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kanewai
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
justpaste.it/kanewai
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1386 posts - 3054 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Marshallese
Studies: Italian, Spanish

 
 Message 649 of 1317
31 July 2013 at 3:52am | IP Logged 
Different positions in the Foreign Service have slightly different language requirements
and posting schedules.   USAID positions rotate every five years, while State officers
rotate every two. I didn't know that anyone would have an assignment where they'd use
the same language for 17 years! Though I guess some of the major UN languages might be
used over and over.   

1 person has voted this message useful



sfuqua
Triglot
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United States
Joined 2842 days ago

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Speaks: English*, Hawaiian, Tagalog
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 650 of 1317
31 July 2013 at 7:01am | IP Logged 
Many foreign service personnel live in an almost completely English environment, particularly in countries where there is a security threat, or a perceived security threat. Many of the FSI folks in the Philippines in the 1980s moved around the city in armed SUVs. Some of these folks were terrified to be on the street. Pretty sad; not a good environment for language learning. I used to hang out with some pretty big, big shots there, and there was a fear people had, of "going native" or being perceived as "going native." This is not a healthy way to learn a language. I hope I don't sound too harsh; the Embassy people were wonderful to me in helping me (after they got through asking my Filipina wife met me because she was a prostitute in her visa interview). Incidentally, I had a beer with the guy who interviewed her a few months later, he was pretty embarrassed, but said it was a standard question to try to look for a deceptive answer. The FSI people were nice, mostly, but they were in a bubble. Promotion, success, looking cool to get to date the secretary down the hall, all of this depends on staying "American."

This isolation can lead to some really strange ideas coming out of the embassy and the CIA. I often knew more about what was going on than the obvious spook from the embassy; I remember arguing with one about a security threat; he laughed at me because of his "inside sources"; I knew more than he did from hanging out on the corner.
For amazing language learning, I met absolutely awesome Peace Corps volunteers, I met absolutely awesome World Bank and Asian Development Bank people, I met many awesome NGO workers, I met some awesome free lance journalists.

FSI people seem to learn the language to pass the test; they don't learn the language to "go native." If they are that kind of learner, they don't rise in FSI, and they get shipped away from where the language that they love is spoken. Or so I've heard.
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2610 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 651 of 1317
31 July 2013 at 9:14am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

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.


In Germany, at a university level it's actually fairly rare to find even professors or students who speak C2 English (esp. in the humanities). They can obviously read/write English, but 90% of the time they live and work in German, so it's not surprising that there level never really gets fully fluent. I suspect the proportions are somewhat higher amongst business professionals who work for international firms.

I agree entirely with the rest of your points, but what I find shocking is how many people in Holland or Scandinavia speak very good C2 English. And this must come down to creating a sufficiently English micro-climate around them from films and books. Perhaps pirating of American shows like Breaking Bad will lead to a corresponding increase in English proficiency.
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Sunja
Diglot
Senior Member
Germany
Joined 4162 days ago

2020 posts - 2295 votes 
1 sounds
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: French, Mandarin

 
 Message 652 of 1317
01 August 2013 at 12:53pm | IP Logged 
I couldn't help dropping in on the conversation ^^

patrickwilken wrote:

In Germany, at a university level it's actually fairly rare to find even professors or students who speak C2 English (esp. in the humanities).


Really? I would think that professors whose work depends on good English skills would make it a priority to be as fluent as possible. They have a good deal of vacation time and England is not that far ;)

patrickwilken wrote:
I suspect the proportions are somewhat higher amongst business professionals who work for international firms.

You'd be surprised how many professionals speak very stagnated English. No one has time to work on language, but no one complains because everyone is in the same boat. I've followed AT&T meetings of workers from various countries (Poland, Spain, German) and it's like cavemen. I really have to marvel at how they can understand each other. In all honesty, The most important thing in business is the bottom line, or otherwise the work itself. In professions like marketing good English is more important but in other areas, professionals can/do get by with just basic.




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emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 3609 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 653 of 1317
01 August 2013 at 6:13pm | IP Logged 
Wow, thank you for all the different perspectives. So to summarize this discussion:

1. Five-year-olds are guaranteed to learn the language of their peers to a high level, but they may have problems with the language of their family.

2. Both children and adults can become "conversational" (high A2 through B2) quite quickly in the right circumstances. But more advanced skills may take far longer.

3. Educated adults living in full immersion can go from B2 to near-native over the course of several years.

4. Foreign Service officers can reach a serviceable level in as little as 6 months of intense study, but they have neither the opportunities or incentives to make it from ILR 3 to ILR 4+.

5. Plenty of educated Europeans speak serviceable English, but relatively few reach near-native levels.

6. The exception to (5) is countries where TV is typically broadcast in English and subtitled in the local language. When this is combined with 10 years of English classes, it produces far more competent speakers than you'd typically find in countries like France where they have the 10 years of classes but not the TV.

Given this data, I suspect that the difference between "solidly conversational" and "near-native" is either (a) a lot of media exposure and maybe some classes, or (b) a period of immersion with a peer group that speaks the language. And by and large, children face similar constraints: 6 months of immersion will make the average 5-year-old comfortably conversational, but they'll still lag far behind native speakers of the same age in many areas, according to various studies mentioned by Krashen.

Note that I'm speaking about what factors typically guarantee success for a large portion of the population. Some motivated individuals can do considerably better than this, as seen from the examples of FSI students who ultimately reached 4+ with something like two weeks on immersion in country. And some 5-year-olds are terrifically good with their heritage languages, too.

(Also note that this is no reason for new language learners to be pessimistic: There's no reason why you can't enjoy tons of movies, TV shows and books in a foreign language, or have great conversations. These skills are much easier to learn than most people believe. It's just that once you can watch TV for fun and get by quite well conversationally, there's still a lot left to learn.)
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 2610 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 654 of 1317
02 August 2013 at 9:21am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

6. The exception to (5) is countries where TV is typically broadcast in English and subtitled in the local language. When this is combined with 10 years of English classes, it produces far more competent speakers than you'd typically find in countries like France where they have the 10 years of classes but not the TV.

Given this data, I suspect that the difference between "solidly conversational" and "near-native" is either (a) a lot of media exposure and maybe some classes, or (b) a period of immersion with a peer group that speaks the language.


I think it's probably hard underestimate how much exposure adults in somewhere like Holland get to English (at least for movies/tv - not sure about books). My German wife, who grew near the Dutch border, used to be taken on School English excursions to Holland so they could watch films in English (with Dutch subtitles) as this was impossible to do where she grew up. Even here in Berlin I know of only a very few cinemas what will show undubbed films.

My guess is that if school helps you get to some intermediate level, like in Holland, and you are constantly being exposed to English via the media you can't help but get better.

I don't know, but I suspect that smaller countries also have fewer translated books appearing in the market, so there is going to be a stronger incentive to read books in their original language too.

This has knock-on effects too: Holland has many more international academic programs relative to Germany simply because they are very comfortable running programs in English.
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emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 3609 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 655 of 1317
20 August 2013 at 5:22am | IP Logged 
After plowing through ~25 episodes of Angel, I decided to resume watching Le trône de fer season 1 episode 5. It was totally a great night—I rewound maybe 5 or 10 times, and my wife explained two brief conversations to me, and I understood a good 90% of the episode.

I've come a long way since February 2012. Back then, I could get the gist of Français Facile on RFI if I already knew the headline news. Last summer, after my B2 exam, I would still routinely lose the thread of panel discussions on France Info. But tonight I followed a twisty drama with dozens of characters and lots of complicated intrigue.

Now, I'm sure the next episode will be harder. But tonight I just want to enjoy all the progress I've made.
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JC_Identity
Triglot
Groupie
Sweden
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Joined 2198 days ago

53 posts - 108 votes 
Speaks: Swedish, Serbo-Croatian*, English

 
 Message 656 of 1317
20 August 2013 at 11:45pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
Wow, thank you for all the different perspectives. So to summarize this discussion:

1. Five-year-olds are guaranteed to learn the language of their peers to a high level, but they may have
problems with the language of their family.

2. Both children and adults can become "conversational" (high A2 through B2) quite quickly in the right
circumstances. But more advanced skills may take far longer.

3. Educated adults living in full immersion can go from B2 to near-native over the course of several years.

4. Foreign Service officers can reach a serviceable level in as little as 6 months of intense study, but they
have neither the opportunities or incentives to make it from ILR 3 to ILR 4+.

5. Plenty of educated Europeans speak serviceable English, but relatively few reach near-native levels.

6. The exception to (5) is countries where TV is typically broadcast in English and subtitled in the local
language. When this is combined with 10 years of English classes, it produces far more competent
speakers than you'd typically find in countries like France where they have the 10 years of classes but not the
TV.

Given this data, I suspect that the difference between "solidly conversational" and "near-native" is either (a) a
lot of media exposure and maybe some classes, or (b) a period of immersion with a peer group that speaks
the language. And by and large, children face similar constraints: 6 months of immersion will make the
average 5-year-old comfortably conversational, but they'll still lag far behind native speakers of the same age
in many areas, according to various studies mentioned by Krashen.


Although I sense some pessimism here, I would like to say that I see a lot of valid points here, which I know
from experience. I was namely that 5 year old child or rather 6 year old child that went through this whole
experiment of moving to a new country and getting exposed to a new language. I moved to Sweden when I
was 6 years old. And in fact I remember quite well that six month mark, I was able to converse comfortably
after six months. I am not sure if I lagged behind native speakers of the same age, perhaps for about two
years at most, because I later surpassed most of my native Swedish classmates when it comes to Swedish.
Your point 1 here seems quite valid in so far as I learned the language of my peers to a very high level. I
never had problems with my native language though, because my father insisted that I speak the language at
home. But again I must say that a lot of other kids that were in the same situation as me did indeed much
worse, and some of them had problems speaking their native language to relatives. They tended to mix the
two languages when try to speak their native language. I think this had to do with the fact that the parents
were not as strict as mine when it came to keeping up the native language. I would also have to add here that
my reading skills in my native language have never been great, not because I do not understand what is said
but because I tend to read much more slowly. I seem not quite used to the text as I have not read that much
in the language. As far as speech and pronunciation is concerned I have them fully mastered but I can lack
some advanced vocabulary in my native language. As for my knowledge of English, I think my English is as
good as it is much because of games and Internet, of course I cannot deny that we in Sweden had always
present spoken English on our TV. So it might have do its things without much of my knowledge.

Anyway, I think you have some interesting points here and I wish you the best with your language studies.


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