Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby MamaPata » Mon Jul 03, 2017 9:54 pm

DaveBee wrote:
garyb wrote: For us it's one of the two main languages taught at schools along with French, and I'm a little envious of my friends who studied German at school as they mostly seemed to come out with a much more useful level than those of us who did French.

Nice to know about the quality of resources both for learning German and other languages from German!
In my school days German was the default L3, but very few people studied an L3.

I think German and Spanish would both a be better choice than French for the default L2 in UK schools.


We did French or Spanish, which I feel made more sense than German given the size of the respective populations speaking those languages in London.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby DaveBee » Mon Jul 03, 2017 10:11 pm

MamaPata wrote:
DaveBee wrote:
garyb wrote: For us it's one of the two main languages taught at schools along with French, and I'm a little envious of my friends who studied German at school as they mostly seemed to come out with a much more useful level than those of us who did French.

Nice to know about the quality of resources both for learning German and other languages from German!
In my school days German was the default L3, but very few people studied an L3.

I think German and Spanish would both a be better choice than French for the default L2 in UK schools.


We did French or Spanish, which I feel made more sense than German given the size of the respective populations speaking those languages in London.
Germans are a surprisingly large immigrant group in the UK (290,000), but I was thinking about the size of the german speaking population in Europe vs French. I can certainly see that London might be a special case to take account of large resident language communities.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby garyb » Mon Jul 24, 2017 12:17 pm

Another post about switching, but I don't have a whole lot else to write about other than "Italian still very slowly improving, with ups and downs". I've ended up spending a few days in Veneto due to some complications that I'd rather not get into, and I have to say that it is the worst area I've encountered thus far for an Italian learner.

It's the first place where people have addressed me in English before I even opened my mouth! It's happened in my hotel in Venice and in a gelateria in Padova. I suppose they could tell from my appearance (in the latter case I was wearing a style of sun hat that perhaps an Italian would never wear) or my body language or who knows, but it had never happened before. Of course I responded in Italian but they steadfastly refused to indulge me. Then last night in Venice I discovered that even practically in a life-or-death situation they're reluctant!

Let me explain. I went out for a drink with some people from the hostel, and a drunk Australian decided it was a good idea to climb up onto a roof. Somehow he cut a few fingers and he was losing a bunch of blood, so we had to go and get help. I was the only one in the group who spoke Italian, and the security staff and police we found at the station only knew basic English, so I had to explain what had happened so they could pass the information on to the ambulance staff. Guess what, it took some convincing for them to listen to me and they mostly replied in broken English. Can people not set aside their pride and do the practical thing even in an emergency situation where clear communication is paramount?

Other Italians say that the people from Veneto have a kind of arrogant and know-it-all attitude, which might explain this behaviour. Like most regional stereotypes, my experience so far (visiting here, and having met people from the area in the past) is that it obviously doesn't apply to everybody but still the stereotype exists for a reason.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby Dannylearns » Tue Jul 25, 2017 1:26 pm

I really enjoy reading topics where someone studies for the purpose of culture, travel and social.. that is exactly why I study too. Even when we can use google translator for everything, i'd still like to learn the language. Thanks for the read.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby reineke » Sat Aug 12, 2017 4:14 am

I never had anyone switch to English via telephone or email during the three-year period I covered Italian companies for a US institution. Investor relation departments are usually manned by people who can speak English. I didn't have (m) any face to face encounters with Italians though. It's possible that the personnel responsible for the tourist areas is used to communicaring in English with foreigners. The presence of other English speakers might have played a role.Your Italian must be getting better if you are picking up regional prejudices. Cheers and try to enjoy your travels.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby garyb » Mon Aug 14, 2017 9:08 pm

Not updated this for a wee while. My Sardinian adventure (with Veneto diversion) has finished, I'm in Turin at the moment, then I'm thinking of visiting Genova and Florence before returning to Scotland at least for some time. I'm quite burnt out from travelling and need a break. Overall I wouldn't really advise the kind of travelling-while-working that I've been doing, as always having to plan and look for accommodation is stressful. In future I reckon I'll stick to more conventional ways of travelling: shorter trips, or spending longer in one place, or saving up and then backpacking without worrying about work.

I've also lost interest a bit in the more academic side of language learning as discussed here, and most of it (including my old posts) just seems like overthinking and taking the hobby too seriously. I think that all this time living in another language has forced me to see it from a more practical and realistic point of view, or at least a different one from before since I have the luxury of being in immersion and so not having to "force it" and keep looking for ways to compensate not being in immersion. Input and practice opportunities mostly take care of themselves.

At the moment I want to keep learning languages as a hobby, but take it a little less seriously and have more time for music, for relaxing and enjoying life, and for other kinds of self-improvement. Meeting other travellers has put things into perspective a bit as I've realised that my language skills can be kinda meaningless when I'm too shy or too tired to make the most of them. Plenty people visit Italy without knowing Italian and have a great time, even if it means often struggling to communicate, because they have energy and put themselves out there. It's an example of a metaphor I like when it comes to social skills, language knowledge is "the icing on the cake" and I'm mostly icing without much cake. I don't think I'll make big efforts to keep improving my Italian; I'll be happy to put it into maintenance or slow improvement mode, which should again take care of itself with friendships and interest in film and literature. I'd like to pick up Spanish again, and sooner or later some Greek or German too as I've said in recent posts, but at the pace that suits me.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby garyb » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:13 pm

I've finished travelling and been back home for over a week now. Last note on switching for now: I've said that Tuscany is a good place for practising Italian, and I mostly still stick to that, but Lucca is an exception. Do visit it if you're in the area as it's a beautiful place, but don't expect replies in Italian if you're not a native speaker. I even had the same experience as in Padova with someone greeting me in English as soon as I walked into the shop.

Anyway my thoughts are still quite the same as I said in the last post, that at the moment I want to put languages on the back-burner to focus on other things and have a simpler life for a little while. I do hope to keep my Italian alive as I said, and to refresh my Spanish and eventually aim to improve it again, and now that I have a proper broadband connection I can start watching TV and films again and have the odd Skype chat.

Another reason I'm moving away a bit from language learning is that I believe I was partly doing it for the wrong reasons and my trip has put that into perspective. When I started relearning French I was the typical learner with a romanticised vision of France and its people and culture, but after more time in the country and meeting more of the people the effect wore off and I got more realistic ideas, realising that it was a culture that I, as a foreigner, would never truly fit into and feel welcome in. And on reflection, if I did want to fit in it was because I had romanticised it. I've spoken of the difficulty of finding people to practise French with and the bad attitudes towards learners, but these are just symptoms of that culture and also of my own unhealthy motivations. To an extent I was "using" these people as a means to "get in with" the culture. I read the recent thread on "cultural appropriation" in the general discussion forum, and while it's a term that I generally disagree with and find to be abused a lot, as I read through the thread I did see aspects of it in my past attitudes towards learning and wanting to fit in with cultures that weren't my own and about which I had unrealistic ideas.

I believe I also fell into that trap with Italian. Perhaps even to a worse degree, since it's a "one-country language" and I did have opportunities to hang around with native speakers: these unhealthy motivations mixed with the social pressure to fit in and be more like them (rather than being myself) was a bad combination, and as I've said before I sometimes spent time with them because I was interested in their language and culture rather than in them as people. Again the negative experiences with native speakers could be partly due to that. They found it strange that a foreigner was so interested in their language and culture, and perhaps rightly so.

Coming back from the trip has made me appreciate my own country and culture more than ever, and that's helped me to see all this more clearly. There's the old saying that to be able to love others you must first learn to love yourself, and perhaps that applies to appreciating foreign cultures too. In fact one thing that I really admire about my Italian friends is how much they know and enjoy sharing about their own country and background. It's made me keen to learn more about my own and be able to return the favour when they come to visit here.

Anyway I'm hoping that the tone of this message hasn't been too negative, and I still reckon that my main and initial motivations for learning these languages were very healthy ones, including positive interest in the associated cultures and genuine friendships with native speakers. It's just as I got more into the languages that the unhealthy ones started to develop and creep in. Also, all my thoughts about culture and where the line is between healthy appreciation and weird romanticising and even "appropriation" are still quite undeveloped and I'm sure others have considered these ideas much more than I have, so I'd be curious to hear any thoughts on them.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby tastyonions » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:27 pm

Interesting thoughts. I've started accepting that I will always be the big goofy American that you can spot from half a mile away, just as I would have been if I never started on this language thing. If that makes people switch to English on me or keep their distance, oh well. I won't let it get me down.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby garyb » Mon Sep 04, 2017 4:51 pm

tastyonions wrote:Interesting thoughts. I've started accepting that I will always be the big goofy American that you can spot from half a mile away, just as I would have been if I never started on this language thing. If that makes people switch to English on me or keep their distance, oh well. I won't let it get me down.


I hear you. Another thing that's been important for me to realise is that there's no point in worrying about passing for a native speaker. 99% of people I interact with are going to realise I'm foreign as soon as I open my mouth, and whether they decide to respond to that respectfully is completely up to them and not worth taking personally. Understanding this has taken off a lot of the pressure to "perform". The best I can do is try to demonstrate that I'm a competent speaker by having a half-decent pronunciation and appearing confident, but even that is easier to do if I try not to think about it too much.
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Re: Languages and Life: Gary's log (Italian, Spanish, bits of French)

Postby iguanamon » Mon Sep 04, 2017 5:53 pm

We all have our own unique reasons for learning a language. Some want to have a better travel experience, learn more about a culture through their language, learn a partner's language, read literature in the original, watch cinema, understand songs, or even just an academic challenge. I've never been under the illusion that I will become part of a culture by learning a language. I am an American from the Upper South of the US. That's my base culture, but it doesn't define me. Over my lifetime I have had other experiences that have altered that baseline. I have lived in Northern England and have two children there. I have lived in Puerto Rico and now in the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. What am I? Who am I? I am still me but I'm not who I used to be anymore. I consider myself a culture of one. In a sense, we are all a culture of one. Our life experiences change us and make us who we are, whether or not we travel or live abroad. We grow and we change.

No matter how well I may speak Spanish or Portuguese, Haitian Creole or Ladino, I will never be mistaken for being Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Haitian or Sephardic. That's never been my objective. I love who I am, where I'm from and where I live. I like being recognized as a foreigner who has made the effort to learn to speak a second language at a high level. I wouldn't have that feeling if I just fit in without anyone noticing. This gives me an entree into aspects of a culture I wouldn't see if I weren't able to speak the language and had no cultural reference to appreciate it.

While I will never be Brazilian or Puerto Rican, there are many, many benefits to learning a second language. For me that has meant, new friends, wonderful travel experiences, learning about new cultures and people, experiencing good literature, films and TV. Learning languages has broadened my mind and opened it in a way that is invaluable to me. If my language abilities, as I have them now were taken away, I would feel greatly diminished as a person.

Sometimes, here on the forum, we can get carried away with languages, as if they are the begin all and end all of everything. I never intended to learn as many as I have. High ability in Spanish made me want to replicate that in Portuguese... which opened the door to Haitian Creole (through my experience with the DLI Portuguese Basic Course) and Ladino from knowing both Spanish and Portuguese. As I said before, we all learn languages for our own reasons, but just because many of us here make language-learning a priority, it doesn't mean that language-learning is everything. Life is out there. Love is out there. There are many facets of life to explore and enjoy... and...hey!.. they don't have to be related to language-learning! I've enjoyed reading your log over the years, Gary. You can be proud of your accomplishments in language-learning.
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