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Mike Tribe
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Someone mentioned in a post last week that some people were unhappy about posting biographies and so on in English because they were worried about their ability to express their views effectively in a foreign language... I think this is a pity... I don't have a lot of free time, but I'd be happy to translate short-ish contributions from Spanish into English if anyone has something they'd like to contribute... PM me if you need help...

Edited by mike tribe
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  • 1 month later...

One of the forums I belong to is Lingu@Net Europa. On that listserv people post messages in all the major West European languages. It works fine. I've never had a Spanish lesson in my life, but I can understand the gist of a written Spanish text because of my knowledge of French. I can cope with Dutch in the same way, using my German. Researching modern foreign languages and special educational needs, I've found myself understanding what was going on in texts in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. It's a matter of applying language-learning skills and what the continentals call "intercomprehension", the ability to understand related languages. With a dictionary, I've been able to handle Polish, Russian, Czech and even Hungarian and Finnish at a pinch. When I'm determined to find out what a foreign language text is about, I'll go that second mile. I was set the assignment a few years ago of finding the names of Disney's seven dwarfs in as many European languages as I could muster. I think I found those names in more than a dozen languages by searching the Web. And if all else fails, there's always Babelfish, the online translator - its output isn't pretty, but it's usually comprehensible nevertheless.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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Perhaps the way to cure English speakers' reluctance to even try to understand foreign languages is to chuck them in at the deep end, as David suggests! Using a second language isn't necessarily easy, but it's never as hard as you fear it will be, if you have a genuine reason for wanting to understand (as anyone who's fallen in love with someone they don't have a common language with has found out!).

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I agree with both Davids. I'd never studied Spanish in my life and have still had no formal lessons, and yet I was reading newspaper stories in El Pais within a couple of weeks arriving here. With a bit of concentration and some French, anyone can figure it out... On the other hand, I defy either David to "guesstimate" what a 70-year-old retired Andaluz fisherman I was chatting to on the beach a couple of months ago. I've been here 25 years and I think I grasped one word in ten!

A reservation about the Davids' theory is that I think you have to be able to read the script. When I was living in Tehran, until I learned how to read the script, I made very slow progress. I think it's to do with the re-inforcement you get from things like billboards on the street and things like that...

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Yes, spoken language is really difficult. My 'deep end' theory only really works for written language that you can decipher. Even then, there are problems with languages like Finnish. Try these:

Chocolate Chip Cookies med hasselnötter

Chocolate Chip Cookies med hasselnøtter

Hasselpähkinää sisältävät suklaamurukeksit

(I'm having coffee and biscuits right now!)

Now, if you can't work out 'hazelnuts' from the Swedish and Norwegian, then I think you need to get out a bit more … but even seeing 'suklaa' (chocolate) in the Finnish is hard enough. Finns tell me that the pronuncition of the 'ss' in 'hasselpähkinää' is longer than the 's' in 'sisältävät', and I can just about buy that. But the same applies to 'tt' and 't' - and that I've never been able to get!

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Which is, to be a bit flippant, why most of the Finns I've met have been excellent linguists: their own language is horrendously complex, and incomprehensible to anyone but themselves, so they have to begin learning other languages virtually from the cradle! I knew a five-year-old who could converse comfortably in English, French, Spanish and, I assume, Finnish...

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On the other hand, I defy either David to "guesstimate" what a 70-year-old retired Andaluz fisherman I was chatting to on the beach a couple of months ago. I've been here 25 years and I think I grasped one word in ten!

Don't worry Mike. I was born in Madrid, both of my parents are Spanish, I have been living here all of my life, 45 years, and I wouldn't understand him either! By the way, do you understand easily Glasgow dialect?

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Yes, spoken language is really difficult.

Couldn't agree more. People who push the "second language learning is the same as first language learning" argument forget how difficult second-language listening is. I don't remember ever being taught how to to do what was called in the 1960s "aural comprehension". And nothing prepared me for my summer semester at the University of Tübingen back in 1968 when I found myself attending lectures about German classical literature delivered in broad Swabian, waiting for those verbs to appear at the end of protracted subordinate clauses. Reading in a foreign language is, I believe, the easiest skill for literate adults to master when learning a foreign language, particularly when the learning takes place in their own country.

Finnish is certainly a challenge because the English reader searches in vain for cognates to shed light on the meaning of a text in that language. I became very excited when I found a message on Finland Forum mentioning a book written in Finnish about dyslexia and foreign language learning - I have teaching and research interests in that area. The book's translated title read: "Over the barriers - learning difficulties and foreign languages". The title in Finnish was "Yli Esteiden - Oppimisvaikeudet ja vieraat kielet".

Of course, the point about the comprehensibility of the script when reading in a foreign language is well made. I did one year of evening classes in Russian before I went to the then Soviet Union in the 1970s. My familiarity with the Cyrillic alphabet came in very useful as I navigated Moscow and Leningrad - I was able to read the street names!

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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  • 2 months later...

All threads about foreign languages and how we, average mortal human can or can’t navigate throughout them (foreign languages we learn and use ….!) are enormously interesting debate subjects.

I red some books written by Noam Chomsky about the language learning but they didn’t deliver any clue to understand the mysteries of learning foreign languages. Why some of us are capable to be a very much fluent (even in Finnish) after a few moths and why others are not at all able to be even near to useful knowledge of a new language after years of practising and trying really hard. These people can of course express themselves in a new and for them abstract language but only with a great difficulty. And they do not develop their (slim) knowledge during the years. This inevitably happened even if these people are living in the country which language they are trying to learn.

My question in this debate is: What is an acceptable knowledge of foreign language?

To understand it when listening to it?

To be able to order food at the restaurants or buy a ticket at a buss station?

To be able to make a conversation in a casual way?

To be able to enjoy books and magazines written in the particular foreign language? And debate the content with the natives?

( To get excellent marks at High School after showing that one is able to answer all the questions about grammar? )

Etc.

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Dalibor asks:

1. My question in this debate is: What is an acceptable knowledge of foreign language?

2. To understand it when listening to it?

3. To be able to order food at the restaurants or buy a ticket at a bus station?

4. To be able to make a conversation in a casual way?

5. To be able to enjoy books and magazines written in the particular foreign language? And debate the content with the natives?

Not an easy set of questions to answer. It hinges on the term “acceptable” and for what purpose one wishes to learn a new language. I had to learn Hungarian in the 1990s – Hungarian is just as mysterious as Finnish. I was managing a project in Hungary and needed basic “survival skills”: e.g. ordering food in a restaurant, buying bus and train tickets, saying who I was, etc. But most of the time I used English and German – because the project involved retraining teachers of Russian to enable them to teach English or German. My knowledge of Hungarian became “acceptable” for what I needed, but I cannot sustain a conversation in Hungarian for more than a couple of minutes, and I am only able to understand the gist of articles written in newspapers and books – i.e. recognise what they are about.

The Council of Europe has drawn up a set of six levels, which have become an international yardstick for measuring competence in the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking: the Common European Framework (CEF). Level B1 (so-called “Threshold Level”) might come close to what is regarded as “acceptable”, i.e. the threshold of communicative competence, at which the learner begins to become reasonably confident in handling the language. A learner is expected to achieve this level after around 350–400 learning hours. One of the ways in which a learner’s competence is measured is to what extent he/she can answer positively to a set of “I can” statements. For further information and lists of “I can” statements see the Common European Framework document:

Council of Europe (2001) Common European Framework of reference: learning, teaching, assessment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: Hardback 0521803136, Paperback: 0521005310.

See the following website for further information on the Common European Framework (CEF):

http://www.coe.int/T/E/Cultural_Co-operati...Language_Policy

The complete text of the Common European Framework (CEF) document can be downloaded from: http://culture2.coe.int/portfolio/document..._framework.html

Check your own level using the diagnostic tests developed under the DIALANG project. The tests are geared to the Common European Framework: http://www.dialang.org

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Regarding spoken language:

I have been in pubs in Glasgow and in Alnwick (Northumberland), where I have struggled in vain to understand the local lingo. My wife Sally (from Belfast) manages slightly better than I do at understanding both these regional dialects. Her own local dialect can be quite impenetrable - but she normally speaks a mellowed version of it. On the other hand she still comes out with phrases that I have never heard before, such as "he got a quare gunk".

Scots, by the way, is officially classified as a different language from English. See the entry under "Scots" at:

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/saoghal/mion-chanain/en

I have spent many holidays in the Austrian Tyrol. As a fluent speaker of German I am still embarrassed by my inability to understand more than one word in ten when the locals use their own dialect of German.

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What is an acceptable knowledge of foreign language?

It depends what I want to do with the foreign language. Putting to one side my work as a German teacher, the most important skill for me as a foreign language user is reading. I do a lot of web-based research about foreign language learners with special educational needs. Using my "intercomprehension" skills, I can follow a text about languages and special needs in languages as diverse as Dutch and Spanish. Do I want to learn how to speak these languages? No, unless I have a sudden desire or need to visit a country where they are spoken. I don't have time, or the inclination to develop an "acceptable" level of proficiency in all four communication skills in a whole range of languages: reading suffices for what I want to do at the moment.

Now, I mentioned my work as a German teacher. In this context, I have to maintain a proficiency in all four skills so that I can impart my subject knowledge to my students who will sit GCSE in a year's time. They will be tested in all four skills for a nationally recognised qualification, so there are fewer opportunities to specialise in a particular skill as I have done as a foreign language user outside the classroom.

The Languages Ladder, as I understand it in the UK, has built-in flexibility. One of its aims is: "enable each of the four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing, to be assessed discretely". So students with mother tongues other than English but unable to read or write those mother tongues, can be given credit for what they can do. Read about the languages ladder in a recent booklet downloadable from:

http://www.dfes.gov.uk/languages/uploads/L...s%20Booklet.pdf

Oh, and Chomsky. Some people write inclusive books that are a lifelong source of inspiration and enlightenment about language. Others revel in exclusivity, making the phenomenon of language and communication even more complicated than it already is. I'll leave you to speculate in what category I place Noam.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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Someone mentioned in a post last week that some people were unhappy about posting biographies and so on in English because they were worried about their ability to express their views effectively in a foreign language... I think this is a pity... I don't have a lot of free time, but I'd be happy to translate short-ish contributions from Spanish into English if anyone has something they'd like to contribute... PM me if you need help...

My problems with the English language are endless. I make basic grammatical errors, I spell like crap and it takes me forever to translate into Swedish (don't even mention Finnish). Still this is a necessary process in an all-European project. You choose one main language which everybody uses and then we language cripples try to get along with our own languages as well. The problems for us most of the time is the time factor. It takes a long time to translate (at least well enough so you don't make any grave mistkaes which might alter the meaning of the text). Still it's necessary to translate if we shall work on an all-European basis. In this way we reach as many readers as possible. At times being a non-native English speaker can even have it's advantages. Some of my students when I worked in the US would comment on the fact that it was easier to understand some of my lectures since I first had to make sure that I understood what I was saying... :rolleyes:

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Anders, I think you are doing pretty well. Don't be so modest! :)

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