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Unread September 18th, 2010, 07:53 AM
Da Friendly Puter Tech Da Friendly Puter Tech is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 60
Default Re: Language Fluency

I am bilingual, but few people are aware that English is not my first language. Occassionally, someone notices a slight bur of an accent, but they still assume my first language is English. Sometimes I struggle with certain grammatical issues in written English I seem to not be able to shake out - was / were is a biggie.

When someone tells me they speak my language, I expect to be able to carry on a full conversation with them. If I can't carry on a full conversation then they might classify themselves as "I understand and speak some of your language". When someone says they are fluent in my language I expect they have a really solid understanding of not only the language but also the culture. If someone claims to be fluent in my language I do not expect to be asked to slow down, and I think requests for clarification of words should be a rare thing. In fact, I do not think someone can be "fluent" in a language without having lived in that culture from 1-5 years. I also expect a fluent speaker can read equally well in both languages and are often not quite aware of which language they think in right now.

In contrast - A person who can understand even fast conversations with many people in the room speak the language well. But, if that person goes home after a few days of only speaking and hearing the second language and they are dead tired, have a mother of a headache and are language confused - then they are not fluent speakers.

It took me about 2 years of living in an English speaking country before I reached that level, and I spoke English well when I arrived. 2 years is also the approximate time it took me to develop an instinctive sense of most of the cultural differences.

It took another 5 years before I stopped reverting to my birth language for numbers above 20. We can all struggle sometimes with abbreviations or slang in any language but a fluent speaker should know the basics. (otherwise the waitress might claim that OJ is not at the breakfast restaurant today).

If someone tells me they are bilingual then I expect that they speak and understand both languages equally well. I expect they can translate those languages on the fly, and that they have a truly deep, instinctual knowledge of each culture, their mores, rules, law, government etc.

Speaking a language is so much more than being able to carry on conversations. Along with speaking a language comes a depth of understanding of the different cultures. This cannot be learned in school.

Other really important thing to consider - if a person lives in a country where they need someone to speak something other than the dominant language to really get by then their life is a lot more complicated. One effect of this is to often feel misunderstood and like the outsider. There will definitely be an "us vs them" feeling that goes with this. It will not be overcome with a basic knowledge of their language. The deep expressions will still not be possible.

As far as ethical / legal questions I have no clue.

That is just my opinion of course.... Ever so verbosely expressed.

Da Friendly Puter Tech
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