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Thread: Spoken English across Europe

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    The Hairy Wookie Mycernius's Avatar
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    Spoken English across Europe

    Just a curious question that came to me today. As some of you might know I am a lorry driver. The company I haul for is sub-contracted to a Swedish/German company, hence we get a lot of European drivers delivering or picking up. I also find the same at the larger companies I deliever to. I am often struck by how Danish and Dutch drivers invarible speak good English. Yet German and Fench drivers either speak very little English or none at all. The Belgian drivers seem to fit in between the two. The same goes for european tourists. If they are from Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Denmark and greece the English is very good or they can speak it with some proficency. Yet the same cannot really be said for French, German, Spanish and Italian tourists. Why is this? Are there differences in the way English is taught in these countries? I would have thought The Dutch and Danes would be better off speaking good German, as that is the nearest country to them and German is probably closer the their languages than English.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mycernius
    The same goes for european tourists. If they are from Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Denmark and greece the English is very good or they can speak it with some proficency. Yet the same cannot really be said for French, German, Spanish and Italian tourists. Why is this?
    France, Germany, Spain & Italy are bigger countries, it's not so much of a necessity for people there to know foreign languages.

    I would have thought The Dutch and Danes would be better off speaking good German, as that is the nearest country to them and German is probably closer the their languages than English.
    I think, the Dutch generally speak both English & German rather well..

    Standard Dutch is, similar to Frisian, somewhere intermediate between High German & Standard English, AFAIK (maybe slightly closer to German, but not much).

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    Satyavrata Maciamo's Avatar
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    I believe that the main reason is that people in bigger countries tend to think that they can cope just speaking their language, as more people learn them. This is all the truer for popular international language like English, French and Spanish.

    Nowadays, English has really established itself as the world's lingua franca, so that's why native English speakers try the least to learn other languages. Until 10 or 20 years ago, many French speakers thought that French could still regain its place as most popular international language, because after all it remains so from the 16th century (before it was Latin) to WWII. But as they see it won't happen, more and more French speakers are doing efforts to learn English. The point is that you still see big gaps between generations.

    Belgium is a small country, but it has French as one of its official languages, and traditionally Dutch speakers learn French first, then English, which explains why the level of English is not as good as in the Netherlands or Scandinavia. French speakers of course behave like in France. Recently, both sides are starting to put more emphasis on English and less on the other national language.

    In Italy, many people learn French or Spanish first, because it's easier. In Spain, many people have to learn Spanish as a foreign language, because their mother-tongue is Catalan, Basque or Galician, or a dialect like Valencian or Andalucian. Many Catalans learn French before English as they live near the border, and Catalan is half-way between French and Castillan Spanish.

    In most Continental countries, Latin (and sometimes Ancient Greek) is still taught in schools. Naturally, people who learn both Latin and Greek, and still have to learn their country's other official language(s) or neighouring country's language, are at a serious disadvantage to learn English. For example, if a German student has to learn Latin, French and English, it is obvious that progress in each will be slower than if they concentrate on English only.
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    FIGHTING FOR JPOP Dutch Baka's Avatar
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    For the Dutch I can only saw that we have a lot (too many) American/British TV-shows, and movies, that have subtitle, while in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, they are all dubt... also more than 50% of all the songs in the dutch music charts are English.

    Most dutch people can understand German, and maybe 1/5 can speak the language, German and dutch are similar languages, but i also find English pretty similar to dutch

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    Southern Sun Duo's Avatar
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    Dutch Baka has hit the nail here. TV plays a huge role in the English across Europe. I know for a fact that the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Norway are bombarded by subtitled shows and movies in English spoken versions. The Netherlands is the mos Americanized European country I've been to so far, and I can tell you that almost all dutch people speak english. Northern Belgium as well, the region called Flanders. The french of course have their reasons for not allowing English to penetrate and Italy well... i think it's lack of will and no need for its usage. In fact in many italian comic shows English is made fun of, comedians try to speak english to the audience simply by changing italian words into some weird word that sounds of english and everyone seems to have a big laugh at it.. well me as well becuse it's really quite funny. Despite some new measures bein taken lately from the gov. there to increase the knowledge of english real results still have to be proven. Another part is that Italy and Spain are rather big countries and most of the population doesn't need foreign outside culturual intrusion or they dont have such foreign contacts as let's say belgium or holland... smaller nations that for a reason or the other have to rely a bit more on foreign liasons and are not so populated as Italy that they are able to swallow the intrusion of english into their culture.

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    I entirely agree with all of you.

    The main reason is the smallness of the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. As relatively few people understand our native languages (you Brits are lucky ), we need to learn foreign languages, and since English is the world's lingua franca, it's the obvious choice. Our economies rely on exports, so we would be doomed if we couldn't communicate with the outside world.

    So children are taught English from an early age in school, and they are very curious about learning the English language, as they hear a lot of English on a daily basis on TV and the radio. We are bombarded with American/British films and TV shows, which always have subtitles. Only cartoons for small children (under 7-8 years) are dubbed, while shows like The Simpsons have subtitles (I can't imagine Homer Simpson with a Danish voice ).

    Mycernius, you're right that the German language is closer to Dutch and the Scandinavian languages, so theoretically, we would speak better German than English. But in practice, most of us find the German language less interesting and less useful, and we are not exposed to German to the same extent as we are to the English language. I think the general opinion in Scandinavia is that the Germans (and all others) should learn English so we don't need to learn their language.

    I have the impression that the Germans have improved their English skills a lot. When I visit Germany, I'm often surprised how well the younger generation speak English. They don't expect you to speak German, on the contrary, they are embarrassed if their English is'nt good enough.

    The French, on the other hand, still lag behind, but hopefully it will change...

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    Regular Member Miss Marple's nephew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mycernius View Post
    ...I am often struck by how Danish and Dutch drivers invarible speak good English. Yet German and Fench drivers either speak very little English or none at all. .....
    Why is this? Are there differences in the way English is taught in these countries?.
    It must be generally accetped that we - from less than internationally useful languages - are more likely to consider foreign languages important - English in particular - for us to get around with, whereas the English, German, French, Spanish languages are internationally recognised. With those 4 languages one can travel right around the world. With only Swedish however ....... Naturally, we are taught with a degree of seriousness and English is a required language here. One cannot go on to higher studies without it.

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    Satyavrata Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miss Marple's nephew View Post
    It must be generally accetped that we - from less than internationally useful languages - are more likely to consider foreign languages important - English in particular - for us to get around with, whereas the English, German, French, Spanish languages are internationally recognised. With those 4 languages one can travel right around the world. With only Swedish however ....... Naturally, we are taught with a degree of seriousness and English is a required language here. One cannot go on to higher studies without it.
    It's all a matter of point of view, education level and vision of the world. Many French speakers still consider French as a great international language, and therefore tend not to try hard learning other languages. As a native French speaker myself I used to think the same as a child (due to my environment), but I now think that French is not much more useful than Dutch or Swedish on a global level.

    When travelling English is the foremost language to know. Even in former French colonies like Vietnam or Cambodia more people now speak English than French. When Japanese and Korean people meet, they usually use English to communicate. Even inside Belgium it is become increasingly common for young Dutch and French speakers to use English to communicate together.

    In sciences, notably in genetics, most of the publications and information on the Internet is in English. It is often difficult to explain genetics in French because many terms just don't exist or the structure of French language is not flexible enough, so that translation quickly becomes tiresome. The same is true for new technologies.

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    Regular Member Miss Marple's nephew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    .....Many French speakers still consider French as a great international language, and therefore tend not to try hard learning other languages.
    Ive already said that.



    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    Even in former French colonies like Vietnam or Cambodia more people now speak English than French.
    Thats because those countries are FORMER French colonies. Still, the older generation speak French, not English. But it is the same in the FORMER Soviet satelite countries where the young speak Enlgish and the older speak Russian.


    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    When Japanese and Korean people meet, they usually use English to communicate. Even inside Belgium it is become increasingly common for young Dutch and French speakers to use English to communicate together.
    In both these instances - J/ROK and Flams/Francais it is mostly due to the "inferior" complexities between the two. The same holds true for Canada/Quebec where - due to the lack of a third language - expressions such as "la fin de semaine" have been concocted.

    In other words, the world has not yet reached a high degree of personal or national self confidence. We are primitive creatures still today.

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    The Hairy Wookie Mycernius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    Even inside Belgium it is become increasingly common for young Dutch and French speakers to use English to communicate together.
    I was listening to a programme on radio 4 a while back that mentioned that english is being used as a middle language in Belgium because there are families in belgium where the grandparents cannot talk to their grandchildren as one speaks dutch and the other french, or visa versa. Instead of leaning dutch or french they opt for english. Odd little world isn't it?

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    Regular Member Miss Marple's nephew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mycernius View Post
    Instead of leaning dutch or french they opt for english. Odd little world isn't it?


    Its as Ive already said ....



    Quote Originally Posted by Miss Marple's nephew View Post
    ..... it is mostly due to the "inferior" complexities between the two. ....... the world has not yet reached a high degree of personal or national self confidence.
    ... though mostly "personal" Id say.

    But dont worry, the Galics will get to you soon enough.

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    in Italy and Germany lots of people doesn't really speaks english...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dutch Baka View Post
    For the Dutch I can only saw that we have a lot (too many) American/British TV-shows, and movies, that have subtitle, while in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, they are all dubt... also more than 50% of all the songs in the dutch music charts are English.
    You hit right on the spot. In Portugal it's almost the same, that's why the average portuguese tend to speak english better than the average spaniard.

    Greetings.

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    Regular Member Marianne's Avatar
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    It is the same in Greece. All foreign movies and series are with subtitles. Nothing is dubbed except for cartoons that are aimed for small kids. That makes Greeks more familiar with the English language. Even those who never learned it properly can have a decent simple conversation.
    On the other hand most Germans, French etc can't even have a basic conversation in English. Last time I visited these countries they couldn't even speak English at the airport at the hand luggage control!!! I had no problem because I speak these languages but it is really bad in my opinion if someone that works at the airport can't even say in English: Please take of your hat or boots to check them. They had to use gestures so Americans can understand them...

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    To mention eastern europe - you'd rather have no problems with getting in touch with young polish people. Older ones know only russian, some know german. English? not so much

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    Regular Member Marianne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mycernius View Post
    ...If they are from Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Denmark and greece the English is very good or they can speak it with some proficency. Yet the same cannot really be said for French, German, Spanish and Italian tourists. Why is this? ...
    I don't think it is a coincidence that in these countries (Scandinavia, Netherlands, Greece etc) foreign movies/series/shows/etc are subbed and not dubbed, while on the other hand in France, Germany, Italy and Spain people have zero contact with the English language through television/cinema...
    It is said here that French and Italians are very proud of their language and they refuse to learn English. That "rumor" doesn't apply for Germans, but they also don't know how to say "thank you"...

    In Greek schools English is compulsory from the age of 7-8 and from the age of 11-12 it is compulsory to choose between French/German/Italian. You continue to learn English and the 2nd foreign language you choose until you graduate from high school, 3 times per week for each language.
    Still parents don't trust the school teachers to teach their kids foreign languages (mostly because there are 15-20 kids in each classroom) so every single one of them sends their kids to private afternoon schools (with 4-6 kids per classroom) to learn foreign languages or hire a tutor at home.
    When I was a kid me and my classmates would start learning English from the age of 6 and 10 for the 2nd and 3rd language (usually French and/or German).
    Now kids start even earlier, 3 or 4 in "pre-junior classes"! They don't even know how to write in Greek at that age but they learn English through flashcards with pictures!!!

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    I think English is spreading quicker than irreligious people in Europe. By the end of my lifetime, I expect that the whole world will speak English.

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    In Italy we are quite ignorant about English (and I am among this percentage of ignorants eheh), that's because our language studies at school suck! The teachers are all Italians and we don't study English grammar after the second year of High School (when we begin to study English literature). There is still low International culture here. I found less people talking English only in France and Spain. While I was surprised by Greeks, they have a good knowledge of English!
    Talking about myself, I can say that I used to speak a better English, but I'm out of training. Luckly I can perfectly speak Spanish! Anyhow, we should say something about English speakers that rarely make efforces to learn other languages eheh!

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    Maciamo
    In Spain, many people have to learn Spanish as a foreign language, because their mother-tongue is Catalan, Basque or Galician, or a dialect like Valencian or Andalucian. Many Catalans learn French before English as they live near the border, and Catalan is half-way between French and Castillan Spanish.
    The regression of the nazionalismos regionalists of Catalonia, Basque Country or Galicia has taken that the classes in these regions is given completely in his regional languages and the Spanish is studied as subject, not as foreign language, since you are regions are bilingual and Spanish or Castilian language is the common language of all the Spanish. Yes it can happen that in several decades the new generations of these bilingual regions are illiterate in Spanish, at least at the time of writing it, since in the mass media and the street Spanish is used depending on the province almost more than the regional language. The regions nazionalistas regionalists use his regional languages as political weapon of discrimination.

    The decree of the education of the Castilian as foreign language is only an indignation to a population who is bilingual and a pulse to the Spanish State, on the part of the nazi-onalistas regionalists.

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