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Thread: The shame of monolingualism

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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    The shame of monolingualism

    I'm interested here - how many of the native English speakers here are fluent in another language? I've had roommates and acquaintances from various parts of the world and most can speak two languages and it is not uncommon for those from continental Europe to speak 3 or more (especially the Dutch, German and Swedish people I've met).

    It's kind of embarrassing when as an educated individual you only know one language (at least spoken, not including antique or constructed languages) - and yet I've always sort of made excuses for not being able to speak more. Primarily the lack of motivation - both economic and because of the ready availability of English translations, the fact that I don't seem to have the self-discipline to learn lots of vocabulary and the fact I've never been immersed in a foreign country for a long time working.

    Does anyone else here kind of feel a slight sense of shame when you speak to people who can speak English fluently as well as their native language?
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

  2. #2
    I don't think it comes up as often where I live. Most of the US is so English centric as to kill the value proposition of picking up a second language. If I lived somewhere with a better value proposition, I imagine I would feel crippled more than shamed. Of course, that's the very thing that would motivate me to learn another language.

    My son is a polyglot and recently moved to Poland. I've been toying with the idea of picking up some Polish for when I visit. But who has the time? I guess I could make time, but garnering knowledge is a shopping experience. There's still far more shinier tidbits of knowledge on the shelf than 2nd languages, and I have a very limited time budget.
    Quote Originally Posted by whatloveihave View Post
    I don't find you a potential threat to human society, you're not crazy. Feces.

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    Sysop Ptah's Avatar
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    I don't understand language shame, elitism or any such whatsoever. Want to learn another language? Good for you, go for it. Is there any imperative to learn other languages? No, not at all.

    I speak what I speak (English) and don't what I don't (any/all else).

    I respect that you ought to at least understand the language of a land, which is what largely precludes me from travelling where English isn't the language. I'd prefer that those who don't speak English don't travel to my land, likewise.

    In the case of being in a land where English is not the language, I do feel ashamed for effectively disrespecting the people there.

    People who know multiple languages don't uniquely impress me, although I respect them as I respect any sort of skilled person. That's just what they're given to, good for them. Leave me to be what I'm given to, and we're good.

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    Utisz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferrus View Post
    I'm interested here - how many of the native English speakers here are fluent in another language?
    Up until recently, I guess I had bits of French and Irish but I would not have considered myself fluent in them. As a guess, I think I'm six months to a year away from being fluent in Spanish but I'm getting closer to a critical mass where I know enough to pick up more through immersion.

    Does anyone else here kind of feel a slight sense of shame when you speak to people who can speak English fluently as well as their native language?
    Yes. I have met quite a few foreigners here who speak four or five languages fluently and can easily switch between them as needed and yep, there is a certain level of envy/embarrassment. But aside from English, many of these languages are grouped, like Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian ... for a native of one of these languages, I guess it usually takes about three or four months of immersion in another language to become pretty fluent. I met one girl who was fluent in Polish, Swedish, English, Spanish ... that's more impressive since they are all quite different languages.

    At the same time, being a native speaker of English (not just fluent) offers a big advantage for my work (esp. reading or writing papers or proposals).

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    Member Thoth's Avatar
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    I admit I feel a little embarrassment from time to time as I have a handful of fluently bilingual friends, but I've heard that one does not need to know the language of a given country to enjoy a few drinks in it.

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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Utisz View Post
    Up until recently, I guess I had bits of French and Irish but I would not have considered myself fluent in them. As a guess, I think I'm six months to a year away from being fluent in Spanish but I'm getting closer to a critical mass where I know enough to pick up more through immersion.
    Do you think you feasibly could have done this without your moving to Chile? One of things that so often comes up is that English is so prevalent in much of the rest of the world that many people sort of imbibe elements of it from a young age anyway, whereas most English speaking countries have very few multilingual signs or songs in another language or evidence of the said foreign language on TV. And also, geographically places like the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand etc. are very often geographically isolated from foreign countries, whereas on the continent it is just a matter of a car or train journey across a border not so far from you.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    Is there any imperative to learn other languages? No, not at all.
    I don't think it comes up as often where I live. Most of the US is so English centric as to kill the value proposition of picking up a second language. If I lived somewhere with a better value proposition, I imagine I would feel crippled more than shamed. Of course, that's the very thing that would motivate me to learn another language.
    There isn't, no. But I've noticed many kind of forget that even for English speakers there are often more lucrative jobs in the market for someone with equivalent skills and fluency in another language. Many multinationals will pay a good premium for a native English speaker who also is fluent in the language of whatever country they may happen to be doing business in. Fluency in a languages in which outsourcing teams will typically work in will be particularly useful to many businesses for example.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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    Sky Anvil Vison's Avatar
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    Regular embarrassment.

    My industry often cites a second language as a prerequisite for entry level positions and the field is saturated with people who not only don't speak english as a first language but speak several others. Polyglots are the norm. I actually stand out at my place of work for being a native english speaker and act as occasional proof reader/dictionary/bizarre grammar consultant.

    The area I live also has a huge population of people holding something other than english as a mother tongue, its around 40%. Another common language would be a huge boon.


    I am shit at other languages, if my performance in high school is any measure. I'm holding onto the hope that with some dedication, better health and less recreational drugs in my system I will do better and regularly screen local classes for schedules that will work with my life. I am hoping to get at least another under my belt in the next four years or so.

    The lack is doing nothing but holding me back.
    Oh fuck it, Its the 90's.

  8. #8
    schlemiel Faust's Avatar
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    It's not a worthwhile endeavor unless it can be put to practice on a regular basis. In the U.S. I suppose that would mean living in proximity to some cultural clusters in the big city (e.g. Koreatown), but they're a close-knit bunch - it's hard enough to befriend someone in the first place let alone with a language barrier. I don't even use my first-language, French, on anything remotely close to a regular basis, which is enough to give pause to my ambition to learn another one. I always thought Hangul and Dutch sound nice, and picked up a few words, but that's as far as I'll go. I know one or two Portugese words too, partly by a more shameful means.

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    a fool on a journey pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    With how little I speak to anyone even being as fluent as I am in English feels a little superfluous.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Senseye's Avatar
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    Not embarrassment but maybe some envy. I'd like to know another language (or two) but I don't have much talent for languages. And without the necessity to learn another one, I lack the motivation.

    In part we are victims of our native tongue being English. I'm 100% confident if I was not from a native English speaking area I would have taken the time to learn English. Then I'd know two languages (my native tongue and English).

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