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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
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Studies: German

 
 Message 641 of 1317
25 July 2013 at 6:39pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
In France, for example, it's rare to hear English on TV, and most movies are dubbed. And so, in general, many educated French speakers may be able to read English tolerably well (if not comfortably), but they certainly tend to have strong accents and shaky listening comprehension.


I used to work in research environments and had similar experiences with non-native English speaking postdocs.

I am reading "How to learn languages" by the Hungarian polyglot Kato Lomb. She makes the nice point that it's the learners language 'micro-climate' not 'macro-climate' that's essential.

I have worked with foreign postdocs in both the USA and Germany, and of course in US where speakers are forced to work/live in English their speaking skills rapidly improve; whereas those working in Germany rarely get past A1 German even after years, as both their work environment, but also their friendship networks, and even their online social networks (HTLAL - I am looking at you!) are English based.

I have seen a lot of people get from C1 to a much richer fluency after a few years. It's sometimes hard to notice how low someones level is at first as it's easier to 'fake' fluency speaking rather than writing. It's only when people are getting into C2 that they really start writing more like natives, which is reflected perhaps more subtly in their speech patterns.

I used to share an office in California with a German postdoc whose English was a solid C1, but his writing was awful. I used to hate it when he would ask me to proof read articles. Interestingly he lived with his German wife, and his language micro-climate was split between English in the lab and German at home, which certainly slowed down his learning a fair bit.





Edited by patrickwilken on 25 July 2013 at 7:04pm

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iguanamon
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 Message 642 of 1317
25 July 2013 at 9:20pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
...And according to this book, it typically takes FSI students another 4 to 17 years to reach near-native levels. This is an atrocious result compared to the typical foreign post-doc who integrates into life at a US university in their late 20s: These people often make it from B2/C1 to near-native within 2 to 5 years, and they can all gossip just fine. Many of them never crack a language textbook or look at a flash card. ...


I was thinking, correct me if I'm wrong, please, that a major difference between US diplomatic personnel posted overseas and post phd's working in a university is that the latter are not usually doing any work in their native language. US diplomats, no matter their job, must still do some work in English, i.e.: writing reports, meetings with embassy personnel, interactions with US citizens, etc. Whereas university professors are working and living immersed in their TL environment without any requirement or need to use their native language by their employer. Also, those "post docs" have probably had at least some of their education in English before coming to the US- all of which tends to give them a leg up on an American who's posted to the US Embassy in Tanzania and has to learn Swahili from scratch. Could this have something to do with the amount of extra time it takes diplomatic personnel to advance to near native level in comparison to the typical foreign "post doc"?


Edited by iguanamon on 26 July 2013 at 3:00am

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garyb
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 Message 643 of 1317
26 July 2013 at 11:23am | IP Logged 
Some very interesting and sobering posts here! I've recently been coming to similar conclusions about a "peer group" and about what level you can realistically reach without proper immersion. As I've said in my log, I've been making quite steady and noticeable progress in Italian recently and I attribute a big part of that to having Italian friends who I hang out with a few times per week: it seems like there's just no substitute for witnessing and participating in lots of real-life social language usage with groups of native speakers. And similarly, a lack of anything like that is part of what is holding up my French progress.

I'm aware that what I'm describing is nowhere near the same thing as actually living in the country and having a peer group of colleagues or classmates that you spend hours with every day. So while my current Italian situation is helping me for now, I do imagine that the rate of improvement isn't sustainable and it's going to slow down after B2 and beyond, after which point I'd need the "real thing" to keep moving towards a very advanced level (hypothetically of course; "very advanced" isn't really my current goal for Italian). And even if I did have a similar French friend group, I'm sure it would help fill in a lot of gaps initially but I'd reach the point of diminishing returns soon enough.
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emk
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 Message 644 of 1317
30 July 2013 at 4:04pm | IP Logged 
iguanamon wrote:
US diplomats, no matter their job, must still do some work in English, i.e.: writing reports, meetings with embassy personnel, interactions with US citizens, etc. Whereas university professors are working and living immersed in their TL environment without any requirement or need to use their native language by their employer.

OK, this is based on very fragmentary reading about the State Department. There will be some errors, and if sfuqua or anyone else here can correct me, please go ahead.

From what I've read about the Foreign Service, most tours of duty last 2 years, or maybe 4 years for specialists. The FSI training programs seem to produce a lot of ILR 2s, 2+s and 3s (which supposedly run from a low B2 to somewhere around C1), with the exact level of language skill depending on the position. For example, security staff may only need to reach ILR 2.

So if you're in the Foreign Service, you'll probably be pushed to ILR 3 very rapidly, then left to mildew in the states for a while with little opportunity to practice, and then eventually shipped overseas for two years. Once you're there, you'll spend a lot of your family and professional life using English. Once your tour is over, you'll typically start the entire process over again with another language and country.

Now, ILR 3 is a very respectable level. I'd love for my French to be that good. But ILR 3 is a long way from ILR 4 and 4+. And from what I've heard, very few people in the Foreign Service will ever reach 4/4+ in more than one language. The system just isn't set up for that.

The situation for a typical postdoc in the US is very different. They arrive late, as well-educated professionals, and many will spend the rest of their lives in the US speaking English. They're often isolated from other native speakers. If they don't reach near-native levels, they're going to be at a permanent disadvantage both socially and professionally. Under these conditions, I think most adults will successfully reach quite high levels.

garyb wrote:
Some very interesting and sobering posts here! I've recently been coming to similar conclusions about a "peer group" and about what level you can realistically reach without proper immersion.

I don't want to be too pessimistic! For example, I also believe that:

1. It's possible to have excellent listening and reading comprehension without ever being immersed socially.

2. It's certainly possible to speak at B1, B2, etc., without huge amounts of immersion. And these are extremely useful levels—B1 is great for tourism, B2 is enough to get admitted to some universities as a foreign student, and so on.

3. A certain number of people will reach extremely high levels with very little immersion. The various FSI papers and books have examples.

But once you set goals like, "I want to be able to negotiate a business project without worrying that my language skills might let me down," then I think most people will benefit hugely from immersion. It's the difference between "I could probably survive an introductory college course," and "Why would that even be a question? My language skills would be a total non-issue."

Frankly, it would almost be a little weird to have that kind of near-native fluency if you're not planning to live a big chunk of your life in your L2. What's the point in being that good if you almost never get a chance to use it?

Media

I finally read the last book of La Triologie Nikopol. This is actually a hard series for me to review. Like L'Incal, it has its roots in whole Métal hurlant period. These BDs often try to capture a specific atmosphere, a mood. They're dystopian, absurd and surreal. They inspired movies like Heavy Metal and The Fifth Element, and English language works like Starstruck. Typically, these BDs are not going to give you a coherent plot with an actual conclusion. Instead, at their best, they're going to let you spend a few hours in a very weird world.

La Triologie Nikopol gives you Egyptian gods, a fascist dictatorship in Paris, a woman with paper white skin and an electric blue hair, ice hockey played with edged weapons and murderous intent, aliens which look like cherubim, and trains crowded to overflowing with African animals. It feels like a fever dream with an occasional undercurrent of humor. As the saying goes, "For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like." Me? I can take it or leave it. But if you're looking for this sort of thing, you could do far worse.

I continue to enjoy Angel and Le Trône de fer. I've fallen a bit behind on my reading, and the coming month won't be much better.
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geoffw
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 Message 645 of 1317
30 July 2013 at 4:12pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

1) Once your tour is over, you'll typically start the entire process over again with another language and country.
...
2) Frankly, it would almost be a little weird to have that kind of near-native fluency if you're not planning to live a
big chunk of your life in your L2. What's the point in being that good if you almost never get a chance to use
it?
...
3) I continue to enjoy Angel and Le Trône de fer. I've fallen a bit behind on my reading, and the coming
month won't be much better.


1) I think that's probably the biggest problem, no? There are obstacles built into the entire process, but this is
pretty much the deal breaker, I would think.

2) Agreed. I have some vague notion of possibly getting my German to that level someday and I try to use it in daily
life, but I'm pretty unlikely to ever actually get there, and I don't even think about that for other languages. I love
using Dutch, for example, but if I'm not planning to live in a Dutch-speaking country, what difference does it make
if my output isn't perfect?

3) How's Le Trône de Fer coming? How far have you gotten?
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garyb
Triglot
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ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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 Message 646 of 1317
30 July 2013 at 5:00pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

1. It's possible to have excellent listening and reading comprehension without ever being immersed socially.

2. It's certainly possible to speak at B1, B2, etc., without huge amounts of immersion. And these are extremely useful levels—B1 is great for tourism, B2 is enough to get admitted to some universities as a foreign student, and so on.

...

Frankly, it would almost be a little weird to have that kind of near-native fluency if you're not planning to live a big chunk of your life in your L2. What's the point in being that good if you almost never get a chance to use it?


Yep, I agree completely with all these points. B2 without much immersion is a realistic and useful goal, from my experience, and you can't underestimate the utility of a high level of comprehension. I suppose I just get frustrated by all the gaps in my knowledge and the seemingly sky-high level needed just for some native speakers to take you seriously, and that's what makes me wish I could reach a more advanced level. Which is a bit silly really, as no matter how good you get you'll never be perfect and there'll always be something you could get frustrated about!

The last point puts things in perspective, considering that, for the moment at least, French is really just a hobby for me. Native-like ability, and probably even C1, is far more than I need for my goal of being able to socialise and converse well. I suppose what I'm really aiming for is more like a very solid B2: great with the basics and able to get by the rest of the time.
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Josquin
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Germany
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 Message 647 of 1317
30 July 2013 at 7:08pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
Frankly, it would almost be a little weird to have that kind of near-native fluency if you're not planning to live a big chunk of your life in your L2. What's the point in being that good if you almost never get a chance to use it?

That's a question which can only be posed this way by a native English speaker. For everyone else it's: Get your English to an extremely high level or die! Well, not that extremely, but you know what I mean. So, yes, business and research in a certain field might be good reasons for achieving near-native fluency. For people whose languages are only their hobbies, the situation is of course different.
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emk
Diglot
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 Message 648 of 1317
31 July 2013 at 1:59am | IP Logged 
geoffw wrote:
3) How's Le Trône de Fer coming? How far have you gotten?

I'm about halfway through season 1. I'm really enjoying the level of difficulty: I can usually understand at least 80% if I pay attention, which is enough to give me a good workout without becoming an unpleasant slog. I'm still not quite yet ready to try Kaamelott without subs, and I can't really get excited about Engrenages. Maybe I'll try Revenants next.

Josquin wrote:
That's a question which can only be posed this way by a native English speaker. For everyone else it's: Get your English to an extremely high level or die! Well, not that extremely, but you know what I mean. So, yes, business and research in a certain field might be good reasons for achieving near-native fluency. For people whose languages are only their hobbies, the situation is of course different.

At least in France, I've almost never met educated adults who speak near-native English. Certainly, there's a ton of people with B1 and B2 speaking skills who read English pretty well. There's a sizable minority who can generally function at the ILR 3 level that FSI tries to produce (which corresponds roughly to some C1 exams):

Quote:
Speaking 3 (General Professional Proficiency) Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations in practical, social and professional topics. Nevertheless, the individual's limitations generally restrict the professional contexts of language use to matters of shared knowledge and/or international convention. Discourse is cohesive. The individual uses the language acceptably, but with some noticeable imperfections; yet, errors virtually never interfere with understanding and rarely disturb the native speaker. The individual can effectively combine structure and vocabulary to convey his/her meaning accurately. The individual speaks readily and fills pauses suitably. In face-to-face conversation with natives speaking the standard dialect at a normal rate of speech, comprehension is quite complete. Although cultural references, proverbs and the implications of nuances and idiom may not be fully understood, the individual can easily repair the conversation. Pronunciation may be obviously foreign. Individual sounds are accurate: but stress, intonation and pitch control may be faulty.

This is good enough for most Foreign Service staff, and for most educated Europeans who need to use English professionally. But I personally know relatively few people who go beyond that to ILR 4+:

Quote:
Speaking 4+ (Advanced Professional Proficiency, Plus) Speaking proficiency is regularly superior in all respects, usually equivalent to that of a well educated, highly articulate native speaker. Language ability does not impede the performance of any language-use task. However, the individual would not necessarily be perceived as culturally native… Effectively applies a native speaker's social and circumstantial knowledge; however, cannot sustain that performance under all circumstances.

I run into people like this in Montreal fairly often, and I imagine that there's a decent number in parts of Germany and Scandinavia. But I certainly can't assume that random educated French professionals speak English at this level, unless they've actually worked for several years in an English-speaking country. It's a lot easier to find people who speak a decent globish!

And this brings us back to my earlier comments: Near-native performance is expensive, in time and effort. I think it's a highly admirable goal, and I'd love to achieve it at some point. But at the same time, speaking French that well and not interacting with lots of native speakers would feel weird, or perhaps even lonely. Or like the nice old Japanese man said to Khatzumoto, "Khatz, you can't leave Japan! You know so much about it now, it would be a huge waste. You should just stay here forever; you’d be a good Japanese person." If I someday spoke brilliant French, I'd want to go live in France.

But this is just my personal cost/benefit trade-off, and only at this point in time. Today, I can walk through the streets of a French-speaking city and go about my life without any major problems. I can watch the French dubs of HBO dramas for fun. On a good day, I can sometimes even explain the theory behind long-form sales letters, and what that has to do with designing websites. Maybe given a bit more time and effort, things will come together and my practical abilities will take a big leap. But for now, speaking French at home, finishing the Super Challenge, and working through my stack of French DVDs is a pleasant challenge, and I've made very noticeable progress since a year ago. So my French may be an awkward and half-formed thing, far below ILR 4+, but it's pretty serviceable for now. And who knows what the future will bring?


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