Its mostly just a happy accident. You see, in small countries they usually dont dub movies or tv shows, simply because the market isn't big enough. They simply put subtitles on.
Subtitles fly past way too quick for young kids to read though. So young kids dont read but just listen, and automatically learn to understand English at home in front of the TV. By the time they get to study English at school, they already know how to speak it. English spelling is another thing though. Im still struggling with that.
The reason it might be true that people from smaller countries speak better English is emphasis - in a small country, people are fully aware that knowing foreign language (English, German, French in Europe) is super important. People in big countries (Spain, Italy, France) don't think it's that necessary, because they have a big country of their own, their own language should be the important one (and it partially is, although English has seemed to win as the international communication platform).
Your reasoning that the size of the country matters doesn't hold water because both countries are small.
Anyway, in Romania we are speaking far better English than any of our neighbors, which includes Hungary and Ukraine. I used to think that happens because Romanian is a romance language, but that doesn't fully explain it. Oh, and people here learn Italian and Spanish as well, almost effortlessly, just by watching soap opera :-) And many of us have learned French in school, though I was not lucky to have good teachers.
BTW, English has some nice features for learners. For example it doesn't assign gender to objects, like all romance languages are doing. Those of us that speak in such languages forgot how hard it was to learn those genders when we were kids.
Young Flemish or Walloon people even speak English to each other..
Even after all those years of lessons. Few of us spoke even half decent Finnish by the time we where adults, but most of us spoke good English by that time. So I think school had little to do with it.
Me and my class mates watched hours of English cartoons or movies on TV, every day on our free time. Its not surprising it made a bigger difference.
As to Antirez: if only my C would be as good as yours...
I suspect this doesn't as much role in Europe. Sure, there are difficulties unique to learning any language, but English has a lot of shared ancestry with any germanic or romance language. It's not like, say, Mandarin or Punjabi.
Personally, French was always a chore, something solely associated with school. English was fun, something you actively used.
It totally does. Especially when you're young. I think you thinking about a lower amount of exposure though. It needs to be quite a lot, not like hanging out at a French-speaking family once a week, but more like watching 30-45 minutes of subtitled cartoons/shows daily.
(maybe it was more, not sure how much TV I watched when I was little, and how much of it was subtitled. I do remember my parents didn't let me watch The A-Team because it was just about guns and violence ... :P :P)
Also, you can keep your position, but so far there are several people from all over Europe and elsewhere, confirming personal anecdotes about the difference subtitled TV shows make.
I want to emphasize the difference it makes whether you are young or not. The effortlessness by which young kids pick up languages, seemingly through osmosis, is just insane. I work with kids a lot, some of them come from crazy places, the younger they are, often after just a year in NL, hardly even an accent (translating for their parents at 8). On the other hand, adults that move here, even in their early twenties, if they don't make an explicit effort, forget it, after 3-5 years they still speak three Dutch sentences (I admit that it doesn't help that any Dutch person will immediately switch to English as soon as they hear you're having a tiny bit of trouble with the language. Not the case for small children, of course. Unless they already speak English).
Then how do babies ever learn to speak? The most fluent speakers of foreign languages are almost always immigrants, because exposure is the key to learning to speak.
No one speaks english at home, same people at home - only difference is the language on the TV. It works.
How exactly that works is still a hotly debated topic, but there is a clear difference between mere exposure to TV versus interacting linguistically in an environment.
> The most fluent speakers of foreign languages are almost always immigrants, because exposure is the key to learning to speak.
In my experience it's hit and miss. Some people simply have a knack for it (or interest), others not so much. So you can just as well have a very fluent second language learner who hasn't spend significant time immersed in the language, as well as the opposite of an immigrant who still has a thick accent after 20 years.
Right. It wasn't clear to me that you meant that by "mere exposure", I was assuming both of those things as "exposure" versus actively being taught a language in school, and spending effort to practice.
Still, I think I learned more English from subtitles than I did in school.
I remember when I was about 10, I had learned a tiny bit of English in school, really nothing to speak of (it can't have been more than half a year). And a lot more from TV and subtitles. At some point my parents had some English-speaking friends over, whose kids were exactly my age. I could (partially) understand what they were saying, but I was a bit scared to talk back in English, because while I knew some English, I had never spoken it "for real" :)
So yes, interacting linguistically is important. But it felt to me more like "unlocking" the ability to converse in that language, after already knowing most of it by being exposed to it, daily, for most of my life.
I don't actually remember learning anything really new about English in school until years later in high school (some words I hadn't seen before, or used in a particular manner). Everything I already had seen on TV, it was more like remembering.
I think that's just what we tell ourselves to feel better and for national pride. I started watching movies in English many years ago and, even when my English was not yet very good and I had to use subtitles, I preferred watching the original version, the real actor is just much better. Now, after living in the US for a few years, when I hear dubbed movies they sound just ridiculous: everyone speaks with the same flat intonation, there is no emotion in the words, it all sounds fake and, funny detail, I'm now much more aware that the voice is out of sync with the lips. It's both hilarious and painful to endure.
The number of subtitled movies in France (or at least in Paris), what they call VO/VOST, in the last 10 years in cinemas has increased considerably
Side-note: A few years ago, I read about a project for "same language subtitling" (of soap TV series, nonetheless) to improve literacy in India. Don't have a link for that, unfortunately.
Your reasoning makes sense, and probably plays a role, but I believe subtitling of English TV plays at least as much of a role. A lot of German TV is dubbed, and the effect of this also carries over to smaller German-speaking countries, like Austria. Now one could argue that this is, according to your reasoning, because they are part of the larger German-speaking community. But that really isn't the case, ask any Austrian, most of them will tell you their mother tongue is Austrian (which is not a written language, but also quite a bit more unique than merely German-with-a-dialect), and "high German" is definitely something they had to learn separately.
Or not. I know people who learned spanish just by watching TV (in Romania). Here in France people have no idea how english sounds because everything is dubbed, from the news on TV to series and movies...
We Italians can't say the th right, because we cannot even _listen_ it right. We can't just process the sound, yet alone reproduce it.
Then we get on internet and we learn written English, but since the rules are inconsistent we mostly are left to make wild guesses as their sounds and English pronunciation is extremely irregular. Most of the complexity comes from having to know if a word radix is or isn't saxon and apply a different set of pronunciation rules, so for example think -ice- which has very different sounds in different words in two groups or this about "A/I/E" https://i.imgur.com/zncINPy.gif
but what gets me is you have people that speak like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nj5MMURCm8 and tell foreigners they are not understandable
hah, IMO that's because they mixed the music way too loud in that clip :)
I can make out most of it, but definitely not the very first bit. I guess if it had been Dutch, I'd also have trouble understanding everything--though perhaps a bit less because like you imply, I'm better trained at separating "Dutch sounds" from background noise.
This is the reason why I really prefer to watch English TV or movies with (English) subtitles. It's one thing to understand what they say, it's another thing to be able to make it out in the first place.
During my time in Belgium, I found that few Liégeois spoke English, and one simply couldn't get by in Liège without being able to speak French. However, during visits to Antwerp, I could speak in English and people there were happy to reply in English.
So why the difference?
Dutch is a lot closer to English than French. Both are Germanic languages. I know English and French share a large common vocabulary, but grammar and basic vocabulary are quite different.
Dutch isn't spoken much outside of the Netherlands and Flanders, so there's more incentive for the Dutch and Flemish to learn a second language, and the obvious one is English.
Many people in Liège actively dislike speaking languages other than French.
Not many tourists go to Liège.
Brussels, though mostly French speaking, is more international, and gets more tourists, so English is spoken there, though French is preferred.
But I remember reading that different languages use different sounds spectrum and hearing/understanding languages outside your spectrum is harder. Some languages have overlapping sounds spectrum which make learning different language easier. Now you have also the languages sharing the same roots and as you said somebody who know a germanic language then will have easier to guess/learn new vocabulary.
Flanders uses subtitles, Wallonia dubs.
Instead of learning Dutch as their second language most Walloons learn English. This is anecdotal, but I've noticed their English is worse than most people in Flanders. I think this is where the whole dubbing/subtitles also plays a part.
- The consumption of English media you mentioned
- Other Germanic languages. Even though English has moved away quite far from the other Germanic languages, there's still quite some Germanic heritage in for instance in how to generally express yourself. The problems arise when things are actually different. Swedes for instance often have a problem pronouncing the /tʃ/ sound and pronounce chip like ship. But for speakers of Germanic languages the problems are fewer.
When I moved abroad, to Spain, I found it amusing to play clips to movie fans in English and ask who is this? Based on the sound. Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio etc. - they didn't know any because the famous ones have even their personal voice doublants.
Talking about interesting lives...
One good example of the troubles with english. Is a tiresome encode, decode, encode... all the time. And this is only popular culture. A much worst problem has been created when english weird rules overpower universal languages, like taxonomy.
Lets take the maple genus for example: "Acer", named by a swedois from the latin "aciale". Should be pronounced as Linné intended /'azer/ but is changed to /ˈeɪsər/ instead, because english. This mean that a language created to be universal, is not universal anymore. Is tainted. For most people in the world there is not a clear rule to link "azer" with "eisa". Is broken unless you hear it and memorize it. Linné would not understand currently most of is own named genera.
The funny thing is that too can help you learn a language if you already know the program in your own language, but it doesn't really help expose 'the natives' to more languages.
All of the large western european countries, basically all of western europe except for the nordics (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, possibly the Netherlands).
German home made programmes are also particularly dire. Their long running police drama series Tartort is their single saving grace.
I learned a lot of English just watching Cartoon Network (undubbed and unsubbed)!
Not so sure about Cinemas (in Berlin there is an English only movie theatre though)
You're in good company since many native speakers can't spell either. English's greatest virtue is a high degree of fault tolerance.
Admittedly I'm only a monoglot, but Engish seems pretty brutal in expecting you to figure out the correct sounds from the context. A few diacritics sprinkled in could likely really help newcomers with appropriate sounds.
On a tangent, one of the things I like about written Spanish is that you know at the beginning of a sentence whether it's a question or an exclamation. It's always a bit weird when reading a long sentence in a novel, to get to the end of it and think "oh, that was actually a question..."
I read an article sometime in the past year that maintained that all the prissy rules were imposed on a perfectly good language by self-imposed arbiters of the language. Sorry, I cant locate it at the moment.
Counter argument: everything is dubbed in Austria and yet we're pretty good at English. Why? Education and a multi-cultural background in the last 30 years.
I'd place myself in the 90% percentile of fluency in English here, but as soon as a native speaker forgets I'm participating I understand jack shit. Nada. Instant game over. Grammar, vocab, pronounciation, emotional expression, speed, comprehension, etc. -- everything takes a 50% hit compared to German.
My coworkers are from Austria, US, Slovenia, Serbia etc. -- often the only shared language is English. It makes meetings excrutiatingly slow and painful (non-fluent talking bringing back memories of 1st year elementary school reading).
And that is the experience in an highly educated multinational team in the software industry. Calling it "best-case" would overstretch it (that still goes to EU interpreters meeting at lunch), but compared to large parts of the population...
If that is "pretty good", what is "mediocre"? Or "bad"? The inability to say hello?
Edit: At the same time, Scandinavians, the Dutch and Germans/Austrians all have a language that is more closely related to English than the Romanic or Slavic languages.
Historically sure, but if you look at people from my generation I doubt that's the case still. Focused English education in Austria only really started 15 years ago.
When I went to school our first english lesson was with 10, now it's 5 or 6.
On the other hand, that might be selective perception on my part and things might have gotten better. Or maybe Austria has improved more than Germany, which is entirely conceivable.
As someone who is married to a native Russian speaker and we both moved to Austria (me from the UK though born in Austria, my wife from Russia), we regularly have conversations with others in English rather than German because everybody seems to actively prefer that.
So at least from general experience you can get the majority of services in English here. The exception seems to be immigrant taxi drivers and local hairdressers.
Most of this is because we grow up watching movies and tv shows with subtitles. Heck, I even remember watching Cartoon Network without any subtitles at all.
Another thing I noticed is how good the english accent is from people from Portugal and Sweden.
But like you said, it's not 100% perfect, nor is it even 80%, neither orally nor in writing.
Subtitling movies and TV shows essentially gives more opportunities to encounter linguistic input. However, as the viewers are able to get the meaning from the subtitles only, they don't necessarily PROCESS the foreign language. Some do, so the mileage varies a lot.
(Watching without subtitles will force you process the meaning – or if the difficulty level is too high, just frustrate and ignore it. Or process partially.)
I find that even more than TV shows, kids these days are learning English from games – in Finland, they don't translate games at all, so there's even greater incentive to actually try to understand the English input.
Kids also tend to have more patience when it comes to watching something that they do not fully understand due to language issues so they're less likely to give up.
As an adult subtitled programmes are very useful for locals learning English and foreigners, like me, learning Norwegian.
English spelling is often a problem because people are told that it is simply irregular when the truth is that if you know a little etymology you can figure out a lot because when you know where the word comes from you can then find out what set of rules are to be used for it. I'll admit that there are still difficult words :-)
We also watched some some non-English tv shows like the Swedish "Bjornes magasin" and the Finnish "Pikku Kakkonen". But these shows where not as cool and not as plentiful as those English tv shows.
I think it's much more plausible to say that the smaller countries of Europe have more of a economic necessity to be proficient in a second language (which often happens to be English).
Written and spoken English can sync CAPS in sylLABles while vocaliIZED. http://th.ai youtube CCaptions=ON, text=monospace, see syllables precisely while you hear them, playback SLOW.
In theory, constant experience of SYNCHronous vocALized TEXT will help you spell better faster.
The previous exposure helps some, especially those who can already read the subtitles, but more important is that when they actually start studying English, they’re also exposed to more grown-up shows—which do come subtitled.
Or that’s how it was. Nowadays, of course, it seems that kids move pretty seamlessly to content without even subtitles (think youtube and whatever it is the kids use).
His observation about becoming introverted in a foreign language is something that I experience too. Something that he didn't mention though is that often people will assume that you are stupid if you can't speak their language fluently, this is made even worse since you are indeed dedicating 80% of your brain just to following the conversation, so that in a sense they are correct in their judgement at that moment in time. It's painful to be on the receiving end of this and again this is something that I was unconsciously guilty of when I lived in London.
We just need to occasionally remind ourselves when the other person is not speaking in their native language that they are having to do a lot of extra work just to communicate with us.
"For me, the hardest thing about functioning in a foreign language was not the long hours it took me to get through a text, not the heightened anxiety, accompanying every social interaction, but the sense of reduced personality that comes with limited verbal expression. For someone who prided herself on writing music criticism for one of the largest Russian newspapers Vedomosti, a branch of The Financial Times, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Even though I communicated perfectly fine, I missed being able to say more with less, to say the same thing in several ways, to express character, not only literal sense. What came out of my mouth felt crude, stiff, and trite."
It is so true for me, this thing about reduced personality.
Yep, and this is an unconscious process, as well. If someone doesn't speak any of the languages I know, I find myself thinking "wow they're stupid" even if they're the sage of the mountain, and I hate my brain for it.
I'm also pretty good at Spanish, and living in Southern California I mostly hear the Mexican accent. When I hear Argentinian or Cuban Spanish, I have no fucking clue what's going on. Does that mean Spanish is phonetically broken? It, like Italian, has a very simple set of rules for pronouncing words. But even so, clearly different groups of people have different ideas about how these words should be interpreted (not to mention just straight up dropping syllables).
I'd argue the "phonetically broken" nature of English has more to do with his learning it as a second language than anything intrinsically wrong with English. Yeah we have lots of whacky accents and exceptions to pronunciation rules, but if a language is spoken by huge swaths of people across the world there's going to be a lot of variety.
So yes, I'd say English is “phonetically broken”, if that means it's difficult to figure out how to convert from spoken words to text and vice versa. I am not a linguist, but I speak English, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese, and German. English does seem to be an unusually difficult language in this respect.
Understanding different accents of spoken English is sort of beside the point, I think.
* c being pronounced either /k/ or /s/ is a perfectly common process called assibilation . Compare Italian "centro" /ch/ as in change, vs. "casa", /k/, as in can't. The general rule is /s/ before e, i, /k/ otherwise. English is relatively regular here.
* x as /z/ is probably some sort of assimilation process when the /s/ in /ks/ would be +voiced. Another reason to pronounce it that way is that anglophones dislike complex onsets (try pronouncing "Dvorak." It's very difficult for English natives not to insert a Schwa /ə/ between /d/ and /v/.
* q as /kw/ is from Latin and most languages using the Latin alphabet retain it in some form.
Letter combos for single phonemes are common as hell. Compare German 'sch', or 'st', Italian 'sci' etc.
"th" representing both voiced and unvoiced interdental fricatives is what's called an "allophone" . Again, this is super duper common, and, off the top of my head, I can't come up with a language without allophones, and I'd require serious proof for the claim that there exists one.
English spelling is a mess, though. But mostly because it's terribly inconsistent. There are several poems about it, which illustrate the point nicely, for example, the Chaos Poem .
Take for example, "charity" and "charisma", the /ch/ combo here would fool any beginner in pronouncing the latter as the regular sound and not as a /k/ and there's no solution for this problem but to memorize the words as you encounter making the whole experience of learning a new foreign language tedious and horrible.
A reform of English orthography is long overdue esp. if it's going to stay as a lingua franca for quite some time to come.
Just curious, in what order did you learn them? That's a pretty diverse set.
Metafunctor: how did I do? :)
Bough (ow), Though (oh), through (oo), thorough (uh), rough (uff), cough (off), hiccough (up)
* Polish people live in Poland.
* Polish your boots.
Some great examples there, such as "minute" and "minute". heh.
* I read this book whenever I feel lonely.
* I read this book many years ago
A friend of mine coming from Scotland once told me that he phoned Twinings (the English tea maker) in order to understand how to pronounce it ("twain..." or "twin...").
Twinings is a name, though - and all bets are off when it comes to name pronunciation.
A bottle of solvent or leader of the Nazi party?
See http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/04/spanish-vowels-vs-english-... for a comparison.
My Spanish teach was fond of telling us, "There are no Spanish spelling bees." It was his lighthearted way of telling us to memorize the few pronunciation rules of the language so that we could easily parse what we were hearing and pronounce what we were reading. But inherent in his comment was a reference to the lack of consistency in English. This lack of consistency means that speakers need to memorize more. If we were talking about a programming language, we'd say that the language has unnecessary cognitive load. Similarly, Spanish and the other romance languages add unnecessary cognitive load by differentiating between masculine and feminine words. Still, of the major European languages, English is probably the one with the largest unnecessary cognitive load, so I can definitely sympathize with those who have difficulty learning it.
P.S. As an aside, I always thought Antirez was much better at written English communication than he appears to be. There's something about having corresponded with people online for the past 2 decades that has leads me to turn off my inner proofreader until something like the subject matter that was being discussed brings it to the fore.
In English there is not such deterministic way of simply deducing how a word is pronounced based on how it's written. In fact there are many heteronyms.
You have a tear in your trousers but a tear in your eye.
For example many letters are silent and it's not always obvious why. Contrast the last sounds of these words: grec (ɡʁɛk) and tabac (ta.ba), chef (ʃɛf) vs nerf (nɛʁ), six (sis) vs prix (pʁi), etc. There are also some heteronyms, for example, les poules couvent (ku.v) but les soeurs restent au couvent (ku.vɑ̃).
Nope, there is something intrinsically 'wrong' with modern English: the lack of a central language authority plus the Great Vowel Shift caused the massive spelling inconsistencies of today.
No, it just means that you need more exposure. That very same thing happened to me while learning english (as my 3rd language after Spanish and Catalan ). I started to interact and shared flat with people from USA, England, Wales, Australia, Ireland, etc... For instance I wasn't able to differentiate between Scottish and Australian, only between American English and non-American English. Now I'm quite good at it.
I've spent quite a bit of time in New Zealand, and a common complaint I've heard is that when they travel to the U.S., people often ask if they are from Australia. When I first rocked up to NZ I couldn't tell the difference either, but now the two accents are like night and day. Beyond that, every country has its own regional accents as well.
And to be fair, I reckon a good number of Americans who haven't traveled can hardly differentiate accents beyond American English vs non-American English too.
We have somebody in the family that is know as:
"Blah ahk guak fiuya sdsds caramañola ñame!". And " caramañola ñame" is the only thing you will understand 100% of him ;) -- the other text is not a perfect rendition. In fact, nobody agree how exactly him talk when left him at full speed!
How fast is the talking is not the only issue. Is the slang. We can have the same language... but, o boy! the slang is diverse even in the same country.
And some words have reverse meanings, or don't make much sense.
"Esta haciendo sereno"
"Is doing serene (???)"
If use this dictionary, you could get it wrong:
Instead, despite the fact "sereno" is exactly "serene", this in colombia mean "colder wheater".
Is so funny when we teach the slang to outsider. Is crazy fun for them ;)
Basically, French and English follow the same orthography "school", which is the etymological one. The idea that spelling reforms should be few and far in between and that the way specific words are spelt has to do with how they were either spelt or pronounced in other, older languages.
This makes it so that they're both to a great extent languages whose writing system feels ad hoc.
Languages such as Spanish, Finnish, Turkish, are such that if one gets taught the sound of each letter one can start accurately sounding out words immediately.
Portuguese does not follow the etymological school, instead adopting a more phonological spelling. It has, however, a far from 1:1 phoneme to grapheme ratio, and more complex rules governing how to pronounce words. Perfectly regular complex rules, though.
English is the QWERTY of languages: historically messed up for reasons that don't matter anymore, but an imprescindible standard enjoying unmatched global popularity. It's simple enough to allow non-natives to achieve good productivity very quickly, but mastering it phonetically is harder than in most other languages. This complexity means that it's constantly getting stretched by people with limited formal education, and effectively enforces class separation.
Anyway, I'll never forget when I started studying it and realized that words I was familiar with because of gaming experience (LOAD, FOR, NETWORK etc) were actual everyday words that programmers simply borrowed. Suddenly, coding made so much sense! To this day I value language clarity so much, I prefer Python to everything else ;)
I can imagine it is far worse for people like antirez.
I have no idea what "contumely" means, or how to pronounce it. You're doing great :)
I leave the gentle reader with the English place name Beaulieu, which probably isn't pronounced anything like you'd expect, or how it should be.
As for names, my favourite wtf is Featherstonehaugh, pronounced fan-shaw. Then there's Chalmondley (chum-lee)...
"In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad, known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."
Vicious is another word I want to pronounce wrong if I see it in writing.
I think often English speakers have a similar but opposite problem - they are used to speaking words but when you come across them in writing you cant recognize them. The "typical" examples of this are gazebo and hyperbole.
I also think only very educated and well read people would know what half those words mean or how to pronounce them.
(The alternative is the International Phonetic Alphabet, which after getting used to it is not that hard to master)
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
"Real" English is a bit of a misnomer. There's really no such thing. English has developed, over time, from a mix of various other languages (French, German, Anglo-Saxon, Norse), and also split several times throughout its history, developing dialects that have different points of divergence from 'UK' English.
For instance, I speak Canadian English, which is very much 'textbook' English that would probably be equivalent to a 1930's or 1940's style of British English plus a few Americanisms, and one or two native quirks.
My wife speaks Caribbean creole (as well as more 'proper' English now), but also learned an earlier version of British English, which leads to some hilarious misunderstandings (she knows lots of archaic words, doesn't understand some of the more modern, technical words, and of course Caribbean creole adds all sorts of words, grammar, and pronunciations).
I also speak French, which in many ways is easier - more consistent spellings/pronunciation, grammar, but can be difficult at times because there are so many French words in English, but we change the meaning of many of them. There's also English words that have no direct equivalent in French, and vice versa. You need to 'think' differently to speak each. Plus, as French modernizes, it adds more and more Anglicisms, French people cheat on grammar all the time, and of course slang evolves rather quickly.
Anyhow, while English is a pain due to its history, I think as the world becomes more and more cosmopolitan, these 'quirks' just get absorbed into the language, and aren't really a problem. After all, there was a point when the language of nobility in England was French, that changed, likewise the notion that 'proper' English is the only real English will change over time too.
Too real. I've spent some time in Italy where, due to my broken Italian, I was very much so an introvert. People noticed it too when Americans would come by and I'd talk to them - they said I "became a different person."
Still, guess what, nobody has issues understanding one of another region, or even from a Switzerland canton.
I learnt standard Italian (Tuscan) whilst I lived in Bologna, and achieved a reasonable level of fluency - though sadly quite rusty now, a decade later - but I really struggled with regional dialects, especially in Sicily and Venice. It's not just the differences in pronunciation: there are also vocabulary differences.
If it's any consolation, I understand that North Americans find Glaswegian quite challenging, especially when watching "Trainspotting" (eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc3E7UkIzt4).
My maternal grandmother came from a small town in Abruzzo and nobody could understand her when she was arguing with her sister in their dialect.
The truth is that these "dialects" are indeed completely separate languages evolved from Latin with strong influences from various waves of domination:
Wikipedia has more details on the present situation:
on the other hand we from Glasgow don't seem to have problems understanding accented US stuff (eg The Wire)...I guess because we're brought up on imported TV. The Glasgow accent is nothing though compared to full-on Geordie and Aberdonian dialects, with lots of non-English vocabulary.
We don't all speak like Rab C. Nesbitt. The reason you might find it difficult to understand some Glaswegians is not so much lack of familiarity with their accent, but because they don't speak Standard English. What you're hearing is a mixture of English and a variety of Scots. Scots (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language) is a distinct language, though it's very closely related to English. So when, for example, you hear a word like mair (meaning more), it's not a different accent, it's a different language, just like German mehr or Dutch meer. Glaswegians pronouncing "more" in Standard English don't sound that different from Canadians or most Americans.
"The Wire" is an interesting example since two of the protagonists (McNulty and Bell) are played by English actors (the former an Old Etonian, just like our prime minister!) putting on Baltimore accents; there's even a delightful scene where McNulty attempts a deliberately dreadful English accent.
You are also correct about Geordies - I lived in Newcastle for a number of years and never really understood the locals except by way of sign language.
Many of them basically evolved from latin on their own, rather than from some kind of standard Italian. Standardization has come later, with TV/radio/travel spreading 'standard' Italian.
For fun, here's "Where did the guy go?" in Italian, followed by some sort of Venetian:
"Dov'e` andato il ragazzo?"
"Dove xeo nda' el toso?"
"Dov'e` andato il ragazzo" -> "Unna sinni ji' lu carusu?"
But if you're having trouble with listening comprehension, there's a fairly rapid way to improve that seems to work for many people: Watch lots of TV. A couple of years ago, I started buying DVD box sets in French, and just watching entire series straight through (both native French series, and dubbed US ones). My comprehension still isn't 100%, but it got a lot better, and I was pleasantly surprised when I started understanding a lot more people in Montréal, who tend to have strong accents related to European French speakers.
As a general rule of thumb, to improve a specific language skill (reading, listening, speaking), you're going to have to actually do a bunch of it. European programmers read a ton of English, so they can usually read it just fine. But unless your country shows a lot of subtitled US television, you're going to have much weaker listening skills.
I would argue that French is far more consistent, which is really the helpful part. Patterns of letters in French pretty much always work the same, whereas in English you don't have that luck. The "ough" part of words in English is a good example. There's a joke that highlights that. "Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though." 
And everyone is still easier to understand than Scottish people. :)
I got lucky in that I learned english not only by reading, but also by watching a lot of series (both american and british). Watching english series with english subtitles was a huge help for me, and I think it's a decent way to learn nowadays, much more effective than english classes.
It is interesting to see how much easier it is to communicate with other non-natives in English than with natives. I always struggled with UK accent and considered the US version simpler. However it seems British have developed more tolerance for varying accents over time, while Americans have often trouble understanding anything I said. For them, there was only one version of any given word and I was not using it.
And of course the language and vocabulary evolves. I've been out of the UK for almost 30 years now and I find that a lot of current slang is completely incomprehensible on first hearing.
Really good points on learning to speak before writing. Trying to learn japanese now, and I'm glad that someone told me to learn to speak it fluently before learning to write it.
These days you can just get "south park" with subtitles off some torrent site, but non-dubbed content was quite harder to come by in Italy when I was a kid.
Sadly, this is not necessarily the same when trying to learn something other than english.
Actually, you don't. I've learned several languages with Pimsleur, which is audio only. I took the lessons to their end and then progressed just by talking to people. You learn the grammar intuitively.
I'm doing Pimsleur for Japanese now. Though I'm learning the writing system as well, because I've heard that written Japanese lets you make more progress than, say, written portuguese would, since Kanji let you grasp some of the meaning of words before you know them.
In contrast, my brother really does well with audio learning - such as the pimsleur method. Immersive environment methods do well for him. He also benefits more from things like classroom lectures than I.
My sister is somewhere in between, but since she does well with inter-personal communication, she would pick up on sayings and slang and dialects a bit faster.
These sorts of differences, along with differences in learning difficulty, are noticable in class.
Japanese is a very different issue. It is structurally very simple and the phonetics are highly regular (there's a reason why japan has had successful voice-synthetized singers since the early 00s), but reading and writing fluently it requires learning 3 different scripts, including a logographic one.
Also, sometimes I watch a TV series in which police is trying to solve a 50 years old closed case. What I find interesting is how sad the life of that people are, never a joke, sharp sound, short sentences, never a smile. Perhaps, it is a mirror of a society. In Spain the eyes of people are full of life, the doom is outside of our frontiers (or so I think).
"I'm still not great at English but I surely improved over 15 years": => (I have surely improved) or: I haven't mastered English yet, but I am sure I have improved a lot in the last 15 years.
Without to mention how trivial is to go back in the learning process as long as you stop talking / listening for a couple of weeks… => To top it all, if you stop talking/listening for a couple of weeks you begin going backward in the learning process.
My long term hope is that soon or later => My long term hope is that sooner or later.
Another reason I find myself. => Another reason why I find myself.
NEVER learn a new word without learning what is its sound. => (how it sounds)
lives of those people are
It seems that nouns are created with "-" (merriam-webster agree with you).
a long-term solution is like a never-ending story.
Now, my question why neverending story (film) and not never-ending?
You'll find that you describe a quality that has a quantity attached to it, you'll drop the 's'. The reason is mostly to keep things brief by omitting a verb.
A few examples:
- We walked a ten kilometer-long trail. (The trail we walked is ten kilometers long)
- They are building a 500 seat auditorium. (The auditorium they are building has 500 seats.)
- We'll put a 10,000 piece order in on Monday. (Compare to: the puzzle has 10,000 pieces.)
Hyphenation is tricky and I still don't know all the rules.
Another correction I'll make on
> (merriam-webster agree with you)
It should be "Merriam-Webster agrees with you" because in this case it refers to the dictionary itself (singular) and not the people the dictionary is named after. "Merriam and Webster agree with you" refers to the people themselves.
It's occurring to me now that being a native English speaker is probably my best trait for hiring.
* They are building a 500-seat auditorium
* We'll put a 10,000-piece order in on Monday
* We walked a ten kilometer long trail. No hyphen here, the trail was just ten kilometers long. "We walked a ten-kilometer trail" is what you were looking for.
Non-native English speaker here, btw.
> Before 1950, when the "TV Language Unification" happened, everybody was still taking with their dialects and italian was only mastered by a small percentage of people. Sicilian itself, the language talked the most by my family, predates Italian by centuries.
For a hands-on example about what he is talking about, those of you who learned Italian try to understand what this song says, without actually studying the lyrics. It's an awesome Sicilian tune by an ethnic group Messinese group called Kunsertu (concert).
 Messina is the port-city that gates the most beautiful island in the world: Sicily! :-)
I can communicate well with people over the internet, but only recently have I met people in the flesh with similar interests to me. This means that I mispronounce jargon. Cache, deprecated, whenever I use words like these in conversation, people have no idea what I am talking about, I have only ever been exposed to them via text. I realised that I have never heard people say them before. This was probably not helped by the fact that I prefer an essay to a videoed talk any day.
There's an interesting write-up on the differences which I find interesting. There's even a fellow who asked one of the original developers how to best pronounce it (spoiler: no resolution).
Come to think of it, I spell out most acronyms under 4-5 characters much to the chagrin of my peers (unless the intent was clearly to make it a word). I think it ought to boil down to preference.
John McWhorter's 'magnificent bastard tongue' has many quirks to trip up anyone learning it as an adult, and which could be simplified without making the language unintelligible to those who already speak it.
For the record, I'm now learning some Mandarin Chinese and apparently this kind of phenomenom is even stronger in that language (I say "apparently" because my Chinese level is still very basic, but that's what people who know more say). The first word you learn when studying Chinese as a foreign language is 你好 (nihao) for "hello", but apparently no one says that in China in real life, and the same goes for 你好吗？(how are you). There is also a controversy about a tone which is taught as a falling-rising tone but it doesn't actually rise unless the syllable is pronounced in isolation (and you hardly ever pronounce a syllable in isolation in real life...)
Weird stuff. I wonder what similar absurdities foreign students of Spanish (my native language) are subject to :)
Having said that, learning spoken and writing English are hard for countries that have complete different language system such as Japanese and Chinese, Korean etc. Two reasons:
First, there’s no argument that they all have completely different style of writing and pronunciation. Nothing to piggyback on like Dutch or German. The English teacher in my school doesn't even speak good English, more like "Chinglish" as we mostly emphasize in writing. Many do write English well but have hard time communicate verbally. That’s a BIG problem.
The second thing is that the in the old days, kids don't get to learn English until in middle school. The best time to learn language is when one is still very young. It then becomes a second nature rather than a skills to master later in life. I think that it's different now. Kids are learning English early in school now. However, they don't get to practice outside of school.
I imagine this sort of focus on technically correct but functionally useless things is pretty common when studying languages. I took a few years of German in school, and literally 25% of our time was spent memorizing the various forms of der and matching nouns to them. I haven't been to Germany, but my understanding is that you won't get laughed out of too many rooms if you use die when you should have used den.
I didn't keep up with the language, and I can barely understand even basic German at this point. I do still remember my der/ein charts though. I'm not really convinced that was the best use of my time.
Also the past participle. "I've gotten to level 5".
The Italian practice of overdubbing English language movies and TV series doesn't help either.
I had to learn Chinese up to a high level of proficiency as I studied Chinese as a major subject at university, lived for three years in Taiwan in the early 1980s, and then worked for several years as a Chinese-English interpreter all over the United States. I'll try to share here some information that helped me learn Chinese as a second language after starting out as a native speaker of English, in hopes that it will help readers here learn English better.
Any two languages, even closely related languages like Spanish and Italian or standard Thai and standard Lao (and, for that matter, different regional dialects of English or of Italian) differ in sound system, so that what is a phoneme in one language is not a phoneme in the other language.
But anyone learning a second language past the age of early adolescence will usually simply not hear many of the phonemic distinctions in sounds in the language to be learned unless the learner is very carefully trained in phonetics. Disregarding sound distinctions that don't matter in one's own language is part of having a native language (or native languages). You can't imitate what you can't even perceive, so learning to perceive the sound distinctions in the language to be learned is the crucial first step in learning a second language.
For most people it is brutally hard (especially after the age of puberty, and perhaps especially for males) to learn to notice sound distinctions that don't exist in the learner's native language. That is extraordinarily hard when the sound distinction marks a grammatical distinction that also doesn't exist in the learner's native language. To give an example, the distinction between "I speak" and "he speaks" in English involves a consonant cluster at the end of a syllable, and in Mandarin Chinese there are no such consonant clusters at the ends of syllables at all. Even worse for a Chinese person learning English, Chinese has no such grammatical distinction as "first person singular" and "third person singular" for inflecting verbs, so it is difficult for Chinese-speaking learners of English to learn to distinguish "speaks" from "speak" and to say "he speaks Chinese" rather than "he speak Chinese" (not a grammatical phrase in spoken English).
If software authors who write foreign-language-learning software simply included information about the sound system of the language to be learned, such as a full chart of the phonemes in that language, with descriptions of the sounds in the standard terminology of articulatory phonetics, that would be a big help to language learners. Even better would be for all language-learning materials to teach the notations needed from the International Phonetic Alphabet for each language to be learned.
Language-learning books, sound recordings, and software always need to include a lot of focused drills on sound distinctions (contrasting minimal pairs in the language) in the language to be learned. No software program for language learning should lack pronunciation drills and listening drills like that. It is still an art of software writing to try to automate listening to a learner's pronunciation for appropriate feedback on accuracy of pronunciation. That's a hard problem that needs more work.
Even before learners think about learning pronunciation, they think about learning vocabulary. But the vocabulary lessons in many language-learning materials are very poorly focused and ineffective.
The typical software approach to helping vocabulary acquisition is essentially to automate flipping flash cards. But flash cards have ALWAYS been overrated for vocabulary acquisition. The map is not the territory, and words don't match one-to-one between languages, not even between closely cognate languages. Every language on earth divides the world of lived experience into a different set of words, with different boundaries between words of similar meaning.
The best way to learn vocabulary in a second language is day-by-day steady exposure to actual texts (recorded conversations, stories, songs, personal letters, articles, and so on) written or spoken by native speakers of the language. The late John DeFrancis was a master teacher of Chinese, so I'll quote him on this point here. In the section "Suggestions for Study" in the front matter of his book Beginning Chinese Reader, Part I, DeFrancis writes, "Fluency in reading can only be achieved by extensive practice on all the interrelated aspects of the reading process. To accomplish this we must READ, READ, READ" (capitalization as in original). In other words, vocabulary can only be well acquired in context and the context must be a genuine context produced by native speakers of the language.
I have been giving free advice on language learning since the 1990s on my personal website,
and the one advice I can give every language learner reading this thread is to take advantage of radio broadcasting in your target language. Spoken-word broadcasting (here I'm especially focusing on radio rather than on TV) gives you an opportunity to listen and to hear words used in context. In the 1970s, I used to have to use an expensive short-wave radio to pick up Chinese-language radio programs in North America. Now we who have Internet access can gain endless listening opportunities from Internet radio stations in dozens of unlikely languages. Listen early and listen often while learning a language. That will help with phonology (as above) and it will help crucially with vocabulary.
The third big task of a language learner is learning grammar and syntax, which is often woefully neglected in software language-learning materials. Every language has hundreds of tacit grammar rules, many of which are not known explicitly even to native speakers, but which reveal a language-learner as a foreigner when the rules are broken. The foreign language-learner needs to understand grammar not just to produce speech or writing that is less jarring and foreign to native speakers, but also to better understand what native speakers are speaking or writing. Any widely spoken modern language has thick books reporting the grammatical rules of the language. It is well worth your time to make formal study of the grammar of your native language and of the language you are trying to learn, especially in materials for foreign learners.
I had one very clear example of that at one time: The difference between the Polish words for switching something on and switching something off.
włączyć -> to switch on
wyłącz -> to switch off
When you see them written here they look very different but when you hear them in spoken Polish conversation they're all but impossible to tell apart (at least, to me!).
I've been told that's how the Dutch learn English. The country isn't big enough to make it worth dubbing the shows, so they are shown in English with Dutch subtitles.
I never did find out how many he spoke but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was 3 (both parents from different countries in NL, they spoke English between them).
IIRC that's the case in all scandinavian countries, I'd also expect it in most of eastern europe (but having started much more recently).
The actual effect of this is that I'm easily understood when I speak english by many and get advantages like being able to use an english word when I am unsure or being greeted by many words that i only need remember pronunciation. But not everyone can actually speak english well, or they are just as unsure using english as I am norwegian - which weirdly, doesn't seem to be such a problem speaking english with other non-native english speakers.
A growing number of network shows also have live audio in Spanish via a selectable Separate Audio Program (SAP).
Even older programming broadcast in syndication is typically captioned. (Heck, I'm watching a series episode from 1964 on MeTV right now that has been captioned.)
Point being, if you are in the USA and are an English learner, turn on CC for any programming you watch. Most captions are placed such that they don't disrupt you viewing very much. (The exceptions are kind of comical... many Fox sports shows, for example, have the CC overlay the scoreboard block more often than not.) I generally leave mine on most of the time, since modern TV dramas often "drop" a critical phrase or two of dialog in background noise, to my ear.
: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_audio_program. I particularly like watching children's programs, which focus on vocabulary acquisition for everyday terms.
: See especially http://www.bookbox.com/.
: E.g., Club de Cuervos and Narcos on Netflix.
How do you have a language spoken by so many wildly different people, who bring in their own vocabulary with each generation, and not end up with irregularity in spelling and pronunciation?
English is a mongrel, certainly, but that is a product of it being so widely 'deployed', not an inherent feature of the language. Sure, Italian is regular. Italian also doesn't have germanic roots all over the place mixed in with the latin and chinese and whatever else.
It has more to do with the number of different cultures that have conquered England, combined with the fact that written English has existed for a very long time compared to most European languages. The fact that there isn't an authority that can dictate major spelling reforms doesn't help either.
Nor is there any need for it. An authority that could dictate spelling would soon start dictating pronunciation. It's bad enough that the pernicious influence of Estuary English is levelling pronunciation over the whole country but at least people, theoretically at least, have a choice. The only influence such an authority has is to artificially slow the development of the language and to try to shoe horn regional variations into a single formula.
People often complain that written English doesn't correspond with pronunciation. But no one ever says whose pronunciation that the spelling is supposed to reflect.
I'm from the south west of England and my pronunciation of words like house, boat, castle, book, etc. is quite different from that of, say the North East. So how would you like us to spell house? Should it be /'haʊs/ which is probably about what I would say and is also regarded as RP. Or should it be /'hu:s/ which is the best I can do for the pronunciation that at least used to be common in the North East and in parts of Scotland.
Would the spelling authority also specify which syllables to stress? Then how will it deal with American English which stresses the final syllable in cases where most Brits would stress the penult.
I think the biggest struggle for me is it's hard to tell what's right from wrong. While I completely understand that I'm not anywhere perfect in grammar, things that Ginger won't catch is the ones I have often had problems with, perhaps the sort of thing that makes my composition very obvious that it is written by a non-native. (Probably people can even tell that by reading this comment...)
While I never had so much of problem in operation side, it is a bit frustrating for me when I am forced to work with public relations matters (I work for a very small company) considering I know that I am way under-qualified.
They take influence from some of the resources I found most effective like the Michel Thomas and Assimil audio books which gave me the biggest boosts in terms of my German listening and speaking abilities.
Would Esperanto be preferable? Some people would have the jump on you for that as well.
English is not particularly strange or unique on most measures. Phonetically it has a few unusual sounds, but every language has one or two (and our most odd sound "th" is found in everything from medieval Japanese to ancient Greek). Grammatically English approaches an analytic language, though nothing quite like Chinese. That means we have fairly sophisticated syntax (meaning attributed to the order of words), but our morphology (the actual words changing according to grammatical meaning like for tense or plurality) is very simple. People from countries where the speak languages with all sorts of genitive and ablative cases with verb agreement on prepositions with an animacy hierarchy (I'm exaggerating here, obviously) seem to see English as simple.
Of course, English isn't particularly well-suited to be a lingua franca. If anything our shift toward analyticism is more of a result of England being repeatedly conquered in it's early settlement by Germanic tribes followed by English speakers repeatedly conquering everyone else, while embracing multiculturalism. But like most lingua francas, they gain status because of their economic importance and then you have to learn them simply because they've become the lingua franca.
I am not optimistic on the idea that a language should emerge that is actually well-suited and designed to be a lingua franca. Esperanto has been around for, what, over a hundred years now or something? And I'm sure Amiga was technically superior to IBM and in a thousand other format wars the technically superior option never took hold.
I'm just glad that I don't have to learn the bastard version of Latin that has grown up in academia and instead my own native language is the standard. There's very little you can do to convince me that an 8-syllable compound word formed from the roots of a language that did not allow compounding using word meanings that are grossly different from their original meaning for a common, everyday concept or thing for the sake of "universal standard" is a superior method of doing things.
That's a pretty low blow. Redis is insecure because it is designed that way, it is a powertool with a very specific role to fill and it comes with a very nice warning to that effect. If you use it in a way that's insecure the problem is yours, not redis'.
Compare with cooks knives, powertools (drills, reciprocal saws and circular saws as well as fun things such as plasma cutters, welding gear, chainsaws, hedge trimmers, lathes and mills) and other professional tools sold without any kind of license or requirements of proficiency by stores all over the world.
Each and every one of those can kill you, in a pretty straightforward manner. And yet, they continue to be shipped, insecure by default. Because their users will not be able to do their jobs if each and every one of those would come with the kind of safety requirements that we'd normally apply to say a toy for a toddler.
If you don't know how to use a tool like redis in a secure way then you probably have other problems besides.
You'd probably be shocked to hear that many cluster environments have a single gateway machine that is (usually somewhat) secure but behind that gateway the whole cluster is wide open.
Not only your comment is off topic, it's also comment is short-sighted at best. Redis is a fantastic tool that helps professionals like me get work done. It's well designed, well maintained, well written (just read the source code), and is one of the few small open source projects you can introduce to big co without fearing upper management complaints.
So yeah, maybe it's not as secure as you wish by default, but I'm glad antirez has the priority sense he has, because it led to working software that you can easily secure in your architecture.
So no, I don't think security is his biggest pain.
Worse: English is a somewhat arbitrary set of different local dialects with heavy Icelandic and Scandinavian influences, and formalized by French and German ruling classes. Many things it might be, but hardly "native" of any given region.
AFAIK this is somewhere between very incomplete and clearly wrong in the case of Scotland, and to a lesser extent Ireland. It may actually be a bit more accurate to say that of England, come to think of it: it's just that the pointing of swords happened a while earlier there (to the extent that it really happened) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_settlement_of_Brit... . But this just highlights that it's probably impossible to reasonably declare languages non-native on this kind of basis.
> Irish (Gaeilge), also referred to as Gaelic or Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. [...]
> Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought it with them to other regions, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where through earlier branching from Middle Irish it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx respectively.