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giveitupnj's avatar

Why do Americans have problems becoming multilingual? Even if we learn, fluency is an issue.

Asked by giveitupnj (35points) October 8th, 2010

Is it lack of practice, or “American laziness?”

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

25 Answers

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Gadzooks! We are America, leader of the free world. We have the bomb, everyone should bow to us and learn Emglish. We should not have to stoop so low as to learn their language, unless they have the bonb.

All seriousness, I would place it on laziness, because so many nations teach English as a second language in schools and English is suppose to be the official language of business most Amercians never see the need to learn anything more.

lillycoyote's avatar

I think our being geographically isolated, relative to European countries, is part of it too. Compared to Europe, where there are a large number of countries closer together where different languages are spoken, with more travel between them, our relative geographical isolation makes it not as necessary or useful for Americans to bother to learn other languages.

YoBob's avatar

I wouldn’t go so far as calling in laziness. However, when we are in an environment wherethe default language is English (at least for now) it is simply much easier to speak in that language rather than go out of one’s way for an opportunity to speak in whatever other language you are trying to master.

YoBob's avatar

Actually, being from the Southern United States, I can’t help but ask why Hispanics have such a difficulty learning English, especially when English as a second language classes are widely available and they have chosen to “immigrate” to a traditionally English speaking country.

bob_'s avatar

Well, there’s of course an element of laziness, but then:

1. Learning a new language is not easy.
2. Incentives are not as strong as in other places: “why learn ______, if everybody else is learning English?”

Seek's avatar

The most difficult thing about learning a second language is having a bilingual person to practice with.

Many of us don’t have friends or family that speak a second language, and there’s only so much a book and CD can do for you. Once upon I time I really wanted to learn Sign Language. Sure, I know a lot of the signs, but since I don’t know anyone that actually does it, my communication ability is shoddy at best.

Kayak8's avatar

I think Americans get few opportunities to learn a second language early enough in their lives to have mastery of it (Hell, most Americans don’t do all that well in English which is why Fluther moderation on grammar and spelling is so challenging for some users). For those who grow up in households where one language is spoken and within a culture where a different language is spoken, the potential for mastery of both languages seems improved.

I grew up speaking English with Japanese neighbors and a Japanese foreign exchange student living in our house. Then I moved to Japan while I was still young enough for stuff to sink in (like accent and word choices among native speakers). I don’t use it enough to retain much fluency, but I really don’t think it would take much to bring it back. I was at a recent high school reunion where a number of the folks spoke fluent Japanese and I was amazed at how much I remembered.

I also use sign language rather fluently with my Deaf friends. I will blunder here and there with the wrong sign, but practice and being with native signers./speakers really makes all the difference. I really don’t think you can master a language in the US starting with high school classes from a non-native speaker of the language.

There was also a really cool study done wherein native Spanish speakers were taught American Sign Language first and then English. By using both the kinesthetic and language parts of the brain, it seemed they learned English much more quickly and had much greater mastery.

bob_'s avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr That, too. You don’t have any amigos in the area?

giveitupnj's avatar

I speak Spanish, and it enrages me that other Americans are too uppity to attempt to learn Spanish, or get angry to see signs posted in Spanish out in public. Many people are so ignorant they don’t realize that the United States does not even have an official language declared. Canada has 2, English and French. I don’t see what the big deal is, as our founding fathers from Europe all pillaged America equally from England, France, and Spain. It’s just where the flag was planted after who won what war that is dependent on what language is spoken where in North America. Anyhoo-my family speaks Italian. I have a problem with fluency of both languages though. I can’t speak quickly, or watch television programs. I make a conscience effort to learn. I just wanted opinions, is it immersion, our culture, geographic isolation…thanks for all the quick responses!

YoBob's avatar

@giveitupnj Uppity? Just fyi I took Spanish as well as french in elementary school, took to additional years in high school, as well as two semesters in college, and, for what it’s worth, my sister’s married name is Garcia.

You can be enraged all you want, but IMHO, it’s pretty ridiculous to expect to move to a country yet refuse to even attempt to learn the predominant language spoken there (regardless of whether or not it is the official national language), or worse, act as though those who’s families have been living there since the 1800’s are somehow insensitive because they don’t see any compelling need to learn yours.

giveitupnj's avatar

No no no, I don’t mean I don’t think that immigrants shouldn’t learn English, of course people should learn the dominant language! I’m just sick of hearing “This is America, speak English” because it seems to me as people are refusing to accept that Garcia is as common as Smith nowadays. We’re moving towards more and more global organizations, economy, etc. and it seems almost like we’re going to end up behind the power curve, linguistically at least. We might have the money and bombs NOW, but it’s not guaranteed to stay that way.

YoBob's avatar

I am in full agreement that it would behoove Americans to be multi-lingual, for the sake of a well rounded education if nothing else. On the other hand, English has pretty much become the common denominator language for doing business around the globe and it kind of goes back to what several have said. In order to become fluent one must actually use the language and it is simply easier to default to the predominant language than it is to seek opportunities to converse in another.

Mikewlf337's avatar

It’s not laziness. I think people are trying to get us to learn spanish because of the many illegal aliens in this country who predominantly speak spanish. If they are going to illegally cross our borders they should at least learn to speak english. Why should I have to cater to them? I also believe that it’s because we don’t really have to speak another language in this country. Europe has smaller countries with different languages while the US has one predominate language.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

It probably has to do with us not teaching other languages early enough. It’s easiest for kids to learn another language before the age of 10 because of brain plasticity, but most kids don’t have classes in school for another language until middle school or high school.
I didn’t get language lessons until I was 9, and it was very limited. The limited content continued until 7th grade where we were placed in either French or Spanish, but I went to a private school so I have no idea what the public schools are teaching in terms of language.

Jude's avatar

@Mikewlf337 Aern’t you a peach?~

YoBob's avatar

P.S. I think the whole “This is America, speak English” sentiment has much less to do with a resistance to learning additional languages than it is a backlash against the attitude of many Hispanic immigrants who are not only blatantly violating the most basic of our laws regarding national sovereignty, but flat out refuse to learn English and putting out the general air that Americans should bend over backwards to accommodate them.

bob_'s avatar

* rolls eyes, unfollows *

Jude's avatar

I’m with you, bob.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

FYI, the US doesn’t have an “official language” at the federal level, that is done by the state.

Kayak8's avatar

Right there with @bob_ and @mama_cakes I won’t follow a thread that screams of xenophobia.

lillycoyote's avatar

@YoBob Our bending over backwards to learn Spanish might be a be a fair exchange, considering the amount of time that some “Hispanics” spend bent over frontwards, harvesting the produce that you and I put on our table. We probably couldn’t afford vegetables if it weren’t for migrant, seasonal labor. Something to think about.

zen_'s avatar

I agree with what @lillycoyote wrote initially – America being isolated (Canada speaks the same language, pretty much, give or take an extra “o”) geographically speaking compared to European countries.

As a teacher of foreign languages, I can tell you that it can get expensive to learn a second one; especially as an adult. America has fallen into a pattern; hardly any schools teach a second (let alone third) language, fewer future teachers know additional languages, etc.

InkyAnn's avatar

I AGREE WITH @YoBob 1000000000 %

laureth's avatar

@Kayak8 has it spot-on. There’s a window of time early in life when kids can pick up languages very easily. However, the educational system doesn’t usually present them at the right time, if at all. Most second language courses seem to start in high school, or perhaps college, instead of for the very young. And with the evisceration of the educational system due to budget cuts and “no child left behind,” it’s almost like we’re setting kids up to fail.

(Personally, I think a lot of the education budget cutting and moves towards vouchers are an attempt to undermine public schools. If the schools fail, it’d be an easy in for “faith based” alternatives like parochial and home-schools, the better to “take this country back” and not teach much more than Bible studies to the next generation, let alone any of those silly second languages. I hope I’m worried for nothing.)

mattbrowne's avatar

Experience of language teachers is one factor. Most English teachers in Germany spend at least half a year in an English-speaking country for example. On average how long do native English teachers stay in a Spanish-speaking country before they teach Spanish?

Native Spanish teachers might not have a good ‘how to teach a foreign language’ education. It’s not enough to just be a native speaker.

The second factor is the motivation of students.

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