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  1. #1
    Point Forward
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    Yes | No

    Foreign languages



    As best as I could tell, Americans average out to 1.18 languages spoken per person. Somewhere around 20% of Americans are bilingual or multilingual (best source I could find was a few years old), whereas that number appears to be over 50% overall for Europeans.

    Most of this is a result of geographic and political differences, of course. If German had remained prevalent, for example, rather than fading out sometime after WW1, that number would be much different in the US. As Spanish continues to be more and more common, things will change as well.

    Any of you guys speak foreign languages, or have experiences trying to use them despite not speaking them?

  2. #2
    High Class Wheater
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    I took Spanish and French in school, but can barely speak either. I know a little bit of Japanese from dating a foreign exchange student in high school. And, I know a little Mandarin from dating a Taiwanese girl in college.

    But, I'm just one of those people who really struggles to learn foreign languages. I can pick up and remember individual words, but stringing them together has always been beyond me.

  3. #3
    High Class Wheater
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    On the if German had remained prevelant thing in the OP, it wasn't just German that was widely spoken. There were a lot of European languages that were, such as Italian, Yiddish, Irish Gaellic, Polish, etc. In the great migration period roughly from the end of the Civil War to the 1920s, a lot of the people who came over didn't know English and had no desire to learn. They weren't here to stay. They just wanted to make some money, then go back home. About 40% of new arrivals did end up leaving eventually. There was a continuous stream of new people coming in who didn't know English and the diffferent ethnic groups would congregate in their own neighborhoods. They really had no reason to learn English.

    That only changed when the US closed it's borders in the 1920s. There were no longer new people from the old countries coming in to keep the old ethnic neighborhoods replenishing with non-English speakers. But, even into the '50s and '60s there were some neighborhoods in large cities where it was rare to hear English.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by GregA View Post
    On the if German had remained prevelant thing in the OP, it wasn't just German that was widely spoken. There were a lot of European languages that were, such as Italian, Yiddish, Irish Gaellic, Polish, etc. In the great migration period roughly from the end of the Civil War to the 1920s, a lot of the people who came over didn't know English and had no desire to learn. They weren't here to stay. They just wanted to make some money, then go back home. About 40% of new arrivals did end up leaving eventually. There was a continuous stream of new people coming in who didn't know English and the diffferent ethnic groups would congregate in their own neighborhoods. They really had no reason to learn English.

    That only changed when the US closed it's borders in the 1920s. There were no longer new people from the old countries coming in to keep the old ethnic neighborhoods replenishing with non-English speakers. But, even into the '50s and '60s there were some neighborhoods in large cities where it was rare to hear English.
    I didn't realize there were so many, but I do believe German was the most spoken of those at the time. Correct me if I'm wrong.

    Wasn't there also a politically motivated attempt to quash German after the war, in addition to the return of some migrants?

  5. #5
    Part of the problem
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    In much of Europe, English is the most common second language spoken. It is the "Universal language of business and money." For many Americans, there is no need to learn another language. We rarely run into anyone who does not speak English.

    As for me, I'm not conversant in any language other than English. I've taken some Spanish. I can order "tres burritos" if I have to. One of my sisters took a lot of French in High School and even visited France for a brief period, but she hasn't used the language in several years, so I'd be willing to bet she's forgotten a lot of it.
    Grammar Police: To Correct and Serve -- Every time you misspell a word, the errorists win.

  6. #6
    High Class Wheater
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    Quote Originally Posted by Morningstarshiptroopers View Post
    I didn't realize there were so many, but I do believe German was the most spoken of those at the time. Correct me if I'm wrong.

    Wasn't there also a politically motivated attempt to quash German after the war, in addition to the return of some migrants?
    I don't know if German was the most popular or not. I've always heard talk about the Italian neighborhoods, but a crapload of Germans came here. Certainly, during the war it was better to not be German and many changed their names.

    After the war things get complex and piecing together who was being repressed for what reason gets difficult. There was a deep distrust of anyone speaking foreign languages, especially German, Italian and Russian. But, the reason for that wasn't just the war. It was radicalism. A lot of the people who came here were not exactly capitalists or they were easily persuaded not to be after arriving here and living in the ghettos. In Milwaukee the sewer socialists reigned supreme and spread their message in German language newspapers. The Russian Revolution terrified people. The Socialist Party had undermined the war effort as best they could. The Wobblies were busy organizing labor and fighting with the police and scabs. And, of course, the anarchists especially of the Italian variety were the Islamic terrorists of the day with a love for bombs and assassinating political leaders, including a US President.

    So, how much of any supression had to do with the war versus the radicalism of a lot of immigrants is really anyone's guess.

  7. #7


    Yes | No
    Yeah, obviously the #1 reason we're not very multilingual is we already speak English. Note England being pretty much the lowest. I also expect we're lower due to not having e.g. England's proximity to other languages. I'd be curious to see the numbers for Australia. I'd think they're in a similar boat.

    I can read Spanish pretty well. I can speak it well enough to get by. My listening is really, really poor. So much so that it severely limits the usefulness of being able to speak it fairly well. If I were more dedicated I'd start watching a lot of Spanish-language children's TV to try to build my ear.

    I know about a dozen French phrases which makes all the difference if you don't want them to think you're an asshole.

    If you're looking to learn Duolingo is really good. Memrise is great for vocabulary, though their interface isn't as solid as Duolingo. Pimsleur is probably the best for speaking and listening (great for travel), but it's not free unless you're a dirty pirate. It's a 30-minute audio session you do once a day. It can get pretty dull. If you actually do the exercises out loud it's good for building a not-horrible accent in the language.

  8. #8
    Magic Grue Trainer/Author
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    I took 4 years of Latin in high school and 4 semesters of Latin in college. So if I ever go to Ancient Rome, I'm covered.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapadatass
    It's pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

  9. #9


    Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by LARPHawk View Post
    Yeah, obviously the #1 reason we're not very multilingual is we already speak English. Note England being pretty much the lowest. I also expect we're lower due to not having e.g. England's proximity to other languages. I'd be curious to see the numbers for Australia. I'd think they're in a similar boat.

    I can read Spanish pretty well. I can speak it well enough to get by. My listening is really, really poor. So much so that it severely limits the usefulness of being able to speak it fairly well. If I were more dedicated I'd start watching a lot of Spanish-language children's TV to try to build my ear.

    I know about a dozen French phrases which makes all the difference if you don't want them to think you're an asshole.

    If you're looking to learn Duolingo is really good. Memrise is great for vocabulary, though their interface isn't as solid as Duolingo. Pimsleur is probably the best for speaking and listening (great for travel), but it's not free unless you're a dirty pirate. It's a 30-minute audio session you do once a day. It can get pretty dull. If you actually do the exercises out loud it's good for building a not-horrible accent in the language.
    yeah i'm learning German on Duolingo

  10. #10
    Part of the problem
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    Quote Originally Posted by FrobozMumbar View Post
    I took 4 years of Latin in high school and 4 semesters of Latin in college. So if I ever go to Ancient Rome, I'm covered.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapadatass
    ... or Latin America. Unless American Latin is different.
    Grammar Police: To Correct and Serve -- Every time you misspell a word, the errorists win.

  11. #11


    Yes | No
    Recently went to Geneva for work and everyone in business there speaks English while all the normal locals speak French. It's fairly amazing how much credit you get with those folks if you just try a little.

    Some Spanish companies require their legal docs be in Spanish. I think it really limits their opportunities at times because they are so ardent. That, and everything takes forever to get done there (though not as bad as France). Many Chinese companies demand Mandarin for domestic transactions, but many also provide a Mandarin and English version and if there are inconsistencies English prevails.

    I think it really boils down to English being the long standing language of business and if it's going to change, it will be when our Lord and Masters in China decide it's time to make the switch.

  12. #12


    Yes | No
    I'm 43, and one of the big regrets I have is that I haven't learned a foreign language. I've been very, very fortunate to travel frequently, and I know some French (from high school), very little German and very little Italian. I was in Spain this year and was shocked at how little Spanish I knew. I've not given up, though, I'd really like to learn either German or Italian.

    I have two kids, and I've already told them they pretty much have to learn a language . . . unlike my dumb ass, even at their age I think they get how important it is, as they've been able to accompany us to France, Spain and England.

    Duolingo good??

  13. #13


    Yes | No
    When I lived in Italy, I found that there are a ton of people there who worry that their language will die, so a lot of rural schools only teach Italian or are reluctant to teach a 2nd language . . . sort of an attempt to force Italian to remain alive. That might explain why it's one of the worst European countries at speaking multiple languages.

    I also spent months in South Africa where I had students teaching in the poorest township schools. These elementary school children grow up in a shacks with no running water and a dirt floor:



    Yet, English is what they are taught and expected to speak in school and English is their 3rd language (1st Xhosa - a language that uses clicks, 2nd Afrikaans). English is considered the meal ticket out of the townships (e.g., to work in tourism or whatever). Even at this age, the kids are pretty darn fluent in English:


  14. #14


    Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by OnePoundSterling View Post
    I'm 43, and one of the big regrets I have is that I haven't learned a foreign language. I've been very, very fortunate to travel frequently, and I know some French (from high school), very little German and very little Italian. I was in Spain this year and was shocked at how little Spanish I knew. I've not given up, though, I'd really like to learn either German or Italian.

    I have two kids, and I've already told them they pretty much have to learn a language . . . unlike my dumb ass, even at their age I think they get how important it is, as they've been able to accompany us to France, Spain and England.

    Duolingo good??
    it's free, so that's nice.

  15. #15


    Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by OnePoundSterling View Post
    I'm 43, and one of the big regrets I have is that I haven't learned a foreign language. I've been very, very fortunate to travel frequently, and I know some French (from high school), very little German and very little Italian. I was in Spain this year and was shocked at how little Spanish I knew. I've not given up, though, I'd really like to learn either German or Italian.

    I have two kids, and I've already told them they pretty much have to learn a language . . . unlike my dumb ass, even at their age I think they get how important it is, as they've been able to accompany us to France, Spain and England.

    Duolingo good??
    Duolingo is great for getting a strong starting point. It'll never make you anywhere close to fluent. Once you have a foundation, the best option is immersion. The next best option is a conversation partner you see regularly. If you can't do either, then the best is reading books and watching TV shows at slightly above your comprehension level.

    Can't recommend Memrise enough if you get to the point that you really want to put in time learning vocab. Anki is another option, but it's not as user friendly. Both used "spaced repetition" which is basically using the science of how our memory works to almost perfectly streamline memorizing material permanently.

  16. #16
    Double Secret M0derator
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    TheNewCzar


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    I took German in high school and also picked up a little Russian lately.
    How many Lowes could Rob Lowe rob if Rob Lowe could rob Lowes?

  17. #17


    Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by dewarsrocks View Post
    I took German in high school and also picked up a little Russian lately.
    Holding a nesting doll and learning a language are two different things.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by LARPHawk View Post
    Duolingo is great for getting a strong starting point. It'll never make you anywhere close to fluent. Once you have a foundation, the best option is immersion. The next best option is a conversation partner you see regularly. If you can't do either, then the best is reading books and watching TV shows at slightly above your comprehension level.

    Can't recommend Memrise enough if you get to the point that you really want to put in time learning vocab. Anki is another option, but it's not as user friendly. Both used "spaced repetition" which is basically using the science of how our memory works to almost perfectly streamline memorizing material permanently.
    This is vitally important to really learning a language to the point where you can use it confidently. If you can't spend extended time in another country, just going to a Spanish (or whatever language) happy hour once a week and forcing yourself to communicate only in that language during that hour or two, you'll make a lot more progress than just studying and memorizing alone.

  19. #19


    Yes | No
    I agree the reason so few know more than one language in the US is because we already speak English. We have two borders, one is mostly English and the other is Spanish. Rather than look at the entirety of the US, a better comparison might be by state. I'd expect states on the southern border to score much better than the rest of the country, and probably the counties that abut Quebec. But for your average guy from New Jersey, there's probably not as much impetus to learn a non-English second language.

  20. #20
    The Living Dead
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    Yo hablo espanol

  21. #21


    Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by BeakEm35 View Post
    Yo hablo espanol
    Sorry, I don't. I might have some Aleve though.

  22. #22
    Soft
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    I took French in high school and college. I can still read/write French at the level of a slow 5th grader. Can't hear it for crap. I really wish I had take Spanish instead. I like the way it sounds (don't like French much) and would actually use the language here in AZ. Learning some Spanish is on my bucket list (of things I'd like to do, but probably won't).

  23. #23


    Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by dewarsrocks View Post
    I took German in high school and also picked up a little Russian lately.
    Was she hot?

 

 

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