Which are your functional languages?

J.C.   Fri Jan 09, 2009 7:18 am GMT
After seeing the topic on "native languages" I realized that "native language" doesn't mean that's the language you use most of the time.
In my case the languages in the order I use are:

a) Active languages

1) English : I work 9 hours a day in an office using English and calling Africa.

2) Japanese: I talk to my wife only in Japanese when I get home and also on Sundays at church.

3) Brazilian Portuguese: Recently I started working with people in Mozambique and started writing and speaking in my "native language". Before that I only used it to talk to my son at home since there aren't many Brazilians in the region where I live.

b) Passive languages:

4) German: I love reading books in this language and also listening to podcasts from "Deutsche Welle" and also some preachings from "Stuttgart Jesustreff".

5) Spanish: Even though I don't have many opportunities to speak it, I always listen to podcasts from BBC in Spanish and LOVE songs in Spanish, specially "Marcos Witt".

6) French: Even though I'm not so fluent in this language I'm always listening to "learn French with podcast" in addition to "NHK news in French" in order to understand it better.

How about you? Which languages do you use on a daily basis and with which frequency?

Xie   Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:26 pm GMT
To make it clear:

In the past 2 years:
Cantonese: 99%, with every local and even with some of our Chinese friends from elsewhere.
English: <1%, only with foreigners, always broken English, as always.
Mandarin: <1%, even less than English, only with certain Chinese acquaintances.

That's why, in practice, I can safely say I'm pretty monolingual. But I assure you that my passive Mandarin is far better, since I can speak to myself with a decent accent. English............. actually strikes me as far more difficult. Most Cantonese words can be turned into Mandarin, or if it doesn't work, I can listen to authentic, pedagogical speed Mandarin to guess the meaning, or check a dictionary. I was always busy and so I learned Mandarin like you foreigners. Such Mandarin is slowed down a bit, but it always worked, and I even learned to translate from Mandarin to English for a lot of colloquialisms, which enhanced both my Mandarin and English.

To be politically incorrect, I can claim to be bilingual because my Mandarin is good enough to understand a lot of oral and written language. Ironically, though I officially invested far more time on English, my English is actually much poorer. So, I think linguistic similarity is pivotal. Do you guys know FX (Francophone) who learned Spanish in 6 months? If he can learn Spanish in 6 months, I can learn Mandarin in 6 months too. I'm "Sinophone". If I had not been so unfaithful (damn, you know, Hongkongers just have to speak good Mandarin AND English to be of high market value... in terms of language ability), and had concentrated on Mandarin only......... I wouldn't even need 4 years of something. 6 months would really do, but that's impossible for me since my life is always occupied with some other languages, such as English.

"English" would be a different story. English has hardly anything similar, and though I'm pretty much in a state of going monolingual, I still need to flip over the English-Chinese dictionary very frequently. After multiple years of sporadic learning, I discover finally today that my English sucks, to the extent that I can't hold a conversation decently, with a horrible accent that is just understandable.

In that case, I should concur with FX: never learn two languages at the same time, ... unless you're in such difficult situations as mine, where I must deal with multiple languages........... and now that I voluntarily pick up French and German, that's going to be a disaster. However, I have reservations that polyglottery may actually necessarily need this kind of multiple language learning.......
Xie   Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:52 pm GMT
Before I graduated from high school 2 years ago:

Cantonese: almost 100%, same as above.
English: almost none. So you can guess what I said in the last oral test that time: I spoke written English. Believe it or not, in my country where foreigners are so rare, it's a privilege to practice English with someone who, preferably, can teach authentic oral English. Don't be shocked at all if some Chinese dudes treat you as an English practicing machine - well, those are pathetic, but also pitiful.
Mandarin: none. No Chinese acquaintances, no more Mandarin at school.

That Cantonese dominates my daily life will persist unless I move outside Hong Kong, and the Cantonese province as a whole, or I move to a foreign country. In that case, you can see language learning could be rather pointless if a language has no use for your daily life. American guys, you don't have to feel frustrated. My English (foreign language) sucks too. I may know more English than you know French, but I'm just as monolingual. No one can escape this reality, unless you talk to native speakers of different languages in their native languages every single day. Americans say they still speak English anywhere in North America (except Mexico), which is a huge region. But me? Even within 100 km, it's all Cantonese, and I have nowhere to practice Mandarin. I can listen to a lot of Mandarin in my own country. But English? Practically no use for my own life, and practically no chance to practice it. C'est la vie.
Slavoj Žižek   Fri Jan 09, 2009 4:06 pm GMT
FUNCTIONAL languages:

a) Active (every day):
1. Slovenian (native)
2. BCS (100% fluent)
3. Ukrainian (colloquial)
4. English (I get by)

b) Passive:
1. German (can read or watch TV, don't like the language)
Caspian   Fri Jan 09, 2009 9:37 pm GMT
I can speak confindently:
English (Native)

Not as good, but still I can converse:
Mandarin Chinese

Can speak a tiny bit:

Can understand (due to learning other languages)
Rolando   Fri Jan 09, 2009 9:55 pm GMT
SPANISH: When its in between family or traveling to mexico

ENGLISH: When it involves work & school.

FRENCH: When it is only for my personal use, such as writing.

ITALIAN: When I need to keep my mind occupied from other stuff.
Alessandro   Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:00 pm GMT

Italian: in my life, in formal situations

Lombard: with my family; with my friends

English: for work


French, Spanish, English, Japanese: movies, music, Tv, etc.
Tzej   Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:01 pm GMT
Hey Xie, are there many monolingual Cantonese speakers?
ça   Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:31 pm GMT
Lombard: with my family; with my friends

Who speaks Lombard nowadays?? The activists of the Northern League??
Probably some old folks in most remote villages.......
Alessandro   Sat Jan 10, 2009 10:27 am GMT
"Who speaks Lombard nowadays?? The activists of the Northern League??
Probably some old folks in most remote villages......."

There are 5 million of Lombard speakers in Italy and Swizerland.

in your dreams   Sat Jan 10, 2009 11:56 am GMT
"There are 5 million of Lombard speakers in Italy and Swizerland."

The usage of Lombard dialects is generally scarce in present-day Italy. Today, in most areas of Italian Lombardy, people below forty years old speak almost exclusively Standard Italian in their daily lives, because of schooling and television broadcasts in Standard Italian (with some exceptions in Switzerland).
Russki   Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:41 pm GMT
99,9% - Russian
00,1% - English - very seldom and only at work even if I work in transnational corporation, it's only Russians who work here.

English, like now, I use it mostly in different forums just to remember the language

French - I can read anything in it and understand of course, but as I don't have any oral practice, i have difficulties in speaking

German - it's strange but i understand something on basic level

Other Slavic languages - i understand them like from 50 till 90 %, just because i'm native Russian speaker :)
lec   Sat Jan 10, 2009 1:34 pm GMT
English, like now, I use it mostly in different forums just to remember the language

I don't think this may be defined a passive use of the language. When you write a language it's an active usage.. isn't it?
Xie   Sat Jan 10, 2009 3:59 pm GMT
>>Hey Xie, are there many monolingual Cantonese speakers?

Many. In my family, the vast majority stay in Guangzhou or other smaller towns, and most are monolingual to different degrees. Not even younger ones (of my age) know a foreign language to the extent of... writing like I do, and speaking I do.

Hong Kong kids are often having a hard time with learning alone. My observation is the top students (those without any foreign immersion) can generally hold a conversation, but comprehension and oral language are still quite poor. As almost the only language guy among my peers, I can't even claim any high oral proficiency, since I still need a lot of subtitles, though my own speech doesn't need subtitles...

As I outlined earlier, it'd be simple to assume you can use English all the time in HK. I see a lot of expats come by without any Chinese, but their circle is definitely limited to other expats and Chinese whose English is similar to mine. But, well, I don't normally see scholars who can hold a decent conversation in it, so... I can safely assume that there are enough security zones to stay in. It's so much natural to say that, to be an expat who can work anywhere else _well_, you'd assume a high working position, a high salary, an important social status, etc, so your living zone should be normally safe enough that you can choose NOT to learn any Chinese. Well, a lot of Southeast Asian domestic helpers can't speak well, either, so why bother!?
Alessandro   Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:34 pm GMT
"The usage of Lombard dialects is generally scarce in present-day Italy. Today, in most areas of Italian Lombardy, people below forty years old speak almost exclusively Standard Italian in their daily lives, because of schooling and television broadcasts in Standard Italian (with some exceptions in Switzerland)."

You are wrong. More that a half of Italian people are bilingual. There are official statistics about this. In some regions, regional language is still the mother tongue: Naples, Sicily, western Veneto and eastern Lombardy. And please shut up with politic. This is a language forum. If you whant to speak about politic there are other forums.