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Old 07.11.2010, 05:48
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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:
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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):
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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
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Old 07.11.2010, 08:27
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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...
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Old 07.11.2010, 08:49
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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......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
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Old 07.11.2010, 08:52
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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)
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Old 07.11.2010, 09:23
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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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.
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Old 07.11.2010, 16:26
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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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...
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Old 07.11.2010, 17:11
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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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.

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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.


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Although---a swiss faking an eastern European..
Grrrrr....
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Last edited by MusicChick; 07.11.2010 at 20:03.
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Old 07.11.2010, 09:06
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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does this mean it is impossible by definition to be able to speak swiss-german
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
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Old 07.11.2010, 09:24
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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......studied with some funny Swiss German friends.


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
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Old 07.11.2010, 09:21
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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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.
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Old 02.03.2011, 23:37
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

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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...
My Russian teacher used to bang her fists on her desk and shout, "How can you possible learn Russian when you can't even speak your own language?!?"
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Old 15.11.2010, 15:29
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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.
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Old 29.12.2010, 21:35
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Re: When can you say you speak a language?

when you can get the jokes i think
I am a native swiss speaker and this is what i want to share with you (funny really)
A friend made me mad and i responded in english "oh blow in my shoes" which is translated from swiss german and means nothing in english i just got a stupefied look. What I know now I should have sad is something in the lines of " F.... off"
I went to the gym and asked the front desk attendant asked me what kind of locker i wanted I asked if he he has a "big one" what I wanted is a tall locker and did not realize that i was asking him something way to personal..oops..
So now I do not make these "oopsies" anymore so i think i can speak english
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