Your relationship to languages -- first and second
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12-11-2011, 08:00 AM
 
Your relationship to languages -- first and second
As most of you know, English isn't my first language. I have been immersed in it for forty years now, I think, dream, curse in English, but it still isn't the same as my first language: Hungarian. I will never be as natural and spontaneous in English as I am with the language I grew up with.

I still have trouble with proper use of tenses, like 'present perfect' and 'past perfect' sometimes. You see, tenses are a lot simpler in Hungarian. I also have difficulty with prepositions -- I often mix up 'to' and 'for' -- again, no prepositions exist at all in Hungarian: we have suffixes attached to the end of the word for that purpose.

This morning my wife ever so casually said: "..and I thought that maybe I had been a bit hasty..." and I envied her. Nary a pause to think about the tenses. I get it right, usually, but sometime I have to think about it for a split second, before saying it.

So I started wondering about how others on this forum feel about it.

If English is your first language -- how do you recognize non-native English speakers from their writing? What are the most typical mistakes even fluent second-languagers make?

If English is not your first language, what do you have most difficulties with in the language and how do you try/succeed in overcoming those difficulties?
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12-11-2011, 08:22 AM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
I swear to my Gwynnies, mathematics is my first language. Big Grin

My English has always been informal. Cannot really say what tips me off to a non-native speaker until they do some non-native speakin'. I thought you were Canadian. Big Grin

In my experience, one thing keeps occurring, though. People 'ragging' on somebody's English, and I'll go, "Hey! You peeps know if this is a native speaker or not?" That usually breaks up the pig-pile. Big Grin

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12-11-2011, 08:30 AM
 
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
(12-11-2011 08:22 AM)houseofcantor Wrote:  I thought you were Canadian. Big Grin

Current status: Canadian
Past History: Hungarian
Self-identification: Human
Fantasy-persona: Alien

An English friend calls me "Cangarian"

An ex-friend once asked me if I write my poems in Hungarian and then translate them to English?

He wasn't a poet, so he didn't know that you can't do that.

At the age of 16 I got the address of a Japanes girl who lived on Hokkaido. I still remember her name: Kazuko Yokoya. I wrote my first letter to her in flowery Hungarian and then tried to translate it to English.

I could not.

I had to start again, thinking in English this time, and then I had no problem.
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12-11-2011, 09:04 AM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
English is my first language. I read a lot too (in English). I envy other people who can speak even one other language - I think it's possibly not too hard at least to be understood, but without a reason to learn... it slips out of my mind very easily.

You guys don't have to worry though, you're a *lot* better than most native English speakers. If either you or Filox hadn't told us, I don't think I'd ever have realized you were not first language speakers. You do pick it up occasionally though. My supervisor last year was German and he had a very characteristic way of phrasing things - I can't actually remember any phrases but I can generally pick up instantly when someone's a German speaking English as a second language. The thing is, I think that people think of the sentence in their native language and directly translate in their head, at least the intermediate language speakers...

Top ten list for ways to tell someone is not a native English speaker:
1. Wrong word (obvious).
2. Wrong word order (usually obvious).
3. Tenses and use of adjective / adverb endings.
4. Odd ways of expressing things - e.g. directly translating a proverb which has no equivalent in English, or using an English phrase in a strange context.
5. Tone - different languages put the emphasis in different places in the word.
6. Accent - of course. Even English speakers can't disguise their accents, so for a second language speaker it's twice as hard.
7. Characteristic phrases. This is quite easy to detect, but you have to be a little more aware. Things like "What is it that you are doing?" instead of the more usual English "What are you doing?". I made up that example 'cos I couldn't think of one.
8. Of course, using foreign phrases in English sentences.

OK that's eight. Can't think of any more for now Tongue
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12-11-2011, 10:11 AM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
I was born in Iran, so you could say my "first" language is Farsi.

At the age of 7 we moved to the Netherlands, there I acquired my "second" language, Dutch.

Then again at the age of 14 we moved to Canada. There I practiced and became a much more proficient English speaker. It's been about a year now since I've returned to the Netherlands where I'm continuing my education (I am 22).

It's tough to say which I'm better at, although I have trouble writing perfect Farsi.

Usually my language improves "temporary" when I'm living in the corresponding country.

One advantage I've had growing up in different countries is that I have gotten familiar with different accents. So, for me, I primarily notice accents when people speak and that's how I try to guess where they originate from.

In writings, I guess it's spelling, grammar etc.
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12-11-2011, 11:18 AM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
English is my first and only fluent language (I'm struggling to learn French, but without immersion, it's pretty difficult). I'm quite jealous of those who have more than one language. However, I think I am extremely strong in English, since I can read Middle, Early Modern, and Modern English fluently Tongue But that's maybe just 'cause English is my major haha.

I really honestly cannot tell if someone is a non-native speaker of English unless they have an accent or if their grammar is absolutely horrendous. Since a lot of native speakers of English have bad grammar, it's not always easy to tell who's learned it as a subsequent language or not. Especially at university, since everyone has to have a minimum proficiency in English to take classes in which English is the language of instruction.

"Remember, my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker." - Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula
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12-11-2011, 11:19 AM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
Zatamon you definitely speak English well, or at least write it well! Big Grin

I am trying to learn Japanese on my own, but it's really difficult, having to learn multiple new character sets on top of vocabulary, sentence structure, and prefixes/suffixes.

I think any native language speaker can spot non-native speakers when they don't use the modern sayings and speech shortcuts of that language. Their speech sounds more stiff and practiced than a native speaker. Sometimes it sounds rough rather than a smooth nuanced speech.
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12-11-2011, 11:28 AM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
Yeah, it's a beast trying to learn a new language - like me trying to learn Python back in the day - and that's an easy language.Tongue

Another good Zatamon topic - our resident alien sure does a lot of good, creative thinking.

I definitely have admiration for those who overcome adversity, moving to a different land and learning a different tongue - I consider that the human spirit to conquer - and we're a bunch of conquerors.

(I didn't say killers Tongue)

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12-11-2011, 01:21 PM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
I didn't experience it as adversity - more like adventure.

I came to Canada as a child of 10, with only a few words of German and English picked up in refugee camps, and didn't find it at all difficult, because:
1. My third-grade teacher in Kingsville, Ontario was terrific, and everyone in town was indulgent.
2. The New Canadians classes in my Toronto school were pretty good (even if i did act up a bit out of boredom; by then i read better than i could speak).
3. The multicultural neighbourhoods in downtown TO were easy to fit into: you just found the right mix of kids and ran with them, learning one another's language through punches and pokes and falling off the fence laughing; hardly any adult interference; no social inequality: we were all poor but too happy to know it.
4. The public library.
I read like crazy. Everything - and nobody said, that's too mature or too difficult. My mother's attitude was: anything children understand, they're ready to handle; what they don't understand will bore them. So i picked up some odd turns of phrase from Shakespeare, gained familiarity with all parts of a horse and tack from Black Beauty and Seabisquit*.... and learned to appreciate literary English, as well as colloquial.

In high school, French was easy. But i never got much opportunity to practice it, so my accent is atrocious and i've forgotten most of what i learned. I can read simple text with some effort, but understand almost nothing of normal speech. In dreams, i can speak it reasonably well. Anybody else have this? I think it's like being under hypnosis; memory that's normally suppressed comes forward.

*There - another thing: special jargon for special subjects. The racetrack has a language of its own. So does the medical laboratory. And the farmer's market and the ceramic studio and the courtroom. I acquired several of those over the years, but they fade almost as soon as one leaves the profession.

Teaching ESL is one of the most rewarding things i've ever done. You don't just teach English to a person who has a quite different cultural heritage: you learn something of how they apprehend the world, and you look at your own thought process from a new perspective.

I'd like to learn sign language from a book i have, but i'm very clumsy. Like William Hurt in Children of a lesser God. I'd like, someday, to converse with a chimpanzee or gorilla. Ishmael, perhaps.

If you pray to anything, you're prey to anything.
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12-11-2011, 01:54 PM
RE: Your relationship to languages -- first and second
Peterkin I am stealing what your mom said about reading the next time someone questions me about it.

"I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments." -Jim Morrison
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