Learning languages of immigrants around you

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eido
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby eido » Wed Oct 10, 2018 12:25 am

I almost learned Burmese because we have two people my mom befriended at her old job from Myanmar. It's a lovely language. I'm still getting used to the concept of tones though - I do not have an ear for music, so I think that makes tones more difficult. I have a couple of resources on my computer for this language. However I do not think I'll be learning it any time soon because I'm too afraid to speak it - the woman of the pair has emphasized many times that her language is too hard to pronounce and she wouldn't even teach my mom a few words, so I think she doesn't like to see it murdered. And even as English is difficult for her, she's still better at it than will be my attempts to speak her language should I ever try to.

I'm already learning Spanish, and my reason for learning it was that it was the most widely spoken foreign language in the United States - back when I signed up for it as a fourteen year-old. But I grew to love it as more than some cold, lifeless thing and it's my first love that I will spend the rest of my life learning (if I have to).

I do feel there's a sense of being a bit of a sycophant when you learn languages of immigrants, especially if they're a bit specific or more stereotypically "rare". Like, are you actually learning to accommodate the speaker, or are you learning to have them be impressed with you? What about interest? It comes down to that old debate of practicality versus interest, I guess.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby patrickwilken » Wed Oct 10, 2018 6:43 am

I live literally a block away from what Syrian refugees to Germany call "Arab Street", so I could certainly attempt to learn Arabic or perhaps Turkish. However, let's be real. It's a really hard language. I am already learning the majority language around me (German).

For me to want to put in that much work I'd have to be pretty sure of getting something out of it. I can already talk to Arabs around here in German, and I just don't find broader Arabic culture that appealing. And it's not that I am not interested in the Middle East at all. I am currently reading my forth (fifth?) book for the year centered around the Arab speaking world, but that suffices for me.

If I were to learn a really hard other language, I might try for Japanese or Chinese. But I have a feeling that in early 50s I am just too old for that now.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:25 pm

patrickwilken wrote:I live literally a block away from what Syrian refugees to Germany call "Arab Street", so I could certainly attempt to learn Arabic or perhaps Turkish. However, let's be real. It's a really hard language. I am already learning the majority language around me (German).

For me to want to put in that much work I'd have to be pretty sure of getting something out of it. I can already talk to Arabs around here in German, and I just don't find broader Arabic culture that appealing. And it's not that I am not interested in the Middle East at all. I am currently reading my forth (fifth?) book for the year centered around the Arab speaking world, but that suffices for me.

If I were to learn a really hard other language, I might try for Japanese or Chinese. But I have a feeling that in early 50s I am just too old for that now.


Like you - I'm in my early 50s too, in Germany learning German and neither Arabic nor Turkish will be target languages for me.

I don't think it is age but just the absence of sufficient interest to invest so much learning time into them. My minority language list is more focused on learning Setswana, Hebrew and Tibetan (currently) and Tzotzil, Nahuatl (future hopefully) and maybe something else will come along and grab my interest.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:33 pm

eido wrote:I do feel there's a sense of being a bit of a sycophant when you learn languages of immigrants, especially if they're a bit specific or more stereotypically "rare". Like, are you actually learning to accommodate the speaker, or are you learning to have them be impressed with you? What about interest? It comes down to that old debate of practicality versus interest, I guess.


Is it a problem? After you've spent hundreds of hours learning a language the sycophant dichotomy sort of fades away - yes, it's nice to see a response of surprise from speaking with a native but your engagement with the language becomes a thing unto itself - it's neither about practicality nor interest, these can be initial motivators, but to paraphrase St Exupery,

"It is the time you have lost for your language that makes your language so important."
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby eido » Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:03 pm

zenmonkey wrote:Is it a problem? After you've spent hundreds of hours learning a language the sycophant dichotomy sort of fades away - yes, it's nice to see a response of surprise from speaking with a native but your engagement with the language becomes a thing unto itself - it's neither about practicality nor interest, these can be initial motivators, but to paraphrase St Exupery,

"It is the time you have lost for your language that makes your language so important."

Maybe I haven't gotten to the stage yet where that dichotomy has worn off. I shouldn't speak unless I know, and I only knew a little in this case.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby Decidida » Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:50 pm

I definitely chose the languages of my friends and schoolmates.

Yes, their English is better than my attempts at their languages, but not always. And as I learn their languages, I learn how to change my ENGLISH to make it easier to understand. I was used in a law class recently to simplify the English of a law professor. I just repeated English with different English with just a few Creole words thrown in that consistently mess up this student, like his inability to keep Tuesday and Thursday straight. I just automatically say "Tuesday Madi" and "Thursday Jedi" now. But it was English to English and it left the law professor interested and puzzled.

When we talk about new words, I say "It is spelled like it would sound like ... in Creole/Spanish".

When one of us does not know a word, we often all learn a new word. Eggplant and vanilla were words that do not come up in our texts, but come up in OUR shared lives, so we all learned them. Lately sometimes, I am in situations where we are talking all three languages as once. The Spanish and Creole speakers that have been here longer are often working with and managing people that have been here for less time. And "Jerky bosses" will just yell at all employees in their native language, especially Spanish speakers from certain countries that have a difficult relationship with Haiti.

I have studied Latin and Ancient Greek. Some of my friends didn't finish grade school. Their English as a whole is so much better than mine, but ... issues come up.

When people are tired, sick, and under stress, their language abilities decrease. If one person is at home with a dictionary at hand, and another person is juggling bags on train and running late, the language of choice is the person on the train.

Langauge is about power, sometimes. Speaking in our native language is speaking from a place of increased power. Putting the other person into the place of power is important sometimes.

"I love you".

"No, you are NOT a bad person."

"Do not give up."

Please. Thank you. I'm sorry. Stop.

Body parts.

There are moments in life. Primal things. They are best said in the other person's language.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby Decidida » Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:05 pm

Whispering together in the non dominant language is bonding, especially in situations where at least one member is feeling oppressed by the dominant culture. Especially if whispering insults about a specific oppressor from the dominant culture.

Tagging along with friends into situations where people assume that I don't understand anything, but do, is kind of fun at times.

Depending on your job and the language, it can be money in your pocket and job security. Native to foreign is different than foreign to dominant, sometimes.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:20 pm

eido wrote:
zenmonkey wrote:Is it a problem? After you've spent hundreds of hours learning a language the sycophant dichotomy sort of fades away - yes, it's nice to see a response of surprise from speaking with a native but your engagement with the language becomes a thing unto itself - it's neither about practicality nor interest, these can be initial motivators, but to paraphrase St Exupery,

"It is the time you have lost for your language that makes your language so important."

Maybe I haven't gotten to the stage yet where that dichotomy has worn off. I shouldn't speak unless I know, and I only knew a little in this case.


Sometimes, in silence, no one learns.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby Expugnator » Thu Oct 25, 2018 12:38 am

I'd be thrilled with the idea of learning a modem Syriac form from some Syrian refugees (yes, many of not most of them speak Syriac), but as they integrated rather quickly in the society here I don't even know why to look. Moreover, their metalanguage is even more fragmented now, which is saddening and doesn't make the life of a learner for the sake of curiosity any easier. Any form of Aramaic remains on my hit list though, even if I have to resort to Classical Syriac as a start.
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Re: Learning languages of immigrants around you

Postby eamon0989 » Tue Oct 30, 2018 9:20 am

Where I live there is a lot of immigration from African, specifically north Western Africa, and they are very badly treated here. Most of them speak either some English or French so I can communicate with them in those languages, but I've tried to learn greetings in all their languages and the smile on their face when this random white dude greets them in their language which is only spoken by a few million people is priceless.

I had been learning Italian but haven't had much of a chance to practice it here as there aren't many Italians living here, so I recently decided to start learning Twi (a small tribal language spoken in Ghana) to speak to them in their native language and I've had great reactions so far, despite only being able to say a few words and phrases. They are super helpful and all want to help me to learn their language.

I would highly recommend at least learning a few greetings and phrases in the languages of immigrants, their reaction makes it all worthwhile.
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