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  #81  
Old 04.11.2015, 20:31
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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  #82  
Old 04.11.2015, 20:32
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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Not sure that 11 is too old to start a foreign language. Also, as far as I know Swedish kids start foreign language training in sixth grade, so they are 11 years old like British kids. Some kids may excel at foreign languages at an early age, while others still struggle with their own language. Therefore I think what is more important than the timing of the first foreign language is a thorough education that combines theory and practice.
I'd agree with a lot of that but I do think earlier is better. My mum was in some sort of trial in the mid 50s when she was 6 and her school gave conversational French lessons. Her subsequent confidence was so great that she learned French and Russian in her Secondary education.

I guess the endemic negativity towards learning another language when the prevailing attitude seems to be "everyone speaks English anyway" is the most at fault. It also depends, or seems to, on how much value the school leader places on MFL. And it also very much depends on the teacher! I was very lucky that my first German language teacher was a native speaker. And highly entertaining.
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  #83  
Old 04.11.2015, 20:38
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

Earlier is not always better for all kids, but I do agree that if your kid shows interest and/or talent, it makes sense to provide early education.

I started with French aged 4 and continued till age 16. I absoluted hated it and was horrible at it. Studied Japanese from age 6 to 12 and excelled at it. Later in life I have continued studying it on my own and doing jobs that required Japanese. Added more languages every few years (third culture kid) but the extent to which I mastered each language did absolutely not depend on the age.. if anything it depended on personal preference. Also, my confidence in foreign languages and my motivation to learn them never depended on parents', or grandparents' points of view or their own language skills..

It would be great if schools could offer varying levels of foreign languages to accomodate different kids' needs but not sure we are there yet.
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  #84  
Old 04.11.2015, 20:51
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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My husband, a Dutch National, always considered having Dutch as his mother tongue a distinct advantage, as so few people speak the language. He was therefore obliged to learn English, French and German at school, all of which he spoke fluently, in order to converse with others. His knowledge of Italian wasn't bad either!
I think this plays a big part too.
If you look at the list in the OP a lot if those countries are places which speak a language that not many people will learn and are not spoken in other countries. As a result the residents of those countries are almost obliged to learn a foreign language and the language of choice is often English as it is widely spoken across the globe.
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  #85  
Old 04.11.2015, 21:23
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

My long experience in northern Europe, Scandinavia and Netherlands included, makes me much more careful with trying to find explanations for the level of English of a whole population. There are many factors, some of them contradictory, and it is difficult to really proof one's point. Lots of it is belief. Here are mine:

- The linguistic proximity plays a huge role; Scandinavian languages are very close to English to the point that even if a Dane speaks with English words and Danish grammar, it still sounds like good English. It's less the case with Dutch and even less with German, it is not at all with romance languages.

- The status of English in a given society is central; people learn English if they can get a direct benefit in the communities they interact in, so the more status one gets by speaking English, the more incentive there is to learn it good. There is little to no status to speak English in France, it's a far higher status in norther Europe where it is an expectation and a main criterium to define educated.

- The exposition to the language is in my eyes not as central but does help to put the two precedent points into practice. The Portuguese don't dub films either and their English is not bad but nowhere near northern European level. I'd say the film in English and media in general are a helping factor.

- How monolingual a country is culturally, economically and politically will also play a large role; multilingualism opens up the minds and people are more receptive to spend the huge amount of time needed to learn a language properly. The pressure to be excellent in German in Germany and in French in France is huge because people are judged socially and professionally based on language, and the expectations are far higher than in Scandinavian countries where excellent literary language is almost frown upon. It does set different priorities to people.
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  #86  
Old 04.11.2015, 22:17
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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I actually think it is a tragedy that English has become what it is as I actually happen to think English is one of the most expressive and beautiful languages out there and I'd rather the bumbling internationalist fools vandalized something like Esperanto, which honestly I don't care about.
I believe this is because of the fundamental mistake of making English robust. You can absolutely butcher the language but it still remains understandable. In German you forget an umlaut somewhere and instead of buying a sausage you are now asking for certain services that are only available on the Langstrasse at the little red door with a half moon, and only at very specific hours.
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  #87  
Old 04.11.2015, 22:42
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

This ranking is based on an online survey, hence the sample selection is probably pretty poor and might affected the results.

What's more interesting to me, are the differences within Switzerland. Native (Swiss-)German speakers have better English skills than Romands or Ticinesi. Interestingly the English skills of Swissgermans can be compared to the skills of Germans and Austrians (slightly lower score), while both Romands and Ticinesi perform better than the neighbors in France and Italy.
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  #88  
Old 05.11.2015, 00:10
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

There's an excellent blog explaining in detail why written English is so utterly terrible to learn. http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.ch

It seems to explain lots of things, like
- how long it takes English mother-tongue children (on average) to acquire literacy in their own language, relative to other children around the world.
- why (given the challenge of mother tongue literacy) the teaching of other languages at school tends to be de-prioritised or delayed in English speaking school systems - relative to their counterparts in other places.

And come to think of it, in Sydney, my children always had whole chunks of the week dedicated to a lesson called "spelling" (and tests etc), distinct from "grammar" and from "English" more generally. That's at least an hour each week they could have been learning a foreign language instead.

Last edited by AliceInWinterland; 05.11.2015 at 00:14. Reason: afterthought.
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  #89  
Old 05.11.2015, 00:24
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

Spelling is one thing, pronunciation ... another

https://youtu.be/1edPxKqiptw

Had a giggle tonight at the end of the meeting I attended and the Secretary finally said the scéance was closed - and we never managed to stir spirits!
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  #90  
Old 05.11.2015, 06:23
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

I think it is important to add, that the goal in schools here is not to turn out proficient english speakers, but to turn out people that can function in multilingual environment. Kids here come out of school able to communicate in 3 or 4 languages, most of the countries that rank high in the list concentrate on one foreign language.
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  #91  
Old 05.11.2015, 09:09
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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For what it's worth, I think a massive problem with the UK system is that languages are not introduced early enough, at say early to mid Primary education. Your average 11 year old starting "big school" with its assorted challenges can easily feel embarrassed and, sadly, learning new words and phrases and being required to say them out loud can quickly become a negative thing.
I started learning French at 15, within half a year I was reading books in it.

So, I don't think that 11 years is too old.

Tom
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  #92  
Old 05.11.2015, 09:46
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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I believe this is because of the fundamental mistake of making English robust. You can absolutely butcher the language but it still remains understandable. In German you forget an umlaut somewhere and instead of buying a sausage you are now asking for certain services that are only available on the Langstrasse at the little red door with a half moon, and only at very specific hours.
Happens in English too. Pronounce a couple of vowels wrong and you get this...



I don't believe English is robuster in the face of mispronounciation that German.

Mandarin maybe is a different story, where a slightly modified intonation can butcher the meaning entirely. But I guess the potential of misunderstanding through mispronounciation in German is about the same as in English.
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Old 05.11.2015, 10:53
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

LOL- I have a great French friend in the UK who came to live near us, aged 55, after she fell in love with a Brit on holiday in Mallorca! She put an advert at the Post Office saying she was looking for a job as a cleaner. When I first rang here, she said 'yes, I am ze lady who want do the arse work' (house work... so same difference as above ) - I replied in French and she was mighty relieved. Became our cleaner and a fabulous friend. She still speaks like that 20 years on - and does not care a hoot!

Always remember going to the corner shop near me in Brentford in 1970, 1 day I'd moved in to my digs and asked for some 'cloth hangers'. Some what, he asked. Some hangers to put my cloths on- gesturing madly. Oh they laughed. When I told my future fil that to go faster on ski you have to fart well, and that it is quite technical! And when I told future OH that I still 'ed my sumb' and wanted to be a 'hair ostess' when I was younger. And when I had to go to Gloucester Road the next day- buying a ticket took many minutes and I had to finally write it down- lots of laughs.
And when I got lost on the way as the guy had given me instructions, very kindly checking all along that I had understood, and saying 'right' ... after each instruction!

All the phrasal verbs are a nightmare. How many meanings can you come up for such a simple verb as 'to put down'. I put down the book. My boss puts me down. Put me down as a don't know. Put me down for the sausage and mash. I had to have the cat put down yesterday. Or 'to put up', etc. And as in the poem above, English pronunciation has no logic and no rules, and depends almost totally on the origin of the word- it is a nightmare. Why 'tears in your eyes' but 'tears in your jeans'?

I do believe that as native speakers of any language, we often totally fail to see that it is incredibly difficult for non-natives.

Last edited by Odile; 05.11.2015 at 17:30.
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  #94  
Old 05.11.2015, 11:05
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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All the phrasal verbs are a nightmare. How many meanings can you come up for such a simple verb as 'to put down'. I put down the book. My boss puts me down. Put me down as a don't know. Put me down for the sausage and mash. I had to have the cat put down yesterday. Or 'to put up', etc. And as in the poem above, English pronunciation has no logic and no rules, and depends almost totally on the origin of the word- it is a nightmare. Why 'tears in your eyes' but 'tears in your jeans'?
I have a Chinese friend who says all this is much more extreme in Mandarin, and intestingly, that this is why sensors have such a tough time. Many journalists he says make a game of writing ambiguous articles that could be totally innoccuous statements about food or sports or the weather or could equally be satanically critical scorn of the powers that be, depending entirely on whether the reader "gets" it. Of course it renders automated keyword based censorship virtually impossible, but can even slip past most human censors if they aren't from the local area and fully up to speed on all the insider jokes and prevications.

Reminds me of EF in a way.
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Old 05.11.2015, 11:28
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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Greece, Cyprus and several Eastern European countries don't have dubbing either and they are not exactly on the top of the list...

The TV/Movies argument is very popular, but there are surely many other reasons that can be attributed to their excellent English skills, e.g. the quality of their education.
I agree! In Denmark kids now have (mandatory) English classes from 1st grade and they learn German or French from 5th grade.

FYI: many movies and most TV-series for kids are actually dubbed in Danish
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Old 05.11.2015, 15:22
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

A storm in a teacup.
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  #97  
Old 05.11.2015, 15:38
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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I started learning French at 15, within half a year I was reading books in it.

So, I don't think that 11 years is too old.

Tom


You're clearly a language whiz! :P


I was speaking about the "average" 11 year old I suppose, in a standardised system - as horrible as that sentence I've just typed sounds.
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Old 05.11.2015, 15:44
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

I blame Americans who insist that plural nouns always take the singular verb. A recent one for you:

"Here comes the young"

Which thanks to the Americans is grammatically correct but sounds absolutely rubbish.
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Old 05.11.2015, 15:48
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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I started learning French at 15, within half a year I was reading books in it.


Tom
Yeah, the pictures in Tintin and Asterix books are great, aren't they?
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Old 05.11.2015, 15:58
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Re: Switzerland falls behind in English skills...

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I started learning French at 15, within half a year I was reading books in it.

So, I don't think that 11 years is too old.

Tom
Yes, we got it signor Tom, you are the king of the unpopular opinions.

Anyway, I believe that adults have certain advantages over kids for learning a language. Sure, for very close to native proficiency, especially orally, it is much better to start quite young. But as adults, we have supposedly mastered another language (our mother tongue), understand better grammars and other rules, and have better learning skills. So we might speak less fluently and with an accent, but it is easier for adults to read books and understand complex sentence structures for example.
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