What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

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Carlton green
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What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Carlton green » 16 Dec 2020, 10:34am

When I was in Secondary School (many decades ago) Teachers tried to inflict foreign languages on me, for various reasons they did not succeed in teaching me much and what little that went into my head didn’t hang around long.

Time has passed and the World(s) has changed a lot. When I was a lad foreign languages were just some academic skill (waste of time) that you didn’t need in the post education World of Industry that I was destined for; of course ‘My World’ and ‘The (broader) World’ had limited overlap. In today’s World I can now see me using the tools called foreign languages; it is (now) actually practical and possible for me to talk to people in other parts of the World, I can now visit foreign places and I can now buy from and sell to people in foreign places.

With the above in mind I’m wondering two things about about trying to learn another language:
# how much day to day practical use is being able to speak a second language? (When you’re normally resident in the U.K.)
# which foreign language is likely to be of most advantage to a U.K. resident? (I had French, German and Spanish in mind to choose one from. I would like to use the language on-line and, if I able to visit, use it in the particular country to which it belongs).

What does The Panel think?

Cyril Haearn
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Cyril Haearn » 16 Dec 2020, 10:39am

Welsh if course, Cymru am byth!
..
Trouble is, toddlers pick up language easily, many in Wales grow up bilingually,but teenagers are troublesome, when one realises much later that languages are useful, it is much harder to learn them

My secondary school offered several languages. I think it is best to concentrate on one and not try to learn two or more, unless one is very talented and wants to get a lucrative translator job in Bruxelles
..
Some smart people learn several. Marx and Engels corresponded in a 'magnificent mixture of German, French, English and Latin'
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al_yrpal
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby al_yrpal » 16 Dec 2020, 10:41am

If you are thinking about the world of industry my choice would be German. However IME most educated Germans speak pretty good English. With the future in mind Chinese might be a good choice.

Al
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thirdcrank
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby thirdcrank » 16 Dec 2020, 10:44am

... which foreign language is likely to be of most advantage to a U.K. resident? ...


You may well find that your questionnaire never gets beyond people telling you that you are assuming that UK resident = English speaker as first language, although I see meic hasn't been active on the forum for a while.

Oldjohnw
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Oldjohnw » 16 Dec 2020, 10:50am

Yes. Leave it to everyone else to learn English. We are, after all, the chosen ones.
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby mercalia » 16 Dec 2020, 11:39am

English

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mjr
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby mjr » 16 Dec 2020, 11:57am

Carlton green wrote:With the above in mind I’m wondering two things about about trying to learn another language:
# how much day to day practical use is being able to speak a second language? (When you’re normally resident in the U.K.)
# which foreign language is likely to be of most advantage to a U.K. resident? (I had French, German and Spanish in mind to choose one from. I would like to use the language on-line and, if I able to visit, use it in the particular country to which it belongs).

What does The Panel think?

Taking those in reverse order and assuming you've got English as a First Language, I'd say probably Spanish offers the biggest advantage. It's something like the second most-common first language and fourth most-common language (behind Hindi, English and Mandarin, depending on how counted), it uses a Latin alphabet, media is fairly easily available in the UK, a country full of native speakers is not far away, the sounds are not wildly different, the lack of pronouns is confusing but not insurmountable and it's reasonably liberal about grammar (as much as most languages).

There is however a slight doubt in my mind whether someone would be best off to learn Spanish directly, or whether it's better to learn Esperanto (because it's relatively fast and easy to learn and offers big wins early - although far from the most useful language yet), to resume a language that you started learning at school (because there might be some familiarity ingrained there) or even to learn English grammar (to give you more words for and familiarity with the technicalities of language - but English basically doesn't show a few concepts much).

I also let whether I like visiting the country influence my language practice. My Spanish is weak and what little I have is rusty, but I don't rush to improve it yet because I've no plans to holiday in a helmet-forcing country and most other Spanish-speaking countries are a long-haul journey away.

Day to day practical use depends on many things, such as the effort you make and the work or hobbies you do. I don't strictly-speaking need my other languages for my work because English is currently on top, but it doesn't hurt and I like being able to see news from other countries to avoid the control the UK media barons. Also, some of them get more interesting sports coverage or film premieres free than the UK ;)
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Boring_Username
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Boring_Username » 16 Dec 2020, 12:09pm

Almost without exception, in every major country on the planet, the young speak far better English than their parents. I can't see that trend changing, particularly given the ever increasing influence of the electric interweb.

In that context, it seems to me that the main use of foreign language skills is to show a degree of politeness to natives of the country in which I am a guest. So wherever I go, I try and make sure I know and use the local words for please, thank you, etc.

In other words, I think it's more useful to know a few words in many foreign languages, than many words in one or two foreign languages.
Last edited by Boring_Username on 16 Dec 2020, 12:16pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Ride-sleep-repeat
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Ride-sleep-repeat » 16 Dec 2020, 12:14pm

I think the question is likely to be answered on preference or need of each individual.Personally I'd go for French because France is where we spend a lot of (pre-covid) time.
From a Country or business point of view then Chinese or Indian.
Then again we could just carry on regardless as most foreigners learn English anyway don't they :roll: :wink:
My wife has a young Spanish student who speaks about 8 or 9 languages.Sadly they'll be losing her soon due to the situation with us and the EU.Why do we seem to struggle to learn new languages yet other nationalities don't?

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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Psamathe » 16 Dec 2020, 12:20pm

Totally depends where and how you want to travel or communicate with. And the "how" can be important e.g. take a luxury tour and the local language is not so crucial (as you'll be well isolated from any locals) but DIY, local busses and less developed parts of the world and local language can be much more important.

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Carlton green
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Carlton green » 16 Dec 2020, 12:37pm

al_yrpal wrote:If you are thinking about the world of industry my choice would be German. However IME most educated Germans speak pretty good English. With the future in mind Chinese might be a good choice.

Al


Yes, I think that they would both be reasonable choices for a younger person. I’m now a pensioner and unlikely to return to the World of paid employment, so any language would be pretty much for recreational purposes and some help with small foreign purchases.
Interestingly Italian and French might have been handy during my working career (companies that I worked for had links to those countries) so one can never tell, it’s all a bit of a lottery as to which way forward is best. One of my children speaks Manderin and expects to work in China at some point in their career. Another speaks French, that child hopes to work in Canada at some point (French is Canada’s second language and perhaps the first language in Quebec) and also likes to Ski in France.

For some of the other responders English is indeed the most important language. However both Spanish and French are used all over the World too, the French in particular would take exception to the notion that French isn’t the most important language in the World.
Last edited by Carlton green on 16 Dec 2020, 12:41pm, edited 1 time in total.

Cyril Haearn
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Cyril Haearn » 16 Dec 2020, 12:38pm

Esperanto used to be the future, I think English has taken over now, minusplus?
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Ben@Forest
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby Ben@Forest » 16 Dec 2020, 12:52pm

Spanish. Useful all over South America (sorry Brazil), parts of the USA and of course Spain. Over the years I've seen no end of forestry, woodland, nature conservation jobs asking for Spanish as a second language.

German is good for shocking Germans who are surprised somebody British speaks any German at all (and listening in on what they really think...)

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mjr
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby mjr » 16 Dec 2020, 12:54pm

Boring_Username wrote:[...] In that context, it seems to me that the main use of foreign language skills is to show a degree of politeness to natives of the country in which I am a guest. So wherever I go, I try and make sure I know and use the local words for please, thank you, etc.

In other words, I think it's more useful to know a few words in many foreign languages, than many words in one or two foreign languages.

I think it's always worth knowing basics in a country where you're going. I have sometimes found myself in a situation where I seemed to have no common language with a service provider. Most recently, I was thankful for a few words of Montenegrin at a train (voz!) station and a guest house.

But there is also something to be said for being able to understand or take part in full conversations in the language - and not only when they think you are a typical English traveller who can't understand them (and yes, I've surprised people with German too ;) )

Ride-sleep-repeat wrote:Why do we seem to struggle to learn new languages yet other nationalities don't?

Many theories are proposed. Until relatively recently (the Nuffield Languages Inquiry in 2000, perhaps?), most English schools didn't start teaching other languages until age 11/12, which is widely thought to be a bit late. There's a more detailed commentary at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/re ... /cbp-7388/ and https://ripl.uk/foreign-language-teachi ... s-england/

Personally, I think the rampant xenophobia (expressed, even if not really believed) and exceptionalism (that everyone of worth speaks or should speak English) in much of England doesn't help. Why would a young child learn the language of their local ex-pat community if a parent is going to shout at them to stop speaking "dago/polack s***" or similar locally-relevant slur?

Ride-sleep-repeat wrote:From a Country or business point of view then Chinese or Indian.

Edit to add: those are not languages. You might as well be telling people that British is the best language.
Last edited by mjr on 16 Dec 2020, 12:59pm, edited 1 time in total.
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rotavator
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Re: What’s The Most useful Foreign Language?

Postby rotavator » 16 Dec 2020, 12:56pm

I learnt French and Latin at school. I had the option to drop Latin after two years and do German instead, which I wish I had done because I think German would have given me a better start in Scandinavian languages. French has been useful for some jobs that I have done in francophone African countries. Knowing French and Latin also helped me understand other Romance languages and to decipher new scientific and technical words. The next most useful foreign language would have been Russian. I never wanted or needed Hindi or Chinese for work.