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-   -   When can you say you speak a language? (https://www.englishforum.ch/language-corner/98695-when-can-you-say-you-speak-language.html)

RetiredInNH 07.11.2010 05:48

When can you say you speak a language?
 
I rarely read the Johnson blog (about language, after the learned doctor) in The Economist, but today was a slow day ...

I read a post asking When can you say you speak a language? which started an interesting discussion, with very many definitions, some fascinating.

I only read the first page of comments, really liked this one:
Quote:

And for bonus points, if you can speak to a person in their native language and they actually respond in their language, and don't immediately switch to English. This one can be very frustrating to a language learner, depending on the situation.
OK, let me add a comment that made me think of a member of our community (he actually, as I recall, made that point in a thread long ago):
Quote:

In most countries these days, mastery occurs when you realize that whatever it was that you said, you can simply repeat it in English, only a little more loudly in order to assist comprehension by linguistically ignorant natives. World War I Australian diggers would ask "Ooay the bwardable ong?" when asking directions to assist assignations with Les dames du Bois de Boulogne. "Bwardable ong" is rather wonderful said loudly, and the damned froggies generally catch on.
For even more bonus points: How did we manage to waste our time pre WWW :confused:

kslausanne 07.11.2010 08:27

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
I won't claim to be proficient in French until I can retain my fluency in states of high emotion, use puns, construct a convincing argument and make an interesting presentation. But I'm still working on those skills in English...

Chemmie 07.11.2010 08:49

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kslausanne (Post 1004517)
......in states of high emotion, use puns, construct a convincing argument and make an interesting presentation....


does this mean it is impossible by definition to be able to speak swiss-german :D

J.L-P 07.11.2010 08:52

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When you are under the effects of anesthesia and can respond in the language you are addressed in is a good sign of fluency. (at least to me)

kslausanne 07.11.2010 09:06

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Chemmie (Post 1004530)
does this mean it is impossible by definition to be able to speak swiss-german :D

I was wondering that as I was writing, but I imagine it would be difficult unless you really studied with some funny Swiss German friends. I learn French language humour by watching and reading comedy and by making jokes and seeing what works. I need to laugh, so it's a priority for me :D

MrVertigo 07.11.2010 09:21

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kslausanne (Post 1004517)
I won't claim to be proficient in French until I can retain my fluency in states of high emotion, use puns, construct a convincing argument and make an interesting presentation. But I'm still working on those skills in English...

totally agree on that.
In french a good test is if you understand the puns of the late Raymond Devos then you are definitely proficient.

Guest 07.11.2010 09:23

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by J.L-P (Post 1004532)
When you are under the effects of anesthesia and can respond in the language you are addressed in is a good sign of fluency. (at least to me)

Similarly when you've taken a dive down a flight of stairs at the main railway station and someone picks you up and dusts you down in German. You respond in the same language despite the bump on your head and throbbing ankle and bruised ego AND correct your own grammar slip-up without pausing for breath.

Chemmie 07.11.2010 09:24

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kslausanne (Post 1004539)
......studied with some funny Swiss German friends. :D


:D
Have tried this, but I still find humour lacking----a swiss telling me a joke is like telling a joke to a dog. I'm excited and want to laugh---but punch line never has any effect. Then it gets explained to me, yes I understood it, but perhaps I would have found that slightly funny if I was 4 and you were my crazy uncle.

Although---a swiss faking an eastern European/Asian german accent, or even faking German accent does get me laughing...but perhaps I just enjoy lower-brow humour :)

Faltrad 07.11.2010 16:26

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by J.L-P (Post 1004532)
When you are under the effects of anesthesia and can respond in the language you are addressed in is a good sign of fluency. (at least to me)

Are you suggesting one should be high when taking language tests in order to have real result?
Just asking... :D

MusicChick 07.11.2010 17:11

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kslausanne (Post 1004517)
I won't claim to be proficient in French until I can retain my fluency in states of high emotion, use puns, construct a convincing argument and make an interesting presentation. But I'm still working on those skills in English...

Yeah, I agree. But what if one actually primarily learned brit Eng and then Yank and in different state of emotions keeps switching from one another, without her willpower being in any way employed? Does that count as fluent? What is fluency, anyways...within varieties, accents, etc.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chemmie (Post 1004549)
:D
Have tried this, but I still find humour lacking----a swiss telling me a joke is like telling a joke to a dog. I'm excited and want to laugh---but punch line never has any effect. Then it gets explained to me, yes I understood it, but perhaps I would have found that slightly funny if I was 4 and you were my crazy uncle.

What kills it is the fact the jokes are announced...We just talked about pranks today, etc. Now, can you imagine announcing a prank? I appreciate humor, but not when it is announced or incredibly...overexplained. Which is often the case here. I do like low brow, though, or outright dumb, the best. I am glad there aren't many dumb blond jokes here, not that many blonds around to tease, I guess. But people constantly rippin on how stupid girls/foreigners/not fluent people are...gets old.


Quote:

Although---a swiss faking an eastern European..
Grrrrr....

SteK 07.11.2010 18:42

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When you think in it.....

Camupa 07.11.2010 18:53

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When you dream in it...

kslausanne 07.11.2010 19:32

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Camupa (Post 1005057)
When you dream in it...

I dream in French all the time, and even better I understand most of it now! :D

I realised I knew French pretty well when I started having to change seats on the train because of the inane conversation that I couldn't help following. (No, I do not feel the need to walk around to my own personal soundtrack to the B-movie that is my life blaring in my ears, so I actually hear people around me.)

Ahhh, I miss those days when everyone's babbling was incomprehensible and I could imagine that being in 'Europe, where culture has been flourishing for so many centuries,' people were having very interesting, insightful conversations and maybe, just maybe I would be able to understand one day and benefit from the ancient wisdom being shared all around me...

FrankZappa 07.11.2010 19:38

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
One good sign is when you use the language correctly in ways that you've never conciously learned.

I couldn't explain how to use the subjunctive properly in french, but I'm pretty sure that I use it right most of the time. That's probably because I can only learn languages by listening and speaking. Lessons and books are too much of a pain for me. Alll honour to those who can!

kslausanne 07.11.2010 19:39

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by MusicChick (Post 1004958)
Yeah, I agree. But what if one actually primarily learned brit Eng and then Yank and in different state of emotions keeps switching from one another, without her willpower being in any way employed?

Dear MC, I'm very puzzled... does that mean you mix up NAE and BrE swearwords or something? Actually I could see how an American might be confused if you use BrE vocabulary, I keep forgetting they're not totally confused like us Canadians who don't know what we speak or how to spell...

Yeah, they even had to get their own version of Antiques Roadshow for heaven's sake! :eek:

Or does your accent change? :D

Sky 07.11.2010 19:46

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When you dream as said above, and when you automatically count in that language.
People only count in their native tongue or when they are really bilingual

kslausanne 07.11.2010 19:55

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Sky (Post 1005106)
When you dream as said above, and when you automatically count in that language.
People only count in their native tongue or when they are really bilingual

Maybe I don't know French that well after all, because while counting is okay and in fact I have to think about what my phone number is in English, left and right still cause me problems (although it's the same in English). I was getting an eye test yesterday and the doctor was saying à gauche, à droite and that was already a challenge, but when he said 'tout droit' I looked right again, but really hard :D, a split second later I remembered that means straight ahead!!! :o

MusicChick 07.11.2010 20:01

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kslausanne (Post 1005100)
Dear MC, I'm very puzzled... does that mean you mix up NAE and BrE swearwords or something? Actually I could see how an American might be confused if you use BrE vocabulary, I keep forgetting they're not totally confused like us Canadians who don't know what we speak or how to spell...

Yeah, they even had to get their own version of Antiques Roadshow for heaven's sake! :eek:

Or does your accent change? :D

Actually, it's more accent, intonation, ocassional words...Lancashire and Cockney are hard to shake, haha. If I have no control, it's pretty much BrE, otherwise NAE. The actual swear words of each are inserted for my own enjoyment, with the ocassional abuuuuuuut and eh, to make myself laugh.

Now when there is a real need to swear, it's kurvadrat or jezisimarja.

Mud 07.11.2010 20:08

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
I considered myself fluent once I could tell and/or understand subtle jokes, and dish out and receive (and understand) insults. This is in French- insults seem to be a bit of an art form, at least in the crowd I regularly encounter.

Also, when I could deal with stressful situations without hesitating or searching for words, and could switch readily between the bizarre French approach to numbers and the logical Swiss approach.

Perhaps the real moment was, as someone who works alone, I found myself discussing problems in my head (or out loud) in French automatically- and when I noticed, couldn't easily translate that into English. It is normal to talk to oneself, right? Right?! Oui Mud, oui!

princessduck 07.11.2010 20:12

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When I will be able to speak with German speaking people without asking them ''sorry??'' or ''Ich verstehe nicht''...just for simple,easy conversations...:D

MusicChick 07.11.2010 20:20

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Doesn't it get hard sometimes, though, when there is an exact word for a certain situation very fit, but not very well translatable? So, you keep those handy words, not for work, but normal day talk, some in French, some mother tongue, some English, Russian, German...I always considered people who use those as phoney pretentious bastids, hahah, throwing foreign words around, but it is very tempting to mix languages when the words are so so fitting your thought and don't travel across languages so well.

Faltrad 07.11.2010 20:48

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Dreaming in the foreign language... definitely not a criteria. One dreams in the language when the brain has to work out the inputs it is exposed to. When you really are fluent, you don't need that. You dream in languages, but then it is a part of you, it is as symbolic as anything else in the dream interpretation. The two situations exist, one can not just take dreams alone as a criteria.

One can not say of oneself that one speaks a language. This is an opinion others have about you.

Kamarate 15.11.2010 14:36

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Most people seem to think that being able to speak a language is the same thing as being fluent in a language. I don't think this is the case at all. I think you can say you speak a language when you can understand and be understood by a native speaker in most situations. I don't know if anyone here uses the Common European Framework of References for Languages, but it outlines 6 levels. I'm probably C2 for Spanish and C1 for French. I'm about A2 for German. I would say I speak Spanish and French, no question. I wouldn't say I speak German, I don't understand enough and I certainly can't express myself enough. However, I think it's a very subjective and individual thing to say you speak a language. Most people I know in the UK that can say a few sentences in a foreign language think they speak it :rolleyes:

EDIT: I agree to an extent with what Faltrad said about other people deciding whether or not you can speak a foreign language, but I think you yourself should be able to recognise when you're proficient in a language. You'll know because you don't feel lost in the foreign-language-speaking community!

Guest 15.11.2010 14:42

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Kamarate (Post 1013415)
Most people seem to think that being able to speak a language is the same thing as being fluent in a language. I don't think this is the case at all. I think you can say you speak a language when you can understand and be understood by a native speaker in most situations. I don't know if anyone here uses the Common European Framework of References for Languages, but it outlines 6 levels. I'm probably C2 for Spanish and C1 for French. I'm about A2 for German. I would say I speak Spanish and French, no question. I wouldn't say I speak German, I don't understand enough and I certainly can't express myself enough. However, I think it's a very subjective and individual thing to say you speak a language. Most people I know in the UK that can say a few sentences in a foreign language think they speak it :rolleyes:

I think that's the point of the thread, no?

My neighbour is embarrassed about her English and says she is really "bad" but speaks it to almost a native level. I think I'm bloody fabulous in German but the bastardised German/Swiss German I churn out is probably like nails down a blackboard to a native speaker.

Treverus 15.11.2010 14:43

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Chemmie (Post 1004549)

Although---a swiss faking an Asian german accent, or even faking German accent does get me laughing...:)

There are Asian Germans? I thought the Huns died out...

Quote:

Originally Posted by MusicChick (Post 1004958)
Grrrrr....

Grrrrcic?

olygirl 15.11.2010 14:43

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When you carry a conversation with a Muotathaler about flätt, hüntsch and sauft in the local dialect.



By the way, I had a nice conversation with the bell maker just last month.

Guest 15.11.2010 14:51

When can you say you speak a language?
 
When you're really under pressure/stress whilst counting, but still don't revert to your mother-tongue :msnshock:

Pinup 15.11.2010 15:10

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
when you stop being shy and start trying. :rolleyes:

Kamarate 15.11.2010 15:22

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

I think that's the point of the thread, no
Well yes, but is there any problem with reiterating this point? :p

I like some of the responses about automatically speaking in the language. I don't agree, I think you can 'speak' a language before you start doing it automatically, but it's certainly an indication that you've reached another stage. I found that, on my return to the UK after living in Spain, I kept unwittingly making Spanish noises and saying Spanish words. The only experience of that I've had in French was the other day. I was walking home, and some guy rode his bike round the corner and scared the crap out of me, prompting me to gasp "putain!". We then both laughed and said "bonsoir". I was quite surprised that I used that particular word rather than one from the plethora of delightful English swear words that I frequently use.

PatMc 15.11.2010 15:29

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
I'm of the opinion that you can speak the language when you can have what my daughter calls a spazz attack in that language and the person you are ranting at understands the language as well as the tone.

axman 15.11.2010 15:31

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
some 10 years ago, I overheard this conversation at the desk at the gate in the Toronto airport, while waiting for my flight to New York:

Lady: (raising her voice)"just because I look Indian it doesn't mean that I don't speak English. I am Canadian, you know!".

Gate agent: "Sorry maam, to sit in the exit row, we require you to speak fluent English, which is why I asked if you do. I did not mean it that way, but it is of course possible that French is your main language"

Lady: "well of course I speak English, so can I have the exit row seat?"

Gate agent: "in an emergency situation on the plane, an exit row passenger has to be responsible for a few things... are you able to instruct other passengers comfortably in English in an emergency situation?".

Lady, in deep thought: "err... no..."


I can give a business presentation comfortably in Frankfurt in German, but no, if there was an emergency, no way will I be able to bark out orders in German...

Carlos R 15.11.2010 15:36

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
When the locals think you are a local (after you've opened your mouth :D)
When you read a translated book and think you could have done better :o

Quote:

Originally Posted by axman (Post 1013511)
... if there was an emergency, no way will I be able to bark out orders in German...

Depends on the situation. If it was a Spitfire coming to attack my position, I could easily bark out the required orders... (I've watched too many WWII films...)

Kamarate 15.11.2010 16:03

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Carlos R (Post 1013520)
When the locals think you are a local (after you've opened your mouth :D)

Really? Even including accent? I think that, for most languages (except ones with very simple sound systems such as Spanish), you can never have a completely native accent unless you are a native speaker. I know about two people who come close in English, but you can hear that there's something different about the way they speak.

Guest 15.11.2010 16:19

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Yep - I speak German with a French accent, French with a Swiss accent, and English with .... nobody has any idea sort of accent (although I am totally fluent after 39 years living in UK) - my Italian accent is not too bad, I've been told. LOL.:D

Kamarate 15.11.2010 16:27

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

my Italian accent is not too bad, I've been told. LOL.:D
And that's because the sound system of Italian is not that different from that of Spanish. ;) I've been mistaken for a native Spanish speaker on the strength of my accent before, but once they listen to me speak for any length of time, they know I'm not native, because I don't speak as idiomatically as a native Spanish-speaker. Unfortunately, reaching this level in a foreign language requires some sort of super-genius power!

Interestingly enough, Odile, I've been told I speak French with a slight German accent! (And annoyingly I sound horribly English when I speak German).

Faltrad 15.11.2010 16:56

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by axman (Post 1013511)
if there was an emergency, no way will I be able to bark out orders in German...

Don't bark, then. Speaking will do.

Guest 15.11.2010 17:18

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Kamarate - my English accent is a mixture of South-African and Welsh - aarrgghhh!:msncrazy:

greenmount 15.11.2010 18:49

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Kamarate (Post 1013563)
Really? Even including accent? I think that, for most languages (except ones with very simple sound systems such as Spanish), you can never have a completely native accent unless you are a native speaker. I know about two people who come close in English, but you can hear that there's something different about the way they speak.

I don't think you can have a native accent in Spanish if you're not a native and didn't live there for say...40 years..though it sounds simple. As for the English language, to me faking a British accent is so ridiculous, that I prefer to have my own (undefined and very light) accent and focus on grammar and making myself clear..:msnblush: Same for the German language. When I watch my accent in Hochdeutsch I get tired and I feel it's not worth the effort as long as I can speak correctly :D

Guest 15.11.2010 19:18

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
shuuks - that's why I never mastered it - only lived in UK for 39 years!

Camupa 15.11.2010 19:42

Re: When can you say you speak a language?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Carlos R (Post 1013520)
When the locals think you are a local (after you've opened your mouth.)

Last weekend, after a conversation in my best German, I was asked if I'm Dutch. Does that mean I'm getting closer?:msnunsure:


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