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Not really advice but.... question re languages in Europe

(13 Posts)
MaryMotherOfCheeses Sat 20-Jun-09 23:56:17

So. We feel like idiots when we go to European countries and try to speak their language. We might have enough French to get by, but the rest of it is pretty abysmal. Maybe please, thank you, and "two beers please".

If English is the language Europeans are taught at school, are they any better than us when they go on holiday?

So, for example, if the French go to Italy, do they try Italian? Or give up and talk in French. Or English.

What happens?

MaryMotherOfCheeses Sat 20-Jun-09 23:58:00

What prompted this is that DH has spent the week in Belgium with a group of Norwegians who were very impressed with his O level style French. Their default second language is English. And were quite surprised he could order a couple of beers.

SueW Sun 21-Jun-09 07:57:53

DH has spent a lot of time working in Europe - in Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, etc. The default working language tends to be English because most people are fairly proficient in it - he works on projects which have people from lots of diff countries.

Not sure what happens when they go out for a beer though!

ABetaDad Sun 21-Jun-09 09:00:56

MMOC - my feeling on this is that people from other countries have a really easy choice and a huge payoff to learning a language. Its obvious - just learn English.

Unfortunately, English speakers have a huge number of languages to choose from with a smaller payoff. I would really like DSs to learn Spanish rather than French. The reason I want them to do this is because it opens up most of Latin America to them as well as Spain and also provides a root into Italian. This the biggest payoff European language apart from English.

I saw a family of Italians on holiday quite happily speaking Italian to a family of Spaniards and vice versa and communication was easy. I believe Dutch and German speakers can do the same and of course natural links between countries such as Spain/Portugal tend to produce a lot of bilingual speakers.

Apart from that I tend to find mostly business people speak English to each other. Almost all international business is now done in English, the shipping and airline industry works universally in English and of course the internet is dominated by English. even the EU now has far more primary documents published in English and then translated into the other languages.

It is really is all about maximising payoff from the effort of learning a language.

MaryMotherOfCheeses Sun 21-Jun-09 13:28:35

That's interesting about Spanish and Italians finding it easy to get by. Makes sense really when you think about how similar the languages are.

Thanks for making some sense of my question. It was written at the wrong end of a bottle of wine, DH and I were babbling nonsense. Mustn't drink within close proximity of a computer blush

cat64 Sun 21-Jun-09 13:51:41

Message withdrawn

pillowcase Sun 21-Jun-09 14:15:06

The French feel really inferior about their ability to learn/speak foreign languages. They have re-jigged their methods of teaching English (i.e. starting in primary school now) but are still a long way behind the Germans etc. Their solution? They just holiday in France or in the overseas departments/old colonies!!

Lilymaid Sun 21-Jun-09 14:18:17

I've been asked if I am Belgian or Dutch on holiday when I've spoken in German or French (rusty school stuff). When DH goes to European scientific meetings all proceedings are in English and most of the conversations at the social events are in English too. He would love to improve his French by actually using it for work, but that will not happen (unless he works in France).

Kiwinyc Sun 21-Jun-09 15:58:55

I think they converse in whatever language they can - often (but not always) that ends up being english, because thats the second language they're most often taught in school.

English is certainly the language of business. I work for the international division of a German-owned co. and they all have to be fluent in english. Recently some people from the german office were going to greece to do a presentation and its all going to be done in english because its the only language they have in common.

Portofino Sun 21-Jun-09 16:08:57

I work for a large Belgian company where the official work languages are French and Dutch, but English is a requirement for many roles. The fluency in English of my colleagues never ceases to amaze me, and puts my knowledge of their languages completely to shame. Many speak other languages as well.

With regard to holidays, most of them (the ones I know at least) seem to stay in Belgium - coast or Ardennes (second homes in the family are common) or go to France. I'm going to ask this question at work tomorrow though!

NoTart Tue 23-Jun-09 09:46:36

As somebody who has lived and worked in various European countries for years, I´m surprised by the OP and responses here. To me, it is absolutely clear and regularly articulated by non-Brits that English is THE international language and is the default language in case of communication problems.

This is not to say that Europeans actually speak English very well and it does depend on the country and age of the people. IME the older generations don´t speak any English at all, for others English often has a very high status and fluents speakers are very much admired. Having said this, most people actúally don´t actually speak very good English, and yes they get by just fine in a work context but take them out of that and they can completely fail to make any small talk or understand a normal conversation...

Also, although many people are deperate to improve their English, I do come accross people who speak fluent English but DO NOT, out of some principle..

BetaDad, learning French opens up much of Africa, and is also an inroad into Spanish and Italian, as I know to my advantage! Spanish is easier to learn though as a first language so it´s not a bad idea ; ) You are tight that Dutch and German speakers can sometimes understand eachother, depending on their dialects and where they come from. Some can learn the other language very quickly, others struggle more!

NoTart Tue 23-Jun-09 09:49:26

Oh, and the reason the Dutch (and Dutch-speaking Belgians) tend to have better English is for sure related to the factg that they have such a small language area. So many TV programmes and cinema are in the original English version, whereas in germany, France, etc. all imports are dubbed into the local langauge..

Nefret Fri 26-Jun-09 21:20:11

When I lived in Turkey the Turkish people would talk to the Dutch and Germans mainly in English. I think people all learn English so it is the obvious way to communicate.

The British on the other hadn are just not taught languages very well and also they are lazy (me included) as everyone else speaks English. I don't even know that much Turksih as all the turks could speak English.

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