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  #81  
Old 18.11.2010, 09:44
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

We've been here 2.5 years now. I have good conversational French - I can chat, banter, and if I'm missing a key piece of vocab I can always make myself understand by describing what I mean. I make grammatical errors, but they don't seem to put too much of a burden on the person I'm speaking to. Our kids are in local school, and I can now manage things like parents' conferences without major effort. I go to French-speaking doctors and dentists; I can make phone calls to utilities without stressing.

I must admit, though, I've slacked off on language learning in the last year or so. I'm 80% there, but the effort required to get that extra 20% now is enormous - I would need several years more hard study to iron out mistakes and move to real fluency. And frankly the reward just isn't worth it like it was in the early days, when I really wanted to be able to converse and made noticeable strides each month.

Hubby, who works long hours in an English-speaking office and travels extensively throughout Europe and the US, has the basics - 'shop French', as we call it. But he always, always has a go, apologising profusely for his poor French, and he is met with enormous goodwill for doing so. Sometimes he and the other person muddle through in French/English, both happy to look equally foolish. Other times they offer to go and find an English speaker - but there seems to be a huge difference in staff attitude between them offering the English speaker, and you asking for one from the start.

He's also slacked off from the early days, partly from work pressures and partly because my level is such that he doesn't need to improve to deal with any household matters.

It's actually quite annoying for English speakers, in a funny way. Others have mentioned this above - 'I'm on my 5th country...', etc. If you're a non-English speaker and you want to learn another language for personal development, travel, work, fun, then barring specific circumstances it's a no-brainer: it's English. And that English will never be wasted. If a French speaker learns English for living in the UK, all that work will also come in very handy if they then move to Germany, the Middle East, China. English as a Second Language can be a valuable, lifelong project with easily tangible benefits.

Next time I move countries, all my French work will go *poof* and disappear in a puff of smoke as I start all over again in a new language. I know all about language attrition, and that I will be too busy learning the new one to also keep up the French that I will probably never need again.

So yes, although I've reached a good level in French, I can entirely understand why others can't, won't, or simply don't see the reward benefits from all that effort.

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  #82  
Old 18.11.2010, 09:52
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

I agree with you, Kodokan, however, people in the street, shops, receptionists, etc. don't know it's your 5th country and you're tired of learning languages..

The most annoying thing (for me) is when they see you're having difficulties even with high German, yet they keep talking to you in Swiss German.
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  #83  
Old 18.11.2010, 10:02
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

I think it really does depend on whether one is here for the long term or purely for a quick posting.

I'd say for a 6 month stint - forget it - just go with a tourist phrasebook for basics
6 months - 3 years - try and pick up a bit more. Don't worry about grammar but at least be able to understand what the person at the checkout is saying to you in Coop.
Over 3 years - you'd potentially be foolish not to learn the language well - unless you are quite happy not to mix with any locals you will likely start to feel quite alienated.

Language wise I would far rather live in the French or Italian speaking part of Switzerland since I at least learned French at school and Italian is such a beautiful sounding language. Unfortunately I can't say the same about German - too many syllables for my limited intellect and far too many words to convey some of the simplest of statements.
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:11
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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I agree with you, Kodokan, however, people in the street, shops, receptionists, etc. don't know it's your 5th country and you're tired of learning languages..

The most annoying thing (for me) is when they see you're having difficulties even with high German, yet they keep talking to you in Swiss German.
Yes, I do completely sympathise with the difficulties people have over there - at least here's there's only one language, you hear it all around you in shops*, etc.

I think regardless of '5th country', if you're here 12 months or more then it's worth learning enough to get to the 'bumbling fool making an effort in shops' stage - perhaps 20-40 hours study. It then makes interactions much more pleasant as the staff are immeasurably more receptive, and takes away that faint panic that they'll deny that there are any English speakers available that day as you'll be able to manage with the basics, a dictionary and mime.

* I personally love being able to tune out of other people's conversations - unless I'm actively concentrating, French switches to being radio white noise. Whenever I go back to the UK it's like I've suddenly become telepathic and I find it incredible intrusive for a day or two until I acclimatise.

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  #85  
Old 18.11.2010, 10:19
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

I would guess that foreigners are pretty lucky here in Basel. I never come accross someone who doesn't want to speak an other language, maybe 2 or 3 persons in the almost 3 years we are here.

Maybe because they are so used to switch languages because of the amount of foreigners and also the amount of french people shopping in downtown on a daily basis.

The guy in charge of the Miele products in the neighbourhood came a few time in our house already and he doesn't speak any english or french. But we still understand each other with words, signs and good laugh!

Just me offering him Wasser mit/ohne gaz makes us connected!
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:21
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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* I personally love being able to tune out of other people's conversations - unless I'm actively concentrating, French switches to being radio white noise. Whenever I go back to the UK it's like I've suddenly become telepathic and I find it incredible intrusive for a day or two until I acclimatise.

kodokan
Good point - whenever I visit an English speaking country from here it feels like 'information overload' for the day to two you mention - it is also so liberating to be able to converse freely with (almost) anyone in one's first language that I even feel dizzy at first.
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:22
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

I admit that many people have it tougher than I had it. When I first arrived in CH it was as a student and I didn't have any friends or family or even know anybody at all. Neither did I have a relocation agency or a boss or anything else that saved me from having to deal with locals face to face. So I had to look for accomodation by myself, deal with the Fremdenpolizei, who back then were a lot more burocratic, dim-witted and difficult than they now are, register for courses and do a lot of other things that are quite daunting in a foreign language especially seeing I was away from home for the first time and had never done anything of the sort before. Of course there wasn't anything like an EF back then. Then term started and of course students anywhere like to have fun and so it was through socialising I picked up a lot of language and local culture and I appreciated that especially during my first couple of months a lot of Swiss went out of their way to help me or make things easier for me. I never once felt that anybody was refusing to socialise with me or being intentionally difficult or obstructive.

Many professionals who come over here are much more in a bubble provided by an english-speaking workplace, family etc and are so saved from being plunged in at the deep end as I was. As has been mentioned, many simply can't find the time as a demanding profession eats much of their time and they already struggly to find the time their family deserves so taking courses or socialising at the local Stammtisch isn't really an option. So definitely integration is much tougher for such folks.
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:25
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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The most annoying thing (for me) is when they see you're having difficulties even with high German, yet they keep talking to you in Swiss German.
The checkout girl in our local Denner speaks almost no High German, only Swiss German. She came here more than 10 years ago, married a Swiss and didn't spend a franc on German lessons. She just picked up the local dialect over the years.

She does, however, know how to say "Sank you und bye-bye, gall?"
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:28
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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Many professionals who come over here are much more in a bubble provided by an english-speaking workplace, family etc and are so saved from being plunged in at the deep end as I was. As has been mentioned, many simply can't find the time as a demanding profession eats much of their time and they already struggly to find the time their family deserves so taking courses or socialising at the local Stammtisch isn't really an option. So definitely integration is much tougher for such folks.
Beside that some foreigners come here and stick with people from their own culture and doesn't try anything to mixed with other expats from other cultures and with the swiss. This has nothing to do with the language at this point...
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:32
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

Ive been living in Switzerland for 2,5 years.
Dropped for the first time, first time ever did I hear this language and for the first time realized it is NOT german! Or, deutsch, if you will.
See, when I watch TV and try to learn german that way-I can actually understand 60%.
Switch to SF or any other Swiss german channel and I understand-nadda.

Ive started learning french online, and I love it, already know and recognize a few words while listening to french.

But Swiss german is just so hard for me to comprehend Im sorry to say that I dont actually know what my excuse is
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Old 18.11.2010, 10:59
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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Beside that some foreigners come here and stick with people from their own culture and doesn't try anything to mixed with other expats from other cultures and with the swiss. This has nothing to do with the language at this point...
Yeap, I've got neighbours from South America, and they seem to socialize only with South Americans. Stupid me I was always trying to be friendly, invite them over for a coffee, etc. ('cause I "knew" they're Latin and therefore more open etc.)
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:08
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

Some very interesting points made, thanks- I had not considered that some of you travel from country to country for your work, and that this makes it incredibly difficult, both with language and realtionships.
I can't help wondering though, what came first, the chicken or the egg. Can one really say 'I am not interested in the language of the country I choose to live in, and/or its culture - and by the way, the locals are not friendly'? If you show that you are not interested and not prepared to make the effort- do you really expect them do be super-friendly? Honest?
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:08
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

"No hablo Ingles", a useful phrase I've learned from Mexicans in the US.

Sometimes, there are actually advantages to not knowing the local language. You don't have to talk to them if you don't feel like it. Great when you want to be left alone.

But of course, it is to your advantage to learn it so you know what everybody is talking about. And secretly practice speaking it in case of dire need to use it.
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:16
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

I've been here for 10 months, will probably be here for another 10, have no interest at all in learning Swiss- or High-German, and find the locals friendly.

Maybe because I can't understand the ones who might be bitching about me, but then I don't care.

I mix with expats from all over the world, and locals who like mixing with expats. This is how I usually behave when working abroad. I'm not immigrating here though; I'll be here for an undefined period of time and then go back to London.

I am learning a foreign language in my spare time, albeit half heartedly, but it's not a language commonly spoken in this country.
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:25
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

Each to their own Adrian. Learning some German may actually be really helpful for your career, even in IT. To me, it is disrespectful not to make the effort to learn some of the language and culture of a country I visit, for weeks, months or years.
It seems many think that living in ghettos, both linguistically and culturally is wrong if you are an immigrant from the 1/3rd world, or another poorer country - but fine if you are from US or UK. Imperialism rules OK, bring back the Raj.
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:30
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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It seems many think that living in ghettos, both linguistically and culturally is wrong if you are an immigrant from the 1/3rd world, or another poorer country - but fine if you are from US or UK.
Spot on..........
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:34
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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Can one really say 'I am not interested in the language of the country I choose to live in, and/or its culture - and by the way, the locals are not friendly'? If you show that you are not interested and not prepared to make the effort- do you really expect them do be super-friendly? Honest?
Again, yes. Why does anyone have to take it as a personal insult that one may or may not speak their language?

Consider the following... unfriendliness before you've opened your mouth or after you've finished your first sentence? (I think most expats can recount a story - I certainly can.)

How does the person on the other side of the counter (for example) know where you have come from, how long you've been here etc. when you say you don't speak Swiss (whichever language Weejeem).

I could be a tourist who is spending a day/week/weekend here. I could speak 10 other languages, but not Swiss.

I don't expect anyone to be "super-friendly". I do however expect to be treated courteously, especially in a customer situation.

As you've seen on this thread, there's plenty of people who have "good" (to use your word) excuses for not speaking a(nother) language. Who are you, the shop keeper, police officer etc. to decide if this is good enough or not?

I actually think that many Swiss have a chip on their shoulder about this, precisely because there are 4 official languages in the country. EDIT I have been told by many Swiss that the Romande lot, especially, make little or no effort to learn German, which pisses off the Swiss Germans no end, apparently. /EDIT

Swiss D: "Do you speak Swiss German"
Foreigner: "No"
SD: "Oh but you should, you live here"
F: "But, I do speak 4 other languages and can speak German"
SD: "Ah, but here in *insert small village name* we speak this version of Swiss German"
F: "Oh FFS."

If you don't speak German, you should learn it
If you speak German you should learn Swiss dialect
If you try Swiss dialect, they remind you that although you do very well, you are still a foreigner as you weren't born here.

You can't win, so why bother?
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Last edited by Carlos R; 18.11.2010 at 11:45. Reason: added comment
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:35
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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Each to their own Adrian. Learning some German may actually be really helpful for your career, even in IT. To me, it is disrespectful not to make the effort to learn some of the language and culture of a country I visit, for weeks, months or years.
It seems many think that living in ghettos, both linguistically and culturally is wrong if you are an immigrant from the 1/3rd world, or another poorer country - but fine if you are from US or UK. Imperialism rules OK, bring back the Raj.

An English-Speaking ghetto in Switzerland is exactly the words I use to describe it.
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:40
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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An English-Speaking ghetto in Switzerland is exactly the words I use to describe it.
With many Swiss part of it, heh?
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Old 18.11.2010, 11:44
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Re: Is there ever any good excuse for not learning the language?

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If you don't speak German, you should learn it
If you speak German you should learn Swiss dialect
If you try Swiss dialect, they remind you that although you do very well, you are still a foreigner as you weren't born here.

You can't win, so why bother?
Even if you were born here you might still not be a proper Swiss if your parents were not born here and their name ends in "-ic"..
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