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FlamEnemY
01-17-2012, 02:10 AM
...and what exactly does this mean?

I've seen many people's CVs and many of them say that they have a good/very good grasp of the English language. Others claim that they are like native speakers, which I seriously doubt, but whatever...

So lately I've been asking myself, in what circumstances can I claim that I speak a foreign language fluently? Is it when I can freely express myself in various ways, or when I can simply lead a conversation with a native speaker without making him restrict his speech?

What do you guys think?

Dave M
01-17-2012, 02:45 AM
I've always thought that it's "native" when you think in the language rather than translate it as you converse.

Shellovic
01-17-2012, 05:31 AM
Hi guys, I did some research for you by asking my teachers (I'm following a translation study). There is no clear distinction between speaking a language fluently or not. Generally you can speak of fluently when you can think in the specific language (you really don't have to be native), and when you can hold conversations without hesitating or a lot of thinking during your conversation. It has to be a natural process, like in your mother language.
The difference between native and fluently is that you can learn to speak a language fluently, but you can never become a native. Therefore, is has to be your mother language. A native also nows the fine details and subtle differences in, for non-natives apparently the same, words/phrases, or meanings of words/phrases, or the use of specific words/phrases. You can always learn that, but never as good as a native.

Hope I made some clear for all you. If you have any other questions, or if something isn't quite clear, just let me know!

FlamEnemY
01-17-2012, 07:01 AM
I've always thought that it's "native" when you think in the language rather than translate it as you converse.

I'm not quite sure I agree with this.

I'm currently living in Germany and as such communicate mostly in German. I find myself thinking in German, sometimes mixing German words with my native Language just because it's already a habit to use them. I'm not translating what I want to say in my mind (which is a big no-no, it really cripples your speech), but rather think of different ways to express the idea behind the words.

And yet there are always minor (or major) hiccups. Sometimes I don't know the word I need to use, sometimes I forget its gender, combine that with the German cases and I get really confused. That's why I hesitate to say that I speak fluently.


Shellovic, you got me interested, what exactly is it that you study?

Do you have stats about the time it takes to learn a foreign language properly?

Shellovic
01-17-2012, 07:41 AM
I'm not quite sure I agree with this.

I'm currently living in Germany and as such communicate mostly in German. I find myself thinking in German, sometimes mixing German words with my native Language just because it's already a habit to use them. I'm not translating what I want to say in my mind (which is a big no-no, it really cripples your speech), but rather think of different ways to express the idea behind the words.

And yet there are always minor (or major) hiccups. Sometimes I don't know the word I need to use, sometimes I forget its gender, combine that with the German cases and I get really confused. That's why I hesitate to say that I speak fluently.


Shellovic, you got me interested, what exactly is it that you study?

Do you have stats about the time it takes to learn a foreign language properly?

I'm doing a study to become a translationer/interpreter. In the 3th year I will have to choose between by letter translation or interpreting. It is Maastricht. You may know it if you live in west Germany.
vacmaastricht.nl (also available in English)
Of course I will have to translate to Dutch, which is my native language, but I will be educated to translate from English and Spanish. Later on this year I will choose for mainly Spanish.

The time to learn a language properly really depends on your own effort. I will have to learn Spanish properly within a year. On average I am studying Spanish for an hour each day. On the other hand, it is also possible to go to the specific country of your language. If you live there for about 6 months, thus speaking, reading and hearing the foreign language every single second, you will not only learn it properly, but even quite fluent.

Where do you actually live in Germany? And what is your native language? And what are you studying/working over there?

ChopShot
01-17-2012, 07:41 AM
Hi guys, I did some research for you by asking my teachers (I'm following a translation study). There is no clear distinction between speaking a language fluently or not. Generally you can speak of fluently when you can think in the specific language (you really don't have to be native), and when you can hold conversations without hesitating or a lot of thinking during your conversation. It has to be a natural process, like in your mother language.
The difference between native and fluently is that you can learn to speak a language fluently, but you can never become a native. Therefore, is has to be your mother language. A native also nows the fine details and subtle differences in, for non-natives apparently the same, words/phrases, or meanings of words/phrases, or the use of specific words/phrases. You can always learn that, but never as good as a native.

Hope I made some clear for all you. If you have any other questions, or if something isn't quite clear, just let me know!

Overall it seems very clear - but I do take exception to what seems to be one of your claims, namely that one can only speak one language "natively".
I take exception to this because I know it to be unequivocally untrue; having had our upbringing in the language of our parents and our schooling in an international environment, myself personally and a great many of my acquaintances speak the language of our parents as well as english natively - in fact I might claim that with respect to semantic subtleties, most of us have a far better grasp on english than the average american or englishman.

Personally, I am of the firm conviction that any number of languages can be learnt in a "native" fashion - provided that the learner is a young child, has some aptitude for language, is taught by native speakers, and most importantly, is socially dependent on said language.

Shellovic
01-17-2012, 10:01 AM
You are totally right about that! I only mentioned the difference between native and fluent I believe. I haven't said anything about double native speaking I guess. If I somehow showed that throughout my explanation, then that wasn't meant to be.

A very important aspect of a double native is what you mentioned, the learning of two languages at a very young age! Research shows it has to be learned under the age of 8 years.

LuckyR
01-17-2012, 10:31 AM
Excellent question. For various reasons I can speak spanish enough to complete just about everything I need to do for my profession. In addition I can do all of the touristy things a person would want to do. By the same token I would be stuck because of limited vocabulary, doing things outside of my area. No one who is a native spanish speaker would think I spoke it well but they would be able to "get" what I meant.

For my purposes I am functionally "fluent", but I am not sure of the definition of the word.

SalvadorVeiga
01-17-2012, 03:30 PM
Hi guys, I did some research for you by asking my teachers (I'm following a translation study). There is no clear distinction between speaking a language fluently or not. Generally you can speak of fluently when you can think in the specific language (you really don't have to be native), and when you can hold conversations without hesitating or a lot of thinking during your conversation. It has to be a natural process, like in your mother language.
The difference between native and fluently is that you can learn to speak a language fluently, but you can never become a native. Therefore, is has to be your mother language. A native also nows the fine details and subtle differences in, for non-natives apparently the same, words/phrases, or meanings of words/phrases, or the use of specific words/phrases. You can always learn that, but never as good as a native.

Hope I made some clear for all you. If you have any other questions, or if something isn't quite clear, just let me know!

Well tell that to my classmates in Highschool. When I was in my exchange program my comprehension of English and grammar was probably better than most.

Of course at first my English was more formal in terms of vocabulary, and my knowledge of slang words wasn't as vast as my classmates.

I can speak fluently 5 languages and can even pass as a native since I don't have an accent or if I do it's not very noticeable. But I've been told that portuguese speaking people have a lot of flexibility in terms of the sounds they pronounce and use, therefore portuguese speakers can "lose" their accents pretty easily. I don't know if there's an actual name for this type of "characteristic" or not, but that's what I've been told.

Put a french guy or a spanish guy, even if they've been speaking English or any other language for years they will always have that typical accent of theirs.

Up&comer
01-17-2012, 04:01 PM
Je parle couramment Franšais.

zapvor
01-17-2012, 04:37 PM
je ne sais pas

Netzroller
01-17-2012, 04:54 PM
I'm not quite sure I agree with this.

I'm currently living in Germany and as such communicate mostly in German. I find myself thinking in German, sometimes mixing German words with my native Language just because it's already a habit to use them. I'm not translating what I want to say in my mind (which is a big no-no, it really cripples your speech), but rather think of different ways to express the idea behind the words.

And yet there are always minor (or major) hiccups. Sometimes I don't know the word I need to use, sometimes I forget its gender, combine that with the German cases and I get really confused. That's why I hesitate to say that I speak fluently.


Shellovic, you got me interested, what exactly is it that you study?

Do you have stats about the time it takes to learn a foreign language properly?
Yeah, I basically had the reversed situation a while ago :)

When I lived in the US (I'm German), it didn't take long until I was thinking in English the whole time, I even dreamed in English after a few weeks. Still, I was far from being fluent back then.

I agree, If one really translates everything back an forth, he/she is at a very basic level. I just takes too long to do that to allow a decent conversation. You also make a lot of errors because even languages with a similar origin (such as Enlish and German) are too different to allow transating sentences word by word.


I would say 'fluent' means being able to communicate about all kinds of topics at normal speed. I don't know if there is a strict definition, but that seems to be what people usually mean.

'Native' obviously is a different story, it means that it is the first language you learned in your life. Obviously it is hard for a foreigner to reach the level of a native speaker but it's not impossible.
I think you have to differentiate between several aspects of language skills. Foreigners usually struggle with proper pronounciation. Unless you learn a language at a very young age it's almost impossible to sound like a native speaker.
However, I think by reading lots of (good) books he/she can attain a vocabulary or understanding of grammar that exceeds that of (at least less educated) native speakers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Conrad would be a great example.

West Coast Ace
01-17-2012, 05:17 PM
OP, great thread.

Found this by Googling 'foreign language proficiency levels':

http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/mangngyrlngglrnngprgrm/theilrfsiproficiencyscale.htm

6 yrs of Spanish - by their definition I'm an S-2.

dennis10is
01-17-2012, 06:17 PM
Yeah, I basically had the reversed situation a while ago :)

When I lived in the US (I'm German), it didn't take long until I was thinking in English the whole time, I even dreamed in English after a few weeks. Still, I was far from being fluent back then.

I agree, If one really translates everything back an forth, he/she is at a very basic level. I just takes too long to do that to allow a decent conversation. You also make a lot of errors because even languages with a similar origin (such as Enlish and German) are too different to allow transating sentences word by word.


I would say 'fluent' means being able to communicate about all kinds of topics at normal speed. I don't know if there is a strict definition, but that seems to be what people usually mean.

'Native' obviously is a different story, it means that it is the first language you learned in your life. Obviously it is hard for a foreigner to reach the level of a native speaker but it's not impossible.
I think you have to differentiate between several aspects of language skills. Foreigners usually struggle with proper pronounciation. Unless you learn a language at a very young age it's almost impossible to sound like a native speaker.
However, I think by reading lots of (good) books he/she can attain a vocabulary or understanding of grammar that exceeds that of (at least less educated) native speakers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Conrad would be a great example.

You guys may just want to read up on language acquisition research instead of trying to come up with explaination yourselves or try figure out what language is all about. This is a very rich field of research.

chrischris
01-18-2012, 03:17 AM
Just making an effort goes a long way.. i have friends who are too stubborn on only speaking English and quite loudly too to stand out when abroad. I thinkits counterprodutive for its received as a sign of stupidity more than coolness /pride in most cases.

FlamEnemY
01-18-2012, 03:23 AM
I'm doing a study to become a translationer/interpreter. In the 3th year I will have to choose between by letter translation or interpreting. It is Maastricht. You may know it if you live in west Germany.
vacmaastricht.nl (also available in English)
Of course I will have to translate to Dutch, which is my native language, but I will be educated to translate from English and Spanish. Later on this year I will choose for mainly Spanish.

The time to learn a language properly really depends on your own effort. I will have to learn Spanish properly within a year. On average I am studying Spanish for an hour each day. On the other hand, it is also possible to go to the specific country of your language. If you live there for about 6 months, thus speaking, reading and hearing the foreign language every single second, you will not only learn it properly, but even quite fluent.

Where do you actually live in Germany? And what is your native language? And what are you studying/working over there?

That's very interesting! I imagine your job is pretty taxing though - many times it's impossible for me to switch between two foreign languages at will (well, English and German), which you will need to do constantly I think.

My native language is Bulgarian. It's kind of fascinating how I can understand other Slavic languages, even though I can't speak them. :)

I'm studying Computer Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. I've also been interested in Computer Linguistics, which is about interpreting languages using different algorithms and computing systems. Fascinating stuff.


OP, great thread.

Found this by Googling 'foreign language proficiency levels':

http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/mangngyrlngglrnngprgrm/theilrfsiproficiencyscale.htm

6 yrs of Spanish - by their definition I'm an S-2.

Thanks, that's a nice link you have there. Apparently I'm somewhere between S3 and S4.

What I also find interesting is that some people have their accents for a lifetime, even though they have complete grasp of the grammar of the foreign language and have a great vocabulary. And others are the complete opposite.

I agree, If one really translates everything back an forth, he/she is at a very basic level. I just takes too long to do that to allow a decent conversation. You also make a lot of errors because even languages with a similar origin (such as Enlish and German) are too different to allow transating sentences word by word.

However, I think by reading lots of (good) books he/she can attain a vocabulary or understanding of grammar that exceeds that of (at least less educated) native speakers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Conrad would be a great example.

Definitely! A friend of mine had this bad habit of trying to translate between Bulgarian and German - languages which of course are not really compatible, even though interestingly enough we share idioms and many (tech related) words with similar meaning. And you are 100% right about the books.

LuckyR
01-18-2012, 09:45 AM
That's very interesting! I imagine your job is pretty taxing though - many times it's impossible for me to switch between two foreign languages at will (well, English and German), which you will need to do constantly I think.

My native language is Bulgarian. It's kind of fascinating how I can understand other Slavic languages, even though I can't speak them. :)

I'm studying Computer Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. I've also been interested in Computer Linguistics, which is about interpreting languages using different algorithms and computing systems. Fascinating stuff.




Thanks, that's a nice link you have there. Apparently I'm somewhere between S3 and S4.

What I also find interesting is that some people have their accents for a lifetime, even though they have complete grasp of the grammar of the foreign language and have a great vocabulary. And others are the complete opposite.


Definitely! A friend of mine had this bad habit of trying to translate between Bulgarian and German - languages which of course are not really compatible, even though interestingly enough we share idioms and many (tech related) words with similar meaning. And you are 100% right about the books.


Sbogom. (That's all I know. That and: "cao-cao")

FlamEnemY
01-19-2012, 03:06 AM
Sbogom. (That's all I know. That and: "cao-cao")

I don't like saying "Farewell." :)

jasonmiller
01-19-2012, 07:45 AM
I know or have met a few people from other countries who were taught English at a young age or went to an English-speaking school as a child. Their English isn't quite the same as American English, even though they learned at a young age and have/had been living here for years. And the person I have the most interaction with is convinced that their English is exactly the same; but it isn't.

But then, English isn't quite the same when spoken in Massachusetts, Mississippi, or Montana...

I also find it interesting that my girlfriend's dad, who is from France but has lived here for the majority of his life, still has a very heavy French accent.

LuckyR
01-20-2012, 08:03 AM
I don't like saying "Farewell." :)

I don't disagree, but it is suprising to folks at the end of the interaction, that you know a little Bulgarian. My guess it is a bit unusual.

FlamEnemY
01-23-2012, 03:51 AM
^ Well, yes, I guess it is kind of unexpected. I'd be surprised, not in a bad way of course.