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Old 09-15-2011, 02:28 AM   #31  
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Originally Posted by Brown View Post
I'm curious what people consider "knowing" a language. Fluency? (and what is your idea of fluent?) Native-like? Being able to hold a casual conversation? The basics of a high-school class?
I agree. It's an interesting question. This is why I qualified my list of languages. Do I know Khmer? No. I can speak a few words of it.

I have been studying Spanish intensively for the last several months with a native speaker and sometimes feel like I'm at an intermediate level. Then I go online and practice with auditory "flash cards"- a Spanish speaker saying a sentence- and sometimes have NO idea what they are talking about. I am accustomed to the accent, pace, and vocabulary of my specific teacher. I may know one word for "homework" and not another.

On the flip side, I live in India and have people tell me all the time they "know" English. Can they get their point across when they speak? Yes. But the grammar and idioms are wrong ("Coming for building here only" instead of "They will build it only up to this point."). And I have to speak slowly, far more simply, and often use incorrect grammar for the individual to understand me.

It's really easy to overestimate one's linguistic ability. Can you have a back-and-forth conversation in different tenses about most topics with a native speaker in their normal pace of speaking and be able to speak in full sentences and get the grammar right 80% of the time? If not, then it probably does not qualify as "knowing" that language!

Last edited by indiblue; 09-15-2011 at 02:39 AM.
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Old 09-15-2011, 03:47 AM   #32  
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i don't believe anyone can achieve native-like fluency,in a secondary language, except maybe when living in that country for many years.
I worked in UK for like 3-4 years, but still i m nowhere near that fluent in English.
I can hold a conversation about any subject, understand everything that being said, but the cultural differences are way too many to overcome in 4years only.
So i guess, fluency means for most, being able to communicate in a language, with ofc the less mistakes possible.
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Old 09-15-2011, 08:46 AM   #33  
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Originally Posted by Brown View Post
I'm curious what people consider "knowing" a language. Fluency? (and what is your idea of fluent?) Native-like? Being able to hold a casual conversation? The basics of a high-school class?
I teach English as a second language - I think it is such a subjective topic. I know students who have full BA + MA degrees in English yet cannot hold a conversation with a native speaker (but they can write a thesis in English on the complexities of various tenses!). I know students who can bumble their way through life in a foreign country without having stepped in a classroom to learn it (ME!),

I think "knowing" a language implies you can hold a decent conversation to communicate and make your point known. I think anyone who has had to function in a foreign language can also agree that if you can talk on the telephone/order at a drive-thru properly, that's another milestone Face-to-face communication through gestures and symbols (with verbal language) can sometimes give people a false impression of their linguistic ability.

I believe I "know" French, I have a knowledge of the language, because I live in a French community, can communicate with my son's daycare, the grocery store, the gas station. I certainly don't consider myself fluent as my skills are not developed enough to take a non-French language subject course in French, or to continue my career (as a 911 operator, so the language standards are very high).

Language teachers tend to rank people on a 0-10 scale, 0 being completely non-functional/no exposure and 10 having enough skill to do your PhD on English language (verbal, written, etc.), even the majority of native speakers cannot reach "10" fluency.

But on a whole I do agree with you, I said I speak English/French only. I took 2 years of Japanese in high school and 1 semester of Mandarin in university but I can't claim to know it because I cannot function at a basic level.

Last edited by sacha; 09-15-2011 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 09-15-2011, 09:30 AM   #34  
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That is a good question!

"Knowing" to me is almost nothing less than being able to have a casual conversation with a stranger in their native tongue.

It's why I wrote High School Level Spanish. I can still actually read a decent amount of it, and could certainly get the gist of a story or news article. And I could get directions or ask some simple questions... or... okay eavesdrop on the lady who cleaned at work when she had conversations with other women at the office, and feel proud that I picked up that she was talking about her kids or her family or something.

Not to... actually eavesdrop mind you. I didn't really care to hear what was going on with her family. I just liked being able to pick up words and phrases. And then get excited about remembering something.

But reading bits and pieces, picking up the gist of a conversation is not "knowing" to me in my mind. I still have a harder time with hearing/saying than I do with writing/reading.
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Old 09-15-2011, 09:57 AM   #35  
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Hebrew (fluent), English (native), and some French.
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Old 09-15-2011, 10:28 AM   #36  
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Originally Posted by Brown View Post
Seconded, although I don't teach. I had 2 years of German in high school, and the semester of Spanish in 8th grade that I mentioned. That's about as good as I get. :-/
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Old 09-15-2011, 11:02 AM   #37  
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English: Native
French: Two years in high school; I think I slept through most of these years.
Spanish: One semester in college; Remember so much more than French.
Urdu: Picked up a bit here and there over the past couple of years; I could get by for a day or two if I woke up and found myself in Pakistan.
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Old 09-15-2011, 05:39 PM   #38  
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English: native
German: Studied in high school and college; used to be able to have (simple) conversations, but I've lost almost all of it. I keep telling myself I should brush up on it.

I'd like...well, I'd like to learn every language, but I don't think that's going to happen. I would especially like to be able to speak reasonably fluent Spanish, since I think that could be very helpful to my career.
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Old 09-15-2011, 08:29 PM   #39  
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Native language: English
Have a B.A. in Spanish (yet I don't consider myself fluent, only conversant)
Serbo/Croatian - conversant with lots of gramatical errors when speaking, but I understand almost everything. My husband is from Croatia and he and my mother in law speak Croatian in the home (my older son is fluent - younger son understands it but doesn't speak it).
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Old 09-15-2011, 09:48 PM   #40  
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I'm conversant in German, as I took four semesters of it in college. Other than that, just my native language, English
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Old 09-15-2011, 10:16 PM   #41  
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Native language is English. I took three semesters of Mandarin because my college didn't offer Japanese and I barely remember anything except for a few simple sentences and vocab words. I want to learn Japanese but I don't really like language programs like Rosetta Stone, I prefer traditional classes.

French, on the other hand, I've been studying since I was 11 or 12. I am passionately in LOVE with French, but I need an advanced language partner or 1 on 1 course to get past where I am now :/ I call myself proficient because I can hold conversation ok and read and write well, but I definitely comprehend the language much better than synthesize it >_<

I went to Montreal for a few days this April and was in heaven listening to people and reading signs If I could I would run away to France, but it's not a practical option for me.
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Old 09-16-2011, 10:57 AM   #42  
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I grew up in the US so English is my first languange, but I lived in a household with my parents, my granaprents and an uncle who all spoke Portuguese daily. So I grew up speaking Portuguese, but I don't necassarilly consider myself fluent because I don't practice it everyday now.

I'm also conversant in Spanish and know bits of Italian and German.
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Old 09-18-2011, 10:55 AM   #43  
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I'm equally fluent in both English and Spanish, as my parents are of the former and I grew up in Spain, attending the local school since nursery

I'm also conversant in Catalan (one of the secondary languages in Spain) and French (6 years of it at school and a lot of family trips there).
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Old 09-20-2011, 11:00 AM   #44  
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Originally Posted by Brown View Post
I figured - same here.
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