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Multi-lingual skills is the best!

The president of the organization for New-Norwegian (nynorsk), Håvard B. Øvregård, had recently an interesting observation on how native English users in the EU has a drawback, in comparison to the other representatives from other countries, because they are "too good" in English, and thus are less understood by others, AND because of their less understanding of other languages.

According to EUObserver, british citizens only make up 5 % of the commisions 26.000 persons workforce, while they make up 12 % of the total population.

If you are using Google translate, you can his text in norwegian here:

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    Mar 30 2011: I hear the story that all non-native-bilingual speakers of English are going to have major advantages over English speakers...but I don't buy the argument. If a non-native speaker is stuck with a bunch of native speakers, ex. while working in New York City at the UN, from which I now type, he is still favored over all by native speakers. Sure I see large numbers of non-native speakers getting jobs, but I also hear some terrible English at the UN. Their is a terrible tendancy not to use ones own language except for translating from English into their. While living a year in the 4th largest country, Brazil, I saw how 60 percent of Portuguese language books are translated from US authors. Perhaps 90 percent of movies show are made in the USA. What kind of economic advantage are we giving native English speakers? Only in Esperanto do I see a chance for second language speakers to fully participate in the community. That is how I feel since I learned Esperanto when I was 16 years old (40 years ago) and this sense of equality is unknown to non-native English speakers. Sad that an easy answer, Esperanto, is so ignored. Anybody who is bilingual already neads a few months to join an idealistic community. The UN talks about helping the illiterate bottom billion living on a dollar a day, largely in Africa, India and China and encourages the use of formal colonial languages. Universal Esperanto Association stands for the right of all to learn their mother tongue and Esperanto as a Second language.
    • Mar 31 2011: I cannot totally agree with everything you say here. First of all, I don't think many non-native people would apply for jobs in English-speaking parts of the world if they had the choice between using English or their native language. But for me, the main interest in knowing other languages is to be able to communicate with people around the world, people from different cultures. Therefore, I think Esperanto is meaningless. Who created this language? A guy, Dr Zamenhof, who had in mind to create a neutral language that would foster peace throughout the world. I have to say, the idea is good, but a language cannot be created like that. A language represents a way of thinking and a culture. A single person cannot create all this in a few years. I grew up in a bilingual environment, French and Romansh. Romansh, descending from Vulgar Latin, is the 4th official language of Switzerland and it is spoken by less than 1% of the population. In order to support Romansh, the Swiss government created, in the 1980's, the "Rumantsch Grischun", which is a mix of the 5 different dialects that are spoken and written differently (and knowing one of those dialects doesn't mean that you can understand the other ones, they can be totally different). So instead of helping the small population who speaks Romansh, this invented Rumantsch Grischun actually killed the original dialects, and most of the native-speakers started to speak Swiss-German and didn't even try to learn Rumantsch Grischun, because that language had no culture, no life, no meaning to them. To relate this to Esperanto, I don't see the point in learning a language that doesn't belong to a region and a population. Where is the pleasure of learning a new language (and a new way of thinking, as Patricia Ryan says) ? English is my 5th language, and I enjoy learning it because I have the chance to learn it in the States and it is an open-minding and enriching experience. It should be and stay the same for any other language.
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    Mar 31 2011: I speak two very dissimilar languages (English & Japanese) fluently,
    and I have achieved much greater level of knowledge and wisdom than I would of,
    if I had only spoke one.
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    Mar 30 2011: I’ve taught English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) in Brazil and, in the last several years, in the US. Obviously, most students in Brazil were Portuguese speakers, whereas those in the US speak different native languages. In my observation, Brazilian students could understand each other well in English when I sometimes could not. In the US, if I cannot understand what, say, a Vietnamese-speaking student says, it’s usually another Vietnamese speaker who jumps in to “translate” it. Novice learners accommodate the target language’s phonological features to their native language; so, it’s no surprise those sharing theses rules of approximation understand each other better. Similarly, language learners develop an “intermediary grammar” (what Krashen calls “interlanguage”). Unlike someone with more exposure to this grammar, native speakers might struggle to understand it. Language learners develop the ability to express themselves with limited vocabulary.

    I’m sure there are many other linguistic features where native and nonnative speakers differ. The bottom line is that when native and nonnative speakers (and anything in between) try to communicate with each other, some communication breakdown is likely.

    It’s difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the statement that “multilingual skills is the best.” The same way that nonnative speakers learn a new language, native speakers must also develop communication skills for the setting mentioned in the article. It’s also my anecdotal observation that multilingual speakers have less trouble adjusting their own native language to such settings than do monolinguals. This makes the case for multilingualism. Finally, as Patricia Ryan points out, multiculturalism—and multilingualism—should be celebrated and used to spread ideas rather than create barriers. I believe that’s a state of mind and attitude above all else.
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    Mar 29 2011: I totally agree, being able to speak several languages enables you to communicate but more than any thing to understand other ways of thinking. It forces you to adapt and see the world through different eyes. I live in the US and I love being a foreigner :)

    I am currently working on trying to help kids learning how to read in their native language through digital media, this is my vision
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      Mar 30 2011: Great ad!

      As a teacher of English for speaker of other languages, I try to inspire among my students an attitude that learning a new language should add and enhance rather than take away from their native language, culture, knowledge, etc. New technologies are an inevitable reality. Rather than fight new technologies, I'm definitely for harnessing their potential to enhance rather than take away from global diversity.
  • Mar 31 2011: There are lots of things to learn in foreign language. The other foreign language makes us to understand other's value different from mine. And this will guide us a global peace. To study foreign language means to accept other's thought, heart and wisdom without egocentric self. Thank you for your wonderful view of point.
  • Mar 31 2011: As bilingual going for polyglot, my observations on native, fluent foreign and new foreign languages:

    1 - The more English I know the better I communicate, but I have more trouble translating due to nuances of meaning. Is there a level of skill where one can both communicate and translate with ease? Is that possible? How do you know when you're there?

    2 - I am better at assessing and matching the language skill of other people in English than in my native Croatian.
    Is consciously leaning a language a bonus in adapting to others? Do we somehow remember our stages, recognize them in others and regress to them at will?

    3 - I'm over-analyzing Portuguese and trying to draw parallels between it and the other 2. Are grammar tables actually an obstacle to internalizing a language? What would be a better way to learn clauses and cases?