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Understanding a language you don’t spea

 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
United States
Joined 4968 days ago

86 posts - 108 votes 
Speaks: Yiddish, English*, Spanish
Studies: Swahili

 Message 1 of 6
17 August 2007 at 2:16pm | IP Logged 
Have any of you had/have experiences with understanding/using a language you don't speak. I don't mean like a passive bilingual (IE you understand it natively but don't speak it or don't speak it often) or a "dead" language that you can only read. I mean a language that you can follow in varying amounts due to mutual intelligibillity or have been forced to try to communicate across a thin language barrier. Watching movies in Porteguese and Italian I can understand various things (pick up verbs but not the meanings of their conjugations, pick up nouns, "don't do that" and basic things like that), and to an extent I've done the same with German from Yiddish and once Scots from English on TV. In Philadelphia its common to see Mexicans and Italians trying to communicate in their respective languages, epsecially on the job. As always hand movements and smiles and shrugs go a long way in this as do drawings of objects. I've spoken to Brazilians in Spanish and they to me in Porteguese and have gotten basic things across, (once I think I managed to give walking directions). There are two situations in which this occurs: one in which both people understand both languages and choose to use their own (common in some places I've heard of, on TV in Slovakia and the Czech Republic I've heard with Czech and Slovak) and the other in which people try to communicate speaking close languages without speaking the other's language (this is of course excluding passive bilingualism and only understanding a language but not speaking it which should be left to another topic). Has anyone had any experience with this? Does anyone do this regurally? (And let's not diverge into debates about what is and isn't a different language unless it's absolutely necessary :).)
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SwedenRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5303 days ago

4250 posts - 5710 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*, English
Studies: German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Mandarin, Esperanto, Irish, French
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 Message 2 of 6
17 August 2007 at 3:54pm | IP Logged 
Didn't we have a similar thread in May? Yes - Passive Fluency

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Senior Member
Joined 5083 days ago

321 posts - 327 votes 
3 sounds
Speaks: French*, EnglishC2
Studies: German, Italian

 Message 3 of 6
17 August 2007 at 4:16pm | IP Logged 
This happens every 2 seconds here in Montreal because often French speakers don't want to use the evil English language even if they know it well. So you have one person person speaking English and the other one speaking in French.
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Bilingual Diglot
United States
Joined 4743 days ago

44 posts - 44 votes
Speaks: English*, Dutch*
Studies: Spanish, Russian

 Message 4 of 6
17 August 2007 at 4:47pm | IP Logged 
I can understand a lot of Afrikaans because it is so similar to Dutch. That's about it though for me, but I suspect I'd be able to understand some portugese once I get better with Spanish. :P
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Super Polyglot
Joined 5097 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 5 of 6
17 August 2007 at 5:23pm | IP Logged 
I can read and to some extent understand languages/dialects like Sardinian, Afrikaans, Low German because I know some languages that are pretty close to them (Italian, Dutch and Dutch+German). In fact I have brought books in these languages/dialects back home from travels and read them from A to Z without any dictionary, which must be the criterion for passive (written) fluency. Let me mention the hilarious "Platt is nich uncool" by Ina Müller as a splendid example of essayistic writing in Low German.

I also understand Norwegian and Swedish, not only because they are close to my native Danish, but also because I have television and books in those two languages. These are probably close to what vuisminebitz means by "passive native" languages, even though I haven't got family members or friends that speak them. I visited Halland in Sweden last weekend and found out that the natives understood and responded adequately to my improvised pseudo-Swedish, which shows that it wouldn't be too difficult to turn at least Swedish into an active language.

In the thread mentioned by Jeff Lundquist the (original) question was about languages you only learn as passive languages. For me that would be something like Latin, which I couldn't understand without having studied it (though right now my Latin is very rusty after 26 years of neglect). The difference is that I haven't studied the languages above, but still understand them due to exposure and knowledge of related languages.

Edited by Iversen on 17 August 2007 at 8:13pm

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Bilingual Tetraglot
Joined 4697 days ago

24 posts - 29 votes
Speaks: English*, Russian*, French, Spanish
Studies: Japanese

 Message 6 of 6
23 August 2007 at 2:37am | IP Logged 
I can understand spoken Polish more or less because it's quite similar to Russian. I once had a friend who was Polish and when she spoke with her family I understood 60% of what they were saying even though I'd never studied the language or anything. Ukranian is even better - 80-85% of it is understable to me without any effort or study.

I can also understand both written and oral Italian and Portuguese quite alright since I'm fluent in French and decent in Spanish, and they're all related.

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