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View Diary: The Power of Foreign Languages (46 comments)

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  •  Some experiences to parallel yours (8+ / 0-)

    I really prefer to learn some of the language of a country if I am going to travel there - at least enough to be polite and ask someone if they speak English.  So I have some functional minimum in at least French, Italian and Spanish.
    But when I went to the Netherlands, I gave up, partly because Dutch is really hard and partly because everyone really does speak English - and often a few other languages as well.  I've always thought it more polite to ask if someone spoke English rather than assume they did, but in the Netherlands, it became silly to do that, since everyone did.  Or at least everyone under 60.
    History: The Dutch experience in WWII was so horrific that they came out of it intensely motivated to prevent future wars in Europe and saw multilingualism as one part of that effort.  This may not be accurate, but one older Dutch person told me that in the 50s and 60s the requirement for high school graduation was functional competence in 3 foreign languages, (English, French and German) and they expressed regret that it's been diluted down to only one now.
    One other note for travelers: the English fluency that the diarist found in Europe is still much more true in the big cities than in the country.
    In 2004 we did a 3 week bike tour in Tuscany, mostly in very small towns, and I went for one six-day stretch without using a word of English except to speak to my wife.  I had taken a semester of conversational Italian just before the trip and learned enough to get all my basic needs met at least.

    "I was asked what I thought of the mainstream media. I said I thought it would be a good idea" - Amy Goodman.

    by Chico David RN on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 05:20:20 PM PST

    •  My next (2+ / 0-)

      'grab the basics if nothing else' language is going to be Maori.  Damn hard to find instructional materials on though, none of the bookstores actually keep anything in stock, you have to order it, which I finally did, and now have an instructional CD, though nothing up to Rosetta Stone levels.

      Wow, Independents put down the centrist Blue Dogs, and somehow liberals are to blame?

      by Ezekial 23 20 on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 05:38:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  One time I had to ask directions in the Netherlan (3+ / 0-)

      I had to ask a woman who was collecting fares at the back of a public bus. She was a middle age looking black lady. She opened her mouth, and out came flawless, BBC style english. That was impresssive.

      •  A former co-worker is married to a Dutch guy (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SoCalSal

        He has been all over the world as a business consultant, and was telling me that when he recently spoke to a Dutch business group and was expected to deliver his remarks in Dutch, he actually found it difficult to do so, since he uses English so much more than Dutch when he's talking about business matters.  If there is anybody in the Netherlands who doesn't speak almost flawless English, I certainly haven't met them.

        Still PROUD to be a Democrat!

        by leevank on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 05:56:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  My first trip to the Netherlands (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      camlbacker

      back in 1989, we took a canal boat tour in Amsterdam. The tour guide was doing her spiel in English, German, French, and Italian, and probably another language or two.  I thought she had memorized a script in each language, but then people started asking her questions in the different languages, and she replied easily in each.  I was dazzled and embarrassed by my language inadequacy.

      Re: your bit of history, I believe the Dutch started their language education well before WWII.  My grandpa was born & raised in Rotterdam, where he studied German in school (don't think he studied French, though.)  He left school as a teenager and got a job as a cabin boy on a steamship.  After crossing back & forth five or six times, he got off in New York in 1911, and never went back (so I am the granddaughter of an illegal alien!)  I am pretty sure he spoke no English when he arrived in New York, at age 17.  What I remember of him was that he spoke perfect, unaccented English, and since he'd Anglicized his name, no one would ever have known he was not a native born American.  Maybe that language ability is innate with the Dutch.

      In any case, this diary makes me feel guilty for not keeping up with my Spanish, at which I was pretty good, and the bit of French and German I used to have.  Right, fire up the Rosetta Stone!!!!

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