non-native speakers who speak better english than native ones??!!

vincent   Tuesday, October 12, 2004, 15:32 GMT
Is it truly possible? i've heard some of youse telling that dutch people for example speak more correctly english than pure englishmen. So it means that we ALL can speak perfect english... in theory.
The english native speakers would be no more the linguistic reference so...
Mxsmanic   Tuesday, October 12, 2004, 18:52 GMT
Since it is impossible to verify that anyone person speaks better English than all native speakers, this assertion is unverifiable and moot.
Joe   Tuesday, October 12, 2004, 18:55 GMT
That is definitely my experience. I believe what most of us mean is, as native speakers of the language we pick up all the slang and abuses of the language. People who learn any langauge as a second language will not usually pick up that stuff unless they learn the language from a spouse, friend, etc. You're essentially learning what TO do and not what to not do.

I remember when I was 6, we went on a cruise to the Caribbean, and on the cruise was a wonderful family from Bahrain that we ate dinner with. They spoke impeccable English, especially the daughter.

Usually when you learn English you're learning a standard form of English that is spoken by the most educated. It depends if it's British English or American English as well. RP seems to be the most commonly taught form of British English. For those who try and emulate American English, the "Standard" is usually that of which you find on the television news. It's relatively accentless.
Hythloday   Tuesday, October 12, 2004, 22:28 GMT
There is no such thing as 'perfect English' and it is impossible to abuse language unless you are a wanker in the literal as well as idiomatic sense, which (judging by the vapidity of the above posts) all three of you are.
Joe   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 01:18 GMT
Jeez, lighten up buddy.

God forbid anyone use any sort of deduction and thought, right? Just call people a wanker. Nice. ;-)
mjd   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 02:14 GMT
Hythloday = David Winters
Margaret   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 09:00 GMT
There are two kinds of 'good English': one is when you sound like the BBC, that is, like most of us 'expect' English to be spoken; the other is when you say something and your meaning is clear to your listener. The first is good only in so far as it fulfills the second.
Peter   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 09:55 GMT
It may be true that some non-native speakers speak very good English. You need to compare like with like. It is almost unheard of for a non-native educated person to have the same command of English as a native speaker. It may well be the case that a Dutch profesor speaks English better than a native English speaker who has only a basic level of education. It may also be the case the some non-speakers appear to have a better comand of certain grammatical aspects; mainly because they learnt them in a much more rigorous fashion, whereas the native speaker applies the rules without knowing what they are.
A distinction must also me made between spoken and written command. Many non-native fluent English speakers come unstuck when writing English. No matter how good their English little things give them away - the nuances of certain words, word order, the use or omission of the definite/indefinite article, tenses (horribly complex in English) which have no strict equivalents in other languages. The other big area for mistakes is related to what is called colocation, which means words that naturally go together "take a photo" and not "make a photo". That is a basic one but, there are thousands that native speakers do spontaneously. This of course applies to all languages.
The other area where non-natives come unstuck is with regard to cultural references and psychological differences. Our language reflects a code of the way we see the world. It had values, orders of preference, different angles from which to see and express things. We grow up with these and even after many years in an English-seapking country, they are very rarely perfectly mastered.
Having said that, there are many varieties of English, a language which is constantly evolving. Perfect English certainly does not exist, but there are certain rules to applied. If we don't apply those rules then communication breaks down and that would be a shame!
Hythloday   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 11:42 GMT
Dear Margaret,

How can anyone sound like the BBC? I've never heard such a nonsensical remark. The BBC employs people with a wide variety of different regional and social accents of English, so it would be impossible to sound like all of them - unless you are an excellent mimic, of course. And who in hell is David Winters?
Peter   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 12:25 GMT
BBC English is a standard which is applied so that in theory it can be understood by anyone in the world. Anybody who has spent time in Britain or is Brtish understand this concept immediately. On th BBC you will certainly here a variety of accents, but they will not be strong (it is no exaggeration that even for a native-born British person some dialects/accents are almost impossible to understand - the accent, use of vocabulary and grammar/syntax can be radically diffferent from standard English (traditionally the South East of England), nor will there be a use of dialect words:regionalisms. If this were the case so few people would understand that it would become a useless exercise - Try: Gaan hjem wi mo bairn ! You will only speak like this if you come from the north-east of England. Or: Ah bay sid im fo'ears !!! Only heard in the Midlands. BBC English respects norms that will be widely understood, and the variations are only slight compared to what you will hear on the street in British regions.
And as for David Winters, if we can respect remarks of such profound significance and inteligence, I suggest he leave this forum and go to join MENSA!
Adam   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 13:03 GMT
My Italian girlfriend speaks better English than most Brits or Americans, especially most Americans. And her friend is the keyboard player from the band Jakatta - he's Italian and works in Britain and speaks English with a posh English accent and it would be impossible to tell that he is Italian if you hadn't met him before.
Peter   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 13:21 GMT
The only people whom I consider truly bilingual are those who grew up speaking both languages simultaneously ie their parents are of different linguistic backgrounds. After many years in a country one's competence is obviously improved. Accent, however is not all. And "perfect" spoken English, however rare, is hardly ever accompanied by perfect written English. However badly some uneducated Brits and Americans may speak, they can usually spot a non-native speaker a mile off (but not alway!).
The standard for a langauge, however snobish that may sound, is an educated native speaker. Nobody is going to tell and Italian or a German or a Russian how to speak their language and what is acceptable and correct. The way to learn a language is to read literature, newspapers (not the Sun!), lsiten to the radio and the most precious source of all the native speaker ! And spend time in the country. Nothing replaces that to iron out the little errors, integrate the nuances of the language and internalise the cultural references and psychological aspects. Believe me, they are important. I'm a translator (French and German into English). It is not simply a matter of translating words, but ideas and a whole mentality for the translated text to sound as if it had been the original. Often texts translated by non-native speakers (not professional !) are "correct" but sound somehow unnatural, odd, lack fluidity and accuratley used idiom and register. Only educated natives do that!
mjd   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 18:23 GMT
Adam said: "My Italian girlfriend speaks better English than most Brits or Americans, especially most Americans."

Your whole notion of "better English" is a bit problematic there, Adam.
Adam   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 20:06 GMT
How do you mean?
mjd   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 20:32 GMT
I admit that there is a form of English which we all consider erudite or "proper English." It's great that your girlfriend speaks so well.

In your post you say she speaks "better" English than most Britons and especially most Americans. Why do you say this? These two groups make up a huge chunk of the English-speaking population. Are we to say that the manner by which the majority of the members of these two communities speak with one another is flawed?

I agree that there is a norm among educated speakers of English. I do question, however, how one makes a judgement as to which form of English is better. For example, if you were to say to me that your girlfriend speaks better English than most Americans because she enunciates the phrase "going to" rather than saying "gonna," then I think your argument is rather flimsy (this is just an example...I don't know whether you really believe this or not). What you consider your girlfriend's perfect English might sound strange in other parts of the Anglophone world.