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xianhua

Ode to the multilinguists...

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xianhua

I must say that I'm quite in awe of the English ability of some posters on here. In some cases the skill-level actually surpasses that of many native speakers. It seems that some posters have been born in country A, educated in English as well as their native tongue, then picked up a couple of other languages before taking on Mandarin - and more.

In terms of my own ability, I am a native English speaker and keen learner of Chinese - and that's your lot. However, there is still hope for my baby daughter! Her mother is Chinese and so she'll be raised bilingually (we have a 75% chance of success according to studies on the subject). I want to place an emphasis on language study within her education.

I therefore just wondered how some of the posters on here became multilingual.

I suspect it may be a case of exposure to various languages, or perhaps different education systems revolve far more around languages (unlike the British education system which places very little emphasis on languages now)?

Any thoughts or comments will be appreciated. Thanks.

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Senzhi

Well, for me, I come from Belgium ... which is a country merely the size of Guangdong province. It's a country which already has three official languages.

So you can imagine I couldn't walk far away from my bed without having the need to speak another language.

In fact, in my country, if you don't have the knowledge of at least two languages (besides English), it's very difficult to get a job at a specialist or management level, and even impossible to get a government job at that level.

So, in my case, it was more out of necessity.

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kdavid

Studies show that children need to be exposed to a specific language 30% of their waking life as infants and toddlers. As such, children can arguably learn 3 "first languages".

I suggest you start here: http://www.multilingualchildren.org/

I'm pretty sure this is linked to in another post.

I'm curious as to why you cited you only have a 75% chance of success of raising a bilingual child. What study is this coming from? I'm interested in knowing because I'll be a new father within the next six weeks, and if there's anything out there that will keep my child from becoming bilingual, I'd like to know.

Until now I've assumed my child would have a 100% change of being bilingual, seeing how I'm American and my wife is Chinese. As long as we speak both languages at home and such, I don't see why the child would only have a 75% chance of becoming bilingual.

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xianhua

The figure of 75% is from 'Raising a bilingual child' by Barbara Zurer Pearson. Quote:

"Three out of four children in bilingual households become active bilinguals".

I haven't read the book in full yet, but just glancing at it, the conditions and parental input seem to be a vital part.

I'm quite optimistic that our child will become bilingual as the necessary conditions listed seem to be met. For example:

1. Regular trips to China.

2. Regular conversations with relatives in China

3. Chinese friends in the community here

4. Level of commitment from both parents high

The reading and writing part is the part where real effort needs to be met, hence my original questions on how some of the non-natives on here can write English perfectly. I'm thinking that only a few years spent living in China can give her the exposure needed to learn the script to a decent level.

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agimcomas

I am a native Spanish speaker, but raised in a bilingual English-Spanish language school since age 9. Then moved to Quebec at age 15, and finished High School in a French language school. I speak the three languages pretty well although Spanish is definitely my best language.

My sister is 8 and she can speak the three languages like her mother tongue, although she mixes them up a lot too.

I started learning Chinese by myself as a teenager, and then took classes in college. I think the more languages, the merrier!

Cheers, :D

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trien27

I grew up in the USA, therefore learning English. My parents and grandparents were Chinese, so I spoke Cantonese. I went to Chinese school where I was taught Mandarin. I was born in Vietnam, but only knew a few words here and there, don't know the language. I learned some French because my grandfather was a French teacher and I happened to have learned some French from his books. I've been to Norway, so I learned some Norwegian. I've studied Spanish & some Greek, in high school, and know some words. There. That's the story of how I became a "polyglot". In college, I had friends of different ancestries, so that's how I learned some words in Hebrew, Turkish, Russian, etc...

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renzhe
The reading and writing part is the part where real effort needs to be met, hence my original questions on how some of the non-natives on here can write English perfectly.

I think you'll find that many of the non-native speakers here have been speaking and writing English for a decade or more. In many countries, mandatory English lessons start very early, and many university courses require extensive reading of literature in English.

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Loriquero

Mi native language is spanish, I have a good command of this language since I was fully educated using it, I did never live in a english speaking country, I learned it from school, videogames, internet, movies and so on, I just started to speak in english when arrived to Shanghai, but my pronuntiation and grammar are far from perfect though I can understand almost everything.

Almost same story with portuguese, brazilian girlfriend for more than one year (In Shanghai), but didn´t have the chance to practice the language so much because she was completely fluent in spanish and not willing to speak to me using portuguese. Anyway, because of her family and friends, now I can understand almost everything (It would be weird if it wasn´t like that), but then most of them wanted to try their portuñol skills with me, so same thing, pronuntiation and grammar sucks.

Now mandarin, two years studying it, I feel pretty confortable using it in daily conversations, I think I have decent pronuntiation for an adult foreigner, but there´s still too much to learn in intermediate and advanced vocabulary and grammar.

That´s my sad story, now I felt in love with brazilian and chinese culture, and I would like to have a decent command in both languages :mrgreen:

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Lugubert

My father was a sea-captain, so from the very beginning I understood that knowing other languages was useful.

In Swedish school, English started in grade 5 and went on for eight years. German from grade 7 and French from 8. I had good results and liked learning them, so during and after Engineering school, I collected more of them.

All the languages that I really speak are Indo-European. Quite another case is a friend of mine. She is fluent in six, almost seven languages of three language families and seems to get on fairly well in a language of yet another family. Her start was having two mother tongues and then coming to Sweden to acquire Swedish at an age when language learning still is automatic, and then English and French in school. In addition to that start, she loves travelling and meeting people.

So, an early start and having factors that promote the wish to learn will be useful.

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MademoiselleSky

Canadian-born-Chinese, I was brought up by my cantonese-speaking parents and grandfather who spoke a Chinese dialect (from NingPo). I went to school in Vancouver till the age of 8 and moved to a French speaking island (Martinique).

A child can manage up to 5 languages without mixing them up before the age of 6, after that it is harder to try and teach them an other foreign language. (But you have to be persistant, I "lost" NingPo's dialect after my grandfather died athough I can still understand it today).

Another thing you can try: "mommy doesn't speak english", so that the child is forced into speaking chinese with mom. (Worked on my younger brother).

And TV, never underestimate the power of discovery channel, cnn or bbc, that's how I kept my english to a near-native level. However my best language is surprisingly french, language that I picked up after 9.

Today, I'm studying, english, mandarin (hoping to get rid of the french accent I have when I speak chinese) and japanese in college in hopes of becoming a instant translator.

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chrix

Senzhi, my impression was that Belgium is more like Switzerland, i.e. a case of a multilingual country rather than a multilingual people, qualification requirements notwithstanding... I know Switzerland better than Belgium, so my impression might be skewed.

Anyways that reminds me of this American guy I knew, his mother was a Spanish speaker, and he grew up in Antwerp, but in a French-speaking neighbourhood, of course schooling was in Dutch. This guy grew up with four languages in Europe, where monolingualism is the norm. I'm still in awe....

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Senzhi

Belgium is a very small country. And doing business in a multilingual country requires multilingual people. Companies won't do the effort of hiring multiple native speakers as sales representatives or customer service to cover an area as small as Belgium. They'll only take mulitlingual people, cutting costs.

The same applies if you want to work for the national government.

It might be a little different in Switzerland due to the fact that it's a larger country.

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chrix

Switzerland larger than Belgium? That would be news to me. Since Switzerland has slightly less people but a slightly larger area, in my mind those two countries have always been quite similar. Of course Switzerland is a Belgium that is not in the EU and has mountains and no sea :mrgreen:

But jokes aside, in each country you have two dominant language groups (I'll disregard the other groups such as Germans in Belgium, and Italians and Romantsch in Switzerland, because they're politically marginalised) living next to each other. However, Belgium has Brussels as a major mixed area, while Switzerland does not (well it just doesn't have one centre). It has some mixed cantons, but not in a way like Brussels anyways (and like the experience of the new canton Jura has shown, there's a trend in Switzerland towards delineating the two dominant groups more neatly). The Germans in Switzerland are also 2/3 of the population, so there's another point for Switzerland easing the pressure to be multilingual maybe. But on the other hand, the Swiss political system does manage to have unified national parties unlike Belgium's, although of course the political parties play a much less important role in Switzerland.

But I'm still curious. The international media have been writing for years that Belgium is gonna split apart were it not for the King / Brussels / the EU / Belgian chocolate (just kidding!), so it's created an impression that the mutual alienation of the language groups has progressed to the point that the groups are not interested at all in each other any more. (Like Walloons being commonly characterised as being unwilling to learn such a globally marginal language like Dutch, Flemings lashing out at French people assuming that all Belgians speak French etc.). Maybe it's been blown out of proportion, but isn't the tendency still more towards salad bowl rather than melting pot?

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Senzhi

I agree with all your points. :mrgreen:

The international media have been writing for years that Belgium is gonna split

Only the media, politicians, and poorly educated make such "wind". The politicians to make news and to make themselves famous/infamous (feel free to choose), the media because news is money, and the poorly educated because they have poor jobs and feel the need to blame something or somebody for their situation ... and because they're the first to believe their "famous" politician, being the "weakest" group to be "used" by those politicians.

Any culturally educated person in Belgium knows that Belgium will always remain Belgium with its mixed cultures and ... well ... politics and newspapers. Belgium was at the heart of creating the Benelux as well as the EU. In fact, our national "motto" has always been "United we stand".

Of course we do make a lot of jokes about the "other side" inside our country, but nevertheless they remain "healthy" jokes. Poking with a wink.

And if we'd split, either side would not be able to sustain on its own, and would have to choose side with the Dutch/French ... and not a single Belgian believes that would solve all our problems. :mrgreen:

No offense to the Dutch nor French ... I love them both ... except Heineken. :mrgreen:

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Senzhi
According to polls, 60% of French people are prepared to bite the bullet and annex Wallonia should Belgium fall apart

I know the story, but I'm afraid the link is blocked here in China. Of course, from the title, I believe the French would annex, just like many other countries would love such an idea from their neighbours.

What Belgium can learn from Switzerland (interesting take on why the internal divisions in B. are so much more acrimonious than in S.)

An extremely good article. As right as it can be.

Unfortunately, in Belgium, you don't have to be smart to be a politician. A little mix of corruption, popularity, and money will do fine. (And yes, I'm a proud Belgian!)

Luckily, the average Belgian knows that. So we let the politics do their thing, since we can only change situations through voting, which doesn't help, since all political factions use more or less the same "mix".

So our votings always change the power ... but the end result basically remains the same. So does the noise ... but the common people are smart enough to understand the implications of a drastic change we're discussing about: it would make us all more vulnerable.

Again, I agree with the story: giving too much power to factions is never a good idea. It's still politics ... power and money. But it happened.

Maybe China learned from us. :mrgreen:

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chrix

It reminds me of the great idea of dissolving Switzerland and giving it away to its neighbouring countries.... :mrgreen:

OK, I sent you a PM with more info on the first link.

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Daan
No offense to the Dutch nor French ... I love them both ... except Heineken.

I've never agreed with those who said Belgium should be split apart and absorbed by France / the Netherlands, but now that I've encountered a Belgian who agrees Heineken should be abolished, I can only say: come and join us, we need more like-minded people in the Netherlands! ;)

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