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Learning a foreign language early enough to be perfectly fluent

Learning a foreign language early enough to be perfectly fluent

Old Jan 5, 21, 11:31 pm
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Learning a foreign language early enough to be perfectly fluent

For many of us, we're too old to learn a foreign language to be perfectly fluent to look like a domestic traveler in a foreign country.

How about for youngsters? What age should they start learning?

>How about sending children to a foreign boarding school? (I personally think that is putting too much emphasis on learning a foreign language).

>If so, what country would be advantageous? Canada (Quebec)? Germany? Taiwan? (That might not be so good because the child might blend into to Taiwan but have an accent to those in China). Italy?

Or maybe have the family move to a foreign country for 2-3 years, which may be difficult for the parents to find a job.
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I will start the discussion with my opinion.

It would be a difficult plan but could be done. Better to learn some of that other language before going because going to a foreign country without speaking the language is tough on children or anyone.
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Old Jan 6, 21, 7:42 am
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I speak Spanish, Russian and English. I have always believed that children when they go to school should be taught Spanish and French, as well as English. This should happen from Kindergarten through high school. If they can speak these three languages they can travel anywhere in the world and get by, It really pains when I see Americans say if you want to talk to me speak English when overseas. Seen it many times.
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Old Jan 6, 21, 10:00 am
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Originally Posted by Toshbaf View Post
For many of us, we're too old to learn a foreign language to be perfectly fluent to look like a domestic traveler in a foreign country.

How about for youngsters? What age should they start learning?
You can be perfectly fluent until the end of days in the foreign language, but the kid will not "look like a domestic traveler" once s/he opens the mouth. Unless the youngster lives in the "foreign country" at a relatively young age, there will be little doubt that s/he isn't "domestic."

All that said, the younger the better for any language learning. Language learning in later years settles in a different part of the brain, and is generally never as effective as learning as a young kid.
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Old Jan 6, 21, 10:20 am
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Speaking from my own experience, I was educated in Singapore from elementary school (6 years old) though I am an Indonesian. That experience meant I was educated in a bilingual school and thus I managed to speak and write in English, Chinese and Bahasa Indonesia. All students in Singapore study 2 languages (one English, another a mother tongue of either Chinese, Malay or Tamil), so that is a country you might consider since their education system is on par with global standards.

I believe Switzerland is another good option since there are plenty of highly regarded boarding schools over there, and that gives the possibility of learning German, French and Italian in addition to English. I highlight these 2 countries primarily the level of English education is substantial with a second language instruction being common. Both are also well connected internationally so access is not a problem.
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Old Jan 6, 21, 10:47 am
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Originally Posted by Toshbaf View Post
For many of us, we're too old to learn a foreign language to be perfectly fluent to look like a domestic traveler in a foreign country.
Sure, perhaps if you're just visiting some foreign country where you've had limited education in their language and culture as an adult.

However, I'm a staunch believer that none of us are "too old" to learn anything. Yes, the way adults learn vs. children is different but I know many adults who picked up a new foreign language and became fluent where they weren't considered a foreigner.
IMHO, it's a combination of having willpower, growth mindset, willingness to look/sound like an idiot and not worrying about what others think (people are more forgiving of children making mistakes while learning vs. adults, where it's typical for adults to be mocked or shamed for making a language-related mistake), and time/energy to invest.

In terms of when children should start learning a foreign language, I say it should be as early as possible!
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Old Jan 6, 21, 11:26 am
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I've been around my share of the proverbial military and diplomat brats. Merely living in a foreign country for 2/3/4/whatever years as a kid doesn't even commonly mean they become fluent in the host country's language; and even where the kids become fluent, there is often still a noticeable foreign accent. There are exceptions, and it varies by a variety of factors of course.

Originally Posted by Toshbaf View Post
For many of us, we're too old to learn a foreign language to be perfectly fluent to look like a domestic traveler in a foreign country.

How about for youngsters? What age should they start learning?

>How about sending children to a foreign boarding school? (I personally think that is putting too much emphasis on learning a foreign language).

>If so, what country would be advantageous? Canada (Quebec)? Germany? Taiwan? (That might not be so good because the child might blend into to Taiwan but have an accent to those in China). Italy?

Or maybe have the family move to a foreign country for 2-3 years, which may be difficult for the parents to find a job.
------
I will start the discussion with my opinion.

It would be a difficult plan but could be done. Better to learn some of that other language before going because going to a foreign country without speaking the language is tough on children or anyone.
Foreign language acquisition (and local accent acquisition) is strongest for prepubescent kids and seems to diminish as the kids get older. But about ending up speaking enough like a local to pass as a domestic traveler, it sort of depends on the languages involved too and will vary from person to person and with whom they are communicating most frequently. For example, I know some Swedes who only started learning English (above the kind of Sesame Street-level Spanish tossed into the English language programs) at around the time they were 9 or older and yet when they first started to visit the US after the age of 30 years old, they often pass as locals in the US. And yet the Hindi-speaking child who went to an English-medium school full of native Anglophone teachers (from the UK+ANZ) from daycare up until college and then moved to the US around their 20s would sound like stereotypical English-speaking Indians for the rest of their lives.

Foreign-language boarding schools will definitely make a big difference in language level/quality for many kids. Just look at the legions of foregin kids who have been boarders at Phillips Exeter, Andover, St Albans, Choate and so on in the US. And there are boarding schools in various parts of Europe that have played sort of the same kind of role in language outcomes for foreign kids who have been boarders.

That said, I would avoid boarding schools like the plague. Day schools are good enough without the issues that happen for boarders.

Becoming fluent in a language need not mean being fluent in the way that you pass as a local speaker of the language when on say the phone with the local electrician. Learning a language and becoming fluent at it can happen at any age, but trying to get the accent 100% right is not going to generally fly so easily. Foreign language acquisition and accent localization seems to happen more easily for women than for men, if talking about people who are 20+ years old.
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Last edited by GUWonder; Jan 6, 21 at 11:41 am
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Old Jan 6, 21, 10:59 pm
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Originally Posted by GUWonder View Post
That said, I would avoid boarding schools like the plague. Day schools are good enough without the issues that happen for boarders.

Becoming fluent in a language need not mean being fluent in the way that you pass as a local speaker of the language when on say the phone with the local electrician. Learning a language and becoming fluent at it can happen at any age, but trying to get the accent 100% right is not going to generally fly so easily. Foreign language acquisition and accent localization seems to happen more easily for women than for men, if talking about people who are 20+ years old.
Maybe because girls can get attention and talk a lot to boys and other girls?

How about boarding school? I think that is too high a price to pay to leave family just to learn a language.
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Old Jan 7, 21, 1:36 am
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Originally Posted by Toshbaf View Post
Maybe because girls can get attention and talk a lot to boys and other girls?
This is a bit of a stereotype. Women speak less than men think (not joking, there's actually evidence that men tend to overestimate how much women talk).

But yeah, women do better on average when it comes to foreign languages. Might be a sociological phenomen or a neurological one. I wouldn't think it has much to do with the attention girls are getting. (A sociological thing because society and the educational system tend to support men more strongly in the STEM subjects and women more strongly in the humanities.)
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Old Jan 7, 21, 2:36 am
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Without a specific aim in mind (e.g. being able to communicate with your spouse’s family from x) you maybe placing an over-emphasis on this, especially with talk of overseas boarding schools for the sake of learning a language (I wouldn’t pick Quebec btw, as the Quebecois accent really grates on my ears, but that’s personal!!).

Just let them study their normal 2 or 3 languages at school, and if they are good / interested, encourage them to study them to exam level age 16 or so and take it from there.

I ended up taking French through to joint honours degree level and spent a year in France as part of that. I am in no way a native speaker, nor would be confused for one, but I am very good! That does for me!
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Old Jan 7, 21, 4:05 am
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Having relocated to Belgium my experience of kids learning a foreign language is my two English speaking boys aged 6 & 4 attending a local school in Brussels where French was spoken and the teachers were used to monolingual foreigners. At 0830 on day one they spoke no French, by 1400 on day two they were joining in games with monolingual French speakers. We lived in a street with French-speaking families. Although I spoke fluent French with the neigbours, as did my boys, thereafter they always reverted to English when speaking to Mum & Dad.

Two years later we returned to England excited that we had two bilingual kids. With only monolingual English friends they stopped using 'another set of words for their friends'.I concluded that for them they had not learned a foreign language in the sense being discussed here. I continued to use French regularly for my job and remain fluent - the kids couldn't have cared less. 15 years later one of them spent a year at a French university and suddenly he found a use for that old 'set of words'.

Although my French is fluent nobody would mistake me for a local. In France many think I'm Dutch, because of my guttural Scots accent plus they decided that no 'rosbif' would bother with learning a foreign language!

Last edited by farci; Jan 7, 21 at 5:48 am
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Old Jan 7, 21, 7:15 am
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The best way to learn is via immersion. Either somehow find a way to surround yourself with speakers outside of the target country, or find a tutor (who grew up in the target country) to do daily conversations with. The latter for me has worked quite well.
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Old Jan 7, 21, 8:16 am
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Immersion-learning is definitely the best on average, even as it usually works faster for learning to understand a language than to speak it. But I would definitely not suggest that boarding school is ever the best way to go about that. Kids can be socially cruel, especially when it comes to someone who comes across as being very different in some way, is socially isolated and lacks the social protection necessary to become a secure and confident learner in the environment.

Originally Posted by Toshbaf View Post
Maybe because girls can get attention and talk a lot to boys and other girls?

How about boarding school? I think that is too high a price to pay to leave family just to learn a language.
With regard to the first question above: not likely, as the language-acquisition dynamic is also seen among women from backgrounds where women tend to be way less likely to mingle socially with a lot of men from beyond their own immediate family circle.

With regard to your second question: If you are asking if single-sex boarding schools improve foreign language development more than mixed-sex boarding schools, I would say it doesn't seem to be a major factor. There are some that say that girls' response to academic exposure in girls-only schools is better than in mixed gender schools. In my own family, the women and friends who went to all-girls schools/all-girl sections of schools seem to be more verbally assertive on average in serious discussions than their siblings who didn't, but I wouldn't mix that kind of thing with being a function of whether or not the attended school was single-sex or mixed. And for them, it's definitely not a language issue.

Last edited by GUWonder; Jan 7, 21 at 8:39 am
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Old Jan 7, 21, 11:09 am
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Originally Posted by GUWonder View Post
Immersion-learning is definitely the best on average, even as it usually works faster for learning to understand a language than to speak it. But I would definitely not suggest that boarding school is ever the best way to go about that. Kids can be socially cruel, especially when it comes to someone who comes across as being very different in some way, is socially isolated and lacks the social protection necessary to become a secure and confident learner in the environment.

Oh of course. A safe and fostering environment is a great place to develop skills, regardless of the skill!

To add to my other points above, I also believe that learning a language is like learning music... because I think music is a language too! (just saying that as a trained classical pianist... I've always felt that way about music)
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Old Jan 7, 21, 11:44 am
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Originally Posted by Scots_Al View Post
(I wouldn’t pick Quebec btw, as the Quebecois accent really grates on my ears, but that’s personal!!).
Only some are exceptionally bad. Have been watching some not-from-France French-language television programming. The latest is a
which uses (purported?) names of farmers and McD's (self-claimed) support.for local farmers. The farmer's accent in one of those ads was excruciating. Another was interviewing Francophones in non-predominantly French parts of Ontario. They found this dude with a French name who operates a ferry in an Ontario marina. Imagine French (gramatically fluent and correct pronunciation as far as I can tell) spoken by a (Canadian) good ol' boy.
https://www.tv5unis.ca/videos/jhabit...s/2/episodes/2 Start from 28'0" mark of this video


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Old Jan 7, 21, 1:21 pm
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Being perfectly fluent in a language does not guarantee that you will be viewed as a local or recognized as a native speaker. I am of Asian ancestry, born and raised in the US, and have been used as control for linguistics studies for my absolutely neutral midwest accent. Despite this, I get comments occasionally about how good my English is, and how I hardly have an accent (mostly in the midwest). People's perceptions and assumptions can play as large a role as language proficiency when it comes to "othering" and acceptance.
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