Speaking other languages, a quick reference

German in Germany
Fluency: long-broken college-level

There’s a comprehension line, where if they understood what I was saying, they’d just keep on going. If they didn’t, and they were young, they’d swap over to English. If they weren’t, and they didn’t, things got hairy. No one ever cared that I was speaking German either way.

Flemish in Belgium/Netherlands
Fluency: some traveler phrases, aided by knowledge of German

They were either delighted I tried or nice about figuring out what I meant. I frankly gave up, though, having already spent two weeks trying to speak German, after discovering that everyone spoke English.

French in France
Fluency: long, long-forgotten high school French, study

I was surprised at how nice Parisians were about French, to the point where they’d stop and talk to me about how to pronounce things. I felt like they were interested in having me speak French well.


3 thoughts on “Speaking other languages, a quick reference

  1. nuss

    What you said about Paris is almost word-for-word what I have told others about visiting Paris, especially Americans – that it is waaaaay better than you expect. My wife speaks better-than-average French from having lived there for a year, but she found Parisians went out of there way to help her pronounce words, and I did as well. I think whatever animosity the French may feel towards tourists stems from those travelers who make no attempt whatsoever to speak French while visiting France.

    Which, if you think about it, is just about we would feel about someone from Thailand who refused to speak anything but Thai while visiting Seattle.

  2. Evan

    Unlike English, French doesn’t really allow for a lot of variety in accent. Either you’re saying it right or you’re not. When helpng people with English it’s more about helping them find the appropriate word, but in French it’s all about pronunciation.

  3. nuss

    I would disagree, Evan. My wife learned French in Southern France, where, from what I understand, all the vowels are pronounced. (e.g., Louvre is ‘Louv-ruh’). In Paris and Northern France, the extraneous vowels are dropped (e.g., Louvre become ‘Louve’). While on vacation another time in another country, she spent two days hanging out with Parisians who were originally from Southern France, and they loved hearing her speak in her Southern French accent, since it reminded them of the way people spoke where they grew up.

    Not to mention the Quebuecois …

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