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Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Chat in foreign languages or discuss language-learning.

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Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by ladislav » August 18th, 2019, 8:07 am

Foreign language courses look appealing. There’s usually a nice cover with a picture of a pretty young lady on them. It is as if there is a message: “Learn that language, and you will have this young lady friend or someone that looks like her”.
But should you try to learn those languages or should you just stick with English?

It depends.

Many of such courses are written in the USA and are of pretty high quality; still, most native-born Americans (and other Anglos) are monolingual. Even if they live abroad. How come?

Because Americans (and other Anglos) are practical people. If it’s not 100% necessary, they won’t do it. And they are right to a great extent.

Americans are good at foreign languages if need be- as Mormons will tell you. They have a school that teaches them to be completely fluent in a huge number of tongues. But it’s done with a concrete purpose in mind: to help them propagate their religion on a grass root level in a variety of- mostly- developing countries-- and among a huge number of ethnic groups. But what if you don’t have such a purpose? Is it still recommended?

My opinion is: only if absolutely necessary for your economic, professional or social advancement goals. Or if you are really into that culture. Or if the culture you are interested in is hostile to English. And only if you are willing to put in months or even years of very hard work. Otherwise, don’t bother. Stick with English and spend that time making money. That will pay off more.

The spread of English around many parts the world, especially among educated classes, makes it unreasonable to learn another language in many cases. After you take that course and spend so much time, you are still not likely to be fluent because fluency requires consistent practice. But when you try and practice, the locals may just tell you to stop and respond to you in English. Time and time again.

If you think that it will help you in international trade, note that import/export people in most countries are already fluent in English.

If you try to speak that language in your country to immigrants, you may even encounter hostility and unwillingness on their part to answer to you in that language. Their attitude may be: “How dare you, you are not (put the nationality here), so you have no right to speak our language”. Add to it that often, in your country, immigrants are shamed into not speaking it and told to go back to their country if they do, and you can understand their suspicion and hostility.

“The locals can be so rude and disrespectful to me when I speak English with an accent. They treat me like a child, like a mental retard. And here comes this dude and he wants to learn MY language? No way!”

Refusing to speak the language is also a way for a former colonial subject to show defiance against “an oppressor” or someone who “looks” like the oppressor. A black South African will, for example, angrily yell back in English at a white S. African who is trying to speak a black language.
“You have no right to speak my language!”

The ridicule and hostility part is what those nice booklets never tell you about.

I am in Cambodia now, and I was recently talking to one of my British coworkers about learning Khmer. He said that he started studying it, and then he stopped. “They were treating me like an idiot!” he stated bitterly.” Screw that!”

I agree. Do you want to be a 50 year old professor and have 20 year old waitresses make fun of you?

This especially happens if you are in a country where you are clearly of another race, meaning, you don’t look like the locals. Some just respond in English if they can, or they laugh, run away and want to have nothing to do with you. They’ve seen someone who looks like you who could not speak the language, and now, they assume, you are going to be the same way. Some even refuse to serve you.

And even if you don’t belong to another race, once they hear you have an accent(which is inevitable), they switch to English. Persistently so! “You sound so terrible, so we will just speak English to you. You just sound like a moron!”
In case you want to be an interpreter or a translator, keep in mind that you will have to compete with bilinguals who are so from birth. It may take you many years to get to that level. I mean MANY years. Are you willing to put in the effort? Is it worth it? Only you can decide.

Admittedly, not everybody will mock you and not everybody will refuse to speak the language to you. It depends on where and in what culture you are, who you talk with, and what you yourself look like. A pretty young female from a richer country will have a better response than a middle aged male from country of any level of income. It’s a patchwork of reactions, either way. You have to be ready for those.

Also, in Latin American countries, French-speaking countries and Russia and its former colonies, many will expect you to try to communicate in their language. In other countries you will have mixed reactions. But mockery and disdainful treatment may happen in all of them. People grimacing with disgust when they hear you mangle their language is not a pleasant sight.

I can never forget those moments when I was living in foreign lands, trying to integrate, learned the language through all the animosity and demeaning treatment, but I was not rich, so I was still looked down upon. I had to listen to constant verbal abuse and insults in that language. I saw other expats who were there with big multinationals and on big expense accounts, and who spoke only English. They had nice houses, pretty local girlfriends or wives and did learn to speak a word of the language. And they were treated like gods. At least, to their face. And if the locals verbally abused them, they would not have understood it anyway.

I can also remember how I constantly got into altercations with the locals. “I’m speaking to you in ( put the language here), why are you replying in English?”
And the responses were:
“ I’m trying to accommodate you”.
“ I feel uncomfortable speaking my language with foreigners”
“ Why should I speak ( put the name of the language here) to you? Are you ( put the nationality here)? This is not your country!”
Some were even yelling at me and trying to attack me.

Ask yourself if you are ready to deal with something like this.
So, what should you do? Before you start studying it, assess the situation. Ask other people who deal with that culture if they think it’s necessary. Find out how the locals may react. Evaluate your goals and see if knowing that language will help you achieve them. Try to predict what your social position in that society would be. Find out about the attitudes of the locals to people of “your kind” and how it ties in with the language.

Two cases in point to illustrate:

One guy is a missionary and he needs to preach to the locals in the local language. He studied it for years and is happy with the results. He would have never achieved his religious goals had he not put in the effort in learning the tongue. He is a successful man who used the language in a practical way.

Another guy is a rich ladies man in a foreign land, who is on his third model quality wife. I asked him if he was studying the language. He smirked and said that he would rather spend his time making money. “All the women I have dated spoke English. And the local men are hostile anyway”.

And he’s right in choosing not to learn it.

In short, find out if it’s going to be of benefit to you all things considered. If you decide to study the language, make sure you are willing to invest the time and effort necessary, get people to practice it with you ( usually for money) and not give up till you can carry a reasonable conversation in it.

Otherwise, do not waste your time. Just bring enough cash and a translator software, and it will speak for you.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!

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Re: Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by Shemp » August 18th, 2019, 10:25 am

I would agree with Ladislav that learning language to B1 or higher fluency is generally not worth it. But I would recommend studying at least one foreign language for a few months, to A1 or A2 level, just to understand what is involved and appreciate the difficulties foreigners have speaking and understanding English. The months you spent studying Spanish in high school don't count, because you probably had bad motivations then.

Getting to B1 is difficult and not very useful other than to show off. You really need B2 speaking and C1 understanding/reading, which takes many years study. So as Ladislav notes, you better have a good reason to put in all that effort. In my case, I'm retired and need some daily mental exercise to avoid becoming stupid. Language learning is perfect for that purpose.

I also noted the phenomenon of locals not wanting foreigners to speak their language. In particular, foreigners are expected to speak standard Spanish (Castellano) in Catalonia, Cd. Valenciana and Galicia, not Catalan, Valenciano or Gallego. Only natives from other regions of Spain are expected to learn those local dialects. Reading knowledge of the local dialect does come in handy however for things like restaurant menus, and easy if you can read Spanish. Similarly situation in Kyiv: no one expects or really wants foreigners to speak Ukrainian instead of Russian. Again, reading knowledge of Ukrainian often useful, and not too difficult if already able to read Russian.

In addition to more people speaking English, Google Translate and similar apps are getting better very rapidly, so language skills will be less valuable in the future.

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Re: Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by Contrarian Expatriate » August 18th, 2019, 11:34 am

Learning languages is one of the best ways for older people to preserve and expand their high cognitive processes. But more than that, learning Russian has opened up access to people (read women) to whom other foreigners have no access. Speaking Russian to girls completely locks Western and Arab “haters,” interlopers, and cockblockers out of conversations and it enhances my interactions because people become enthralled with my being able to converse in it.

Being able to speak Russian makes instant friends with Russian speakers who might otherwise be enemies. Faces light up, people call over their friends, and it is a big thing that this American guy can speak Russian. I have had people want to record it on their mobile phones!

I few years back, I recall speaking with a Russian university professor and his wife at a wine shop in Tbilisi for about 30 minutes. At the end, I learned that neither spoke a lick of English! I was extremely surprised and proud that I actually had arrived at such fluency to speak that long and on a variety of topics in Russian. I speak Russian in America, in Israel, in Dubai, and many other places that put me in a special category not accessible to non-Russian speakers.

Russian also assists me with other slavic languages I recognize words and terms in Serbian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Latvian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Ukrainian and other Slavic languages. I can read signs and recognize many words when in these non-Russian speaking countries.

Forget French, Spanish, German, etc and learn Russian. You will not regret it and your brain will reward you with a higher IQ!

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Re: Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by Yohan » September 2nd, 2019, 1:32 pm

I think it depends on the individual and also his native language and education system in his native country. About myself, I am a native German speaker, and we have to learn English in school starting with 8 years old. Later on with 12 years old another language will be added, some are choosing French, others Italian, others are children of immigrants and know already Serbian or Turkish etc. Later on in university often a third language is added again. Many citizens of my country can communicate in 3 or 4 languages.
German language might be useful within Europe, but not outside of Europe...

About languages in general, if you need them you will learn about them - in my case Japanese... I need it all the time. Hardly any foreigner in my area where I am living in Japan after retirement. My job would be impossible without Japanese, all exams I had to do in Japanese, all my family members are Japanese etc...

On the other side, I am visiting Thailand since many years, have my own second home there, but I cannot speak any Thai. I don't need it.
This is because many foreigners are living in my area in Pattaya and Thai people are fairly good doing business and know how to communicate with non-Thai speakers and I do not have any private relationship with Thai people either...

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Re: Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by mattyman » September 10th, 2019, 11:40 pm

I HATE the way this planet is becoming ANGLO-CENTRIC. They say that all this techonlogy is broadening horizons, 'cultural exchange', opening people up to different cultures. Reality; it's ONE WAY. If everything becomes ENTIRELY PRAGMATIC, then that's the seeds to make this planet a DULL, homogeneous MESS where everything is the same SOUP.

You need to get off the beaten track mate.

RE how ppl have reacted
When I've been around Europe and tried talking to people in their native language, people often reply in English, (it's appreciated when they appreciate my attempt).

All my experiences trying to communicate with people in their native tongue (French, Spanish, Italian) has been very positive, even though I was rubbish. If you've had a bad experience it's understandable that this might tarnish learning languages in general.

In case you want to be an interpreter or a translator, keep in mind that you will have to compete with bilinguals who are so from birth. It may take you many years to get to that level. I mean MANY years. Are you willing to put in the effort? Is it worth it? Only you can decide.
You can be a bilingual too, all you have to do is learn the basic modal constructions & vocab items as collocations (can/be able to+infinitive/base, want to+infinitive/base etc.), practice with a bit of vocab. Learn fully irregular verbs as vocab (in quizlet I've created a folder called 'verb patterns' for each language). Good news is that there aren't that many irregular verbs in most languages (in Spanish and Russian that is, the rest of the verbs are just stem changes and spelling changes).

As you learn vocab and make lists and flashcards, mark in your vocab key exceptions to infinitive stems (E.g. Spanish; encontar (o>ue), pedir (e>i), Russian; писать (с>ш),) this can be TREMENDOUSLY HELPFUL. A good strategy is to have a list of exceptions in front of you as you're learning vocab.

I recommend applying the the approach in the book 'Teach yourself Spanish Grammar' (Juan Carlos Kattan-Ibarra) to ALL languages. This book is all about phrase constructions applied practically by function such as making descriptions, expressing obligation. I've been applying it to Russian and categorising the functions the same way. This method is a great way to make use of any vocab.

I'm not attending any courses in Spanish, Russian or Greek but like researching languages on the internet and books in libraries, learning to read articles, learn the phonemes, watch videos & see how much I can understand. It's brilliant! Also coming up with my own systems to get around verb irregularities and irregular plurals.

Anyway, I think OP the thread might belong in another sub-forum such as the many discussing the motivations to move abroad. I thought this sub-forum was about learning languages and strategies (it's understandable how you feel re those anglo-centric plebs).

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Re: Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by Yohan » September 11th, 2019, 4:21 am

mattyman wrote:
September 10th, 2019, 11:40 pm
I HATE the way this planet is becoming ANGLO-CENTRIC. They say that all this techonlogy is broadening horizons, 'cultural exchange', opening people up to different cultures. Reality; it's ONE WAY. If everything becomes ENTIRELY PRAGMATIC, then that's the seeds to make this planet a DULL, homogeneous MESS where everything is the same SOUP
It is true that the world is getting more and more similar. Huge 'international' companies supply us worldwide with the same products.
Everything, from food to cosmetics, from cars to computers, banking system, mobile phones, medicine...

About language, we need a language, which can be used worldwide, and the best choice so far is English. To create an artificial language like 'Esperanto' was not successful. Wherever I go, whenever I meet a person for the first time and I feel unsure what language to choose, I will try English first. English cannot be avoided.

This forum HA cannot exist without English, just a simple example.

The important use of English is true especially in countries, where people are using different languages as they belong to different ethnicities, like in India, Malaysia or Philippines, when they feel unsure how to say this or that like technical terms they switch quickly into English, even in the news, in politics, in business, frequently adding a translated copy of a contract in English...etc.

Here in Asia various countries are also changing quickly from French to English - younger people prefer English to French and in typical regions like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and also in Korea French almost disappeared and can be understood only by old people.
About learning languages in general, I think if interested into it, to learn a foreign language can never be wrong. Nice hobby, but you need people you can communicate in that language regularly.

Keep in mind, if not used frequently, all what you studied will be quickly forgotten.
I was quite good in spoken Cantonese and Malay, but now after moving away from that area and living in Japan, I have to struggle to remember enough words to create a few simple sentences...

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Re: Should you even Learn that Foreign Language?

Post by Man With a Plan » September 11th, 2019, 4:41 pm

Whoever thinks learning a language is pointless is a moron. Languages open barriers and opportunities. America is a hegemony, but even it can't penetrate language. That's culture right there, man.
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