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Learning a language well if you don't live in the country where it is spoken for some time
Thread poster: Sonja Allen

Sonja Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Jun 2, 2006

I have just read an article somewhere about an US American who learned Welsh via the internet while living in the US. He also wrote a blog in Welsh every day and learned the whole language so well that he was accepted by Cardiff University.
Well, when I look at me, I have been learning Spanish for more than 20 years at more or less irregular intervals and I can read Spanish texts without problems, but when it comes to speaking the language or listening to Spaniards speaking, I feel like I am back in my first year of learning the language. So my question is, can you really learn a language fluently (meaning not just aquiring a good passive knowledge but also being able to use it actively without major difficulties) if you don't have the opportunity to spend any reasonable period of time in the country where the language is spoken. So is it all just a matter of how much effort and time you put into learning the language or is a longer stay in that foreign country simply indispensable? What do you think?


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Piotr Wargan  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 16:50
English to Polish
+ ...
Yes, you can :-) Jun 2, 2006

Probably not so easy when not living in 'the' country, and not so much fun it is, but on the other hand not so difficult, provided that you have time, motivation, want to take the effort...

I would like to draw your attention to Kato Lomb and her methods of learning languages (e.g. here: http://www.answers.com/topic/kat-lomb

or just write Kato Lomb in Google).

Sometimes it is not easy but don't give up an idea of studying a foreign language in your own country!

I wish you successful and rewarding learning!



Piotr


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Rebecca Hendry  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
My own experience Jun 2, 2006

I had been learning Spanish for 5 years when I first went to Spain. I had achieved an A grade at GCSE at age 16, an A grade at A level at age 18 and was half-way through a degree in the language. So I thought my level of Spanish was pretty good.

When I arrived in Spain I realised just how much I had to learn, and how limited my knowledge really was. Classroom learning really is nothing compared to living the language AS IT IS REALLY SPOKEN, not how you hear it on class tapes or videos. I learnt more in the first couple of months in the country than I had learnt for years!

So in my humble opinion, no, I don't think it is possible to truly understand and know a language until you have lived it. That means speaking with native speakers, day in day out, for a prolonged period of time. Reading a language is perhaps possible without this, but truly understanding the spoken nuances of a foreign tongue requires more than just books.

I'd be interested to hear about the experiences of others.

[Edited at 2006-06-02 13:43]


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
Member (2004)
English to Italian
No... Jun 2, 2006

You really need to live in the source country for an extensive period of time to be able to grasp all the nuances of the language and the culture. And you need to be able to practice the spoken language as well. I'm not surprised to see colleagues who include English amongst their source languages who are not able to string two sentences together in English or struggle to have a meaningful conversation because they don't understand a single word! A bit embarrassing, really...

Giovanni

[Edited at 2006-06-02 13:02]


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Sonja Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Same happened to me with English Jun 2, 2006

[quote]Rebecca Hendry wrote:


When I arrived in Spain I realised just how much I had to learn, and how limited my knowledge really was. Classroom learning really is nothing compared to living the language AS IT IS REALLY SPOKEN, not how you hear it on class tapes or videos. I learnt more in the first couple of months in the country than I had learnt for years!

When I arrived in England 8 years ago, like you, I also thought I could speak English very well and I also had to realise how much I still had to learn (and I am still learning!). But that was all at a time where access to foreign language material, apart from course books, wasn't so easy while I still lived in Germany. But nowadays with the internet and satellite television it might not be so difficult anymore to get to know the language how it is really spoken without having to spent much time in the foreign country, so it might just be a matter of how much you use these media and how much motivation you have to learn the language?. What do others think?


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Prawi  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 16:50
German to Italian
I don't think so Jun 2, 2006

I agree with my colleagues. If you really want to achieve a very good knowledge, you have to live in the country for a long time. Of course Internet and the media are a great help, but they are not enough. My own experience..

Paola


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:50
It depends... Jun 2, 2006

I was born in Mexico City and I attended a bilingual school for 12 years. By the time I started university, I had no problems communicating in English (verbal or written).

However, it was not only a good bilingual education that helped. Being close to the US, the influence of English in Mexico is huge. We have lots of music in English (one of my past times in school was translating songs), we have cable television in English, we have movies in English, we have books in English and, somehow or other, there is a considerable amount of business relationships (especially in large cities like Mexico City) carried out in English every day. Those who can afford it, also tend to take a vacation or two a year in US cities.

So I believe a Mexican can learn English well, without really needing to spend time in the US. This said, I believe one thing is to learn the language, and a very different one is to learn the culture. Learning the culture really takes a stay in the country.

On the other hand, I started learning French at the same time I started University. Had I not spent one year at a language school in Montreal to improve/accelerate my learning, I do not believe I would have ever learned French the same way I learned English, as the influence of French language in daily Mexican life is almost non existent; a totally different perspective of what happens with English. My two pesos.


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Deschant
Local time: 15:50
No, but... Jun 2, 2006

I agree with most of my colleagues, but I have to add that not a long time ago it wasn't that easy to move to another country for some months/years e.g. for political reasons. And of course there were good translators as well who, although they lacked "live" experience in their foreign languages, still managed to gain a good command - after extensive efforts, of course. But I think that even in this case an exceptional ability for languages is required. 90% or 99% of us won't probably master a foreign language without several years of residence in the country where it's spoken. 90% or 99% wouldn't probably succeed in writing a novel in a foreign language despite how many years we lived abroad. But some people like Nabokov and Joseph Conrad did succeed - i.e. it's not impossible but of course a special talent is required.

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xxxsarahl
Local time: 07:50
English to French
+ ...
Exposure Jun 2, 2006

I think it all boils down to exposure. In this time and day, you can probably get a lot of exposure from anywhere in the world through the Internet, DVDs, CDs... and the local Hispanic/French/whatever community.

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babycheeks  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:50
English to Albanian
+ ...
Not necessarily... Jun 2, 2006

I grew up in Albania. I started learning English in my fifth form and I immediately fell in love with it. I was always reading, translating and making vocabulary notes ahead of everybody in my class. The English influence in Albania was almost nonexistent as my country was still under the communist regime. I kept studying English and in fact now i have a degree in Translation Studies from the Faculty of Foreign Languages of Tirana, Albania.
After graduation I got a chance to work for KBR, an american construction company situated in Kosovo, first as an interpreter and then in different management positions.
So, after 12 years of studying English and 6 years of working for an american company i feel very comfortable in my knowledge of English. I have never lived in England or the States. I only visited the States twice.
So, I really think that it is not necessary to live in an English-speaking country to get to know the mecanics of the language. On the other hand, it is very important and essential to live in a country to get to know the culture of that country or at least spend a considerable amount of time with native speakers of that language.


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:50
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends... Define "well". Jun 2, 2006

Actually, all of you have described valid ways of learning a language with varying results, which will or will not serve ... well, it depends on your purpose. If what you want to do is talk, you should make the effort to live in the country where the language is spoken, at least for some protracted periods (yes, plural, repeat the experience). If what you want is to read and understand the finer points of the written language (which is a translator's job), you should probably concentrate on literature, and if what you need is sufficient understanding to interpret, then you should be going after all the variants, accents and expressive forms of the language in question. That said, I'm still not quite sure what you mean by "well".

I picked up (note, I'm still not quite sure I "learned") Spanish from Spanish-speaking grandparents in an English-speaking environment and I'm not a Spanish native. In fact, it grew wild and uncontrolled (not having been schooled or "normalised"). In that sense, I didn't speak it "well". But I've been living in Spain for the last 19 years, and now what used to be my passive C language has overwritten the active languages I was tested for when I was 25. So what can I say? Swap you Spanish for German?

My guess is that, you being a German native, you are probably learning your English very well indeed, if it makes you feel desperate about losing a 3rd language. I've written an article about the experience (which can be traumatic) in the knowledge base, I just hope it helps:

http://www.proz.com/translation-articles/articles/611/


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
Flemish to English
+ ...
It is a plus and sometimes a conditio sine qua non Jun 3, 2006

I learned the basics of Spanish by syntactical and semantic analysis of texts of Francisco de Ayala. This was part of the curriculum of a T&I-school.
However, you have to live in the country for a while to master a language and understand the references a speaker makes.
In the eighties, you could find me in Spain every summer, mostly in Salmanca at a university summer course lasting several months. The University combined these courses with a lot of cultural activities. Moreover, I lived in a Spanish family and once and a while we disagreed about certain issues, which lead to heated debates...All this proved a useful way to assimilate the language and achieving a level of fluency.
-
With London as a hub for cheap flights and the hospitalityclub.org as a place to sleep, it should not be too difficult to take a break once and a while and practise.
Nowadays air-travel has become so cheap that the possibility to practise has been greatly enhanced.
I remember I had to take a train from Brussels to Paris-Nord, which lasted 3 hours and a train from Paris-Est to Irún (French-Spanish border) which lasted 20 hours. From Irún, a train to Madrid lasted another 20 hours.
Now a flight from London to Barcelona lasts about 3 hours?
---
Some languages, like Japanse, you will only learn by living in the country for at least, three to four years. In Japanese, there seems to be a kind of "unspoken" language.
Etiquette is equally, if not more important than spoken language. Such etiquette can only be learned by either living in the country or in a city with a large community of (Japanese)natives such as Düsseldorf.


[Edited at 2006-06-03 16:41]


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:20
English to Tamil
+ ...
My experience Jun 3, 2006

I have never left India and I do not even have a passport. Yet I interpret for visiting technical experts speaking just German or English. Being a graduate electrical engineer with 23 years of engineering experience does help.

After one or two hours of my interaction with them, I invariably ask them, as to whether they understand my French/German. I am always gratified by their ready answer in the affirmative.

The other day a Swiss German asked me about my stay in his country. He was amazed on learning that I have never left India. He told me that I was speaking German with a Swiss accent!

I owe this happy state of affairs to the Goethe Instutut as well as Alliance Francaise, both in Chennai, India.

Regards,
N.Raghavan


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