|| Misc queries
||Dec. 9th, 2004 09:59 am|
For reasons far too dull to explain, I own a domain of "ch3.org.uk". Can anyone tell me what CH3 would actually mean in chemical terms?|
Brits are known, fairly justly, as europe's worst linguists, and it's assumed that most of western europe speaks at least one foreign tongue fairly well.
How true is this, and to what extent does it also apply to eastern europe? What languages are most useful there?
Re Eastern Europe - 10 years ago when I went to East Germany the only languages understood were German and Russian - almost no English at all (so my mum had to rely on me to ask where the toilets were and to order a sandwich - basic stuff)
I recently got talking to a Hungarian woman on the tube - she spoke pretty fluent German but precious little English. I imagine German or Russian will be the best foreign tongues in most of Eastern Europe, although younger people are bound to be learning English.
Eastern Europe is odd for languages. Obviously, most people know the language of whatever country they are in, but unless you want to learn about 10 different languages (admittedly, very similar languages, excepting Hungarian and Estonian, which are odd) then they is impractical. English works best when talking to young people - they all learn it in schools and is very popular, and in the big cities even the odler people will have learn english if they want to sell things to tourists. The older generation will all have been taught Russian during the cold war era, but many don't think too fondly of the Russians, so attempting to speak Russian, especially in the Baltic Countries, will be a severe faux pas. German is the only other well established language, so is worth a go if English doesn't work, but probably only useful in Central Europe and not the far Eastern regions.
I had similar experiences in the former East Germany three years ago - only people at the university spoke English; everyone else I talked to in the street, trams, taxis, shops etc. used German and couldn't use English (though they enthusiastically corrected my German when I spoke to them :-)
Russian certainly was a useful lingua franca for much of East Europe - when I was collecting linguistic data on a range of minority languages across Eurasia, the only bilingual dictionaries - published in the Soviet era - available were usually into Russian (but occasionally German or Hungarian).
The British Council seem to have noted a massive increase in demand for English language skills from the former Eastern bloc since 1989, though that will not necessarily translate into English now being the most useful language in all contexts there.
Within Western Europe, I've seen figures suggesting substantial variation between countries and age groups in fluency in English (something like 80%+ in the Netherlands, but more like 50% in France - though I haven't got my source to hand since I lent it to someone!).
I get the impression that in the more eastern part of eastern europe the lingua franca seems to be Russian, but that it's a good idea to appologise before using it, in case that causes offence. In central Europe, I think German is very common.
One reson I think that English people are bad linguists is that, given they can speak English to get most things done, and aren't really culturally exposed extensively to other languages, that takes away much of the motivation to learn. I'm sure that other cultures would be the same in similar circumstances, to be honest.