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Trying To Learn a Foreign Language? Avoid Reminders of Home 200

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the what-about-esperanto dept.
sciencehabit writes "Show a native-born Chinese person a picture of the Great Wall, and suddenly they'll have trouble speaking English, even if they usually speak it fluently. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that reminders of our home country can complicate our ability to speak a new language. The findings could help explain why cultural immersion is the most effective way to learn a foreign tongue and why immigrants who settle within an ethnic enclave acculturate more slowly than those who surround themselves with friends from their new country."
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Trying To Learn a Foreign Language? Avoid Reminders of Home

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  • As an anglophone Canadian expat, my main exposure to French is occasional trips to Quebec or France. I've picked up much more French in Quebec than France simply because I understand the context better.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've picked up much more French in Quebec than France simply because I understand the context better.

      Then as a fellow Canadian anglophone, let me assure you, you didn't pick up French in Quebec.

      You picked up something the locals believe is French, but which people from actual French-speaking countries barely recognize or understand.

      Quebecois French is, in the main, a borderline illiterate patois. Some people are a lot better, but the average person you meet speaks Frenglish.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So it's like English in the USA....

        • So it's like English in the USA....

          Actually the English spoken in the US is much closer to the "original", meaning the common dialect spoken on both sides of the Atlantic in the Colonial Era. I used to think American English was a slightly bastardized version of English, but it's just the opposite. It's really fun to tell that to anyone who is English.

          P.S. In terms of accents Southern accents are generally closer to the original. We Yankees have deviated a bit.

          • Re:Canada (Score:5, Funny)

            by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:42PM (#44035731) Homepage Journal

            Actually the English spoken in the US is much closer to the "original", meaning the common dialect spoken on both sides of the Atlantic in the Colonial Era. I used to think American English was a slightly bastardized version of English, but it's just the opposite. It's really fun to tell that to anyone who is English.

            The best part is that they drifted so that they would sound less like us. Talk about sour grapes: "Well, people sound stupid when they talk like that anyway, so now we're talking like this." Then they go on to use their new accent to tell us how to handle gun control.

            • Re:Canada (Score:5, Insightful)

              by TranquilVoid (2444228) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:01PM (#44035839)

              The best part is that they drifted so that they would sound less like us. Talk about sour grapes

              A lot of change in pronunciation comes from this mechanism, whether it's the cool girls on the playground making up their own inflections, or the aristocracy saying "sarvant", language becomes a means of class identification and differentiation.

              As to US English sounding more original, I've seen a lot of debate on this. Some say particular UK accents are closer to Old English and the US is closer to Modern English (16th century), whereas others claim the idea is simply part of American mythology.

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                The analysis I've seen indicated that the US English was closer to the first modern English based on examination of the written word, and puns and rhymes used. They don't work as well in British English as US English.

                Middle English was very phonetic, so it's not as hard to guess pronunciation, and it does sound more Welsh/Scottish than England's English, at least to me, I've never seen a formal analysis.
              • by Freultwah (739055)
                And the Scottish say that it has been shown that Shakespearean English sounded not unlike the Scottish variety of English today.
              • Re:Canada (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Xest (935314) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:30AM (#44037553)

                "As to US English sounding more original, I've seen a lot of debate on this. Some say particular UK accents are closer to Old English and the US is closer to Modern English (16th century), whereas others claim the idea is simply part of American mythology."

                The whole argument doesn't make sense, the view is that American English never really evolved much but British English changed a lot, yet the problem with such theories is they don't explain why American English is magically the one that didn't change. What about Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, South African English and so on? They diverged in their own ways.

                But there's another more fundamental reason why it's stupid, there is no such thing as "British English" by way of the spoken word and there never has been, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, but even in England itself, Liverpudlian, Bristolian, Geordie, Cockney accents are all as different from each other as most American accents are from Queen's English and it's not just accents but local words and terms too. A bread roll in Bristol is a bun in Yorkshire, but a bun in Bristol is normally something sweeter and glazed.

                Ultimately the idea that American English is some pure form of English with the closest historic ties is just stupid, America is a country born of mass immigration and if anyone seriously believes that the earlier English accents were retained in the face of mass immigration from countries like Germany and Ireland then they're having a laugh. It's not like British English immigrants were anything other than a minority of the population in the face of many other immigrants all with different accents and languages ultimately distorting the English that was originally taken across.

                This also explains why Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and so forth didn't retain the same supposed classic English accent either, because accents were all ultimately immigration driven - South Africa's English accent being influenced by the dutch for example.

                But ultimately the country least effected by immigration forces on accent is still going to be England, yet even there it depends where. London has seen far more immigration over the centuries and seen it's accents change as such as a result than somewhere like Cornwall, or Scotland where classic accents are retained much more closely.

                So yes if you compare some American accents from areas of America that retained the heaviest balance of early English immigrants against somewhere like London that's been hammered by immigration from every area of the globe you may indeed find that their accent is closer. But if you compare even those places to somewhere like Scotland or Cornwall then you'll be a lot further off any old English accents than Scotland/Cornwall are off their old British accents.

                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  If you can otherwise satisfactorily explain why Brits don't pronounce their Rs but Americans do, when Elizabethan English had a very hard R, you will win a small prize. There are numerous other examples. The whole argument does make sense, but you're only looking at one part of it; the logical part. Groups of humans don't work on logic most of the time.

                  • Why do you want an explanation for something that isn't true? Some Brits pronounce the R, some Americans don't.

                    • by morgauxo (974071)

                      What is your evidence for this claim? Names and phone numbers please.

                    • I am an American. The best man at my wedding is also an American who served a two year LDS mission in the UK. He told me that it was really interesting to go from one village to another even 10 miles away and they would have a totally different accent.

                      He said that there was even a "pirate village". He said the entire village spoke like what we Americans sound like when we want to pretend to be pirates. One day a member of our church wanted to show off her new automobile. She said, "Elders, come take a

                    • by Xest (935314)

                      "He said that there was even a "pirate village". He said the entire village spoke like what we Americans sound like when we want to pretend to be pirates. One day a member of our church wanted to show off her new automobile. She said, "Elders, come take a look at my new carrrrrrr.""

                      That'll have been Somerset/Cornwall.

                      Apparently the accent associated with pirates is the way it is precisely because the actor who played a pirate in one of the earliest/most influential pirate films came from that part of the UK

                  • Re:Canada (Score:5, Insightful)

                    by Xest (935314) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @07:50AM (#44038243)

                    But that's exactly my point, which Brits exactly?

                    Even in Elizabethan England some areas of the country had a hard R, others didn't. The same remains true to this day, if you think the UK has no rhotic accents then you've obviously never heard someone from the South West, Ireland, or Scotland speak.

                    If you've only ever listened to BBC presenters or the Queen speak then you can be forgiven for thinking there are no English accents in the UK that don't pronounce there Rs but that's not representative of even close to the whole population, and that's exactly my point.

                    If you want an explanation then I'd offer the fact that places like Bristol harbour, a city which very much has a rhotic accent was one of (if not the) most important harbour for departure to the new world from England (It's at the Western side of the country and was the second biggest harbour after London which is in the South East at the time) and so it's not that American English is born of some generic old English accent (which doesn't exist, there was no singular generic old English accent across the country) but that it was born of the large amount of migrants that departed from the region that is associated with Britain's south western accent that was rhotic in nature and still is to this day.

                  • If you can otherwise satisfactorily explain why Brits don't pronounce their Rs but Americans do, when Elizabethan English had a very hard R, you will win a small prize.

                    It's an equivalent of gene drift in living organisms. Also, the individual language features drift more or less separately. There's no reason why individual conserved features couldn't be present in different varieties of English, with no variety having an edge over the others, preservedness-wise.

                • by morgauxo (974071)

                  Oh, yay. Another troll blaming imigrants for everything!

          • What is your evidence for this claim?

          • Actually the English spoken in the US is much closer to the "original", meaning the common dialect spoken on both sides of the Atlantic in the Colonial Era.

            This is a furphy. There was no "original" English in the colonial era, there were dozens, possily hundreds of them. How you spoke depended on which part of England (or Ireland, Scotland, Wales etc) you came from.

            American English (and modern "English" English, for that matter) is a homogenised version of all the contributing dialects and accents, as most modern languages are.

            • American English (and modern "English" English, for that matter) is a homogenised version of all the contributing dialects and accents, as most modern languages are.

              I believe that the British region is still home to the most varied English linguistic landscape, which is the indicator of age, just like the Y-haplotype diversity in Africa shows clearly where humans have evolved.

      • by Sique (173459)
        Actually, the Quebequois is much closer to the French spoken in the late 18th and early 19th century than the French in France today. Probably due to the lower number of speakers, Quebequois has developed slower than french French.
      • by gsslay (807818)

        Wow, it is true. Some English speaking Canadians really do have a giant chip on their shoulder about the French Canadians.

        I would explain where my personal experience directly contradicts your ridiculous claim, but you already know you're talking crap, don't you?

  • by flyneye (84093) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:57PM (#44035055) Homepage

    That makes me think of what happened in a section 8 neighborhood here a few years ago. A young couple battling to raise a family in the midst of roaches, dog shit, diapers and Coke cans, decided to home school. The children were taught and allowed to speak only Klingon....

              Welllll, you can just guess what SRS had to say about all that.
    I'm gonna guess by now the kids speak English and whisper amongst themselves in Klingon, presuming they are in the same foster home.

  • by Jethro (14165) on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:00PM (#44035083) Homepage

    Well that explains why I had trouble speaking Portuguese while I was in Brazil, since I was constantly being reminded of home! I mean they had all the same things as we do: trees, people... uh... stores. Yeah, it definitely wasn't because learning it in theory wasn't the same as speaking it in practice and it certainly wasn't MY fault. Hell, I tried speaking slower and louder and even THAT didn't help!

  • Language Confusion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:07PM (#44035131) Journal

    FTA: "For Chinese immigrants in the United States, speaking to a Chinese (vs. Caucasian) face reduced their English fluency, but at the same time increased their social comfort, effects that did not occur for a comparison group of European Americans (study 1)."

    In my experience as a native speaker of Chinese, the reduced fluency in English when speaking with another Chinese person is due to the fact that in the back of my head, I'm trying to determine whether I should use English or Chinese to express an idea and it usually expresses itself as Chinglish. If the other person is Chinese but doesn't speak the same dialect as I do and I am using purely English to communicate, I don't get the same effect.

    • Yeah, I'm not sure the conclusions in the article are justified from the experiment. In my own experience learning to speak a second language fluently, I found situations similar to yours; for example, at first while doing live interpretation, it is quite difficult to remember which language to use. However, after a while you get used to it.

      As for living in a foreign country, when you live in that country, you are forced to use the language a lot. You might be practicing the language for 8 hours a day. I
      • It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get really good at anything.

        Even at 10 hours a day this means it will take three years to really learn a language.

        I'm trying to learn Turkish - and been at it for about six months now. I'm probably managing to average less than an hour a day of study and it's somewhat depressing to think that it will take 30 years to get anywhere. So I've got Turkish playing in the background most of the time (including now) and I'm pleasantly surprised that I'm now

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Precisely. I saw the same thing when I went to a Starbucks in Guangdong province. I could order in English and in Mandarin, but my brain wanted to do both at the same time. I was ultimately able to order, but I would have gotten my point across better by pointing and grunting.

      More recently I was having trouble getting take out from the local supermarket, because the woman working behind the counter spoke Chinese to a colleague, which temporarily caused me to revert to my typical ordering pattern from when I

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        When I was in Spain, speaking Spanish only for 2 weeks, I would dream in Spanish. I had a good sized vocabulary. Then I came home and couldn't remember half what I spoke well in Spain, when in Spanish class in the US. I never thought about it. But if I go back to Spain, I'll likely pick it up in a couple weeks, it's still wired in there, somewhere, I think.
        • by hedwards (940851)

          That's certainly possible, however you want to be mindful as any language, mother tongue included, will get forgotten if you don't use it. How long you can go without using will depend upon how thoroughly you learned it in the first place and likely other factors.

          But, you do want to make sure exercise it a bit from time to time, just to keep it as firmly embedded as possible. What you're describing sounds like you still have a lot of it there, but access is the issue rather than forgetting it.

        • by _merlin (160982)

          Oh it gets worse. When I'm in Tokyo my Japanese sucks because it's easy to find someone who understands enough English to get by. When I'm out in the country where no-one speaks English, my Japanese gets a lot better suddenly because I have no fallback option. And then if I get drunk enough, even when I'm not in Japan, I forget how to speak English, and start just speaking Japanese to everyone, and ironically that's when my Japanese vocabulary is at its best. (Yeah, the logical conclusion is that I shou

        • I did classes in Spanish about ten years back. I actually used it for work at the time.

          Went there last year for a holiday and though I could understand most stuff, I struggled to get the words out when I tried to speak. When it did come out it was more like Italian, much to the amusement of one waitress, who asked how I knew where she was from.

    • by jittles (1613415)

      in the back of my head, I'm trying to determine whether I should use English or Chinese to express an idea and it usually expresses itself as Chinglish.

      That would be my experience from watching friends of mine. They would be going on in English for forever and then throw out the occasional Chinese word. Or if they were having a completely private conversation, sometimes they would discuss things in Chinese with the occasional English word. I'm not a native Spanish speaker, but when I do converse with my friends we often choose wording based on the language we feel provides the most expression for the point that we are trying to get across.

      • That would be my experience from watching friends of mine. They would be going on in English for forever and then throw out the occasional Chinese word.

        Your friends aren't named Mal, Inara, and Jayne, are they?

  • We often do what we have to do, and nothing more. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and I think if it becomes absolutely necessary for you to do something, like speak a new language, you're going to put more effort into figuring it out.

    Put more simply, duh.
    • Exactly. Why are many Europeans bi and tri-lingual while being bi-lingual in the US is a rarity? Because there's a need to be able to speak multiple languages in Europe because within a small geographic area there can be many languages widely spoken, I mean, within Switzerland, German, French and Italian are all widely spoken whereas in the US, English reigns supreme in the vast majority of areas (Mexican restaurants and Chinese buffets aside)
  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:49PM (#44035397)

    Q: what do you call someone who speaks three languages?

    A: trilingual

    Q: what do you call someone who speaks two languages?

    A: bilingual

    Q: what do you call someone who speaks one language?

    A: American

    P.S. before anybody gets their panties in a twist, I am a monolingual American.

    • You SPEAK a language? Like as in using your mouth with other people? You must be new here.
    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      Any cunnilingual Americans?
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Heh, I lived in Dallas and could drive north, east or west for days and never hear anything but English. South would get some Spanish, but not until San Antonio or south of there. In Europe, you can drive for a few hours and pass 3 or more native language homes. It's the geography, not isolationism.
      • It's not just the geography, it's that English is "everyone's" second language.

        So, as an English speaker, unless you just happen to know their first language, your language in common will be English.

        I did French at school. I was never very good but I got to the point where I could follow a conversation provided the speakers weren't speaking too fast although I couldn't join in because by the time I'd thought what to say they would be three topics on but since then I've never had a use for French. I've done

  • Of course immersion is going to be more effective because it makes it actually -necessary- and useful to learn a foreign language. There's a big difference between sitting at a computer with Rosetta Stone and learning Spanish and being dropped in Argentina and have to figure it out. There's no real motivation in learning Spanish on the computer, after all, it doesn't determine whether you eat at night, it doesn't determine whether you can interact with people or anything more than a small intrinsic reward o
    • in areas where everyone pretty much speaks a single language (such as ... Canada)

      You'll shortly be receiving a visit from the Canadian Language Police. They be polite but very very firm. You may also be required to pay a fine of $10 American [movieclips.com].

      • by Livius (318358)

        Vous attendez bientôt la visite de la Gendarmerie linquistique canadienne. On sera courtois mais dur. Vous pourriez être assujetti à une amende de 10 $ américains.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Yeah, I knew lots of people from Vancouver, none of which could speak French. I've driven through Whitehorse a few times, and I'd doubt an of them has even heard it spoken outside some mandatory class taught by a non-native speaker.
  • by virgnarus (1949790) on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:55PM (#44035449)

    I'd like to try this out on southerners. You think showing them a picture of a fridge rusting out in someone's backyard will work?

    • I'd like to try this out on southerners. You think showing them a picture of a fridge rusting out in someone's backyard will work?

      No.

      Because it should be rusting out on the front porch, instead.

      Also, don't forget the rusting car up on blocks in the front yard.

  • I find that turning on a second (or third, or in my case fifth) language usually takes anywhere from 3 to 5 days in the location where the other language is used before you gain fluency, if you don't use it all the time. Accents usually only take a day.

    When I was working at Century 21 in Richmond BC most of my colleagues in the office next to mine were French, so when I coded in French, I would mostly just speak French the whole day.

    Even having someone with you who is not very good at the other language wil

  • I think they were just taken back about blatantly racist you just were

    "hey slant, check this out, now speak English!"

    I would have trouble speaking English after that as well you dick

  • Happens to me quite frequently. I go order my chalupas, and am enjoying the fire sauce, when all that can come out of my mouth is "yo quiero taco bell"
  • I'm bilingual but having learned both languages natively I find I have difficulty doing real time interpretation. When I speak one language my brain wants to operate in that language and I suffer the effect mentioned in the article of all the sudden not being able to speak the other language well. I also get this degraded accent thing going where my tongue just doesn't want to roll correctly in either language and I sound like a foreigner in both.

    It's intensely frustrating to be asked to interpret because o

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Real-time translators are almost always not bilingual (not natively, as you are). They are primary speakers of the language they are translating into, and secondary speakers of the language listened to. This helps. It makes it easier to "think" in the "home" language. You listen in the home language, and still recognize the second language, though only think in home language.
  • Drink the water!

  • As a Dutch host family with much experience with foreign exchange students, I can attest that full cultural immersion is not only valuable in other ways, but also the best way to learn a foreign language. Internet actually hinders this process to a great extent. Foreign exchange students who stay in close contact to their home families and friends are having the most problems adapting to their new surroundings, and experience feelings of loneliness, estrangedness, and not learning a strange language.

    For thi

  • ..and often end up in situations where I am using multiple at once. The big problem there is to keep track of which language to speak to whom, not the speaking itself. Switching languages can be harder that speaking them. My guess is the picture of the great wall makes these people flipflop languages in their head.
  • by tgv (254536) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:51AM (#44037109) Journal

    What to do when science reporting fails even on Slashdot? The effect found in the study relates to performance on priming tasks. The abstract explicitly says: "has yet to investigate consequences for linguistic performance". Recognition tasks usually require the subject to hit the right button when recognizing a string of characters as a word or a non-word. A naming task requires the subject to point at or pronounce the proper name for an image, which is also influenced by preceding images or words. Performance is expressed either in error rates or in the (average) time it takes, and 100ms of difference is considered a pretty large effect. Anything larger is a bit suspect.

    The classical priming task is showing people two words in a row, which are either related (bakery - bread) or unrelated (spider - bread). It turns out people recognize the second word faster when the first word is related. This effect is old, and pretty stable across studies and languages, and the same holds for naming. The effect also goes by the name of facilitation, and the opposite by interference or distraction. Now, it's pretty easy to consider showing a Chinese icon as just an example of interference. It can be considered to relate more to Chinese and therefore to "prime" Chinese language recognition and consequently interfere with English language recognition. That would explain the result in line with other priming experiments without implying anything about immersion, as immersion involves a lot more than an icon or a face, and as the interference effect decays over time. The effects of language acquisition in immersion or in your own ethnic group can be easily ascribed to the frequency of use, which has a much larger and self-sustaining effect.

  • If we take this to its logical conclusion, ex-pats should lose the ability to speak the local language whenever they look at their spouse. And Chinese staff in a Chinese restaurant outside of China wouldn't have a hope. This has not been my experience. I suspect that the experiment is not demonstrating what the experimenters think it is demonstrating.

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