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Question for people living in foreign country - UniLang

Question for people living in foreign country

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jonas1
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Question for people living in foreign country

Postby jonas1 » 2015-03-10, 17:50

For most people I think it would be true to say that the more you live in a foreign country and make an effort to learn and engage in the language and culture, the more you are bound to desire to be treated more like a native and less like a tourist.

In countries where people speak at least somewhat decent English, it can be frustrating even for a long time when trying to break into the society (at least this has been my experience). I'm talking mainly about when you're really making an effort to speak the language but someone is answering you in English. This may be because they recognize from your appearance that you are a foreigner, or it may have to do with your accent or grammar; either way, it doesn't exactly make you feel very good.

If you've ever lived and studied a language in a foreign country, it would be great if you could please share your thoughts and experiences on this. Specifically, how do you deal with the frustration of wanting to speak the language with locals but being spoken to in English?

Perhaps despite living and studying a language in a foreign country, you haven't really experienced the frustration I'm talking about to a high degree. If so, why do you think that might be? Does it have more to do with your attitude or the culture?

P.S. I'm new to this forum and this is my first post. I'm not even sure if this is a good forum to be seeking answers for this particular question. If not, maybe someone could recommend a more suitable forum. It would be much appreciated.

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Levike
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Re: Question for people living in foreign country

Postby Levike » 2015-03-10, 18:25

I went to Warsaw Poland to study Programming there.
So my goals weren't really to learn any language, that's was more like a side-effect.

Half of the students at the university were from Spain and since I already spoke it somehow,
it was an extremely good opportunity to practice it.
Practice in the sense that there were some people that I spoke only Spanish with.

We also had some students from Eastern Germany and Cologne
and multiple times they tried to speak German with me,
but after some hours I was always like "Eeeenglisch bitte!".

And I also took Polish classes and got to a A1-A2 level.
Those were fun, but not enough to have normal conversations.
I took these classes because of the number of credits awarded upon finishing,
and not because I was eager to learn it or because I wanted to blend in.

So most of the time I tried to speak exclusively English or Spanish and occasionally German.
Polish was more like "Okay, let's go with the flow".

But Polish people were pretty nice nonetheless, my minimum Polish always got them smiling.

So in conclusion I didn't really try to escape my "tourist-bubble".

The only places where I exclusively spoke Polish was at shops.
Those were the only places where my Polish could have been categorised as decent.
Hungarian (hu) Nem egy nap alatt épült Buda vára. _______German (de) Wo ein Wille ist, da ist auch ein Weg.
English (en) Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. __Spanish (es) No hay ceguera peor que no querer mirar.
Romanian (ro) Nu întinde arcul până nu este bine aşezată săgeata.

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linguoboy
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Re: Question for people living in foreign country

Postby linguoboy » 2015-03-10, 18:52

I think it's important to understand that, in their minds, they're only being helpful. Particularly if you're in an area where foreign tourists are common, the natives will be used to codeswitching in order to accommodate them. They may do it without even thinking.

When I lived in Germany for a year, my goal was to become fluent in German. The very first person I asked for directions replied, "Ich versteh kein Wort!" and walked away. It was disheartening to say the least, and I wish I could say it was the last time something like that happened.

But, of course, while learning German was my goal, teaching it to earnest foreign exchange students was not the goal of the hundreds of ordinary people I came into contact with casually. Their goals were varied, but in general they wanted to accomplish them with a minimum of confusion and bother. If switching from German to English to deal with me seemed to them the way to facilitate this, well then, could they really be blamed?

So while I agree that it's frustrating and often humbling, I also understand why it happens. It's not personal and it's not meant to be insulting and, furthermore, I think a lot of people would be shocked and dismayed to find out that it's perceived that way. Keep in mind, too, that they may have similar goals to you. Meeting a foreigner may be a rare opportunity for them to practice their skills. I know when I meet allophones here, I have to contain my enthusiasm lest I embarrass or annoy them. (German-speakers in particular are often self-conscious about speaking German in public in the US.)
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

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voron
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Re: Question for people living in foreign country

Postby voron » 2015-03-10, 19:09

I have studied in England and Italy, 1 year each, and I've been working in Turkey for nearly 8 months now.

In case of England, the situation you described obviously doesn't apply. I don't think anyone ever took me for a native, but there are so many foreigners with good English that natives got used to not treating us too condescendingly (i.e. by speaking in a slower pace or using simpler vocabulary).

In Italy, something reversed to what you described actually happened. My university program was in English and I wasn't really eager to learn Italian, but as soon as people would find out that I speak some, they would be unwilling to speak English with me. As a result I practiced Italian a lot whenever I would go to a bank, the police or a mobile company.

In Turkey, very few people ever tried to speak English with me, which is understandable because the overall knowledge of English is low. Some people would still try to use those English words they know ("okey?", "no problem") in between their Turkish utterances, which is funny but not really discouraging.

All in all there are not so many countries in the world where your situation can apply, right? There's Scandinavia, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany to some extent, that's about it.

vijayjohn
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Re: Question for people living in foreign country

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-03-10, 19:22

No, that's not true, actually. I'm sure there are lots of other countries where that applies, particularly countries that were colonies of some other country a hundred years ago or less.

I can't claim to have lived in a foreign country per se or formally studied anything there, but I've been to India several times, and it's always been an opportunity for me to improve my Malayalam. Yet both in India and (even more frustratingly) at home with my own parents, it's been very difficult for most of my life to get people to talk to me in Malayalam. It has been so disheartening to listen to people talk in it around me and to have no idea what they were saying that I specifically remember crying in public twice; both times, people did something to console me but clearly failed to understand what the actual problem was.

And yes, they did use English with me because their English was way better than my Malayalam and it was just easier to communicate on both sides in English, but at the same time, there seems to be this expectation at least on the part of native speakers of Malayalam that somehow, just because my parents are native speakers as well, I'll soak up the language or something because I hear it around me all the time. Of course, it really doesn't work that way. But I did learn Malayalam well enough eventually to get my dad (if not both of my parents) to make a conscious effort to switch to talking to me in Malayalam as much as possible.

So how did I get to that point? Well, to some extent, it helped that some people around me in India at least spoke little or no English, so if they wanted to say something to me for any reason, they had to use Malayalam anyway. It also just helped to hear the language all around me. But for me personally, what helped most was definitely reading stuff. (The rest of this post is basically a whole extra paragraph of me rambling about what sort of stuff I read in what order, so click on the "show/hide" button if you're interested, but otherwise, feel free to ignore it :lol:).

kevin
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Re: Question for people living in foreign country

Postby kevin » 2015-03-11, 9:31

linguoboy wrote:Meeting a foreigner may be a rare opportunity for them to practice their skills. I know when I meet allophones here, I have to contain my enthusiasm lest I embarrass or annoy them. (German-speakers in particular are often self-conscious about speaking German in public in the US.)

I think it depends. I for one wouldn't mind speaking some German with you if I met you in the US. However, it has to be some exchange of somewhat relevant information so that I don't just feel like a language training machine. If you start with "Hallo, wie geht es Ihnen?" it's probably already over.

But when I was on a train in Boston with two other Germans and a man who had been based in Germany as a soldier for some years started talking to us, asking us where we were from and telling us about his time in Germany, I didn't feel embarrassed or annoyed at all, and we had a nice chat in German.

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Re: Question for people living in foreign country

Postby Mutusen » 2015-03-11, 10:49

I don't know if I'm lucky, but in Slovakia barely anybody tries to speak to me in another language than Slovak. There is a monthly language café in my town, and I know people from there who speak pretty good English, but when I see them in other circumstances they normally talk to me in Slovak.
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