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Language barrier and acceptance

misa.j

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This is one of the great things that I have been experiencing since I moved to the states; I make mistakes in my speech almost every day, which is embarrassing because I've lived here for over five years, but I have never met anyone who frowned or shook their head because of my mistakes!
People just try to understand me or ask questions without hesitant which is a different reaction compared to people in my home country. In Japan, they don't like to be rude(or, understand deeply in other words...), so people don't ask many questions even when they need to.

It seems to me that the majority of Americans have acceptance or feel comfortable to talk with someone whose native language is not English, of course, you can tell from the fact how diverse this country is.

I am curious about other countries and your point of view;
how important to be able to speak its native language and people's reactions when they meet someone who is not fluent in the language.

I love this forum I can ask this kind of question and get answers by people from all over the world!

Thanks.
 

Martialartsnovice

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Konnichiwa Misa.J-san

Well, I am starting to learn Japanese on my own. I had a friend from Tokyo come to my high school, to learn about America. She was kind enough to teach me some basic spoken Japanese, and she did teach me a little Hiragana. But I was always embarrassed when I screw up the pronunciation of Ohayo Gozaimas or Konnichiwa. I always would hear her chuckle at me, but then she'd say the correct way, and Id try again. But she moved back to Tokyo, I told her that I would come to see her country, as a guest, to repay the favor she made by coming to America, and eventually teaching me Japanese.

This is one of the main reasons, I joined the JREF Forum server, I always wanted to see the world, So I am teaching myself Japanese to travel to Japan, to hopefully see her again. I always was comfortable when she speaks English to me, I never thought that it sounded funny, but she always thought that she wasn't saying it right.

Thanks for asking the question.

P.S. "In Life there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers given to you by redundant people, who cant see past their own wants and desires."
 

misa.j

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I guess my statement and questions were kind of vague, huh...

@Martialartnovice,
Thanks for your response, though. What made you interested in learning the Japanese language?
 

Martialartsnovice

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:cool:

It began when I was a little kid up in Milwaukee. My mom would check out foreign language books. They usually had a cassette with them. I would study books. Then I would return them. I would always try to remember the lessons from the books.

I remember some French, German, and a smattering of Swahili, Chinese (Mandarin), Polish, Russian, Estonian, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Spanish. I also had tried to learn Vietnamese from my neighbours from Vietnam. They had taught their kids in California. I was greatly relieved when they said that it would honour them for me to learn their native language. I guess I have always been trying to learn about different nationalities and their languages or dialects. It would seem that it would help me in my dream of seeing the world. ☺️
 

TwistedMac

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Misa, to answer your original question, I'll use the example of Swedish since it's what I know =p

Swedish has been said by some to be one of the "difficult" languages, of course, I couldn't say, I've been speaking it for as long as I can remember, but one thing is easy with the Swedish language; Mistakes don't matter much.

The Swedish language leaves a great margin of error, and sentences, where every other word is wrong, are easily comprehensible by a swede.

So when foreign people speak our language and fail, It doesn't really matter much to us. We can usually understand it anyway.

However, If there's something a non-native speaker says that we don't understand, we'll usually turn to English to get the correct explanation of what was meant since most people know at least comprehensible English.. I'd say this is common in most European countries.

The sad part is when a Swede and a Dane turn to English to understand each other (and it happens a lot), our languages are so much alike, we really should understand each other, but many don't.
 

misa.j

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@Martialartnovice,
You blew my mind!

That's awesome that you have been studying so many other languages since when you were little.
I also strongly believe that your language skill will be a great plus to achieve anything in your life. I think being able to speak or understand the native language where you are in opens up so many possibilities. That was how I felt when I first came to the U.S.

I am sure your neighbors from Vietnam were very happy to know that you were interested in their culture. Did they speak English to you or did they try to speak only Vietnamese? Did they teach you their culture besides the language?

Mac,

That is interesting that a Swede and a Dane have a hard time understanding each other when they speak English. Is that because they pronounce the English words differently or grammatical difference? Do you understand them better if they were speaking in Danish?

The Swedish pronunciation seems extremely difficult, but if I listened to your language carefully for a long time, I start to hear many words that are similar to English words.
So I understand that non-Swedish speakers can get around in your country without much trouble.

That's cool.
 

The AnteLyfe

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I think it depends on what language you speak initially. First of all, Americans are pretty accepting since many different peoples speak English at many different levels. If I were to go to Canada (barring Quebec) or England/Scotland, people would know right off the bat that I was from the States from my accent, yet if anything, I would receive more attention because I would seem more unique to them than if I lived in their home country, even though we all speak the same language! We would have different words for some things (like gas and petrol, or soda and pop, or elastic and gum band, etc.), yet since our language was for the most part similar, they would be receptive to my "dialect".
In terms of visiting Quebec or other European countries where the official language is something else, I have usually tried to speak French to have the person begin speaking to me in English. They can tell that I am not a native french speaker, and I think they are more pleased that I tried to speak their language than if I had just come up to them and began speaking in English.
I haven't had experience with other regions of the world.
 

Brooker

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@Misa j.

Glad to hear you've had a positive experience in speaking English to people in America. I don't mind language mistakes, and I usually can still understand (but I did get a lot of practice while teaching English in Japan). I think most Americans are patient with the mistakes of non-native speakers. I've seen some Americans who aren't, and I always give them a hard time about it. I tell them that their relatives (probably) didn't speak English fluently when they came to America, so they should be more accepting. About half of my relatives couldn't speak English when they came to America, so I think I should accept other people in a similar situation.

I actually get more uncomfortable when someone makes a big deal about the mistakes they're making when they talk to me. If they don't mention it, it doesn't bother me.
 

Martialartsnovice

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To quote Misa J. "I am sure your neighbours from Vietnam were thrilled to know that you were interested in their culture. Did they speak English to you, or did they try to speak only Vietnamese? Did they teach you their culture besides the language?"

They spoke pretty good English until they got nervous. Then it went south from there. To answer your seconds' question, yes, they did. It did them great honour by me asking to learn their language. I, at first, was a little afraid, thinking that I would offend them if I asked, so I hate to admit this, I had my mom to ask them for me. I was quite relieved when they were excited to have a student. Their children were a little uneasy about the idea because they had always called me Santa Claus in Vietnamese.

This is because I wear a full beard and moustache. After a while, I found out that the main way of teaching they had used when they lived in California was a home-study course, they tried to get it for me, but the instructor knew who had it was unavailable. So I hope to learn Vietnamese after I master Japanese spoken and Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. I plan to enrol in the Nihongo class next year, then continue it in college. I want to graduate with a Bachelors in it, possibly a Masters.
 

nekosasori

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I grew up bilingual (Japanese and English) with some French thrown in and have lived in Canada, the Boston area of the US, and Dublin. I've also spent time (weeks, not just days) in major European capitals like Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, London, and Tokyo and Taipei.

In all of those cities except for Dublin (which I don't consider to be a "major" city by any means, unfortunately), people expected me to be able to speak in their national language (e.g. in Amsterdam, they'd speak to me in Dutch; in Taipei, Chinese, etc.) Also, as I would try to speak if only simple phrases in these languages, the locals seemed appreciative (or even complimentary) of my efforts.

In Dublin, however, they expect me NOT to speak English (most East Asian residents are Chinese, so they also assume that I'm Chinese). Overt racism has also grown worse here in the last four years, so I regularly have people telling me to "go back where I came from" or kids making stereotypical "Chinese martial arts" noises. There's a funny story I read in the newspaper a couple of years back where someone who was speaking Gaelic (Irish; the other national language) on a mobile phone was also told to go back to the country where she was from - which was in fact a county to the north and west of Dublin. Clearly, the Irish person yelling at her didn't recognize his own official language.

Taiwan is the only country where I haven't attempted to use the local language, but I did not receive the impression that people would have been resentful if I'd defaulted to English. However, I do hear of accounts in the US midwest and south where people speaking a language other than English are chastised for doing so. The same may be true in homogenous (i.e. rural, small communities) populations in Canada.
 

Martialartsnovice

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Your Right nekosasori, I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I was also the victim of the chastizing you speak of. I have German heritage from my father's family, and I remember speaking german in the middle school I was attending. I was beaten up for saying hello in German to a friend of mine, and he answered back in German. I was condemned as a Nazi and was told to move back to Berlin, even though my Father's family had lived in Wisconsin for at least five generations. Most of the kids at my school were of German or Austrian descent. The Midwest was settled by the Germans, Polish, Austrians, and Norwegians. I had a Hispanic friend that spoke Spanish to his grandparents because they couldn't speak good English. He was also called a border jumper and an illegal immigrant. Some of the school kids threatened to call the Immigration Service to deport him, even though he was an Ameican born Citizen.
 

misa.j

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In Dublin, however, they expect me NOT to speak English (most East Asian residents are Chinese, so they also assume that I'm Chinese). Overt racism has also grown worse here in the last four years, so I regularly have people telling me to "go back where I came from" or kids making stereotypical "Chinese martial arts" noises. There's a funny story I read in the newspaper a couple of years back where someone who was speaking Gaelic (Irish; the other national language) on a mobile phone was also told to go back to the country where she was from - which was in fact a county to the north and west of Dublin. Clearly, the Irish person yelling at her didn't recognize his own official language.


The town I live in now has a population of 6,000; at least 99% of them are white, and there are a few blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and middle easterners. I have had some experiences with kids saying "Chinese..." when they saw me, or better ones like when I went to a bar, people try to welcome me or shake my hands because it was rare for them to see some Asian woman their local bar.

I feel rooted in this town more than in Japan after living here long enough to have friends and acquaintances.

I wonder dialects play an important role in communications. A small country such as Japan has many many dialects which do affect how people interact.
 

Brooker

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@MAN...
I have a lot of family living in Milwaukee, and it's no surprise that the Midwest isn't the most open-minded place.

@misa.j...
I would get quite a reaction from Japanese people in small towns, but it was usually positive. One time I was walking past a school playground in a small town and a group of about fifty children stopped playing and waved at me, calling out, "Hello, hello...". That's actually one of my favorite memories from Japan.
 

Martialartsnovice

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I also agree. I have more friends where I live now then I did when I lived in Milwaukee, aot of them are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Native American, and Asian. I remember that if I had dated a nonwhite girl, I would have ostracized from society in Milwaukee. I found it more common to have mixed ethnicity friends here in the Southwest than in the Midwest. I still think that the Midwest needs to rethink its racist attitudes towards non-Caucasians.

@Brooker
I am glad to hear that I'm not the only one who realized that Milwaukee is racist. I hope that when I go to Japan, I have a good experience. I really want to see this friend of mine that lives there. She was always polite to the other kids and me, even though they were pretty racist to her at times.
 

misa.j

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In Nigeria, for instance, there are over 500 recognized languages, according to linguists. Out of this number, there are three major languages, namely the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, while English was adopted as the official lingua franca. The three local languages are used for local radio and television broadcasts. A West African indigenous version of English called "Pidgin English" also exist and is very popular among Nigerians. Experts said that about 65 per cent of the nation's population speak one of these languages, that is, Hausa is widely spoken in the north, Igbo in the southeast and Yoruba in the west.

Only in Nigeria, there are 500 languages!

An instance of recognizing language as a barrier was witnessed recently where a discussant could not respond to questions raised by another participant in an online discussion, simply because one speaks English and the other French. It took weeks for the French speaker to realize this and had to re-send the questions and contributions raised thereof in English to get a response from fellow discussant.

I thought it was kind of funny that nobody told the French speaker that they didn't understand for weeks...


Have you guys heard about this international language called "ESPERANTO"? I haven't, I wonder if it's really useful.

 

Glenn

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Have you guys heard about this international language called "ESPERANTO"? I haven't, I wonder if it's really useful.

I remember hearing about that from my second high school Spanish teacher. I thought it was a cool idea -- a language with no irregularities. I mean, how could you go wrong with that?! But, it isn't useful at all, really. I think the only people who really bother with it are linguists. Maybe they use it to communicate with each other once in a while when they want to be really esoteric; I'm not sure.
 

Martialartsnovice

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Yeah, but, In Nigeria, the 500 languages are mostly tribal dialects, some Arabic, Swahili, and maybe a few European languages thrown into the mix. But I'm no linguist. So I could be all wrong.
 

RockLee

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I think it's great that English exist, else I wouldn't be able to communicate with my friend in Japan, and would have much more problem with Japanese pronunciation....the more we talk with each other, the better our skills become, she told me my Japanese pronunciation was very good, as did some friends of her who only heard me speak for the first time Nihongo so I was kind of flattered hehe. I don't mind her error's and she doesn't mind mine..we just correct each other and kinda remember the errors. I'm happy that now at least thanks to her (and Japanese class) I will be able to at least communicate more clearly when I'm in Japan at the end of the week
 

misa.j

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RockLee,

I agree with you about being able to communicate with a lot of people in English is a wonderful thing. I wonder which language would have been spoken as widely as English if we didn't have it...

I look forward to hearing about your trip to Japan.
 

ragedaddy

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Hey Misa J.,

There are lots of Americans who will listen and try to understand you even if you make mistakes. I think since this country is so diverse many people are used to listen to non-native speakers. The other reason is the typical American is not bilingual, and so they have no choice in trying to communicate in any language other than English. I guess this pretty much goes for anybody in any country that only speaks their native language. If they didn't attempt to communicate in that certain language then you probably wouldn't be able to communicate hardly at all. For example, My Mom and Dad can only speak English (Not a surprise there), and my Wife can speak Japanese, Korean, and a little English. Therefore, if they don't try to communicate in English then it would be impossible for them to ever communicate(Unless I had to constantly translate). The point is that there are a lot of Americans who are interested in people of different cultures, and even if they make some mistakes, it is not a big deal.

The same went for me when I was studying in Japan, there were a lot of people who couldn't speak English, so there was no choice other than us speaking in Japanese (Even if I was making hardcore mistakes). Learning a foreign language is not the easiest thing in the world, and more than being perfectly grammatically correct it is more important they have some type of understanding of what you are talking about.

I think the difference between Japan and the US is that in America the nationals are expecting that if you are living there you should know or at least be attempting to learn the language. However, in Japan, it seems like there are no expectations for foreigners living there to learn the language (these are just my observations, so I could be wrong).
 

ax

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Hey Misa J.,
However, in Japan it seems like there is no expectations for foreigners living there to learn the language (these are just my observations, so I could be wrong).

Yeah, this is very subjective...but I guess Japanese never really says they expect you learn Japanese. But they would prefer you to speak Japanese most certainly. Most people I met here speaks Japanese directly at me, not even asking if I do understand their language or not. When I told them I don't speak Japanese very well, they shy out or shut up completely.

ax
 

Mike Cash

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The sad part is when a Swede and a Dane turn to english to understand eachother (and it happens a lot) our languages are so much alike, we really should be able to understand eachother, but many don't.

I have a sadder story... an American and an Australian turning to Japanese to understand each other.
 

Martialartsnovice

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@ Mike Cash,

I agree that it sad and funny at the same time.

@ MisaJ.

In answer to your question about English. Spanish would be the most widely spoken. Then it would have Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Swahili, French, and then Japanese. Scary how though people can be 10,000 miles apart, they can still understand each other. Case in point, I lived in the Midwestern US, I have relatives who live in the South, and they speak English, but with an accent and a dialect of their own. I can understand them because I can speak their dialect, though most of my extended family thinks their crazy. But that's just me.LOL

@ Rock Lee

How did a get the Arnold banner? It's really cool.
 

lexico

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I don't mind her error's and she doesn't mind mine..we just correct each other and kinda remember the errors.

Hey, there's some wisdom there that might be the solution to all those problems out there. I think it's a skill everyone (especially the hard-headed ones, that is ) should learn till they get it just right. They should be drilled on it and tested on it for a certification sticker to go on their IDs, drivers' license, passports, so any intolerant people don't get to....anywhere. However, I don't think any school or curriculum includes this valuable lesson, unfortunately. Other than in language schools, maybe?

This is a great line in JFORUM. Wisdom from the language learner's point of view. What a great contribution to learning!
 

lexico

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Barriers within, Barriers without

Responding to MisaJ's question about language barriers and tolerance,

I think there are at least two different kinds of situations that involve strikingly different language attitudes; that between two native speakers and that between a native speaker and a foreigner.

My first language is Korean, and I barely understand all the 8 major dialects of my people. (People in the sense that I am not excluding N. Korea.) My Grandfather spoke the NorthWestern dialect, and I remember in my youth that I could never understand him very well. I wished very much to understand his stories even for just five minutes, but that never happened, and he didn't speak standard Korean, either. The problem was, he would like to tell me a story, but wouldn't let me interrupt, or rather I should say I thought it impolite to interrupt him. We never had any problems because of it, but I regret not finding a way to learn his language, which sounded very foreign to me. That's one sad story that I'll never forget.

Even now if I hear a regional kind of Korean being spoken, there are words that evade me, and I have to ask, either right away or later on, to fully understand what was said. We have a standard language, but the local varieties are so diverse. It's not all bad, because it keeps the language rich and alive.

When you talk to a foreigner, everybody is very tolerant and understanding, especially if that person is a guest visiting. If the host can make himself understood in English, they usually have no problem communicating. However, in my job as a language instructor years back, I've noticed the employer who speaks fluent English not trying hard enough to use English when foreign instructors are present. He was breaking the rules of etiquette, which I think is pretty universal, of using English when the foreigner can't speak Korean. I disagree with his practices, but I guess when the foreigner is your employee, at least some employers can be mean. It might be related to language and authority, a strange mix, but some people think if you speak the other's language, that is equal to submission somehow?

The Swedish language leaves a great margin of error, and sentences, where every other word is wrong, are easily comprehensible by a Swede.

I've noticed the same in standard Korean. I think, to a degree, English is like that, too. I wonder if there are only mild dialectal differences in Sweden, or people are acculturated in all the dialects? Lucky Swedes!

The sad part is when a Swede and a Dane turn to English to understand each other (and it happens a lot), our languages are so much alike, we really should understand each other, but many don't.

I think it can also arise from politeness; politeness in the sense that no one has to give in to the other. This may be a sensitive topic, but I've heard there is some kind of rivalry between Swedes and Danes? If that's true, then it makes perfect sense to me that politeness might be a reason to choose a neutral language, possibly English is an acceptable common medium. A way to be equals and save faces, especially if there are other people who may overhear the conversation?

In my language, especially influenced by the older generation, there are so many taboo words and topics that sometimes I prefer to use English if the other person speaks it too. I believe English has much less red tape when it comes to words and topics. I'm sure the younger generation speak a far freer form of Korean, but strange, my own language is a cause of hindrance or barrier to communication. Has anyone from any language experienced this, or is it just me?
 
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