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What languages have you heard today?

 Language Learning Forum : Cultural Experiences in Foreign Languages Post Reply
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Chung
Diglot
Senior Member
Joined 6797 days ago

4228 posts - 8258 votes 
20 sounds
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Polish, Slovak, Uzbek, Turkish, Korean, Finnish

 
 Message 9 of 121
01 July 2009 at 8:04am | IP Logged 
Today I definitely heard English (from the moment I got up), Romanian (co-worker) and Mandarin (another co-worker). If I want to stretch things I also heard Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian. However these last three were coming from my MP3 player which is loaded with dialogues and readings in those languages. I was listening to them on my commute to work just to give myself some listening practice / passive exposure (and in the case of Finnish find out how much I can recognize using my knowledge of Estonian).

This question is hard to answer if we're confronted with languages which are unfamiliar to us. We can only identify languages that we recognize either because we have some command of those languages or in some cases we "latch" on to a characteristic usage or trait which we have learned about through prior study or experience. If we have no idea what the language sounds like or know nothing about the identity of the speaker, whatever answer we give would be a wild guess. Today I also heard unfamiliar languages that were clearly spoken but I couldn't even assign "maybe" as an answer on the identity of those languages because it'd be worthless to me (other than to pad my list of languages heard).

I recall a couple of experiences which show the difficulty in answering this question accurately or meaningfully.

Several years ago I was at a restaurant with some co-workers and at an adjoining table the diners got up and said a toast in some language. Someone at my table asked me if I could identify the language that they were using. I wasn't sure and listened closely for about 20 seconds hoping to "latch on" to some characteristic which would yield a decisive clue. I then said that I thought that it may have been Ukrainian just to give a concrete anwer (I didn't know much about any Slavonic language in those days but I was sure that these people weren't raising the toast in English, French, German or Hungarian - languages which I did know in those days). It turned out that the party was speaking Lithuanian. If I were to repeat that experience today I could probably make the correct identification as I have taught myself some Lithuanian and have learned something of several Slavonic languages.

Another example happened recently when I heard some bus passengers speaking an unfamiliar language. It sounded like something Slavonic as I could grasp the odd sentence and word (the topic was something that had happened earlier in the day to one of the speakers) but they weren't speaking a Slavonic language that I could identify. What little I could grasp was based on what already I knew in Czech, Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, BCS and Slovenian. It could have meant that I was hearing Bulgarian. Or Macedonian. Or Belorussian. Or even something from one of my "weaker" Slavonic languages (e.g. Slovenian) which was beyond my level of competency in that language (The only thing that I can venture to say with any confidence is that it wasn't Russian since it lacked the noticeable vowel reduction and "akanye" that I was expecting to hear).

Upon further thought, I find that I can identify no more than 20 languages on hearing alone (and even then I may need to listen for more than a minute before coming up with the correct identification if at all). The other 6000+ languages would be gibberish and one guess at identifying an unfamiliar language would be as good as another. Hence my slight reservation about answering the question.

The answer's accuracy can also become messy when hearing excerpts of languages which are very similar (e.g. Czech and Slovak) or those which are sometimes treated as the same language (e.g. Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian or Serbo-Croatian). When Russianbear and Cordelia post that they heard Hindi today, I imagine that they're fairly confident in their identifications either because they already know Hindi or that these people told them that they were speaking Hindi (rather than Urdu). An extra complication is that colloquial spoken Hindi and Urdu differ from each other roughly as much as British and American English (the term "Hindustani" is used partially as a way of emphasizing the underlying unity of Hindi and Urdu). Without extra-linguistic clues or a solid command of advanced Hindi or Urdu (or Hindustani), Cordelia and Russianbear could just as easily say that they heard snippets of Urdu today rather than Hindi, and their identification wouldn't automatically be wrong.

In the case of Cordelia's original post, I also wonder how she could distinguish between Gujarati and Hindi unless she already knows enough about those languages to distinguish/identify them or has some other extralinguistic clue which helps in coming up with an identification.
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cordelia0507
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 5479 days ago

1473 posts - 2176 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*
Studies: German, Russian

 
 Message 10 of 121
01 July 2009 at 9:24am | IP Logged 
Chung --- the reason I know which Indian language was which at work is because I know the individuals who spoke it. They have explained which languages they speak to whom. So I know that when X speaks to Y then he speaks Gujurati, but when X speaks to Z, then they speak Hindi. "Kannada" is another language that many of them speak. Etc.

The majority of them speak Hindi and their mother tongue + English to varying degrees. They come from all over India and work for one of the biggest Indian outsources. I haven't got any interest in Indian languages, but if I had, it wouldn't be hard to learn to distinguish between them quite quickly.

One of my English colleagues who works from a small room with only Indians has picked up a lot of words and phrases. I like to imagine that I can recognise spoken Hindi based on a few often repeated sounds. But they might be present in other Indian languages too, I don't know. And I sure don't understand a word.

In other cases with Indian languages you can take a well qualified guess based on other circumstances like the location, style of dress, name and profession of the person. For example in certain parts / jobs in the UK, some groups dominate the local scene.

The reason I couldn't place the Eastern European language was because my exposure to Eastern European languages (other than a few specific), is low. I haven't travelled a lot in Central Europe and I have no real friends from there either. So I couldn't tell Bulgarian from Czech from Slovenian (however shocking this may sound to some). If there are any differences in how people look or dress or act I wouldn't know what they were.

But give it another 15 years and I think the characteristics of peoples from this area will be as well known throughout Europe as those of any other language! There is still some legacy of the split Europe left and unfamiliarity by many with the smaller countries of Eastern Europe is one of them.




Edited by cordelia0507 on 01 July 2009 at 10:01am

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sprachefin
Triglot
Senior Member
Germany
Joined 5387 days ago

300 posts - 317 votes 
Speaks: German*, English, Spanish
Studies: French, Turkish, Mandarin, Bulgarian, Persian, Dutch

 
 Message 11 of 121
01 July 2009 at 4:35pm | IP Logged 
On an average day I probably hear:

German- Obviously by everyone who I work with, people around me, etc.

Turkish- There are quite a few immigrants around here, plus there is a Turkish deli that I like to go for food

Persian- My friend speaking into his mobile when we are hanging out

Spanish- Again, friend talking to other people when I'm around them

English- Mostly just random people, and tourists

Swedish- Lovely couple that I am friends with that live across from me. I hear it whenever we have a small get together

Russian- My best friend is Russian (interestingly enough I have already tried to learn it and got bored because my friend never wanted to practice with me, I reached an intermediate level), and he has the funniest accent and every once in a while he mixes up German words with Russian words

Arabic- My Egyptian friend and his family are visiting this week

That about sums it up!


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zerothinking
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 6013 days ago

528 posts - 772 votes 
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 12 of 121
01 July 2009 at 6:22pm | IP Logged 
English. - I live in Australia. So my girlfriend basically.

And that's it.

Unless you count

Icelandic - Kvoldfrettir Podcast
German - Schlaflos in Muenchen Podcast
Russian - Podcast
French - Europe 1 podcast
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Arti
Diglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
Joined 6653 days ago

130 posts - 165 votes 
Speaks: Russian*, English
Studies: French, Czech

 
 Message 13 of 121
01 July 2009 at 11:11pm | IP Logged 
-Russian - I live in Russia
-English - tourists or businessmen on the street
-Caucasian languages (don't know what exactly)- migrant workers or just immigrants from ex-USSR
-Middle Asian languages (Uzbek, Turkmen?) - the same as above
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Russianbear
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 6416 days ago

358 posts - 422 votes 
1 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, Ukrainian
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 14 of 121
02 July 2009 at 2:24am | IP Logged 
goosefrabbas wrote:
Russianbear wrote:

-Mandarin (a Chinese couple sat next to me in a subway train. I noticed them because the guy had a chess book open , and I am a big chess buff - big enough to actually recognize the game he was looking at based on the diagrams).

Russianbear, do you play USCF?

And today I've heard
- English


No, but I play on ICC. My handle there is also "Russianbear".

Chung wrote:
When Russianbear and Cordelia post that they heard Hindi today, I imagine that they're fairly confident in their identifications either because they already know Hindi or that these people told them that they were speaking Hindi (rather than Urdu). An extra complication is that colloquial spoken Hindi and Urdu differ from each other roughly as much as British and American English (the term "Hindustani" is used partially as a way of emphasizing the underlying unity of Hindi and Urdu). Without extra-linguistic clues or a solid command of advanced Hindi or Urdu (or Hindustani), Cordelia and Russianbear could just as easily say that they heard snippets of Urdu today rather than Hindi, and their identification wouldn't automatically be wrong.


Yes, it could have been Urdu, I guess.

Edited by Russianbear on 02 July 2009 at 2:25am

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anamsc
Triglot
Senior Member
Andorra
Joined 5844 days ago

296 posts - 382 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Catalan
Studies: Arabic (Levantine), Arabic (Written), French

 
 Message 15 of 121
02 July 2009 at 4:14am | IP Logged 
Since I couldn't hope to distinguish all the languages I hear, today I basically counted the number of different-sounding ones I heard:
1.  English (I live in the US)
2. Spanish (US again)
3. French (my city has a very large French population)
4. Mandarin
5. Tagalog
6-8. at least 3 very different-sounding East Asian languages (but they could be the same language for all I know)
9. Some sort of Eastern European/Slavic language
10. an Amerindian language
11. a really weird language that sounded like a combination between Mandarin and Russian
I had never thought to count the languages I hear before; it's very interesting. I can't wait to see if I can beat my eleven! And this weekend I'm going to my hometown, so I wonder how many I hear (it's a pretty small town). What fun! :)
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noybf
Newbie
United States
Joined 6028 days ago

34 posts - 34 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 16 of 121
02 July 2009 at 7:22am | IP Logged 
Only English :)


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