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Old 17.03.2011, 19:43
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Active language skills require attitude shift

On consideration of my own experiences over almost 5years in Switzerland, as well as reading Language Corner threads on this website, I felt it could be of use to a few people to understand that active language skills are a commodity in this society, just like anything- which are gained by alot of effort, knowing native speakers who can help you in return for your help with something that you can offer, or simply by financial payment.

It came as a rude shock to me when I became aware that if I am to continue to work and live in a non-English speaking country, it is necessary to reserve very significant resources and long term timeframe in order to achieve adequate active language competency.

Naturally there are exceptions if an expat is employed in an international, English-speaking firm. Yet also in such cases, to genuinely integrate into a non-English speaking country, learning the language is a necessary outlay of time, effort and often, money.

It is very common amongst English mother tongue speakers, including myself, to underestimate the extensive effort, time and money required, because English is 'the world language' and we have inherited, by nature an ignorant attitude.

It should go without saying, that verbal communication is a foundation of human life and the capacity for individuals to function in relationships, families, workplaces, and communities. Only your own mother taught you for free. Any more languages that you want to or need to learn, you will not find when you open the fridge door or look on the shelf of the supermarket.

Last edited by Kaffee?Tee?Gipfeli?; 17.03.2011 at 21:26.
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Old 17.03.2011, 22:18
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

I agree with most of what you say but I disagree on some points. I learnt portuguese to a pretty high standard for free just using the internet. My goal was always to move to Portugal and live in the sun, hence my motivation to learn was high. Also my German was pretty much for free.

An investment of time yes, but it doesn't have to have a monetary cost.
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Old 17.03.2011, 22:27
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

Learning a language does it effort, but not necessarily money. I learnt basic English at school- went to work in London and just got on with it. NO contact with any Swiss or French whatsoever -no Forums, internet, mobile phones - jumped in at deep end, made a total fool of myself, took it on the chin et ..voilà.
Whether your learn a language or not has NOTHING to do with money but attitude.

Last edited by Odile; 17.03.2011 at 22:51.
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Old 17.03.2011, 22:35
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

I came here knowing only English and French, though I had taken one semester of German in college, and also had had a German girlfriend, but most of my German that I learnt while living in Zurich I learned from my Sicilian motorcycle mechanic, as I used to spend an hour or so after work helping out at his shop (though nowadays we speak in Italian). My German really improved once I moved to Ticino, as I had to spend a lot of time working with PTT guys from Bern.

I learned Italian first from watching TV, then because most of my motorcycle buddies are Italian, then because I had to spend a lot of time working with guys from RAI, but it vastly improved once I got an Italian speaking girlfriend. Never studied it, though.

The only language I've studied here has been Rumantsch!

Tom

P.S. My main language at work, both here and when I was in Zurich, is French.
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Old 17.03.2011, 22:50
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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It is very common amongst English mother tongue speakers, including myself, to underestimate the extensive effort, time and money required, because English is 'the world language' and we have inherited, by nature an ignorant attitude.


Speak for yourself.

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Learning a language does it effort, but not necessarily money. I learnt basic English at school- went to work n London and just got on with it. NO contact with any Swiss or French whatsoever - jumped in at deep end, made a total fool of myself, took it on the chin et ..voilà.
Does your chin still hurt on cold days?
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Old 17.03.2011, 22:58
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

No thanks for your concerns. My knee does though.

Wherever you are, if you want to learn, you will (severe handicaps do get in the way, I am aware)
and if you won't, well you won't.
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Old 18.03.2011, 03:18
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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No thanks for your concerns. My knee does though.

Wherever you are, if you want to learn, you will (severe handicaps do get in the way, I am aware)
and if you don't, well you won't.
That's not always true. I didn't want to learn French but I did! lol
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Old 18.03.2011, 09:39
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

I'll agree with the point about being realistic as to the amount of time and effort it takes to achieve fluency, but I disagree about the money investment.

I've spent quite a bit of time (and thus money ) in the Sprachschule - and my 'book German' is quite decent. Exercises? Exams? No problem. Yet I remain tongue-tied and prone to elementary mistakes in everyday conversation. The classroom is not real life - and real life is where one achieves fluency.

It's getting out and about - chatting with neighbors, making appointments, questioning an incorrect bill via telephone, making complicated purchases in the shops, finding one's way through a bureaucratic maze, navigating the social minefield that is an apero, joining a hobby Verein - these are the things are often most helpful in making the huge leap from 'book German' to useful command of the language as it is actually spoken.

Looking over my German textbooks, I had developed a good sized vocabulary in the first year - but very little of what I actually needed for everyday life.

Regular, meaningful contact with native speakers is the way to achieve real fluency - and that comes (largely - this is Switzerland afterall ) for free.
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Old 18.03.2011, 10:22
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

Learning a language can be done for free, but you have to have the right mental attitude. Many expats of my aquaintance think short term of their life here and therefore often don't make the effort to pick up the language. Personally, as an expat I have alawys thought I should at least try, even if the local person I am talking with immediately switches to English. I am living in Switzerland afterall, I should try and integrate.
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Old 18.03.2011, 10:28
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

I disagree with the effort and money part. I've learned several languages simply by being in the country/environment and just listen, learn and speak.

So while I agree it is an attitude issue, I don't agree on which attitude :-)
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Old 18.03.2011, 10:32
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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It's getting out and about - chatting with neighbors, making appointments, questioning an incorrect bill via telephone, making complicated purchases in the shops, finding one's way through a bureaucratic maze, navigating the social minefield that is an apero, joining a hobby Verein - these are the things are often most helpful in making the huge leap from 'book German' to useful command of the language as it is actually spoken.
Interestingly, I find speaking about "official" things much easier, e.g. bills, service (ha!), ordering something, shoping.

But as soon as we go into social mode I struggle much more. I think that's a reflection of the fact that at work what little Swiss language interaction I have, is usually related to business activities.

The other thing that annoys me a little is the assumptions of the locals. When they ask me a question they'll assume I've not understood because I'm taking time to reply, when in reality 1) I don't yet know my reply to their question as I'm thinking about it, and 2) I need just a bit more time to formulate a reply, thank you very much.
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Old 18.03.2011, 10:47
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

It actually depends to some extent on the individual, and his/her particular language learning skills. Since everyone has different cogniitive strengths and weaknesses, what works for some of us won't work for others. Some people have a good ear, others don't, some are able to make associations between words a lot faster. Also depends on memory - especially working memory. And I think there must also be a cascade sort of effect - the more languages you know, the easier it might be to pick them up because you've developed strategies that others haven't. And of course, kids may learn easier because the associative networks in their brains are more flexible.

I do agree that a lot depends on attitude. One of the things that I've learned is not to be embarassed by my German skills, but to plow ahead, and to speak German at every opportunity, when I can. ALso to be very, very polite and to not feel defensive or embarassed when someone corrects you. I usually warn people that my German sucks and that I'd love to know more. My written German is atrocious, and I probably talk at the level of a 3 year old, but I just think it's so important to seek out opportunities to try.

I find that there's also a give and take - a lot of people that i interact with want to know more English so we end up speaking Engman or Gerlish.
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Old 18.03.2011, 11:03
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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One of the things that I've learned is not to be embarassed by my German skills, but to plow ahead, and to speak German at every opportunity, when I can.
Indeed! But...

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ALso to be very, very polite and to not feel defensive or embarassed when someone corrects you.
They've never corrected me - I think they don't know where to start...

Last edited by Carlos R; 18.03.2011 at 13:43. Reason: "don't" in wrong place - duh
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Old 18.03.2011, 11:19
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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It is very common amongst English mother tongue speakers, including myself, to underestimate the extensive effort, time and money required
really? to me it seems pretty obvious that learning a language takes a lot of time.
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Old 18.03.2011, 11:26
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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really? to me it seems pretty obvious that learning a language takes a lot of time.
You've just ticked one out of three boxes. He said:
- time
- effort
- money

It's not from me, it's what HE said.
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Old 18.03.2011, 12:07
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Money becomes a necessary means to learn a language, when we cannot get a native speaker as a close friend who will reserve the long time and quite frankly painfully annoying effort to correct many mistakes. This is why attending courses, again, over a lengthy timeframe becomes necessary. Such a selfless friend is NOT a given!

It seems that after all the courses and money paid, it does indeed come down to having a native tongue boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Why would someone GIVE you their language knowledge for free?? over an extended period???...to the point where you have genuinely achieved good competency in writing and ACTIVE spoken fluency?!

This is about GIVING something to the other person, because as English mother tongue speakers, we are in need.

I applaude those who claim, that by simply talking to locals at the shops or on the phone, they have learnt the language - indeed I applaude 'fake it until you make it' attitude.

I think that we all know that regular embarrassments and mistakes can be taken on the chin if you remember how far you have come already. And that you will persist.

Last edited by Kaffee?Tee?Gipfeli?; 18.03.2011 at 12:32.
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Old 18.03.2011, 12:22
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

Depends very much on your ability/willingness to make a total fool of yourself- laugh and keep going. I've shown my ability to do this on EF many times as you well know.

My students always tell me they are afraid of making mistakes - and my reply is always 'this is what it is all about - making mistakes is how you learn in life, about almost anything. Worst thing can happen is that we have a good giggle about it'.
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Old 28.03.2011, 22:52
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Re: Active language skills require attitude shift

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Interestingly, I find speaking about "official" things much easier, e.g. bills, service (ha!), ordering something, shoping.

But as soon as we go into social mode I struggle much more. I think that's a reflection of the fact that at work what little Swiss language interaction I have, is usually related to business activities.
I think this is true for everyone (discuss....) The official things or your specialty (science, IT, knitting ...) have a limited vocabulary and you have a pretty good idea what's coming next. Conversation is much more open ended. People switch topics in unexpected ways. My pet theory is that the last thing you learn in a foreign language is listening in on what people in the street are saying. They could be talking about anything...
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