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A strange question about English

英語を勉強している方のためのフォーラムです。練習のために英語の文章を投稿してもかまわなく、英語の文法・語彙に関する質問をしてもけっこうです。

A strange question about English

Postby NileCat » Sat 09.26.2009 12:02 pm

I have read about a linguistic problem called "semilingual" or "double limited" in Japan. Which means some Japanese (young) people who can't talk fluently in either Japanese and English. Most of them are born and raised in foreign countries and come back to Japan in their teens. They usually feel comfortable when they talk in English, because it WAS their first language. But it is said that they speak like children even after they have grown up. It is considered to be a serious problem for many parents.

It was years ago when I read books about this issue. But since then, I have never met an English native speaker who could tell me the (likely) common characteristics or tendency of their English problems. "Poor vocab, maybe?", at best. In fact, some couldn't even understand what the problem was about. So I kind of suspected there might be a difference in perception of "spoken language" between Japanese and English. For I'm not a comparative linguistics, the academic lucubrations were Greek to me.
I can imagine that the vocabulary matters. But I suppose it wouldn't be their only problem. Sentence structure? Tense? Mood? What makes them sound juvenile?
I have no idea if any of you would be interested in this strange subject. But it would be great if someone would tell me your opinion.

Speaking of their Japanese, common problem is misuse of 敬語.
Any opinion or guess is welcome. Thank you.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby keatonatron » Sat 09.26.2009 12:18 pm

This is a very interesting topic!

I would really like to hear some specific quotes that show this kind of problem. I was talking about it with a (n American) friend, and we don't think it would be a problem in English. Even if you stopped being exposed to English when you were, say, 9 years old, and then had to start speaking it again later on, your comprehension would be good enough that you could instantly understand and incorporate (use) new words that you hadn't learned before.

With 敬語, it is not very easy to understand from context. Even if you can understand that 召し上がる means "eat," there is no way to know (from context) if it is 敬語 or just a normal word (and whether it "raises" or "lowers" the status of the person doing the action).

The only thing comparable in English would have to be politeness (e.g. using full words and not contractions or slang [wanna vs. want to, gotta vs. got to {have to}, would like vs. want], getting people's attention with "excuse me" instead of "hey", etc.). However, I think most of that is understandable using common sense that is gained when one becomes an adult.

Besides, there are many people who were born and raised in the US and don't speak politely. :wink:


(Another problem one of these people might have when writing is conjunctions; many of which I've used in this post! [however, although, besides, etc.])
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby Harisenbon » Sat 09.26.2009 10:56 pm

I have had limited exposure to problems like this, but I too am really interested in the effects of multi-lingualism as it applies to (semi?)native speakers.

In my own limited experience, I've noticed that having a split linguistic education (for example: 9 years raised in Brazil, brought to japan to live) has a rather detrimental effect on both languages. Even though speaking and normal conversation can be carried on fluently in both languages, neither language is at the level of a native speaker of similar age/education. I have 3 or 4 friends/acquaintances who have this problem.

The second group of people I've seen are those who have been raised entirely in one country, but have a home-life of a different language. (For example a chinese-speaking family raising their child in america). I find that in many cases the child possesses a high level of both the family language and the country's language, because their learning curves are roughly similar: i.e. there's no need to "start over" with a language, and neither language gets forsaken for the other.

Looking at both of these examples, I think that a set definition of "Native" language vs "Learned" language might be more useful for a bilingual learner. In the first example, a complete switch-over occurs (from the 1st language to the second) so that the first language's growth is stunted while the 2nd language progresses. In the second example while one language (the environmental language) may progress faster than the starting language, it is seldom an either/or situation, so both languages continue to improve simultaneously.

Or at least, that's been my observations..
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby astaroth » Sun 09.27.2009 6:52 am

Interesting topic indeed.

Though I haven't met any child who moved in their teens, I have several friends who for work were living in different countries when their kids were growing up. A common problem was that the kids were lacking the ability to naturally switching between formal and informal language (in Italian), something similar to improper use of 敬語. I guess the same in English would be to improperly use contractions as it was said before.

Another situation I saw was that the child was/is using a mixture of all the languages he is exposed, in a particular case the mother is speaking Serbian, the father Italian and they were living and raising their child in US exposing him to an English environment.

I don't think "poor vocab" could be a problem as long as the kid is being raised in the same family, since their parents will keep exposing him to new words. Though a problem might be that the vocabulary will be deteriorating, but this problem is shared by adults and children alike -- I, for instance, find that my ability to speak or form sentences in Italian is more limited than it was before when I was living in Italy and often rely on double-code using English words or "italianizing" English expressions.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby NileCat » Sun 09.27.2009 2:31 pm

You are too great, everyone!
Staying here for weeks worths years of my self-study in the past.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby jcdietz03 » Mon 09.28.2009 11:59 pm

My Japanese teacher is a native Japanese speaker. I suspect most Japanese teachers are. So this means she is a foreign English speaker. I can tell only sometimes that she is a foreign speaker. The most telling sign for me, with my teacher's English, is when plural words are used when they should not be. "You know many grammars, so please try to use them" she said last class, which is not really correct English, even if I understand perfectly what is being said. Correct: "You know many grammar patterns" or somesuch. Why it's wrong: "You know many...": Expected: Plural noun because the word "many" implies more than one. Furthermore: "Grammars" is illegal. It cannot be a plural. A noun is expected here, and "grammar" cannot be used by itself (plurality agreement), so it's necessary to add the word "patterns" or some other plural noun for grammar to modify. The idea of a noun being plural doesn't exist in Japanese. I often have trouble with it myself in reverse, in understanding plurality has been implied. Especially helper words like この actually being "these" in a translation (look it up in a dictionary or textbook and it says "this").

NileCatさん: Your English is very good. However, it is similar to my teacher's English: You make many small mistakes, but it is never difficult to tell what you are saying.

I think it would be difficult to learn English as a foreign language because of the large number of exceptions. One I talked about earlier is words that cannot be plural. There are other problems with plurality too:
ball -> balls (a "rule word" -> most words follow this rule)
canary -> canaries (the other rule applies to words ending in y)
foot -> feet (exception)
sheep -> sheep (exception)
mouse -> mice (exception)
There's a large number of exceptions. I don't see how anyone could learn them all. This true with most of the English grammar rules - a huge long list of exceptions for each one. English children learn these rules in school, but for a different purpose: for learning spelling. Instruction on spelling is dropped once all the rules have been learned (in 6th grade or so) and instead focuses on more complicated things like writing good paragraphs.

In Japanese, at least when it comes to rules for making single words, is very regular. I think only four exceptions I have learned so far: 1. suru 2. kuru 3. iku -> itte (the rule says it should be ite which is wrong) 4. ii -> yoku (the rule says it should be iku which is wrong). I find exceptions to be hard when using particles. I often use the wrong particle. Which one is the correct one to use seems arbitrary to me. Also, I never know which verbs to use with the state indicator (-ている). Counter words (except for days of the month) aren't exceptions in my opinion. They follow a rule based on the first letter of the counter.

I read Lang-8 once. It is a place to write in languages and have the writings corrected by native speakers. A "problem" I noticed with many of them (besides errors) is sentence structure that is far too simple. While OK for a children's book, it's not OK for an expository piece. This seems like it is a problem for anyone who is not advanced enough in their study of a language rather than a person who hasn't learned even one language.

I would think it's rare to have the situation described in the OP. If you have regular contact with people who all speak a certain way, and you can understand what they are saying, eventually, you will end up speaking like them, I would think. This is part of the reason why southern children speak with that accent, even if the parents don't. Also, if the person can read, I can see them being able to develop correct writing eventually.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby astaroth » Tue 09.29.2009 4:29 am

Though I think this is not exactly the case presented in the OP. In the situation you presented English is an acquired language learned during one's adulthood, so on top on an already presented and completely functional language.

If I may ask, what is your native language, jcdietz03?
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby jcdietz03 » Tue 09.29.2009 5:32 am

English, of course. I thought it was a dead giveaway:
I think it would be difficult to learn English as a foreign language because of the large number of exceptions. One I talked about earlier is words that cannot be plural. There are other problems with plurality too:
Maybe I should update my profile.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby NileCat » Tue 09.29.2009 5:34 am

Thank you, jcdietz03.

To be honest, I had never thought of the importance of learning spelling in that way. I'll sleep on it.

A friend of mine who is a professional translator has told me before: "People make mistakes when they speak. That makes them sound human. However, there are two sorts of mistakes, which are, a) colloquialism where you don't need to be perfect at grammar, b) mistakes that native-speakers never make even when they got hopelessly drunk. You'll see, someday."
I wonder if the day would come to me.

EDIT:
I have never → I had never
Last edited by NileCat on Tue 09.29.2009 8:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby clay » Tue 09.29.2009 7:38 am

My children are being raised in the US. My three year old can spit out English as well as any other American 3 year old, but doesn't speak much Japanese. My wife speaks only Japanese to him and he understands everything she says but he still rarely speaks it. The only exception is with words primarily used by my wife and not me (ウンチ, オシッコ, かたづけて...)

Concerned that he may not be getting enough Japanese exposure, we recently ordered Shimajiro's monthly lessons. Expensive! But maybe it will help.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby NileCat » Tue 09.29.2009 9:01 am

Clay-san,
I'm sure that your children won't suffer from this kind of problem in their future. Because you know the both languages very well....Ah, no, that's not the point. I should say "you know language well". I think children who have parents like you are very happy.

EDIT:
冠詞と複数形は、難しい・・・間違えている気がします。
「言葉というものをわかっていらっしゃるから」ということが言いたかったんです!
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby NileCat » Wed 09.30.2009 4:19 am

I have been thinking over my own problem.
May I ask a question? (I'm afraid this question might seem very silly to you)

"Two coffee, please" my teacher said last class, anyways.

How does it sound to you native English speakers?
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby tōkai devotee » Wed 09.30.2009 4:40 am

NileCat wrote:"Two coffee, please" my teacher said last class, anyways.

How does it sound to you native English speakers?
:


"Two coffeeS, please" sounds perfectly fine. Well, I assume the setting is at a coffee shop ordering two cups of coffee.
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby Sairana » Wed 09.30.2009 4:58 am

tokai devotee wrote:"Two coffeeS, please" sounds perfectly fine. Well, I assume the setting is at a coffee shop ordering two cups of coffee.


I'll agree with that.

Technically, liquid is not "countable". You can't have 10 water, but you can have 10 glasses of water, or 10 gallons of water. A lot of times, the counters get dropped or ignored and we just refer to the cup of [liquid] by the liquid itself, including using plurals.

So, it needs to be "Two coffees, please." (countable, presumably in cups)
However, phrase it differently. "We both would like [some] coffee." (uncountable, doesn't matter what it comes in-- cups, coffee pot, etc)
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Re: A strange question about English

Postby NileCat » Wed 09.30.2009 5:09 am

Thank you for your quick reply!
Which means, "anyways" was totally natural.
:wink:
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