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Linguaholic

How great is the language barrier in the United States?


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I have noticed even in Smalltown, USA that there are a lot more minorities living away from urban centers in the last decade or so. Many of these minorities do not speak English. I don't (as of yet) speak a foreign language with any kind of skill. There is a language barrier. I have noticed this at work too. About 1/3 of our employees are Latino. Perhaps half of them speak English well-enough so that we can have a conversation. How great is this language barrier overall and will it get better any time soon?

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  • 3 weeks later...

This is a very interesting point you're making. If you spoke Spanish and they spoke English perhaps you could have a blend of cultures and practice both languages simultaneously. However, I am aware that many people aren't learning English.

This is mostly the case with older people who have trouble adjusting, especially if they'd spoken only one language throughout their whole life - it may be extra difficult to them to learn to speak a foreign one. Most of us have some experience and have learnt foreign languages in school, so it's easier to learn a new one, but not all of the people have this advantage. They encounter problems which we'd encountered in primary school, so we also have to be aware of that.

And then there's the encouragement factor, or rather, lack of it. Many people don't see the benefit of speaking more languages. This is simply because the lack of education. If they were provided with information (for example, a quick seminar in their mother tongue, in this case, Spanish) and knew the benefits, perhaps the things would change and more people would be motivated. The language barrier as such exists, but it can be overcome. At least, I believe so. Languages are the wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, the opportunities. There's no reason why you should resist them.

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Where I live, there's a language barrier but I like to think it's not as big a barrier as in other places in the US. We've got people who speak all sorts of different languages here, and if your out shopping or something and need to talk someone, there's always another person nearby who can translate the language for you if you don't know it.

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I don't think that language barrier in any region anywhere will get better anytime soon. Most people although concerned about what those around them that speak other languages are saying, don't care much about learning the language. It could be that they aren't patient enough to learn or think that over all it is not worth learning.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I think that it will get better over time. I usually volunteer at a home for abandoned babies where foreigners come to visit. Most of the caregivers there do not speak fluent English. They however communicate with the visitors and great friendships are formed before they return home. One is able to learn a language easily when exposed to people speaking it all the time.

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I don't think that language barrier in any region anywhere will get better anytime soon. Most people although concerned about what those around them that speak other languages are saying, don't care much about learning the language. It could be that they aren't patient enough to learn or think that over all it is not worth learning.

I agree with you about many not wanting to learn. Even though it is an outdated way of thinking, I still hear people say, "This is America, learn English". I don't necessarily think it is the person who doesn't speak English soul responsibility. If two different people work, play and live in the same area, they should both want to understand the other. This doesn't even have to be people from foreign countries. Many people in the United States are born here and still don't speak English. They may need to learn it someday, but it doesn't mean that other's shouldn't also be at least willing to learn their language.

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I'm sorry but I find it very odd when people choose to go and live in a foreign country, yet they're not prepared to integrate and learn about the laws, culture and language of their "host country", and then wonder why they can't get jobs! Nobody forced you to leave your own country, so it's a no-brainer, you need to do something to make your life easier and bridge that weird gap that's often created by this sort of thing; bridge that gap by showing an interest in a country that you've made into your home. In the UK, the government even offers non-English speaking people who reside in the UK FREE English lessons!

I lived in Italy fo three months. I went there as an au pair because I've always, always had this affinity with the country. I love everything about Italy. In those three months, I was able to wobble my way through a conversation in Italian. Many of the locals could not believe that I'd not been in the country that long. Likewise, I lived in England for thirteen years and didn't see the need to isolate myself and socialise ONLY with people from my country. I interacted with people of ALL backgrounds, colour and religion. I actually saw very little of my own fellow countrymen. I was hungry to meet new people and learn about them and make new friends!

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My relatives moved to Brownsville, Texas which is a boundary between United States and Mexico. They told me the language the natives speak are Spanish so they have to learn it too. They did learn it at work and my kid cousins are learning it at school. I think it is fair to learn the language and blend in with the native people after all it is my relatives who moved to their place.

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I totally agree with you, Elenamarie! I think we can all make an effort to learn from each other. I think it helps with the spirit of community, race relations and overall cohesion between people. It baffles me when I see people living alongside each other, but in total isolation, with no effort on either side to blend and learn from each side.

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Texas, hmmm. It would be an excellent solution to teach children both languages - both Spanish and English, seeing that Mexico and US are the closest there. That way, everyone would feel welcome and accepted and children can easily pick up languages. I got my first foreign language when I was five. I started learning my second when I was 5th grade (10 years old). It has worked perfectly for me - and a lot of my classmates as well.

This only shows it's possible to learn two languages when you're small. Children are great at acquiring the language - sometimes they don't even study, it just happens. We should use this potential! Not only would they be able to help their families - mothers want to be able to help their children with homework, it's an instinct, so that would also urge them; but it would make the children more competent. Some research findings show that children who speak two languages at an early age can do better in overall curriculum because their brains get more stimulus for development and critical thinking. They compare and combine, find similarities and differences, and these cognitive skills are extremely important.

So, two languages and voila!

P.S. to lushlala: I'd attend any language is it was free, even Chinese, which is extremely difficult! I'd go to a foreign country, just for the sake of learning the language. And Italian is so beautiful. I'm studying Latin now, but as soon as I finish the MA (I still have two years to go, I'm doing my BA thesis this summer), I'll try to work my way with Italian! Makes me really excited just to think about it!

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I totally agree with you, Elenamarie! I think we can all make an effort to learn from each other. I think it helps with the spirit of community, race relations and overall cohesion between people. It baffles me when I see people living alongside each other, but in total isolation, with no effort on either side to blend and learn from each side.

Thank you for agreeing  :grin: I agree with you too. I think we will be able to attain peace in this world if everyone would just correlate and embrace one's differences be it language, culture, traditions etc. We will find that we are not that different, I understand people who don't accept others but I don't understand how they can't respect it. Different is good too.. we can always learn different things from everyone.

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Since we're a melting pot, the language gap and barrier is huge. I would say very huge. But in small towns, even though change is feared outside minorities have a better time making it. We're more apt to sit down and try to have a full conversation because these are people we will keep dealing with. It won't be immediate but if two cultures mix for any extended periods of time, naturally the barrier will become weaker by proximity and being able to pick up what other nationalities are saying.

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P.S. to lushlala: I'd attend any language is it was free, even Chinese, which is extremely difficult! I'd go to a foreign country, just for the sake of learning the language. And Italian is so beautiful. I'm studying Latin now, but as soon as I finish the MA (I still have two years to go, I'm doing my BA thesis this summer), I'll try to work my way with Italian! Makes me really excited just to think about it!

Oh wow AureliaeLacrimae, congratulations on all your linguistic achievements!  I have so much respect for multi lingual people such as yourself. However, you go even higher in my estimation if you also speak Latin, German and Chinese as I feel those are some of the most complex languages to learn. After those ones, you'll find Italian easy. I learnt French first and found it relatively easy. I found Italian even easier! -But I don't speak either fluently now:(

All the best for your MA, although I'm sure you don't need any luck there as you'll breeze it :)

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Oh wow AureliaeLacrimae, congratulations on all your linguistic achievements!  I have so much respect for multi lingual people such as yourself. However, you go even higher in my estimation if you also speak Latin, German and Chinese as I feel those are some of the most complex languages to learn. After those ones, you'll find Italian easy. I learnt French first and found it relatively easy. I found Italian even easier! -But I don't speak either fluently now:(

All the best for your MA, although I'm sure you don't need any luck there as you'll breeze it :)

Chinese is so difficult, so is French. I'd actually tried learning French on my own and I'd given up - I lacked motivation. I just couldn't grasp the pronunciation and prepositions... I always messed something up and I didn't have a teacher... but I am thinking about learning French as well. The only thing stopping me right now is the fact that French is dying out in my country - it's no longer taught at schools. When I'd heard this, I was really disappointed. How can you just erase one language from the curriculum? Apparently, you can. Or rather, our ministers of education think so. I believe it's not only disappointing but wrong. I may not be able to speak French, but I love it as a language. It sounds great and exactly because it's difficult, it's all the more admirable when someone masters it enough to make conversation and sound more or less natural. Honestly, sometimes I wonder where our education is going... nowhere good it seems.

P.S. I don't speak Chinese, I only wish I do. :) Maybe one day, I'll get there ;)

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  • 1 month later...

I do notice that in the US, there's quite a significant amount of foreigners who live in there, but do not really speak English at all.  I notice it more common in areas like Chinatown, Japantown, etc.  It's like they are still in their own country and since most of their neighbors and the people in their small community would speak Chinese or Japanese or any other local language, they don't see the necessity to actually force themselves to learn English.  I think if it personally works out for them then there is nothing wrong, but overall, I think it's not a good idea not to endeavor to learn the universal language.

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I think as the country gets more and more diverse with each passing year, the language barrier is bound to get bigger as well. Although, since Spanish is being taught more and more, and a lot of people at least know some basic words, then it may not be the case for very long. Also the new generation probably will speak more English than their native language so there's that as well.

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I have noticed even in Smalltown, USA that there are a lot more minorities living away from urban centers in the last decade or so. Many of these minorities do not speak English. I don't (as of yet) speak a foreign language with any kind of skill. There is a language barrier. I have noticed this at work too. About 1/3 of our employees are Latino. Perhaps half of them speak English well-enough so that we can have a conversation. How great is this language barrier overall and will it get better any time soon?

I don't think it will get better per se, because it seems the immigrant influx to the US seems to be increasing. Sadly the bigger the minority communities are, the bigger is the chance they'll not assimilate and learn the language. I mean, the US is one of the very few countries I know where you can live a pretty normal and decent life even if you don't speak a word of English.

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I'm sorry but I find it very odd when people choose to go and live in a foreign country, yet they're not prepared to integrate and learn about the laws, culture and language of their "host country", and then wonder why they can't get jobs! Nobody forced you to leave your own country, so it's a no-brainer, you need to do something to make your life easier and bridge that weird gap that's often created by this sort of thing; bridge that gap by showing an interest in a country that you've made into your home. In the UK, the government even offers non-English speaking people who reside in the UK FREE English lessons!

I lived in Italy fo three months. I went there as an au pair because I've always, always had this affinity with the country. I love everything about Italy. In those three months, I was able to wobble my way through a conversation in Italian. Many of the locals could not believe that I'd not been in the country that long. Likewise, I lived in England for thirteen years and didn't see the need to isolate myself and socialise ONLY with people from my country. I interacted with people of ALL backgrounds, colour and religion. I actually saw very little of my own fellow countrymen. I was hungry to meet new people and learn about them and make new friends!

yeah I think so too. I have a friend (her family lives in Norway) and her mother ONLY speaks Vietnamese. She doesn't speak Norwegian or even English. JUST Vietnamese. Keep in mind she's been living there for over 2 decades. I just found it so mind boggling how you can just NOT learn the language of the country you're living in!

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  • 8 months later...

Well due to the fact I live in the South, they're alot of fellow minorities down here, plus the school I went to you could constantly here differnet languages where ever you went from Spanish (whether it was native speakers or cause of the class courses) to Asian dialects (to many differnet dialects to dicipher...) to even languages like Lithuanian, Arabic, Hebrew, and also French (mostly from the class courses but on the occasion you'd find a native speaker)... Along with the standard down south "southern accent" to the stereotypical interpretation of black people with "ghetto slang", and you ended up having a colorful array of multilingual people and interactions.

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I believe this is happening not only in the U.S.A. but in many countries all around the world. In every place that this occurs a language barrier does appear. At times this lack of understanding with each other can even be a reason for discrminitation and whatnot. Let's remember that learning a new language is actually getting out of your comfort zone and making a real effort to understand sounds, words and concepts that you hadn't considered before. Maybe then it's just laziness or the fact that we think that everyone should just speak our language because we are a "1st world country". Hopefully this will improve in the future so we can actually get to understand each other better and access that uniqueness that everyone has inside of them.

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As long as the minority population can speak English, I don't think the U.S. suffers from any language barrier whatsoever. Everyone who migrates eventually learns the language. You can't ever survive in an area without learning its native tongue or at least English (after all it's the universal language).

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