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Rachel Green

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Do you ever feel pressured, whether explicitly or implicitly, to pick up another language?

Maybe it's because I've grown up in America, and English is my first language, but I've always felt that there was a subtle pressure to know more than one language. Maybe it's because we want to preserve the idea of America as a melting pot of different cultures, which includes languages. Or maybe it's because in this era of globalization, English is still not a universal language and so we need to pick up another to be able to communicate. In light of this, my question is primarily for native English speakers: did you ever feel "pressured" to learn another language? If so, was it explicit or implicit?

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  • Apr 11 2011: Hi Rachel. I wasn't pressured in learning another language. I was forced into it. It was part of our high school curriculum to learn a second language. I do not regret it, though I do not use the language now ( my own fault but that's another story). I am sorry you feel pressured but all in all, it is good to learn a second language. It is good for your brain development, broadens your understanding of other cultures, and it is nice when you travel to understand and speak to others in their native tongue. Maybe if you tweak your thinking just a little to "I WANT to learn another language because..... and ..... and......", you can change your frame of mind and your perspective :-)
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      Apr 11 2011: That's what it is Julie Ann! You've hit the nail on the head! Do we have to...or do we want to! It makes a big difference in the experience doesn't it? I agree that it's good for the brain, broadens understanding of other cultues, nice to speak to others in their native tongue. Sounds like a win/win situation:>)
      • Apr 11 2011: Hi Colleen. It's amazing how the dialog we have with ourselves is perhaps the most influential dialog we have. With regards to languages, I always wished that I had an aptitude for languages. I have a friend who is a computer programmer and speaks 7 languages (excluding her computer languages :-)) She is fluent, written and oral, in 5 and gets by well enough in the other two. Oh, how I envy her talent, and I tell her so quite often. Cheers.
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          Apr 12 2011: Hi Julie Ann,
          I'm impressed with your friend!!! I agree that some people pick up languages easier than others, but it is never to late to try:>) It's like you say...the dialogue we have with ourselves is the most influential.
          Cheers:>)
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      Apr 13 2011: I'm definitely not against the idea of learning a second language, in fact I'm learning Japanese at the moment. I guess I'm just against the whole of idea of "shafting" people who haven't learned a second language.
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    Apr 16 2011: Implicit. Back in high school I can’t recall a time when I felt that I needed another language per-say; but over time I realized a second language has many benefits. I think it's great if you can speak more then one language. Learning a second language has been difficult for me over the years however; I’m slowly starting to feel as if it's one of those things you should already know. I know it helps if you can speak a second language when filling out job applications.
  • Apr 15 2011: In the final year of middle school everyone needs to start taking a three year language course. the choices of Spanish, German or French give me very little interest.

    I chose Spanish even though i would be much happier learning a language like Japanese or Mandarin. In a way i was forced to learn but i feel if i had more choices, i wouldn't feel as forced.
  • Apr 15 2011: I think it is very cool if you can speak several languages, and that means you can connect with several contunry's pepeol ,you can make more friends , and you can know more things cultures about your friends countries. in all , we shuold knew more languages.
  • Apr 15 2011: My perception is that the human condition inherently reaches out to like animals. We desire contact with other humans. Language, in any form, seems to stimulate the majority of humans, and stimulation (or inspiration or energy) is something that we crave in many ways from many things, especially communication with other humans.

    There are indeed exceptions: the individual who is aphenphosmphobic and allows their isolation to increase, until they become fully anthropophobic. These individuals are exceptions, however.

    We need to communicate. There is a natural curiosity about the sounds each of us makes in the course of normal and basic communication. The desire to learn a language beyond our own familiar one is, I believe, a natural desire, not something that most normal human beings would feel forced into. I include proficiency in music of any culture as another language.

    I am mindful of pressure to learn a specific language, but pressure to learn any language (other than English, in this case) seems foreign to me. (ahhh... no pun intended...)

    Individuals can be taught to be xenophobic and myopic, and thus suppress the normal curious desire to communicate with those outside their 'tribe'...
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    Apr 15 2011: I feel pressured all the time. As a prospective teacher, and one who plans to teach in California, being bilingual is almost an essential qualification (because of illegal aliens that won't bother to learn English). As a singer, I really need to learn to speak German, French and Italian with some degree of skill in order to have any hope of being cast in an opera.

    The thing that I don't mind is that I love to sing in Italian, and I love to sing in German. I'm working on French, but am liking it so far. Spanish, partly because for me it symbolizes the slow and sure takeover of the Golden State by foreign nationals, is one that I do *not* want to learn.
  • Apr 13 2011: I am just joinng this conversation. I have never felt, as an American, any pressure at all. I have lived in Japan and Turkey for 10 years total and I have rather felt the pressure NOT to learn a foreign language. 98% of my fellow foreign teachers have not learned Turkish (nor Japanese when I lived there)--and don't need to--at all. If they felt pressure, they might have learned it. And when I tried learning, it was clear that no one really wanted me to. It would ruin their opportunity to practice English with me--and English is money, opportunity, chance.
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      Apr 13 2011: Hi Jeffrey,
      I've had a similer experience when traveling. Often people want the opportunity to speak English, at the same time I want the opportunity to practice their language, and often the conversation is a little bit of both. Usually, however, most people in the world have much more English than I have of other languages. I love the interaction and interconnectedness:>) Language is something like 67% body language or something like that? Sometimes I feel an understanding, even when neither of us has any of the spoken word!
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      Apr 13 2011: Good for you Richard! The experience of traveling, learning languages and interacting with people often leads to a more open heart and mind:>)

      I did not claim to be fluent in any language. I said I spoke French with my mom at home, and at the same time took classes in high school. That was a very long time ago:>) I do understand what you have written, and I have no desire to be tested...thanks anyway for the opportunity:>)
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      Apr 14 2011: Hi Richard,

      Your 2 sentences above sound *very much* like online translator gibberish to my French ears... =)
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        Apr 14 2011: I agree Marie,
        My mom spoke Canadian French, which as an Irish lass living in a french community, she picked up from the other children she played with, so I understand gibberish...LOL:>)
        I knew what Richard was trying to say, and I also know that he is trying to discredit me by following me around to various TED sites:>)
        This is all very amusing. I didn't "fail" anything Richard. How'd you do on the "test?...LOL:>)
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        Apr 15 2011: Richard,
        There is no allegation anywhere by anyone that I am an "expert in French", and I did not study French in college. No need to twist information. Remember what the topic is, and try to stay on topic. This is not another site to "test" me. It is an opportunity to engage in ideas worth sharing.
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        Apr 15 2011: Richard,
        I learned something from my mother.
        There was/is no implication or suggestion that I was/am proficient in any language.
        I am grateful for Marie's input as well:>) We agree!
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        Apr 16 2011: Yes...a good laugh.
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    Apr 13 2011: Hello everyone,

    I'm sorry if I confused anyone: I wasn't really referring to formal language classes, although I too attended high school in a city where we were required to take foreign language classes. I guess that I'm trying to ask if you ever felt pressured to learn another language outside of that particular situation.

    I still feel like I'm being a little vague, so I'll try an example: my friends and I might go to another friend's house and, over the course of the conversation, make small talk. Eventually, one of my other friends mentions that they know Spanish, or Chinese, and all of sudden, I no longer exist for the night. But, this is something that happens several times. I mean, I understand that talking to the person about speaking a second language might seem interesting at the moment, but it always feel like I'm being disregarded, like until I learn another language, I'm not that interesting or important. But, maybe this is just me.

    Hopefully this will clear up any possible confusion. Thanks again!
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      Apr 13 2011: Hi Rachel,
      That's too bad that your friends would converse in another language for the whole time you are together. Perhaps you can say...hey friends...I'm here and I don't speak that language...would you mind speaking so I can participate? If they ignore you, then I would start questioning if they are truly your friends.
      You ARE interesting and important:>)
    • Apr 13 2011: Hi Rachel, that clarifies things. Indeed your friends are being a bit inconsiderate. You can't be expected to learn every language for every situation. In a group setting, the common language should be language of choice.
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    Apr 12 2011: Though I'm not a native speaker, I have something to tell you. As your first language is English, you will not be pressured to learn another language in few decades. But in my country, now days, there is a pressure to learn other languages, not only English but also other languages; Chinese, Japanese and so on.
    My point is that English is common language and will be in our generation so, I guess, you will not be pressured to learn other languages in near future. But there are obviously some pressures to learn another languages, except English.
    • Apr 12 2011: In North America, Chinese language classes are becoming more common for students of all ages as well. With the rising prominence of China, many people feel the need to learn the language or have their children learn it.
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    Apr 11 2011: Hi Rachel,
    I've never felt pressured to pick up another language, but have always felt interested in learning other languages...at least a little bit:>) My mother spoke French, so in high school, I asked her to speak French with me at home, as I was taking French classes in school. I am amazed and humbled when traveling, and here on TED, that some people are fluent in so many languages. I try to learn at least a few words in the local languages when I travel, and it really helps to make connections with people. When I demonstrate an effort in learning the language, people are so helpful and understanding! I am truly honored that so many people in our world speak my 1st language, and I often feel inadequate for not being able to speak their languages as well.
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      Apr 13 2011: Finally! Someone who understands my views about foreign languages and travel. I have friends who always tell me that it's ok to go to other countries without speaking that language. I always try to explain that I'm ok with not being fluent in that particular language; rather, I have a problem with the idea of not bothering to learn any of their common expressions at all.
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        Apr 13 2011: :>)
        I've been in several countries where I do not have a clue about languages, and somehow manage to move through the country connecting with people:>)
        I usually learn the very basics at least...hello...goodbye...please...thank you...
        When we demonstrate a genuine intent to try to connect with others, it is usually felt on a level that goes beyond the spoken word:>)