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Linguaholic

Can you Understand a language that you cannot speak


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I am from Kenya  and there are many different languages that make up our population. I find that I can understand for example the native tongue that I was born to but I find it difficult to speak it. Is there anyone who also has the same experience?

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hey there

Could you please tell me what the title of your post is supposed to be? I guess there is something wrong with it (some letters missing). Just let me know please and I will adjust it.

regards

linguaholic

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I knew some kids whose parents were Polish and even though the parents conversed in Polish, they never addressed the kid in Polish [but when they did occasionally, maybe asking him to get them something, he'd do it].

Since the kid hang out with English speakers, he could speak English fluently but could not speak his native tongue though he understood it. So, well, yeah that happens.

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What do you mean by "Un language"? I don't quite get what you're asking. Please be specific about the subject of the question.

I don't find my native language hard to speak because that's what I speak everyday. Well, I do see that I have trouble trying to put the words together because it's been 15 years I have not gone back to refresh my native language, which most of the words that I have already forgotten.

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Scribendi: World-Class Editing and Proofreading

I used to be able to speak Hindi when I was a child. Now I am out of practice, and cannot speak it, but I can still understand Hindi when people around me speak it and when people on television speak it.

Thanks for your reply.  I see what your topic is now.  You're asking us if it's possible to understand a language you can't speak and I have changed the thread topic to that effect. 

Good topic.  I think that because hearing and understanding are not as active and demanding as speaking or writing it is possible.  In my case, I heard a lot of Italian opera when I was growing up and as an adult still listen frequently.  I have picked up some of the language, but I am by no means fluent.  It also helps that I had studied Spanish formally and there are a few parallels with Italian as it is another of the Romance languages.   

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Absolutely. There are a couple of languages that I can understand when reading or listening but I struggle to speak or write them. I think it's because I'm familiar with the vocabulary since it sounds close to languages I already know, or because I've had to read in those languages a lot, but haven't really made an effort to study the vocabulary or grammar in a way geared towards speaking/writing.

I've also met someone like the people Denis Hard mentioned: learnt a language at home from parents who were native speakers, never had the need to speak it, and would understand what people said in it but reply back in the language of the country they lived in. Again, I think it's because having passive knowledge of a language is quite different from being able to actually produce sentences yourself; while there's some degree of overlap, the latter requires some more involvement on the part of the speaker.

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  • 2 months later...

Danish and Norwegian are pretty similar to Swedish so yes, I understand those languages but I can't speak them apart from a few words. Speaking Spanish also helps to understand French and Portuguese but I can't speak those languages either.

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I can understand many of the latin languages because of my mastery of french. I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to actually speaking them, but many of the words have the same roots which makes it easier for me to understand. Non-latin languages are too foreign to me.

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I think everyone is better at understanding than speaking. If you can speak, then you can usually understand, but actively putting a sentence together is harder than passively listening. If you hear 75% of the key words you can get a very good idea of what is being conveyed. But if you want to convey the same message then you can't simply say the key words.

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This is a little bit true for me. I grew up learning a couple different dialects of Chinese but my household mostly spoke just one which wasn't the one taught in my school. So because I was around it so much I ultimately did end up understanding it even though I never really spoke it myself.

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I know exactly what you mean sos as I had some French at school years ago, but I never really practiced it and the result is that I can understand more or less what people say, but if I want to speak it I cannot, nothing comes out of my mouth, it's really frustrating!

So, we need to practice speaking even if we understand a language, the more we practice, the better we speak.

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Based on intonations, hand gestures, and facial expressions, I'm able to piece together the generally gist of what they're saying. However, this is easier with some languages than others. For example, with Spanish, it's pretty easy to understand when a sentence begins and ends, whether it's a question or a statement, and how to respond. With languages like Chinese or Japanese, doing that is much more difficult.

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When it comes to a full language that I'm not able to speak, I can't understand all of it. However, I am able to pick up on some phrases and such in Italian because it sounds similar to Spanish and I am semi-fluent in Spanish.

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I can understand Japanese pretty decently, but I can barely string together proper sentences if I have to speak it.

I can understand Bahasa Melayu well, but I can't speak it for nuts.

The same goes for Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew, I know what people are saying but I struggle to form coherent sentences because to me they all fall under the "chinese dialects that I know" category and I spout nonsense that is a mix of all the dialects so nobody can understand me. 8'D

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Well I wouldn't say that I can't speak Filipino, but I'm surely not fluent in it.

Though I was raised in California, I was taken care of by my parents and my grandmother who are all fluent in Filipino. My parents would speak their native tongue to me if they are giving me a lecture or if they're angry, and my grandmother couldn't speak English even if she tried. So I've practically been surrounding by Filipino speakers even though my native tongue is English.

I have a hard time speaking Filipino, but I could understand it very well.

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My mom has this for Dutch. Her mom (my grandmother) was born in Amsterdam, so my mom grew up hearing Dutch all around her and visiting the Netherlands a hand full of times. She can now understand most of the conversations that are going on around her in Dutch, but she can't really speak the language. I've been trying to encourage her to study Dutch and learn how to speak and read it well, but she doesn't seem that interested!

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Uhm, I guess I can understand some words in dutch, but most of the things dutch people say are still a mystery to me, specially the spelling of said words, hehe!  But in general I'd say most of us can understand some random words of most languages, this applies to English speakers mostly :)  When I was in the Netherlands there were many words that sounded so familiar,  because they sounded like their English equivalent!!! So yes, in a way I could understand a language I couldn't speak ;)

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