Why are English speakers so lazy about learning?

K. T.   Wed Jul 09, 2008 10:43 pm GMT
"Anyway, the moral of the story is I now have a better appreciation for old servers."

Isn't sixty-five the new forty? I think this is what you probably meant:

"Anyway, the moral of the story is I now have a better imagination when it comes to old servers."

What is this? A short story?
K. T.   Wed Jul 09, 2008 10:52 pm GMT
"Having said that, I know Americans, British, and Canadians that are among the most spectacular language learners in the world. Again, whether it's the desire to be a polyglot (e.g., Alexander Arguelles: http://www.foreignlanguageexpertise.com/index.html), or the need for a job, or even to understand one's employees, if the motivation is there, they'll learn. I know Americans and Brits who are fluent in a variety of languages, often not the usual major European ones. (E.g., folks who can speak Mandarin or Japanese or Indonesian or Swahili, etc.)"

I'm not sure what I think about him. He's interesting, but his statement to the effect of when "my languages were a hobby..." not an obsession
was fascinating and ...troubling.
KC   Thu Jul 10, 2008 1:22 am GMT
While we are at it, what about the Japanese? Why do so few of them know any other language? Are they "lazy" too?

Same applies for the Chinese, but thats a different case, because its a developing economy and most people have better things to worry about than learning new languages.
Pimpope   Thu Jul 10, 2008 1:52 am GMT
I do not know, I am lazy too and I am not a Gringo.
K. T.   Thu Jul 10, 2008 2:08 am GMT
Japanese people are isolated. They have one very good resource, though. It's public television. NHK. They offer programs in about ten languages. Now they have internet programs. They have or had radio programs.

If it's uncomfortable for Americans, rumoured to be extroverts, to learn languages, imagine how tough it is for Japanese with their limited sound system and their limited contacts to take on French. Spanish is a better first choice for them-sound wise.
Xie   Thu Jul 10, 2008 12:29 pm GMT
>>Once, in our hotel in Paris, I spoke to the old guy on reception in perfect French and he responded in equally perfect English - I found that to be really deflating.

In fact, my British friend, despite the remarks I made some time before, I, too, would find it deflating when any (supposedly white, because many of your European brothers and sisters are travelers, and they form a great majority at my place) random (so, they are..-->) travelers who would only bump into any one like me and speak English only. Sometimes I find it quite pointless, too, to learn anything beyond English. It could be a vicious spiral toward pure pseudo-bilingualism, i.e. non-Anglophones speak their native language natively + English (well, not well, however) somehow. This is especially discouraging for someone who can't expect to travel everywhere, unlike how some Anglophones are "depicted" by themselves to me as a viewer - I can see a lot of white travelers going to everywhere - from a modern city like mine to some really obscure Indonesian/Brazilian villages (or even Russian towns) that very few (Hong Kong) Chinese dare to go. Yes, this is a generalization, but yes, sometimes I find it discouraging when many (supposedly) Anglophones and Europeans speak multiple languages or perfect English.

That is to say, if you think I'm more childish than expected (as a frequent poster), here is my honest opinion: English itself, or the Western culture itself, is sometimes discouraging me. Or it may just be _me_ only, and while I don't what other peoples think, many (Hong Kong) Chinese find it very difficult to get the hang of ... anything from the r sounds, grammar concepts, slang...to cultural concepts of a great many foreign languages, most of which being European. Sometimes, I can even find that some of us are actually afraid of "foreigners" in a foreign land, like the US, since, for example, "they could easily get beaten by white or black Americans alike." Now, there must be some misunderstanding in it, I don't know, but there has been some fear among some of us... (in this case, not speaking good English is no.2 phobia among quite a few of us).

In fact, for this reason (again, this is my certainly biased view), I find it quite difficult to get a understanding between us - in general, between us and you Westerners (for simple cultural reasons, we pay much less attention to other peoples; again, don't pick me up for PC reasons, it's true...at least true for me).

Since I find it quite enjoying to discuss with you guys, I think I should be "very" honest this time, like a boy who tells you everything about his family... another observation of mine is: many of us may have the courage to pick up a few words of *another* foreign language, but even before that, we could already be worrying whether that would affect our Mandarin (many of us suck at it) and, ultimately, English (many of us also suck at it; it's even important than Mandarin here). So, I wonder whether other foreigners share this view - the fear of "English" when they are _already_ considering another foreign language.

And with our (generally) shaky English, we, too, expect others to speak English. Again, sometimes, we think our language is more like _____ (any less spoken European languages, and more popular ones to a lesser extent), and actually even much more "difficult". Some of us even use English instead of Mandarin with other Chinese from "China". In fact, as I would expect, you Anglophones should be optimistic enough not to be too hard on yourselves - there are quite a few so-called bilinguals in Far East who think they are very much linguistically challenged, likewise.
Xie   Thu Jul 10, 2008 1:02 pm GMT
>>but his statement to the effect of when "my languages were a hobby..." not an obsession
was fascinating and ...troubling.

Simple. It's his profession, not even a job, or a "hobby".

>>While we are at it, what about the Japanese? Why do so few of them know any other language? Are they "lazy" too?

But it all comes down to education levels in general. The Chinese and the Japanese are ultimately competing in the same league, for reasons above.

Some intellectuals have come up with something like "stereotyping is convenient for the ignorant". There are many implications, but there's no escaping the fact that, the less people are educated, the less they can do with stereotypes, which shape quite a large part of (at least) my daily life.

Besides the question of our topic, think about also: why do many of us in a corner of the Far East learn European languages or anything in the CJK league instead of neighboring languages? Doesn't it make more sense to learn Chinese languages (or dialects, as some Chinese PC freaks put it) or things like Tagalog and Vietnamese? Immediately, while people remember their stereotypes of fat white girls, arrogant white guys, violent black guys and so on... they also remember how "cosmetically different" Filipino (and other non-CJK Asian) women are.

Ask any random young Chinese at my place... if s/he is familiar with you enough (now, it'd actually be easier to know their ideas if you _were_ Chinese too), if you ask "hey, would you actually learn those (anything other than European or CJK languages)?", ... actually, I got a very honest response from an average Joe: why would you want to learn that? It (the country)'s so poor and it'd be stupid of you to (learn). Of course, by the same token, ordinary people also give I-don't-care responses when you say: would you learn French? German? And so on.

Yes, it makes much less sense now to learn all those. From my perspective, this is how... at least... how I think. The influence of the Anglo-American cultures has been naturally marginalizing every other language. Except the very few enthusiasts who really love to learn languages, despite the dumbing-down tendencies and the resulting frustrations they might have, "most" people simply don't know WTF (pardon my French) French, German, Japanese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese have to do with the locals (me included) at my place. I think this is pretty much how English as imaginary Newspeak is influencing some of us, even without Ingsoc - I could go on and say how English spreads the word of "democracy" and is driving "many" (this is the thin wedge) of us into thinking just like you - it may also be how language works with our mind in general.
Damian in Edinburgh   Thu Jul 10, 2008 1:04 pm GMT
Japan and the Japanese people fascinate me in a way.......as with Britain - an island nation, floating off the coast of a giant Continental landmass.

An Asiatic country with a clear and distinct character and identity, again like Britain, and as with us, a European country, a unique culture. I've often thought of the things which make both our countries so similar in many ways, yet at the same time vastly different.

The island status is obviously a similarity, plus the fact they they drive on the left, as we do, while the nations of the nearby respective Continents all stick to the right.

Both of our countries are scenically very beautiful, but different in their own ways, and both are heavily populated. Both have played major parts in world history, but from different angles. Both are monarchies still, but in vastly different ways. Yet in personal physical characteristics we are as different as chalk is to cheese. So are our Languages - in all ways.

Japan is prone to strong and regular geological seismic activity - fortunately Britain is not.

As I say - fascinating.
Xie   Thu Jul 10, 2008 1:23 pm GMT
>> [...] French, German, Japanese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese have to do with the locals (me included) at my place

Supplement: This reason is very simple. They, just, don't, have, anything, to do with my local culture. When we think about it... we can't even learn English (and Mandarin) properly, so why should we bother with others? We won't normally be forced to learn any one of them anyway.

A Chinese Canadian who is an English native told me: "I'm afraid that you have to speak German even better than their (Germans') English to [...]" I forgot the rest. When I think about it... this actually does make some sense. You can of course say this only represents the opinion of one guy in North America, but... I can do it, and much easier if I have immersion in their country, but... I know it's impossible to do it, even as an enthusiast, because I can't be doing it. English alone has been the single large obstacle to reading language-teaching literature.

Now, again, don't pick me up with PC ideas: somehow I also think it doesn't make, pedagogically speaking, to have only a few (at max.) native-speaking teachers to teach me German, for example, as part of a major program. (i.e. it's better to have a local teacher as well) In my case, they don't know a single word of my language, and everything is taught in English (in a non-Anglophone place!). However, English isn't my native language. Yes, I can understand the most basic words with English translations only, but when it comes to more obscure utterances... English translations become too difficult to understand (pardon me, my English isn't good enough). When I have to resort of Chinese (L1) translations instead, you can see the limitations of L2 when you are learning L3 through L2.

Some more advanced learners of English may complain that, when they are _in_ an Anglophone country, they would first find that what they have learned isn't the same as expected - with all those street talks that they have to get used to. And in the long run, the less fortunate and capable ones find it difficult to get along with locals because, precisely, they can't understand the obscure bits of English. For example, it could be the ultimate obstacle toward developing a relationship, job promotion, permanent residence....

it may sound a bit off the topic, but this is, as I see it, how English blocks me from acquiring an L3.
Eix   Thu Jul 10, 2008 11:28 pm GMT
<< they would first find that what they have learned isn't the same as expected - with all those street talks that they have to get used to.>>

That is definitely true. I was speaking about this with my Finnish friend, but we couldn't see what it is that pushes this kind of dialectal substratum to develop in the first place. With Finnish it's not that straight forward, because it can't really be traced back to a common ancestor, but rather it is a kind of outgrowth of the former.

<<They, just, don't, have, anything, to do with my local culture.>>

In Finland we don't really consider this to be true. I know that the bidialectal substratum in this case leads to a kind of pseudo-masochism in a linguistic sense. I see a lot of people punishing themselves because the so-called culture doesn't map in with their notions of what should be. Yet I've yet to meet a person who realises just how different Japanese can be when you take into account Germanic sentence structures.

<<hey, would you actually learn those (anything other than European or CJK languages)?>>

The average Finnish person would consider this a fallacy. I know that when the Finnish institutions collapsed midway through last century we had a sudden surge in illegal bootlegging. The contribution this made to linguistic capitulation was staggering really!
K. T.   Fri Jul 11, 2008 2:01 am GMT

I noticed many of those things about GB and Japan as well. Have you been to Japan?
K. T.   Fri Jul 11, 2008 2:03 am GMT
I'm sorry, I spelled your name wrong.
K. T.   Fri Jul 11, 2008 2:33 am GMT
Guess what? I just read that AMERICANS try harder than other groups to SPEAK the LANGUAGE in another country!

Ain't it great! I done knew we were gentil/gentille. Ja, auch in Deutschland and in otros lugares io parlo with you!
Xie   Sat Jul 12, 2008 12:36 am GMT

I suppose it's easier to start with English, actually.
K. T.   Sat Jul 12, 2008 1:01 am GMT

I read that Americans are more likely to attempt to speak the local language when visiting another country. For example, you know the expression "When in Rome do as the Romans." Apparently when Americans are in Rome, they try to speak Italian*... I didn't post the article from Time/CNN because I didn't want to start a war here. Americans are NOT the rudest tourists in spite of the comments we sometimes read here.

*This is why Vespa is so popular. It allows hotel workers to get away quickly when we open our mouths...no, I'm joking.