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Speaking in tongues in Europe

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  • Martin Votruba
    A survey of the use of languages in the European Union showed that about a half of its inhabitants say they can participate in conversation in at least one
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2005
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      A survey of the use of languages in the European Union showed that
      about a half of its inhabitants say they can participate in
      conversation in at least one language other than their own. And
      within Central Europe, Slovakia has the highest percentage of people
      whose mother tongue is not the language of the country:

      My mother tongue is the national language where I live:

      90% Slovakia
      92% Germany
      95% Czech R.
      99% Austria
      99% Hungary
      100% Poland

      I can have conversation in at least one foreign language:

      69% Slovakia
      62% Germany
      60% Czech R.
      58% Austria
      49% Poland
      29% Hungary

      However, the answers are probably skewed not only by the differences
      in people's self-assessments, but also by the differences in what the
      respondents thought was a "foreign language" for them, what was
      "conversation in" that language.

      For instance, many Slavs feel they know (some) Russian due to the
      former compulsory classes at school, but also to the proximity of
      that language, although they'd probably fail any test in it. The
      Swedes and Norwegians, the Slovaks and the Poles, and many other such
      pairs, can have a basic conversation with hardly any capacity to
      perform in the other language, but they sometimes imagine that they
      do have it when they throw in a few words from the other language and
      understand the other person reasonably well thanks to repeated
      exposure, for example in the border regions. The mutual
      understandability of Slovak and Czech has been heightened greatly by
      their common history.

      Some Slovaks, Czechs, Swedes, etc., did and others didn't include
      such close languages among their foreign language skills in their
      answers.


      Martin

      votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
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