Thursday, July 31, 2008

EGC: Foreign Languages In EGC

First of all, I want to tell two stories that underplay the importance of language skills. First of all, Tommi said that learning foreign languages is mainly a hobby for the leisured. Secondly, a relative (mother's sister) told that she was visiting China as part of a tourist group, and the one person who had the best contact with the Chinese didn't even attempt to learn or speak Chinese - instead she used gestures. She was a nurse by occupation, so she was exposed to huge amounts of human relationship training in her work.

Here, I've met Swedish, German, British, Japanese, Korean and Chinese persons. I bought a Swedish novel (Kafka On The Beach) and to my surprise understood most of what I read. Despite that, spoken Swedish is producing problems: I couldn't understand anything announced on the train, nor anything spoken by the organizers. Reading the written notes poses no problems, though.

I've read the mandatory 6 years of Swedish, voluntary 2 years of German, and one course of Russian. In addition, I'm making good progress on Chinese (level of knowledge: 1500 - 2000 characters, while uneducated Chinese know 3000 - 4000 characters and educated ones 5000 - 6000). Also, I've banged through Slime Forest Adventure, a teaching game for Japanese. Being fluent in these these languages would give quite good coverage of the languages used in EGC (except for Korean), but I've noticed that even spoken English is quite difficult to understand when spoken by totally unknown persons with whom you haven't got a second of communication before, and on the other hand that most communication can be done with very little simple speaking. And English is fine for that little simple speaking.

There were some lectures where the lecturer couldn't speak English at all and all content was translated. (A Chinese speaker read straight from written notes which were also displayed on screen and immediately translated, which was great for me who am studying Chinese.) Translation slowed down the lectures and drew attention away from the content (which wasn't interesting at all in those translated lectures anyway).

Also I've spend most of my leisure among the Finns, and when people gather up, they usually gather according to their language group. Exceptional are mainly the British, who can go anywhere and be understood in their native language.

To sum it up, EGC underlines the importance of knowing well a few languages, so that you can actually understand what is spoken, the unimportance of hard-to-develop foreign language skills, the fact that the most widely teached and spoken languages really do cover the languages you'll meet, and the fact that mutual effort to be mutually understood by any language (gestures, speech, prices) easily overcomes language barriers when there is need.

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