language being introduced in elementary school, but in a very casual and fun way. The way that most elementary schools in the US operate, kids are taught their core subjects (English, history/social studies, math, and science) in one classroom by a single teacher but they have "electives" that they go to once a week and they're taught by different teachers. Those include art, music, and physical education. These are basically playtime and typically aren't graded, but if they are it's more of a participation/cooperation grade. Foreign language can be worked in as a weekly "elective" starting at 3rd grade. By then, most children are reading chapter books and writing paragraphs in English, so beginning a new language at that point wouldn't interfere with their English learning as much.

Lessons would have to be very light, fun, and interactive so the kids can learn through play rather than sitting bored at a desk. 3rd graders can learn alphabet/phonics, numbers, time/date, and basic vocabulary, then gradually work up to simple sentences and verb conjugations in simple present tense by the end of 5th grade. All of this can be taught through games. Culture and traditional music/dance can even be worked in. Learning in a fun and low-pressure way can make more kids want to continue taking a language and learn to some point of fluency.

If kids already know the basics and have some confidence in their abilities from the years of it being part of playtime, then 6th grade foreign language classes in a traditional classroom format can be more interactive. Kids would be more willing and able to use the language. By high school, they should be able to communicate well and foreign language classes could be conducted entirely in the target language. This would depend on these classes being more available to middle schoolers though.

Making language classes less scary, more interactive, and seem more useful could influence more kids to choose to take a language in middle school and high school. Being in a class of 20 kids who want to actively learn is better than being 1 of 5 kids actually trying in a class of 30 where most had no choice and thus are trying to slide by or make things harder for everyone.

9/8/2017, 7:07:27 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/combakforchrist

I think that all American's of age 16 or older should be required to learn a foreign language to a certain fluency. We all talk about being united as a country, why not learn one of your fellow citizen's language (such as Spanish, French, etc).

9/6/2017, 8:18:46 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Ahtess
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Trust me: in no country people are required to know any foreign language. The reason to people from all over the world speaking English isn't because they learn it in schools, but because of Americanization. American movies, internet... these are the reason making people all over the world being exposed to English constantly.

There are many people still in the world that are monolingual, and whilst often people perceive the English native speakers bad at languages, actually there aren't many countries that have majority of its population as bilingual. Besides, English is a pretty difficult starting point when it comes to learning a new language. It's highly non-phonetic and it doesn't have any closely related language.

In my country, for example, German is widely taught in schools; still, I know few people who can have basic conversation in it. Academic way of learning a foreign language is very often mere formality.

9/6/2017, 8:25:36 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Fire-ergens
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Let me dissect your comment for a bit as it contains some pretty big holes.

"in no country people are required to know any foreign language"

In my country (the Netherlands) you are required to know these languages, requirements sorted in groups:

  • Everyone (except the Frisians): Dutch and English

  • The Frisians: Dutch, Frisian (Westerlauwersk) and English

  • in secondary school wether you learn another language besides the ones above, depends on which level you choose and which path you choose. Just some examples (too complicated to name them all):

  • Pre-university level (VWO Gymnasium): German, French, Latin and Ancient Greek. Sometimes other languages can be chosen as well.

  • Others: German and/or French usually. It is 'technically' possible to do exams for Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Arabic and on the Carribean islands: Papiamentu. The number of languages depends on the choices you made and what the school offers.

"The reason to people from all over the world speaking English isn't because they learn it in schools,"

Actually, all over the world people are required to be conversational in at least one foreign language, in many cases: English. Whuile I do agree that learning a language at school is not the most effective way to go about learning another language, it would be untrue to state that people do not learn any English/other foreign language at school. They may learn it badly, they may have a terrible accent, but they still learn.

"but because of Americanization. American movies, internet... these are the reason making people all over the world being exposed to English constantly. "

Yes, I agree that people are indeed being exposed to English a whole lot which helps in learning it. But, I do not think it is because of Americanization that people learn it. It certainly plays a role, but it is not a 'one-man movie'. Other players are always involved. Many people learn English so they can travel or do business. They learn not for the media, but for the oppurtunities.

"actually there aren't many countries that have majority of its population as bilingual."

Luxembourg (Luxembourgish, German and French, a good chance of English as well), Belgium (Dutch and French), pretty much every country with a bunch of indiginous languages, not to mention the border areas where multilingualism tends to be a lot higher than average. (ever heard someone switch between (native or very fluent) Dutch, German, Low Saxon and English within 2 or 3 minutes in a shop? Well, things like that happen at borders).

"it doesn't have any closely related language."

Well, hate to disappoint you, but it does. Namely: the entire West-Germanic branch. The closest: Scots, a small language spoken in Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic) probably followed by Frisian. (three languages in fact: Westerlauwersk, Saterland, and North Frisian) Other noteworthy related languages: Dutch, Afrikaans, Low Saxon, Limburgish, Luxembourgish, German, Zeelandic.Did I miss any? Oh, not to mention,, the more distantly related North-Germanic languages if you count the entire Germanic branch as 'related languages': Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Icelandic, Elfdalian and I believe Norn is being resurrected. Could be wrong about that though. Still, it is a fairly sizable number of related languages.

9/6/2017, 9:34:32 PM

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I think actually that countries where people are routinely somewhat bilingual (maybe not perfectly so, but have some functional fluency in at least one other language than the national language and/or their native tongue) are more common (especially outside the anglophone sphere) than you might think, and possibly more common than countries that are determinedly monolingual; certainly common enough that it is relatively unremarkable for people in, say, Europe or India or many parts of Africa to have a good grasp of af least a couple of languages.

In anglophone countries, in my experience, the only people who fit in that category are those for whom English is the alien language, even if it's the official language in their country; people who speak a language other than English in their homes or communities, for example, people who've moved here from overseas, second generation immigrants. Those who have grown up with English and have also learned another language (or more than one) are the exception, not the rule. Most people don't even retain a basic level of tourist language from studying foreign languages at school. In the UK, as a person who speaks multiple languages besides English, I'm practically a unicorn. In non-anglophone countries, much more competent linguistic achievements are frequently commonplace or even expected.

I don't think it's true at all that English is a particularly or intrinsically difficult starting point for learning a language.

We have borrowed so much vocabulary and have in turn been borrowed from so much that there are an absurd number of cognates in most European languages, so the related-ness of potential other languages really isn't a big deal. Sure, it's not like we have major languages that are really closely related, like some people do, but it is a red herring to suggest we are truly disadvantaged in this area.

There's still a huge amount of commonality with French, for example, despite not being officially related except within the larger IE family; yes, there are some things English has that French doesn't and vice versa, but there's an awful lot we have in common. Even down to things like the "going to" future in English, which has an exact equivalent in French (and in more than one other language, tbh).

English may not have major languages as close siblings, but it's hardly a language isolate, either. It's been heavily, heavily influenced by its close neighbours, and in turn has heavily influenced close neighbours and even unrelated languages. Most of its closest relatives are small languages, sure, it doesn't have a major language with which it has a relationship such as you find between, say, the Romance languages or the Slavic languages, but to suggest we are more than usually burdened in this area is kind of ridiculous.

It also ignores the fact that people whose native language is from only distantly related (or completely unrelated) languages successfully learn English all the time. If French and German and Dutch and Spanish and Russian and Hebrew and Japanese speaking people can learn English, then why assume that English speaking people are somehow particularly disadvantaged learning those languages? That argument just doesn't make any sense.

Similarly, the fact English is relatively unphonetic is... not really a consideration. That just means that spelling in most foreign languages we encounter is considerably easier than it is in our own native language. The fact our own language is a complete mess when it comes to spelling really doesn't have any negative impact on learning another language that I can think of. It's a problem for people learning English, but the other way around? Not so much. The only language I've ever studied which has been remotely as tricky spelling wise is Hebrew, which has an entirely different alphabet and habitually lacks vowels! I have studied fistfuls of languages to varying degrees of seriousness and fluency, and Hebrew is the first one that really gave me major issues in terms of spelling. French has its issues, with minimal pairs that sound the same at first and a lot of silent letters, but IME is still more consistent than English.

Honestly, the fact they're largely more consistent than English is a delight. Again, I just... whyyyy would this be a problem for English speakers learning other languages? The fact other languages are more phonetic (sometimes completely phonetic) is something that makes them easier on (any!) learner, not more difficult. and a language that's actually spelled how it's spoken and vice versa is pretty much a refreshing change, not a hurdle. I do not understand this argument at all, it makes no sense. English and its ridiculous spelling make it a pain for native speakers and learners alike, but it has zero influence on our ability to learn a foreign language.

9/6/2017, 11:37:49 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Ahtess
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Well bilingual countries are not that common either, and neither is it a guarantee ppl from those countries use at least two of national languages. Moreover, rare it happens.

English is unphonetic to the point its native speakers are distracted with any other spellings other than its own, and that may (I say, may) be a burden, a distraction in starting to learn a foreign language. It would make things easier, the consistency, but in the beginning phase it's difficult.

In some way ppl who are not native in English are forced to learn it, it's today's arguably lingua franca. Comparing English in this regard is invalid, as of today's global situation and the role English plays.

And English is so unique considering the influences it's been getting throughout history, that it is not a good starting point. Not that it should be an excuse, but it's unmistakenly part of the reason English native speakers mostly aren't bilingual.

9/7/2017, 11:54:33 AM

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All I can say is that, in my experience, people from countries like India and from large swathes of Europe, etc, are very often functionally bilingual (not necessarily perfect at English and/or other languages, but having conversational fluency that would be considered exceptional in the UK) and it is, to them, completely unremarkable and not remotely unusual. The monoglotism that is rife in anglophone countries is, in my experience, the exception rather than the norm.

(I've never argued that English isn't a lingua franca or that people don't have incentives to learn it that English people don't have wrt other languages. In fact, I think I've bemoaned the opposite of this in several posts on this thread. Honestly, you appear to be arguing against a point I never made (certainly not intentionally) with that one.)

I still don't understand your point about the non-phonetic spelling; honestly, I just think you're wrong here. I don't think for a second I ever found a foreign language confusing because it was more phonetic than English, and I've studied/learned a lot of languages (and am a native speaker of English), as well as teaching English as a foreign language.

Frankly, I'm so used to the foreign languages I learn being far more phonetic than English that coming to Hebrew, which (especially in its unpointed form) is probably similarly difficult to English in terms of spelling, was a bit of a shock. I'm completely used to being able to read a foreign language (and know what it sounds like) before having any idea what it means, even if it's written in a different script; Hebrew is not like that, and it was disconcerting. (The closest previous experience was that of Japanese, because kanji are not phonetic, but I didn't learn it nearly as intensively or to as high a standard as I've studied Hebrew, and the syllabaries are (except for some particle usage and some combinations, if memory serves) still pretty much phonetic.)

I don't and have never (even at the tender age of 12, when I first started learning French) found the relative consistency of spelling in a foreign language to be a burden or a detriment or a distraction, and I'm baffled why anyone would think it would be. It's really not; it's not even a consideration, IME and IMO. As someone who has learned several other languages as a native speaker of English, my experience contradicts that completely, and it's not a complaint I've ever heard anyone make. It is possible there are some people out there who've found it a distraction or a difficulty, but it's not typical or common.

It makes English more difficult to learn for non-natives, it makes English spelling sometimes troublesome to natives; it does not, in my considerable experience as both a learner and a teacher, have any impact whatsoever on learning a foreign language except that those foreign languages are usually far easier to spell. Moreover, I really, honestly can't think of any reason why it would have a negative effect (or really any effect whatsoever) on learning a foreign language, and I find it practically impossible it has a significant impact on English native speakers being monoglots. Frankly, I would go so far as to say a native English speaker who claims that the spelling in language X is too hard and that's why they didn't manage to learn it is (most likely unconsciously) blaming the wrong thing for their difficulty.

On this point, I'm afraid, unless you have some actual evidence or a better point for discussion than claiming it's somehow a burden, I'm just gonna have to say no, I'm sorry, you're wrong, it really isn't. I don't know where you've got that idea from, but it's just... wrong.

9/7/2017, 1:17:29 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Ahtess
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I agree that for an English native other spellings should be a delight. But if they are learning their first foreign language they may be confused at why the spelling is that different from the English one.

It takes at least couple of weeks to adapt to the brand new phonetical system, and it's some effort to do, because of the distraction English system makes. To say it makes no effect in people deciding to continue to learn a new language, makes no sense. It surely has some effect knowing that the significant amount of English native speakers, with no previous interest in foreign languages, think that foreign languages should also be learnt to read as English; virtually every word by heart. That's my experience.

So whether a delight or a distraction, varies upon whether they know it's systematic and easily done in couple of weeks' practice. Unfortunately sometimes they think it's both unsystematic as English phonetical system is, and at the same time very different from their native phonetical system.

You are very well out of this generalization as you approached seriously to your first foreign language ever since you were 12. Besides, you know enough about languages to be aware other phonetical systems are most likely way easier than the English one.


I'm a Croat greatly interested in Hebrew, so we can try some exchange as you mentioned Croatian in your info

9/7/2017, 3:32:05 PM

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I love Croatian! I'm not actively studying it at the moment, because I'm trying really hard to consolidate my Hebrew, but if I can help with Hebrew any time, ask away, and as and when I get back to Croatian, I may well bend your ear. Hrvatski vrlo lijepi jezik, ali govorim samo malo... okay, I already ran out of things I actually remember 8-o

Apologies that this post got long, but there were some serious misapprehensions that needed clearing up.

Regarding English: I think the issue in part is that you're assuming English native speakers approach English spelling the way a non-native does, and that just isn't true. If you grow up with a language, you develop instincts, you're used to how it works, and so no, you don't have to learn each word by heart. If I stumble across a new English word that I've never come across before, I will likely be able to make a good guess at how it's pronounced, because I've been doing that since I first started learning to read. I'm used to how English works. I'm used to the bizarre spelling and the mishmash of influences. Similarly, if someone says a word to me, I'll be able to have a good stab at figuring out how it's spelled. I know instinctively from context whether read rhymes with reed or red. I don't have to think about whether I need to write they're their or there; I would have to be exceptionally tired (or maybe drunk) to make errors like these. I've been dealing with this language since I was a child, and most of the time, it's instinctive.

This is why spelling bees and the like test increasingly esoteric and strange vocabulary, and words which many average native English speakers have never even heard of before, because the easy stuff is... well, too easy.

I don't see a new English word and have to drill it by heart and just hope I remember how to say it. The overwhelming majority of the time, I just know - it's obvious - because this is the language I grew up speaking and it makes sense to me. Even if I'm not sure - for example with spellings like -ough that can be said a good ten different ways - I will have words already in my vocabulary that match how it is said, so I won't be learning it in isolation. And I am unlikely, also, to be consciously going "Oh, so it rhymes with "dough" and "though", but not "cough", okay, I'll remember that"; instead, my brain is unconsciously slipping it into a pile of words that rhyme with those, and only the most obscure words are likely to make me consciously make an effort to remember them. I don't go "Oh no, another "ough" word, ugh, how horrible!" I'm used to ough having an absurd number of pronunciations, to the point where it's commonplace and I don't think about it at all.

And yes, there are people with dyslexia and those who have learning difficulties, etc, but they are likely to struggle with a new language because of their dyslexia and their learning difficulties, not because English creates an inherent difficulty for someone wanting to learn a new language. Their experience of English spelling may be closer to a non-native, but they are the exception, not the rule.

We are so used to it, that often (in my experience) if you point out to an anglophone (especially someone who only speaks English) that it's inconsistent and illogical, they will honestly be surprised.

(To use a tangentially similar example: As a native speaker, I essentially only think about if an English verb is regular or not when trying to explain it to someone else. I never had to sit down and learn "To be: I am, you are, he is, they are, we are"; I learned it through immersion and constant exposure to the various forms. I can't even reliably tell you what half the tenses in English are called, but I can use them without thinking. As a native speaker, spelling is very much the same way. Some things required actual rules when I was a child, but even those things become instinctive over time.)

I can only speak comprehensively of my own experience, but I have learned and taught and learned with others enough to know it's far from unique. That disclaimer in place: When I encounter a new language with either a new way to use a familiar writing system, or an entirely new writing system, I barely notice if the new one is more logical or more consistent. It feels easy to use? Well, to me, so does English. It's not a surprise or a deterrent or something I have to get used to ("Gosh, this word is pronounced how it's spelled? That's novel!), because that isn't my experience of English.

The only time I've seriously tried to learn a new language and had real issues with the writing system? Hebrew. Because Hebrew is not really phonetic, because it requires I develop the same kinds of instincts that I have with English... but instead of learning them naturally, absorbing them over the course of years and decades, I've had to try and learn them in the space of a year. Hebrew is the one language where I find myself learning words and their pronunciations by heart (and still sometimes getting them wrong). Hebrew is the one that's given me the most trouble, even though in terms of how (relatively) few clues the written language gives me, and how much I have to rely on learning to speak and understand the language in order to have a chance at deciphering the written language, it is by far the most similar to English.

Learning a new but essentially phonetic system is much, much easier, even though I started to study Hebrew seriously with some twenty five years of language learning under my belt. I had much less difficulty learning French spelling aged 12 or Russian spelling aged 19 (and so on and so forth) than I did struggling with Hebrew spelling at 37, because English's lack of a consistent, phonetic writing system had (so far as I can tell) basically no impact on how I approached a new spelling system whatsoever, but the inherent difficulty of a non-phonetic writing system slowed me down and was extremely tough. That's from personal experience.

Learning that J made a different sound (but did so consistently) in French is something my 10 year old nephew picked up (once he was exposed to it pronounced accurately) in a matter of days from Duolingo. By contrast, getting the hang of how י (usually y or i) and ו (u o or v) somehow combine to make יו and end up being pronounced "av" is an ongoing struggle ;-p

I don't have this issue in English, even though it's ridiculously inconsistent and unhelpful (arguably at least as much, if not more so, than Hebrew), because I have decades of experience of the spoken and written language, and all the "guessing from context" and "keep an eye on this word, because it behaves weirdly" and "learn this by heart because it's wildly illogical" and "this word can mean two different things depending on how you say it, even though it's spelled the same both way" happens without any conscious input on my part.

Hebrew and English are much closer, in terms of how logical and helpful the writing system is (or isn't...), than English and Russian, but learning to read and write Russian (not necessarily to understand or produce it, but to be able to know how a word sounds and be able to correlate sounds with written symbols) was a walk in the park, precisely because it's logical and consistent and predictable. This idea that an anglophone goes "Oh my goodness! This writing system actually makes sense! I AM SO CONFUSED!!!" just... isn't how it works for a native speaker (in my considerable experience). It's the stuff that's difficult (regardless of how similar or not it is to one's native language) that causes issues, not the stuff that's easy! (Another example from Russian: Russian doesn't have the verb "to be" in the present tense. This is very different from English, obviously. In my first week of university, we got the basic hang of it in the course of one hourlong lesson. Different does not necessarily mean difficult.)

Suggesting that it is more difficult for a person who's used to a highly illogical, inconsistent system to adjust to a logical one than for someone who's used to a logical system to adjust to one that's inconsistent and illogical is honestly bizarre, and moreover, doesn't track with reality, in my experience.

Regarding my language experience: No,, I didn't start "serious language study" at the age of twelve, and I certainly wasn't exceptional in beginning French at that age.

I started a language as part of the regular curriculum along with thousands and thousands of other eleven and twelve year olds all over the country. It was an obligatory part of the curriculum, given slightly more priority than art or music, but much less than English, maths or science.

We got, for the most part, lacklustre teaching (2-3 lessons a week, if memory serves, less than "core" subjects, no immersion, and sometimes being taught by people whose language skills were not actually up to the task), and many of us didn't retain much (if any) of what we learned once we'd passed our exams, even those of us who took the language for five years.

The people like me, who took that language further and studied it beyond what was obligatory in school, were the exception, not the rule, and those of us who took it for 7 years, not 3 or 5, were few and far between (there were four students in my A-Level English classes), but to assume that me starting French aged twelve means I approached serious language learning at that age is... well, it's a wildly incorrect assumption that does not marry with what actually happened. Everyone of my age started a foreign language (usually French, German or Spanish) at 11 or 12. I didn't start anything that could remotely be considered serious language learning until I was 17, and even that would be more realistically described as "serious as compared to most British language education" rather than any serious approach to French!

The impact on the vast majority of us, long term, was minuscule. I know people who took 3 or 5 years of a language at school who would've been hard-pressed to introduce themselves in it a month after their exams.

I'm not exceptional for starting French at 12; there's an entire generation of Britons who went through the same curriculum, started learning at the same age (or younger - I was one of the eldest in my year). If starting French in school aged twelve equated to serious language learning, the average Briton would be a good deal more polylingual than is actually the case.

9/7/2017, 6:44:22 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Ahtess
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Well I just think you're missing my point.

First, I never said English native speakers have to learn words by heart even when they've fully mastered the language. I meant on the process going on when they learn reading as young kids. Me, as a non-native English speaker, even has the insticts you mentioned.

Many other languages can be read (nevertheless if you know any vocab) in a matter of days. Not English. Croatian, Italian or German can surely be learnt to read in days.

I also never said other languages being more phonetically systematic, being different, is a difficulty of any kind. I just said it may be a burden, a matter of confusion for English native speakers. The burden easily overcome, but at first English native speakers would potentially subconsciously conclude it's a foreign language's unsystematic phonetical rule, also greatly different than English. So they may in first days give up on the language they started learning due to the confusion. When I explain tourists how Croatian is read they stand in awe: "Really? Is it that simple?" But at first they think there's no more systemacy than in English.

But note that I never said the above-mentioned argument as of some significant role when it comes to an Anglophone starting their first foreign language. It just crossed my mind as part of the problem.

When an Anglophone say 'Mljet', a Croatian island, it's always wrong. It should be read as 'Mlyet'. When an Aglophone say the city 'Zadar', they're mostly wrong. Other nationalities usually pronounce it, if not right, than way closer than right than monolingual Anglophones.

When I tell them how it's read, they are usually confused at why it is not 'the English way'. So part of the problem for this is Anglophones having relatively low understanding of other languages' basics, having been exposed to no other language than English (mostly).


Just to correct you:

"Hrvatski vrlo lijepi jezik, ali govorim samo malo"

  • Hrvatski je vrlo lijep jezik, ali govorim ga samo malo

Croatian, unlike for Russian, does have the verb 'to be' -- in the word 'JE' it is :)

9/7/2017, 8:13:55 PM

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I'm not missing your point, I'm refuting it, from considerable experience. There's a difference.

Duolingo reloaded the page, and I'm honestly too tired and not invested enough to rewrite what I said before, but as an experienced language learner and not inexperienced language teacher who's lived almost all my life in anglophone countries: Your anecdotal experience and imagination of what it must be like does not trump real lived experience, of which I have a lot, not to mention having a vast source of anecdotes of my own because I am literally surrounded by anglophones who have been taught foreign languages to some extent.

This imaginary burden for people who are being exposed to a spelling system that actually more or less works? Is nonsense. It just is, I'm sorry.

I'm well aware that many other languages can be read well before understanding because they're that phonetic. I'm aware because I've studied bunches of them - moreover, have done so as a native speaker of English. The only writing/spelling systems that have given me trouble so far? Are those which aren't phonetic. Full stop.

(FYI, giving up on a language in school within a short period of time isn't, at least in the UK, an option. 3 years of at least one language (however poorly taught) is mandatory.)

The reason anglophones in general pronounce Mljet wrongly is not because they're anglophones and there's an inherent difficulty, it's just because in English, j is rarely a y sound. That's... not surprising, surely? If you went to a country where j was pronounced as, say, d, to pick an arbitrary sound, and you hadn't been exposed to that, you would initially say it wrong because you wouldn't know any better. If you came to an anglophone country without the massive exposure to and teaching of English that you've benefited from, you would likely make the same kinds of errors. The difference is that English is so widely used, taught and disseminated, that you can hardly avoid it, whereas it's completely possible for a British or American adult to go their entire lives without hearing Croatian once. Honestly, it's pretty easy to go through life here and only occasionally hear snippets of any Slavic language, on the news or in movies, and even then it's unlikely to be Croatian.

I think the only time in my life that I was ever exposed to Croatian outside of the times I actively sought it out (such as when I chose to study it) was during the war in the Balkans, and even then, it would have been snippets overlaid with an English translation, so there was no chance to actually get a handle on what the language sounded like. People even a decade younger than me have a reasonably high chance of never hearing a word of it unless they 1) seek to learn it or 2) go to Croatia. It's the opposite of surprising that tourists don't know how to pronounce a language they've had zero exposure to that belongs to a language family they've had very little exposure to.

It's a generalisation, but a largely accurate one, that most anglophones are not exposed to foreign languages a lot, that our foreign language teaching often starts too late and is lacklustre, that our countries and cultures do not prioritise learning foreign languages, and that when we go abroad, we often find that everyone around us speaks English anyway. That's why we have, as a whole, a tendency not to be great at languages, not to be aware that different spelling and writing systems exist, yadda yadda. It's really not complicated, and it has nothing to do with other languages' writing systems actually making sense. Heck, I even asked a few monoglot friends and family (we all have tuition in languages in the UK for at least three years, but many don't retain any of it) about this, and they all, without exception, looked at me like I'd grown an extra head.

There are lots of reasons why anglophones tend to be poor at learning languages. Other languages having spelling that makes sense just isn't one of them.

What you're seeing as "the writing system making sense is confusing to people" is not that, it's that we are barely exposed to any writing or spelling system outside of our own. There's no burden that these things are phonetic, it's purely a burden that they are different and we have almost no exposure to that unless we've actively sought it out, something that we aren't typically encouraged to do. Basically, your rationale is just ignoring the actual reasons anglophones have the (sadly too often deserved) reputation of being terrible language learners. There are reasons, and we often are, but the reasons are not the ones you've been suggesting.

It's been a very long time (sixteen or more years) since I wrote Croatian, and I keep defaulting to Russian and Hebrew which don't use "to be" - happens to me with the Czech and Polish courses, too facepalm I'm mildly surprised and impressed I even got as much right as I did 8-o

1/7/2018, 1:57:24 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/yancey.dil

(Speaking from my experience) I am from the U.S and we were not given the chance to take language classes until secondary school which already puts us at a disadvantage. Then you have students such as myself that never really had to try hard to understand what was going on,but we are placed with a bunch of students that are not able understand even the simplest sentences when they are spoken and they do not even care so they don't try. So at the end of the day I personally lose interest because I am being held back in a section that is not challenging enough for me to be able to progress at a rate that is acceptable for me. My professor was great and was bilingual , but when he has to deal with a bunch of kids that just don't care for the language at the end of the day and are only in there because their parents put them in there so they can get the extra credits toward there diploma, that just breeds kids that just give up because they see it as pointless.

9/14/2017, 4:53:31 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Far-quaad
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Cross out Americans and put in everyone who isn't mentally disabled in a way that prohibits them from picking up another language, then the answer is yes. There is no excuse for the amount of lazy anglophones who are not at least trying to pick something up. Foreign language should be required to be taken at least once, and any school in the USA with over 100 students should be required (and funded enough) to offer at least two different languages.

9/6/2017, 9:22:43 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Far-quaad
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Also language learning has been proven to be the most succesful when implemented with children under 10

9/6/2017, 9:23:33 PM
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