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Language

What Language Should You Learn Next?

This article was originally posted on EuropeLanguageJobs.com

The world is becoming increasingly multilingual. The future belongs to polyglots! Monolinguals are a dying breed. In my home country of the UK we are experiencing a surge in language learning – maybe the word surge is a little strong, but something is happening.

But why do people learn languages? Is it to make themselves more employable? Is it because they particularly like the sound or just to make travel easier and more enjoyable?

These are all questions you should ask yourself before you set out on the titanic quest of learning another language. You should know how difficult it is and how much the language(s) you speak already will help you with conquering the next one.

It’s a widely accepted fact that speaking more than one language increases your employability, as well as being a very rewarding experience for the individual. If you are one such polyglot, then take a look at our language profiles below to help you make that important decision.

The six categories we include are:

  • Employability: using the percentage of job offers with a specific language and measuring it against the percentage of our candidates who speak that language, we can arrive at an employability status.
  • Attractiveness: using a survey from the website thetoptens.com we have given the languages ratings of attractiveness.
  • Difficulty: with information from infographics created by thecultureist.com we have given rough indications of the ease with which each language can be learnt.
  • European ranking: this is the number of native speakers of the language in Europe.
  • Number of countries: the number of countries where the language is an official  language in Europe.
  • Offers on ELJ: this is the number of active offers we currently have listed on the Europe Language Jobs website.      



Which is the one for you?

Are you looking to increase your employability? Or are you trying to make yourself a more attractive person – as if that was possible! Or maybe you just fancy being able to say that you are multilingual without too much effort and are therefore looking for an easy option. Whatever your motivation, these awesome infographics should help you decide…

Some big names may be missing from the selection but we wanted to choose an accurate cross-section of the main languages of Europe, covering the main strands of Slavic, Germanic and Romantic.

The great thing about the world we live in is that we have access to quality content of all types for free to help us learn new skills from the comfort of our own home. Sites like YouTube and apps such as Duolingo have totally rewritten the self-teaching rulebook.

So if you’ve been inspired to learn Swedish, because it’s actually much easier than you thought and they have pretty people there, why not get started today?

Language

English As a Second Language: Who in Europe Speaks it Best?

 

This article was originally shared on EuropeLanguageJobs.com

English as a second language is becoming more and more competitive. Due to the weight the language carries in the modern, professional world, speaking English is fast becoming less of a benefit and more of an essential, or even basic, requirement when looking for a job in Europe.

Approximately 2 billion people study English worldwide and some countries find it easier than others to pick it up. Throughout the emerging generations of many nationalities, proficiency is almost ubiquitous as people are becoming more and more serious about language learning. For example, companies like ESL offer language courses abroad, giving people the opportunity to properly immerse themselves in a new culture.

Based on the percentage of English proficiency in the adult population, here’s the list!

 

10)  Belgium

The Belgian people have increased their overall English level since the 2015 figures and their hard work has bumped them up into the top 10 countries who speak English as a second language best! Welcome to the list Belgium.

9)  Poland           

With more and more Poles moving and working abroad their need to learn English has increased too. However, Polish as a language is on the rise in the UK, as Brits fall in love with Polish expats and look to learn their language.

8)  Germany    

 The Germans, with their industrial efficiency, have always had a firm grip of the English language. The modern language of the business world is English and, as German businesses are dominating the European market, the pressure on professionals to speak English to a proficient level is higher than ever.

7)  Austria       

Just beating its geographical and linguistic neighbours to the number 7 spot, is Austria. Sharing its borders with a whopping eight countries, it’s little wonder that the people of Austria have an aptitude for languages.

6)  Luxembourg            

For the very same reasons as Austria, it is hardly a shock to see this tiny landlocked country so high on the list. With heavy influences from both East and West, the country has three official languagesFrenchGerman and Luxembourgish – and on top of that, well over half of the adult population having a proficient level of English!

 

5)  Finland          

We start to head more to the north of Europe as we near the top of the list. Finland has a population of just under 5.5 million people, and almost 70% of its adult population speak high-level English.

4)  Norway                         

Norway is far from a surprise entry in at number four. The Norse languages also have had a huge influence on the English language after the occupation of the Vikings over a thousand years ago.

3)  Sweden        

Sweden has been knocked off the top spot and slip into third place since the 2015 stats. However, their reputation for about as near-native English as you can get, remains strong and I´m sure they’ll be back with a vengeance.     

2)  Denmark      

As approach the grand finale, the countries are becoming less and less surprising. Denmark, yet another Scandinavian country, comes in a number two. The language of the Danes is also growing in demand in Europe, but who could possibly have beaten them to the top spot in terms of English proficiency?!

1)  Netherlands              

Congratulations to the Dutch, not only on their ability to invent hilarious surnames, but also on their ability to speak the English language. Their linguistically gifted population has knocked the Swedes off the number one position…for now.

This list refers to Europe, however if it included all the countries in the world (obviously where English is not a native language) it would be almost identical but countries six to ten would each slip one place lower, as Singapore would slot in at number six.

It is unsurprising to see the top four dominated by Nordic countries – and the Netherlands. They have an increasing knack for topping lists, having very high living standardspopulation satisfaction as well as cost of livingGermany may have been Europe’s most popular country but they are maybe lower than you would have expected considering their mechanical proficiency in most things.  

Also – and I believe this to be key – in the Nordic countries they do not dub the television into their own languages. Whereas, in FranceSpain and even Germany, they translate the television into the country language, despite the majority of TV shows being American or English.

There is also a noticeable lack of southern European countries, with Austria being the southernmost point of the list.  But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Dutch reign supreme over the non-native English speaking world. In fact, I regularly meet Dutch and Scandinavian people and assume that they, like me, are English; that’s how flawless their accents are.

Inspired to improve your English or master a new language? There are several free apps such as Duolingo, as well as YouTube channels where you can receive free lessons. With today’s resources you’ve got no excuse for being monolingual!  

Figures sourcewww.ef.com.es/epi 

 

 

Language

9 Annoying Things People Do When You Are Still Trying To Learn A Language

#1 When you don´t understand a word they will repeat it only louder

Yeah, that´s very helpful

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor no its not

#2 When people ask you to ´ Say something´

“Idk, just something”

 

#3 When people ask you how good you are

´ cause how do you measure something like that

#4 “Oh you speak so well” when you have only spoken 2 words

Because, yes, I do speak well, BUT YOU WOULDN´T KNOW CAUSE I HAVE ONLY SAID GOOD MORNING

#5 When you are trying to speak and in order to help, people try to speak for you

Just… okay?

#6 Or when people don´t realize you actually understand more than you speak, and they are talking about you

Seriously..

#7 When you say “What?” because a story surprised you they will explain it all over again

Come on!

#8 When you start talking and people are like “Aww that´s cute”

#9 When you say something and they just respond in English

 

Language

7 Best Language Apps To Prevent Being Lost In Translation

Whether you are actually trying to learn a new language, or you just need some instant traveling assistance, your phone is always your best buddy. These great apps can help you along the way to avoid being lost in translation.

TRANSLATION APPS

#1 Google Translate

We are all familiar with this one, and boy do we complain about all the funny outcomes when it doesn´t translate right. But are you aware of all the possibilities of the Google Translate app. For example, as of July 2016, Google Translate supports 103 languages at various levels[4] and serves over 200 million people daily.[1]

And because Google is such a so-called ´Big Fish´, in 2015 they purchased and incorporated another translation app called ‘Word Lens´ into Google Translate. According to Wikipedia

“Word Lens was an augmented reality translation application from Quest Visual. Word Lens used the built-in cameras on smartphones and similar devices to quickly scan and identify foreign text (such as that found in a sign or a menu), and then translate and display the words in another language on the device’s display. The words were displayed in the original context on the original background, and the translation was performed in real-time without connection to the internet. For example, using the viewfinder of a camera to show a shop sign on a smartphone’s display would result in a real-time image of the shop sign being displayed, but the words shown on the sign would be the translated words instead of the original foreign words.”

Welcome to the future y´all

#2 UnBabel

If you want something better than Google Translate, you will probably have to lay down a couple of bucks. For your day to day translation, it might not be necessary, but if you want to translate some more delicate information, this may be the thing for you.

Here is an example.

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translate-unbabel-languages

The nice thing is that you can select the subject and the tone of the text. This way, you won´t send an oddly friendly text to your boss, or a formal letter to your lover.

translate-unbabel-tone

Your first order, up to 150 words, is for free. After that, you will have to pay. Depending on the situation, this might be worth it though.

translate-unbabel-cost

A couple of minutes later, you will get an email with your translation 🙂

translate-unbabel-results

#3 Gengo

A similar application is Gengo, which again for a small price let´s you translate a text while also selecting a style or tone. Although it is a bit more pricy than the before mentioned ‘UnBabel´, this one will go to an actual human being, that knows the nuances of the languages and might give you a translation that is a little smoother.

translate-gengo-addlanguage

translate-gengo-tones

FUN WORD APPS

#4 Swearport

Because sometimes you just need to know the important stuff.

“Swearport lets you become a global swearing master. Simply choose the language you want, click on the swear of your choice, and Swearport will play a high-quality audio recording of a native speaker saying your chosen swear! You can also try your hand at the random function where you shake your Android device and Swearport will throw out a random swear.But wait, don’t think it stops there! Each swear has detailed information about its swear pronunciation, swear meaning, swear English equivalent, swear usage, and swear intensity rating out of five. Swearport dives deeper into the art of international swearing than any other swearing application with by far the largest library of swears and accompanying recordings.Here is a complete list of languages, each of which have recordings of a native speaker”

LANGUAGE LEARNING APPS

#5 Memrise

My personal favorite. Not only because of the way it works, but mostly because of the wide variety of small and unknown languages. It´s like a candy store for those who enjoy learning languages.

According to Wikipedia

“Memrise is an online learning tool with courses created by its community. Its courses are mainly used to teach languages, but are also used for other academic and nonacademic subjects (such as trivia, video game trivia, and pop cultural). Memrise uses flashcardsaugmented with mnemonics (known within the service as “mems”)—partly gathered through crowdsourcing—and the spacing effect to boost the speed and ease of learning.”

It basically makes you repeat the word until you know it, but it almost feels like a game. You can play this anywhere (I usually play it when I am on the train or in the bus).

#6 Babbel

Another famous app for language learning. It probably works among the same ideas as Memrise, only it has fewer languages, but has a better worked out program for these offered languages.

“Babbel is an online language learning software and e-learning platform available in various languages since January 2008. Fourteen languages are currently offered: Dutch, Danish, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese,Russian, Swedish, Spanish and Turkish. According to babbel.com, it has over 20,000,000 users from more than 190 countries.”

The nice thing about Babbel is that they have a website where they post things about language learning, like a post for Brazilians learning English on how to improve their pronunciation, or a post on why learning a language on a cell phone can actually make a difference. 

#7 Duolingo

Same story with Duolingo, and this one is already quite popular aswell.

Duolingo /ˌdjˈlɪŋɡ/ is a free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. Duolingo offers all its language courses free of charge. As of April 2016, the language-learning website and app offer 59 different language courses across 23 languages; with 23 additional courses in development. The app is available on iOS, Android and Windows 8 and 10 platforms with over 120 million registered users across the world.

It only offers a select number of languages, but they are adding to the variety of origin language, so instead of going English -> French, you could now Italian -> French, or French -> German, or German -> Spanish.

It also gives you a progress report and tells you your fluency in a language in percentage (however accurate that it, it does feels great though).

Language

15 Struggles Multilingual People Will Understand

1. People always ask you to “Say something” in another language

no ron swanson nick offerman

2. Words are always on the tip of your tongue

tongue

3. .. or you only know a word in another language

4. You change personality multiple times a day

Yes, it has been proven that speaking different languages may actually enable you to have different personalities.

5. You accidentally speak to people in the wrong language

know through maureen

6. Sometimes you get confused so much you feel like you don’t speak any language

friends confused joey joey tribbiani matt leblanc

7. You always come up with great jokes in other languages but can’t use them

joker movies heath ledger the joker dark knight

8. People from your own country will think you are foreign because they hear you speaking in another language

Film Society of Lincoln Center surprise matt damon ridley scott the martian

9. You are always looking for a new language to learn

10. When you hear someone speaking a language you know you immediately freak out and stalk them for a little bit to know what the situation is, and then possibly approach them

HULU tv fox empire reading

11. You notice the mistakes made in the subtitles

12. You never know in what language to put the subtitles

13. You know people who speak only a little, but still claim they are fluent

house of cards frank underwood kill me bitch please kill me now

14. When you tell people you speak another language someone will always say
“Oh yeah, but it´s easy for you because you are good at languages”

eminem 8 mile judging you judging eyes day drinking

15. You realize that there is no finish line to learning a language

Language

5 Reasons To Learn A New Language

Languages fascinate me over and over again. I speak three foreign languages by now and I don’t regret having learned them. Yet I can’t get enough of languages and I think that I won’t be satisfied with the languages I am speaking now. I am interested in learning new ones. Here are 5 reasons why you should learn a new language!

1) Discovering a new culture

There are many ways to get to know another culture better. You can read about it, listen to music or even visit the country. Nevertheless I think that a very important thing is to learn the language. By doing that you get the ‘feeling’, do you know what I mean? When you begin to learn a new language, let’s say Japanese, you start to discover vocabulary and grammar, you learn about the pronunciation, … And you begin to discover the Japanese lifestyle. You suddenly understand the lyrics of Japonese songs. You are able to read Japanese articles on the internet. Learning a new language is the best access to a different culture.

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2) Communication and friends

Over seven billion people live on earth. There exist thousands of different languages, well known ones as well as almost unknown ones. The more languages you know the more people you can communicate with.

When you visit another country, it’s always better if you actually speak the language that the people speak there. It makes you more independent and it’s easier to find friends. By the way, having Japanese friends is very good if you want to learn Japanese. Besides, meeting people from different nationalities is always a great adventure!

 

3) The brain

Did you actually know that people who speak more than one language have a lower risk of dementia? Think of the brain as a muscle. The more you train, the more synapses arise. I would say learning a new language makes you smarter.

Screenshot 2015-09-21 at 10.48.23 PM

4) Application

At school I only learned two foreign languages but I wanted to learn a third so I began to teach myself Spanish. When I recently applied for a volunteer year in the United States, I was so glad that I could name three foreign langugages when I was asked which languages I speak.

No matter for what you are applying, if your application says that you know another foreign language, it will impress the boss. You know why? Learning a new language is a hard thing to do. It takes time and a lot of patience. Your perhaps new boss will see that you are willing to learn new things and besides, patience and endurance are features every boss loves to see. You might get your preferred job by that!

5) It makes you happy

Yes, it is hard to learn a new language. You study, but maybe you don’t understand the difficult grammar, you can’t remember the vocabulary you learned yesterday, you don’t know how to pronounce a word …

But once you get it, it might seem like a little step but for you it’s a big success. It’s the moment when you realise how beautiful that language actually is and that it’s all worth it. That’s when you don’t care about those hard study lessons, you just smile because you know that learning a new language makes your life brighter and yourself happier! And if you could decide you would all do it again!

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annemarie

 

Annemarie Schmidt is a 17-year-old from a small village in Germany. Right now she is in the last year of high school, after which she will do a year of volunteering in the United States of America. If you´d like to connect with her on Facebook, feel free to do so.

Language

How to passively improve your language skills

I am a girl who totally loves languages. So I sometimes get into a situation where people asked me: ‘Why is your English (or French) so good? What did you do to become such a good speaker?’ Well, mostly it is kind of complicated to explain it in just one sentence because I not only study English (or French or Spanish) at school. I realized that learning a language is much more than just attending classes. Whether you just started to study a language or you are already pretty good but you still want to become better – here is some advice for you how you can improve your foreign language skills.

There is one thing that I love to do: watching movies! I think most people do, so why not combine something you love to with something you want to do? Let’s improve your foreign language skills while watching movies in that foreign language! You may say ‘What? No, that’s way to difficult for me’. I understand that. To watch a movie means to sit down for ninety minutes (or even more) and follow the action. Sometimes that is hard even when you watch a movie in your native language. But you have to try it.
I found out three ways to watch a movie in a foreign language. If you are some kind of ‘beginner’, so your language skills aren’t that good, start with a movie that you watched before in your native language, so you already know what will happen. Subtitles make it easier for you to understand what is said. I once tried to watch a movie like that. I have been studying Spanish for over two years now, nevertheless I am not that good because I teached it myself and sometimes I am lazy … But I picked out a movie and watched it in Spanish with Spanish subtitles just for fun because I wanted to see how much I would understand. And I found out that I actually understood something! I even learned some new Spanish words from the context. So I can tell you to just try it. It is worth it.
Something that is important when you watch a movie: Don’t focus on understanding anything! That will distract you so much that you will understand nothing at all. Simply try to focus on what is going on.
If you have been studying your foreign language for some years, you can try to watch a movie (that you have already watched) without subtitles. It should be your aim being able to watch a movie without subtitles. One disadvantage of subtitles is that they can easily distract you from actually following the action.
If you know your foreign language very well but you want to practice and improve it a bit more, try to watch a movie that you don’t know. That’s the most difficult thing to do because you don’t only have to understand what is said but you also have to follow an action which is new to you. It is a challenge but it will help you to become better in knowing your foreign language.

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The second way to improve your foreign language skills is to read. Reading is a wonderful thing. It is very efficient because when you read, you see the words with your eyes. That is why it is one of the best ways to become better in that language.
One important thing if you want to read something in your foreign language, is that it should be about a subject you like. Don’t force yourself to read, for example, that one thick book (because you really want to improve your language skills) – it should be fun for you and not something you have to do.
When you read, it doesn’t always have to be a book. Try to read different things: an online blog, facebook posts, song lyrics, magazines, …
Reading in a foreign language helps you to improve grammar and of course vocabulary. You learn in a passive way. Don’t get upset when you don’t understand every single word. You don’t have to. Sometimes you may not know a word but because of the context it will turn out to be clear what it means.

VI13NSFRNA

Watching movies and reading are passive ways to improve language skills. But there are active ways too, for example speaking.
This is always harder than understanding but it is very important to know a language well. There is this German word ‘Sprache’ which means ‘language’ in English. The word ‘Sprache’ is related to the German word ‘sprechen’ meaning’speaking’. Language without speaking is impossible.
The best way to become a better speaker is to talk to native speakers. They know their language and also have the best pronunciation (if it is not some strange dialect).
If you don’t know any native speakers, you can try to talk to yourself. Sounds stupid? At the beginning it is, but it really helps you. Stand, for example, in front of a mirror and speak about anything you want: your last shopping tour, environmental problems, your favorite book, Martin Luther King, … whatever. What matters is that you speak.

The second active way to improve your foreign language skills is to write. Some people like that, some don’t. If you write a diary, you could once write in your foreign language instead in your native one. If you love writing little stories why don’t you write one in a foreign language? There are also websites on the internet where you can find pen pals from all over the world to chat with. An advantage next to improving language skills: you find cool friends!

There is one active thing that you can do almost everywhere: Thinking. It is way to complicated to translate something from your native language into your foreign one when you want to say or write something down. So start to think in your foreign language!
If you want to and you have the chance to go abroad for studying or something else – do it! It is the best thing you can do. Nothing helps you more than going to another country when you want to improve your language skills (or even learn a new language). Since the foreign language is arround you all the time when you are abroad, you need to think in that language, speak that language, … At the end you will speak that language securely, fluently and with less mistakes than before.

These ways are all ones I tried by myself so I can guarantee that it is worth the try. I still do these things to improve my foreign language skills. Even my English, French and Spanish is not perfect. You will never stop learning something new. There is no point where you can say ‘Okay, my language skills are perfect by now.’
Of course, you can’t only improve your language skills by doing these things like watching movies. It is important to study which can be very hard. But these ways to improve a foreign language are there for having fun while learning more. But learning a language shouldn’t be without fun. Learning a language is much more than just attending classes. It is an adventure where you can discover new things and that what it is all about!

 

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Annemarie Schmidt is a 17-year-old from a small village in Germany. Right now she is in the last year of high school, after which she will do a year of volunteering in the United States of America. If you´d like to connect with her on Facebook, feel free to do so.

Language

The Benefits of Bilingualism

We all know speaking multiple languages has it´s benefits. It makes traveling easier, it makes watching movies easier, it makes meeting people from other parts of the world easier. Coincidentally those three things are also my favorite hobbies, shortly followed by ‘learning languages´. However, making life easier and more interesting isn´t the only benefit ‘bilingualism’ or ‘multilingualism’ has to offer.

This video by Ted-Ed explains us in less than 5 minutes basically everything you want to know about being bilingual.

 

One of the things I love is that they mention the different parts in which speaking a language consists. There is the two active parts; writing and speaking, and two passive parts; reading and listening. “A balanced bilingual has near equal abilities across the board in two languages, most bilinguals in the world know and use their languages in varying proportions”. This is probably one of the main misconceptions about multilingual individuals (and it really bothers me). Being able to read a language doesn´t mean you can speak it, and being able to speak a language doesn´t mean you can write it (this goes mostly for native speakers..). Making this distinction and recognizing your strong points and your weak points is very important when it comes to progressing in learning a new language.

The second interesting things they mention is the three different types of bilinguals; the compound bilinguals, the coordinate bilinguals and the subordinate bilinguals. While we all knew the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a language, the video explains in more detail the reason behind this. The video explains the brains becomes less flexible to new structures as we grow older, causing us to learn another language while still thinking in our mother tongue instead of thinking in the concept of the word. Even though this does have to do with the way our brain works, one thing we can take from this is to try to approach learning a new language in a different way. If you´d like to become fluent in a language instead of just being able to communicate, it might be a good idea to start thinking more in concepts, trying to forget the structures you have used thus far. Even though this is obviously very hard and you will probably not achieve the same results as a young child, this way of learning a languages causes you to eventually think in another language instead of translating the words from your native language, as the subordinate bilinguals do, which eventually makes the chances of mixing up words or grammatical structures smaller.

Another interesting fact they mentioned was that people tend to suffer less from emotional bias and were able to solve problems more rationally when confronting them in a second language (which means from now on I shall be resolving my problems in Spanish).

The video also mentions that bilingualism was considered a flaw before the 1960 because scientists thought it would slow down a child´s development by forcing them to spend too much time distinguishing between languages. Although I do feel that the more languages I speak, the more I am starting to mix them up, it is definitely not a ´flaw´,

All in all, this video has a lot of interesting things to tell us about the way bilingualism influences the brain, so if you weren´t convinced already; get that brain busy and learn another language!

Culture, Language

Insults around the world

People say you should never translate a joke, but maybe insults shouldn’t be translated either. Those of us who have ever wanted to learn some words in a foreign language will know that the first things they teach you are always the bad words. But learning these swear words can be quite platonic. To you it’s just a get together of strange sounds without any meaning. But what if we compared swear words around the world?

In this video made by CUT we see people from different major cities all over the world explaining what insults and swear words they use, and it is really funny. Things like ‘Green tea bitch’, ‘Soft egg’ or ‘Indoorsman’ to ‘Sister fucker’ ‘Your dad is dead. Your mom is dead. Everything is dead”. See for yourself and watch the video below.

 

 

What is your favorite insult in a foreign language?

Language

50 Shades of Language

“So how many languages do you speak?” 

It’s a question I hear quite often. And the more languages I learn the harder it is for me to answer. Because how many languages do I speak? I am not sure. Because I don’t really know what ‘speaking’ a language means.

When I respond and say I speak 6,5 languages, people often laugh and ask “How can you speak half a language?” while the question I ask myself is, how can you speak a whole language? What is that point that you say “Oh yes I speak my native language but I also speak another language that I learned”? Because how on earth could you ever compare the knowledge of 20 years of daily practice of your mother language, to a language you have learned for maybe not even a year? I say that I speak 6,5 language but the actual number is probably not even measurable.

Language is considered by a lot of people as a binary thing: you either speak a language or you don’t. But the truth is that language is everything but binary. There are so many different levels of a language, different shades and depending on what you find important you have to judge yourself and come up with an answer: do you speak the language or not.

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Literally you could ‘speak’ any language. You can say any word in Swahili, and that would mean that you are literally speaking Swahili, but that is not what people ask for when they ask you if you ‘speak’ a language. ‘Speaking’ a language means dominating it, being able to speak with a certain fluency, understand what is being said when people talk in the language in question. In fact, ‘speaking’ a language also means being able to read it.

Another thing to keep in mind with language is the level to which someone ‘speaks’ it. Many native speakers who are considered fluent will probably not reach the point where they can read/write/talk on an academic level. But what about international professors that give academic speeches but who are not able to understand basic expressions used by common people? Is a native child more fluent than someone who has been learning the language for some years but still has an accent? It is said that there is not a single Chinese person (and there are a LOT of them) who knows all of the Mandarin characters. Does that mean they don’t ‘speak’ their language?

Whether or not you ‘speak’ a language often depends on you but also what country you grew up in. People who grew up in a country where only one language was spoken and taught will quickly say they speak a language, even when they only know a few phrases. People from countries where many languages are spoken will often compare themselves to the native speakers of the languages they had to learn and will probably not list it as a language they ‘speak’ if they do not feel so comfortable with it, even if they have good basic knowledge of this language.

I remember a friend from the U.S. who was visiting me in the Netherlands asking me
“Why does everybody I ask say they speak a little English, when they actually speak very well?”

This made me laugh because it’s true. People in the Netherlands speak good English. Some better than others, but for a country that is not officially bilingual you can get by surprisingly well not speaking any Dutch. But the standard to which they measure English is different from the standard to which for example Americans measure their knowledge of Spanish.
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There are many gradations and when people ask you if you speak a language you are forced to evaluate and judge yourself. Something I don’t like to do. I am not a perfectionist when it comes to anything. I don’t like exact answers, I don’t like numbers and am in general not a precise person. Yet when it comes to languages, I can beat myself up over some grammar mistake I made. Something I said that wasn’t perfect can haunt me for longer than I wish to acknowlegde. The only thing saving me from this curse is my extreme laziness which prevents me from actually doing something about the fact that I do not know all of the words, grammatical structures and expressions a language knows.

However the perfectionist inside me is reintroduced when the question “How many languages do you speak?¨ reappears. Because I feel like a fraud for listing the languages that I do not dominate 100%. Which is hard because sometimes it feel that juggling around 4 languages a day makes me fail in all of them, even my native language.

Once when someone asked me how many languages I spoke I explained him why I thought this was difficult and asked him to be more specific to what he thought was ‘speaking’ a language. He said “Any language you know at least one or two words in¨. Umm, do you have a minute? As a former exchange students I have collected a large vocabulary in random sentences in languages I will probably never use (or shouldn’t since most of them are maybe not so appropriate). Other people only want to know those you speak fluently. Most people have probably never thought about the concept of ‘speaking’ a language. They probably never realized that it wasn’t something black and white but that there are lots of grey areas in between.

I think more people should realize that. Those who have already started learning another language will know that there is no finish line. There is no point where you stop and think ¨Now I dominate this language 100%”. There is only personal finish lines that one can be satisfied with, but knowing a language completely is impossible. Instead of chasing those goals of language as a binary thing where we either speak it or not, we should embrace the nuances and shades it comes with.


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