Foreign Language Fluency

Discussion in 'Teacher Time Out' started by GoehringTeaches, Apr 27, 2012.

  1. GoehringTeaches

    GoehringTeaches Comrade

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    Apr 27, 2012

    As a mother, teacher, and simply an American living and traveling in Europe, I believe we are doing our children a great injustice by not teaching them fluency in a foreign language. I've said for awhile now that my only regret in life is not learning a second language fluently. Living in Italy, I wouldn't even care if it was Italian that I spoke or not. We recently traveled and met people that spoke three, four, five, or MORE languages FLUENTLY! Just what is so wrong with Americans knowing more than one language? There is so much more out there in the world to discover, but we always think English is the only language to speak.
     
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  3. MikeTeachesMath

    MikeTeachesMath Devotee

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    Apr 27, 2012

    I think we've gotten into this mindset that everyone else in the world is switching to English, so why should we bother learning another language?

    I think it's cultural suicide.
     
  4. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Apr 27, 2012

    agree.
    I think the only cure to this is having kids start learning a foreign language early on, like 3rd or 4th grade and continue. (this is what they've been doing in Europe).
    Research has also shown that doing this helps problem solving skills and other mental skills, in other word, it does make us smarter in other areas.
     
  5. SandyCastles

    SandyCastles Companion

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    Apr 27, 2012

    I too am living abroad amongst Europeans, South Africans, and Middle Easterners who speak anywhere between 2 to 5 languages. In my opinion, a lot of the reason we don't know more languages is the location of our country- we are a dominantly English speaking country in an isolated location, with only Canada and Mexico surrounding us. While those countries bring French and Spanish, it is not in as transient a way as Europe, where the countries are small and easy to travel between. I am not trying to make an excuse for us, but I think this is part of the reason people in that part of the world know more languages. It was easier for them to learn them. I do think as our hispanic population grows, it is important for us to invest time in learning Spanish.
     
  6. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Apr 27, 2012

    Amen to that. I am an American living in Mexico and have often pondered the same thing. The USA is one of the only countries that does not embrace being bilingual (or trilingual, or more). Every other country makes it a huge importance and kids become fluent in another language in their school years (as opposed to just studying the basics for a few years).
     
  7. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Our kids start in Kinder. They begin the basics, and by pre-first (grade one in the states) they are already fluent. Of course they still have lots of vocabulary to acquire, as they do in their native language, but they are fluent speakers by that time.
     
  8. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Apr 27, 2012

    This is what I was going to post. When we were visiting France and Italy, I was upset with myself that I didn't learn a foreign language. Even though I had 3 years of Spanish, it was a joke because I can't even remember what I learned from that class. Our tour director this summer spoke French, Italian, and a few other languages. I am jealous!
     
  9. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    Well I think it's a few things.

    1. English really is the global language. You can go anywhere and probably find someone who speaks it.

    2. USA is HUGE. In Europe you travel for 4 hours and you're in a new country with a new language. Plus, borders are open and easy to travel across. Here, you need to put in a serious effort to get to a non English speaking area.

    3. I find people from the USA aren't really interested in traveling. And if they do, they go to an English speaking country or on some tour where they have an English speaking tour guide the whole time. They don't want to leave their comfort zone.

    4. A historical factor that in the Ellis Island years, immigrants were told to NOT teach their children their native language. I know that's why my dad doesn't speak German and why my mom had to learn Spanish on her own.

    5. No importance is given to knowing more than one language. No one ever says "you'll be more marketable if you speak Mandarin!" so it never crosses our minds. Where in almost all other countries students are told they have to learn English if they want a job (since everyone else does!), and since they know it's important, they want to learn other languages too.

    I currently teach in a tri-lingual school, Spanish, English, German. And these kids know how much knowing these languages are going to help them in the future. There is a huge market for bilingual schools here, and in the USA, I couldn't even tell you where one was.

    I know Spanish because I took it upon myself to learn it. In the USA I lived in a community with lots of Hispanic students. I thought it would help me learn more about them, and of course be able to call parents when they misbehave:p
     
  10. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    Apr 27, 2012

    I completely agree that it's useful to know more than one language. I am fluent in two languages, which I find useful even though the other language I speak isn't very popular. I also wish I remembered more French from high school!
     
  11. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Apr 27, 2012

    I think those are good and accurate points. But, it's just odd how we (being the USA) don't embrace other languages. There are many schools around here that teach more than just English. Usually those schools teach English and another foreign language (it sounds like what your school is doing).
     
  12. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    Apr 27, 2012

    Pretty much everything you said...

    My native country is France, and I can tell you (from visiting other countries) that English is blowing up, due to American tourism in other countries. It is one of the most popular languages to learn.

    A friend in my hometown is learning English because she owns a tiny restaurant there and wants to attract more tourists by being able to communicate with them. She also plans on teaching her children as well, so they can have a leg up.

    Another thing is that, unless you live in a certain country, there is really no specific need to learn the language. I do believe that. As someone who knows several, I can say that in my career I have not benefited much; I have only ever used English and a bit of sign language while communicating with a client on the job.

    It's tough to learn a new language. By far, English was the hardest for me. How do you explain to someone that the words "wound" and "wound" are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently and don't mean the same thing? It's a huge hassle and that kind of expectation can be quite daunting. Unless you:

    a.) Live in the country
    b.) Wish to learn the language/ be more well rounded
    c.) Wish to teach the language

    Under those circumstances do I think it's necessary, really.
     
  13. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    There's a salon owner here who wants to learn English because a lot of us Americans go to her to get our hair done!
     
  14. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    First I wanted to say I think every language has its own difficulties. For English it is obviously writing and pronunciation where there never seems to be any real rules. But Spanish is hard for me with the subjunctive and different types of past tenses, where there also are sort-of rules that no one can ever really explain. It's just what it is. German was hard because there were THREE articles instead of just one, like English.

    But anyways..

    Whenever I run into strangers at the park, on the bus, etc, they always want to practice their English with me or at least ask me how to say something. They'll tell me they're trying to learn to get a better job or to make more money. There's certainly not that kind of ambition in the USA.

    (funny story- one guy asked me what "aint" was and to use it in a sentence. Even though I'm from the south I never use "aint" and since I hadn't heard it in so long it took me a really long time to think of a sentence using it!:lol: I finally came up with "that aint right")
     
  15. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I think it's all about the mentality, and not about the fact the US is so big, vs. in Europe you can find yourself in a new country in 4 hours.

    Eastern Europeans weren't allowed to travel to any countries, only to Eastern Europe. So growing up in Hungary I had a Visa in my passport to go the Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc, and up to Eastern Germany, but that was about it. We could not have traveled to the 'Western' places (Western wasn't always about geography, it meant more developed countries). And we definitely didn't have any foreigners traveling to our countries, bringing us influences. In my country I have never met a foreigner, who spoke another languages.
    So although we have small countries there, right next to each other, it didn't mean we had all those influences. It was about the mentality, that we need to be able to speak more than our native language.

    Here in the US however, I can walk out my door, and within 10 minutes I will have a variety languages, yet, we're not really taking advantages of that.
     
  16. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Ha! Yes, one of the janitors at our school (her daughter attends the school) will often stop me to ask me what something means. She doesn't speak English, so she sometimes gets stuck when trying to help her daughter with homework.
     
  17. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    Apr 27, 2012

    I think every language does too, trust me. Just, in my personal experience, English was the worst! For me, it still is haha.

    Such a cute story... A lot of my friends back home learned English at school or by watching movies. One of my friends can recite the movie Weird Science because he learned by mimicking Anthony Michael Hall's character. :lol: Funny how we pick stuff up...
     
  18. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    A former Russian teacher learned Spanish by watching the news in Spanish. I don't know how she did it that way! I have only recently been able to follow the news in Spanish. Most of the language used on the news is not everyday, conversational language, so it's not the easiest to follow. Of course, this teacher has an amazing mind. She speaks about 4 languages, so I think maybe it's easier for her.
     
  19. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    Once you pick up two, it gets a lot easier. I started learning italian when I was younger. Later on, I enhanced it by watching my boyfriend speak it. We used to write letters back and forth, watch italian TV, and I visited the country and tried it out there. Really, I learned it for him! (And we're not together anymore LOL)

    I've heard that people who are fluent in Russian/Spanish transition very well into either of those languages. I had a professor who was fluent in both and she told me that.
     
  20. anna9868

    anna9868 Habitué

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    I agree with the points about that it's all about American mentality, not the country size, etc. Take our school district, for example. Kids first take foreign language in 7(!) grade, and it's introduction, a bit of spanish, french and german in one year. Then, they choose which language they want to take and take it the following year. So, they basically start learning at 8th grade! (a lot of them then switch after a few years)
    For me, who came from ex Soviet Union where we started in 1st grade, it seems rather weird to start in 8th grade and even then, leave it up to the students if they want to switch.


    Also, the American mentality about being a bilingual family is rather "unhealthy." At least, in my personal experience, in this area where we live, in suburbs of Philadelphia. We speak Russian at home, which, in my opinion is the most effective way for parents to preserve a language.

    My son is 9, and he was rather a slow English language learner, when he was younger. So, going back 4-5 years ago, I was a worried and unsure of myself mom who couldn't understand why he wouldn't pick up English as easily and effortlessly as other bilingual kids of our friends. I kept switching different preschools and asking different teachers what is the problem, how can I help him. Do you know the most common things that I heard in response? THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOU KEEP SPEAKING RUSSIAN AT HOME. SWITCH TO ENGLISH AND EVERYTHING WOULD BE OK.

    I'm so glad I didn't listen to that advice. At least my kids know their native language to some extent. HOwever, it makes me sad that no one ever told me that this is ok, that bilingual kids do not ALL pick up the new language fast and effortlessly, there is lots of statistics about them being later with learning different things. I eventually learned all these facts on my own.
     
  21. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    Apr 27, 2012

    Anna, did you speak primarily russian at home, and then had your kids learn english at school?

    I'm just curious! :) My parents taught my brother and sister and I by speaking two different languages at home. my mom would speak one, my dad would speak to us in the other. I later learned English at school.
     
  22. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Anna, it's funny how you and I agree on the same thing again :)

    I'm sorry that you were discouraged to speak Russian at home, that was just plain old ignorance, and I'm glad you didn't listen.

    Research has shown that bilingual kids don't acquire one or both of their languages as quickly as others, but in a few years it evens out, and then you have a bilingual kid. The reason for this is because the child would go through a silent phase, during which he is listening and absorbing everything, but not yet talking. The process takes a while. This happens with a child learning a first language, or a second, or 2 at the same time. Babies / toddles don't speak yet, but understand a lot, that is their silent phase.
    This can be done with both languages, meaning not speaking English or Russian, which can have parents jump t conclusion of language delays, but it can be also that the child will speak one language, but is delayed with the second one for a while. It's perfectly normal, your son was processing 2 languages, twice as many as the other kids, so of course it took him while :)
     
  23. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    I know a LOT of kids here who learn English by playing video games. I'm sure we can all guess what quality of English they're learning...:rolleyes:

    It's still hard for me to follow the news too. In CR, you could be fluent in Spanish and still not be able to follow a tico talking. There is so much slang here it's insane. When my boyfriend (he's tico) introduces me to his friends or family he always says "she speaks Spanish, but she's still learning Costa Rican!"

    One example: cabra/o means girlfriend or boyfriend (for those who don't know, cabra literally means goat). You can imagine my confusion while my bf's mom was talking about how nice and pretty this cousin's "cabra" was.:haha:
     
  24. anna9868

    anna9868 Habitué

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    Apr 28, 2012

    Yep, my husband is from Ukraine, so we've both been speaking Russian ever since living together. Kids learned English in school and speaking with English-speaking friends
     
  25. anna9868

    anna9868 Habitué

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    Well, in addition to that, as I learned over the years, my son is not a "linear learner", he often absorbs information for a while, sometimes a long while, and only then he is ready to show it. Again, it took me years to realize and get used to that. And it's a shame, because I wouldn't worry as much if the teachers told me something like that before instead of blaming it all on not speaking English at home.
     
  26. anna9868

    anna9868 Habitué

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    I want to add to my story of how kids start learning foreign language in 7th grade in our district. If, by 7th grade the child is behind in English (reading, writing), he is NOT ALLOWED to take foreign language in Middle school at all, waits until High school.

    I kind of see the connection between the answers I got to my Qs about my son not picking up English and this strange kind of thinking. Only those students who are good in their native English deserve to study foreign language in our district.
     
  27. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    That is such a horrible mentality :) And 7th grade is way too late - I guess it's never too late, but the earlier the better. I would say the kids should be learning a second language by 4th grade the very latest. Why not start in 1st grade? Kids that young just absorb everything like a sponge, and a second language is proven to help with other areas.

    Here's a sad example. I am a single mom, and have lived here for over 20 years, with very limited contact with people who spoke my language. I tried to teach my daughter Hungarian, but sadly I had given up. So she is growing up monolingual. She took Spanish for 6 weeks in middle school and is now taking it again in high school. Shes horrible :( I blame this on not having her fully exposed to a second language. It's my fault, too. But she's the typical example of the majority of the kids.
     
  28. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    I really feel for your experience.. when I came here it was around fourth grade too (left later on, then came back for high school). I knew very little and the school system was less than supportive. It took me several years to pick up english, and it is one of the toughest languages. I can only imagine hungarian... I applaud you though for trying to teach your daughter; I think it's great when parents pass on their language and culture.

    Who knows! She might pick it up one day... If I can, anyone can LOL.
     
  29. anna9868

    anna9868 Habitué

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    Oh, Linguist, that IS sad! In my personal experience and observations, it's very hard to have your child grow up with your native without a community: other kids who also understand and speak it, relatives, etc.
     

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