This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
  • LibraryThing
  • Book discussions
  • Your LibraryThing
  • Join to start using.

Speak Spanish, for crying out loud

Pro and Con

Join LibraryThing to post.

Jul 31, 2018, 2:38pm Top

White, and in the minority: She speaks English. Her co-workers don’t. Inside a rural chicken plant, whites struggle to fit in. is a new Washington Post article. The title gives hint to the frustration I have with the whole article. Heaven's co-workers speak Spanish. She doesn't. Is she struggling to fit in? Not in the least. She's not trying to fit in at all. She's been there twenty months, and is as solidly monolingual at the start.

Yes, languages are hard; I'm fighting on and off with German. But even with my appalling German, I can manage:

Guten Morgen! (Good morning)
Wie gehts? (How's it going?)
Gut, gut. (Good, good).
Ja, ich bin sehr gut. (I'm very good.)
Und deine Tochter? (And your daughter?)
Entschuldigung! Julia hat eine Tochter! (Sorry! Julia has a daughter!)

Maybe not much more, but I'm totally half-assing it and haven't had 20 months to practice with native speakers. If you work in a workplace where no one else speaks your language, and you can't pick up that level of their language, you're the problem. It says a coworker slipped in front of her, and she didn't know how to ask if he was okay. In German, that's "geht es dir gut?", not because I knew it before now, but the instant I read it, I figured it would be a good thing to know.

Edited: Jul 31, 2018, 5:03pm Top

Learning a new language is supposed to help your brain also once you are older - I need to learn a couple of new ones!

A 2014 link to that topic:


Jul 31, 2018, 7:25pm Top

>1 prosfilaes: I agree. If you are surrounded by co-workers who do not speak your language it doesn't take much time to learn the basics and if you give any indication at all that you want to learn it has been my experience that people will practically fall over themselves trying to give you as much help as they can.

For example, I once had to stand guard duty with a group of Greek soldiers. They didn't speak English and all I knew of Greek was the alphabet. Through some hand gestures I got them to understand that I wanted to learn Greek - bam! From that instant forward my 4 hour watches with those three soldiers turned into a 4 hour Berlitz language course. By the time my service was over in Greece I had enough command of the language to be able to carry on a reasonable but short conversation and I had no problem whatsoever with respect to asking directions, reading basic signs, ordering a meal, getting a train ticket, purchasing things in the open air market, etc.

I had the same sort of thing happen later in China and Japan and, while all of that was long ago, I'm sure I could still conjure up enough Greek, Chinese, or Japanese to get by if the need arose.

Aug 1, 2018, 2:02am Top

>3 alco261:

I've spent virtually my entire adult life surrounded by people who don't speak my language. While English is spoken in many parts of Africa, it is by no means universal, it is not the normal language of day to day conversation, and it is not known at all in many rural areas or by people who have not attended school. I've learned some languages (particularly Arabic and Nuer, and of course schoolboy French from half a century ago) and can get by with practical words, although not hold a conversation, in Kiswahilli, but the multitude of local languages (South Sudan alone has about 64) makes it impossible to learn them all. So what I have tried to do is at least learn the greetings and pleasantries in a dozen or so of the languages I encounter most often. Once people see that you are trying to connect with them, I have also found that they "will practically fall over themselves trying to give you as much help as they can", and they are very understanding when you then switch to Arabic or English for the main part of the conversation. And I agree, hand gestures, body language, tone of voice, etc are all part of communicating.

I've found that Africans put us westerners to shame when it comes to learning languages. Most people grow up speaking at least three or four languages (their own mother tongue, a national language such as Kiswahili, an international language such as English, French or Arabic, plus probably the local language of a neighbouring or dominant community). My wife, who is Kenyan, is fluent in about a dozen languages, both European and African, and can do the pleasantries and greetings in a few more.

>2 DugsBooks:

I found it much easier to learn languages when I was younger, but like you, I think my brain needs a bit of exercise and I really do need to learn some more! I need to improve my Kiswahili, and to learn at least a bit of Maasai, as I now live in a rural area in Maasai land.

Nov 6, 2018, 11:22am Top

  • I wish I couldn't understand my coworkers, she's lucky.
  • Learning Spanish is a pointless waste of time and effort
  • In fact learning any language but your own, English and maybe Latin and Greek (Ancient Greek, not Euroturk) is a pointless waste of time and effort
  • With automated translation getting better and better even learning English is probably a waste of time and effort unless you need it in the short-term.
  • People who brag they can speak N languages are generally terrible at each one (including their supposedly native tongue). Master of none indeed.
  • 6mamzel
    Nov 6, 2018, 12:02pm Top

    I would think that working in a factory, it would behoove her to learn a few phrases so if she hears someone shouting, "Agachate!" she knows she needs to duck.

    Nov 6, 2018, 12:56pm Top

    >5 Kuiperdolin: Thanks, I needed a good laugh. I'm particularly fond of #4 "With automated translation getting better and better even learning English is probably a waste of time and effort unless you need it in the short-term." ....so if you can't speak any language what good is a translator?

    Nov 7, 2018, 7:15pm Top

    >5 Kuiperdolin: 'I wish I couldn't understand my co-workers'

    My in-laws are monolingual Chinese. I speak some Chinese, but pretend I don't. We get along wonderfully! Sometimes ignorance (or feigned ignorance) is bliss. :-)

    Nov 7, 2018, 8:56pm Top

    In Slovene Istria, practically everyone I know speaks at least three languages.

    >5 Kuiperdolin: 'People who brag they can speak N languages are generally terrible at each one (including their supposedly native tongue). Master of none indeed.'

    I have no idea where someone would get such an absurd idea. The people I know don't brag, but they do make fun of me when I try to speak a little Slovene or Italian. Many of them, a lot of them, are actually masters of at least three languages, but they don't brag about it. Those I have known who knew more than five or six languages, including one who spoke with Samuel Beckett twice in Paris in French, were indeed experts in most if not all of their languages. My 15 year old son speaks extremely good Italian, Slovene and English--he doesn't read much Italian, but he plays baseball there. He reads extensively in Slovene and English. I don't have any idea how to establish the value of knowing more than one language, particularly for someone as opposed to the phenomenon as Kuiperdolin, but i seek constantly to at least improve my slang and curses in Slovene and Italian, along with various quotidian remarks. Seems of some importance to me.

    Nov 7, 2018, 11:31pm Top

    >5 Kuiperdolin:, >9 RickHarsch:

    Of all the multi-lingual people I know, I can't say I hear them "bragging" about it. Indeed many of them are not even aware that being multi-lingual is considered an achievement - as far as they are concerned, it is just part of who they are.

    But I would add that it doesn't actually matter whether you are an expert at a language or not. As long as you are able to "get by" in that language, then that is usually sufficient to live and work, to build relationships, and to show people that you have made an effort.

    Nov 8, 2018, 1:00am Top

    >10 johnthefireman: There's also the fluid nature of fluency. Fluency is not translating, in my simple definition. And I'm sure you know what I mean. Hopefully, your fluency is beyond mine, but I am fluent in cursing--even in real situations. I bought a lady at a phone company a flower the other day after her inability to figure out my phone angered me into a Slovene rant that was the first to come to mind. I also never know what I'm going to say in a simple greeting situation, all sorts of things pop into my head. 'Better than yesterday,' is the most common.

    Edited: Nov 8, 2018, 2:22am Top

    >11 RickHarsch: Fluency is not translating

    Agreed. And it doesn't just mean technical correctness in grammar and vocabulary. It's a much broader dynamic of being able to communicate.

    fluent in cursing

    I don't speak Afrikaans (apart from greetings and pleasantries), but having worked with old steam engine drivers in South Africa I can curse pretty well in itI A very expressive language.

    With Arabic, a language I do speak, I remember our colloquial Sudanese Arabic classes in a church-run language school in a small town in the western desert. At one point my fellow students and I complained light-heartedly to the teacher that he was only teaching us good words and we wanted to learn the bad ones. When we entered the classroom the following week, as usual a dialogue was already written on the blackboard for us to translate, but every sentence was full of obscenities. We duly repeated it after him and then read it out as a dialogue between us. And he did all of this with a completely straight face.

    Nov 8, 2018, 3:46am Top

    Yes, curse words are among the first things you learn. I learned few Korean words from my two years living and working there, but I do remember how to call someone an idiot and to say "Do you want to die?" (as a threat) My primary students loved to say that...

    When you live in an environment where you speak the language imperfectly you find yourself repeating the same kind of conversation over and over again-- so you may not be fluent in the language, but you are fluent in certain situations. To the point where, after a conversation I've had a thousand times, I wonder: was that conversation in English or Chinese?

    Nov 8, 2018, 3:51am Top

    >13 madpoet: repeating the same kind of conversation over and over again

    We find that a lot with foreign medical workers, who can handle just about every situation in the clinic, incuding diagnosis and treatment, in the local language, but can't hold a conversation outside of their work.

    Nov 8, 2018, 8:27am Top

    I'll have to agree with the other posters both with respect to the issue of bragging about speaking N languages as well as the idea that it isn't about fluency but about being able to get by in a situation where no one speaks your language. The issue of getting by will vary depending on what you are doing but I've found for general travel in a country just knowing the basic pleasantries , good morning/evening/night, thank you, please, (this) is very good, yes, no, being able to count up to 5, the phrase "wait a minute", the words for train station, hotel, pharmacy, hospital, and bus stop, and, if I want to gild the lily, the phrases for , go left, go right, straight ahead, and where, have not only made my travel easier but have made me welcome in more situations in foreign countries than I can count.

    As for swear words - yup, it is amazing how quickly you learn those. As I mentioned earlier, when I was in Greece, I got a Berlitz language course courtesy of the Greek guards I stood watch with. Most of the guys on my ship had no interest in learning any Greek other than words for things like, beer, hooker, taxi, and hotel. One evening I talked one of my shipmates into going to the Herod Atticus Theater to hear the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra. As we were walking toward the theater two cab drivers had a fender bender right in front of us at an intersection. They jumped out of their respective cars and started screaming and waving at one another. My friend stopped and looked at me in amazement and said, "I don't believe it - I understood that entire conversation!"

    Edited: Nov 9, 2018, 3:51am Top

    In fact learning any language but your own, English and maybe Latin and Greek (Ancient Greek, not Euroturk) is a pointless waste of time and effort

    I spent many year of my life learning Latin and Greek. But I can't for the life of me figure out why they would be more useful than, say, French. I suppose Google is shitty at Latin, but that's hardly sufficient.

    As for modern Greek being "Euroturk," good grief. What a ridiculously ignorant and bigoted thing to say.

    Nov 9, 2018, 11:33am Top

    Latin and proper Greek show breeding, French doesn't. There are plenty of oiks around speaking French.

    As for "modern Greeks" not being Turks but descended straight from Achilles through Pericles... Suffice to say the pushers of that tale are the same who sneer at "nos ancêtres les Gaulois". I'm not ridiculously ignorant.

    Nov 9, 2018, 12:36pm Top

    >17 timspalding: i hope you've at least enjoyed some etymological epiphanies French wouldn't have provided.
    >18 Kuiperdolin: The attempt to elude the accusation of being ridiculously ignorant by switching from the linguistic to the genetic is feeble and dishonest. Are you not feeble and dishonest either?

    Nov 9, 2018, 1:56pm Top


    Nov 9, 2018, 6:56pm Top

    >20 lriley: He's being 'clever'

    Nov 9, 2018, 11:49pm Top

    >18 Kuiperdolin: Latin and proper Greek show breeding, French doesn't. There are plenty of oiks around speaking French.

    I really hope that is an attempt at irony and not intended to be taken at face value.

    Nov 12, 2018, 3:59am Top

    >18 Kuiperdolin: 'Latin and proper Greek show breeding'

    I'm sure there were plenty of 'oiks' speaking Latin and Greek on the streets of Rome and Athens, back in the day...

    French used to be the 'lingua franca' of Europe: the language of science and diplomacy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The lessons of Ozymandias!

    Nov 12, 2018, 5:46pm Top

    >19 RickHarsch: Not at all, I'm strong and earnest like a silverback gorilla.

    >22 johnthefireman: Why do you hope that?

    >23 madpoet: Maybe but I live now, not back in the day. And most latinists learn classical and/or Church Latin. Gutter Latin is a different beast, closer than classical to... Why, Spanish, what a coincidence.

    Nov 12, 2018, 10:37pm Top

    >24 Kuiperdolin:

    Breeding? Oiks? In the 21st century?

    Nov 13, 2018, 3:35am Top

    We are all in-bred silverback gorillas...

    Nov 13, 2018, 3:36am Top

    So to speak...

    Edited: Nov 18, 2018, 1:49am Top

    >16 cpg: Thank you. So noted.

    >18 Kuiperdolin: Latin and proper Greek show breeding, French doesn't

    That is, you see Latin and Ancient Greek as status symbols. Other people will be impressed by other things.

    As for "modern Greeks" not being Turks but descended straight from Achilles through Pericles...

    And as for "modern English" not being French but descended straight from Beowulf through King Arthur... If you defined purity by descending from fictional people, or even directly from one narrow group, then no group is "pure". The ancient Greeks lived in what is now Turkey (as well as what is now Greece) and were no doubt as closely related to the Turks then as the current Greeks are related to the Turks now.

    Nov 19, 2018, 1:09am Top

    >28 prosfilaes: " and were no doubt as closely related to the Turks then as the current Greeks are related to the Turks now"

    Well, as point of fact, there were no Turks living in 'Turkey' (then called Asia Minor) at the time of Socrates or even St. Paul. Turks began immigrating to the region around 800 A.D. from Central Asia. But the people of Asia Minor, who call themselves 'Turks' are probably not really Turks either. They are mostly descended from the ancient population and just speak Turkish.

    A curious point: when Greece and Turkey were expelling each other's population (Greeks from Turkey, and Turks from Greece) after WWI, the main criterion they used to determine who was 'Greek' and who was 'Turkish' was not language, but religion. I.e.: those who were Christian, even if they spoke Turkish, were considered 'Greek' while those who were Muslim, even if they spoke Greek, were considered 'Turks'. Of course, in most cases, religion and language overlapped, but not always.

    Nov 19, 2018, 2:16am Top

    >29 madpoet: I think prosfilaes was just a little careless with his language--I presume he knows Turks came later. I think the main point is that the genetic admixtures have by now made of the distinction between the peoples artificial, or, as you say, a question of current culture, religious beliefs.
    'They are mostly descended from the ancient population and just speak Turkish.' This is just as inaccurate, as the palimpsest of migrating waves have made mockery of temporal distinctions.

    Nov 20, 2018, 4:28am Top

    >30 RickHarsch: Well, it is debatable how much of Turkey's population are descended from the Turkic people of Central Asia. Most are probably of mixed ethnic heritage. But Asia Minor was long a meeting point of Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Semitic, Caucasian and other groups. Occasionally, you can see Turkish children with blond or red hair: hardly the typical Central Asian colouring.

    Nov 20, 2018, 8:53am Top

    >31 madpoet: 'They are mostly descended from the ancient population and just speak Turkish.'

    If you're just going to put what both Prosfilaes and I are saying into different words instead of saying 'woops', then I suppose it wouldn't hurt to put your words up there again.

    Nov 20, 2018, 10:34am Top

    Invading populations often conceive of themselves as replacing the local population, and, centuries later, imagine they have done so. But they rarely do. The population of Britain has more Celtic than Anglo-Saxon blood, the population of Egypt more Egyptian than Arab, etc.

    The same applies in Turkey. Some Turks have more readily "Turkish" features, such as one finds in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and so forth. But anyone coming from those countries to Turkey will notice the difference immediately. We can speak of Greeks too, but Hellenization was mostly cultural, not genetic. The great Hellenization that happened in the Hellenistic and Roman periods was transparently so—Greek and Macedonian colonization was minimal; the residents of Lycia and Cilicia got Greek theaters, learned Greek, linked themselves up with Greek myth and that was that. This holds even in the earlier and older Greek city-states, which really were colonies, originally. We think of Herodotus as Greek—almost the prototype of one—but at least one of his parents had a Carian name.

    In other words, the residents of Turkey are less Turkish and Greek than they are Carian, Lycian, Lydian, Cappadocian, Paphlagonian, and so forth. Before that, the evidence suggests the Hittites were more a small invading class, not a population replacement.

    Occasionally, you can see Turkish children with blond or red hair: hardly the typical Central Asian colouring.

    Right. Although I suspect most of these would be pointed out to you as being of Circassian ancestry. Noted and tracked. Ditto with the black population of Turkey.

    Nov 20, 2018, 11:04am Top

    >33 timspalding: Thank you, Tim, you said that better than I would have.

    "The population of Britain has more Celtic than Anglo-Saxon blood"
    ... and even pre-Celtic.

    "Occasionally, you can see Turkish children with blond or red hair: hardly the typical Central Asian colouring."
    ... and again Celts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galatians_(people)

    Edited: Nov 20, 2018, 7:46pm Top

    >32 RickHarsch: Perhaps I overstated it when I said the population 'just spoke Turkish.' What I meant was that Asia Minor was already a well-populated region, and the Turkic people who migrated there were probably no more than a small minority. The local population intermarried with the Turks, but still most of their genetic heritage is pre-Turkic. Calling them 'Turks' is therefore a bit of a misnomer, unless one is talking about language or citizenship.

    Nov 21, 2018, 6:27am Top

    >35 madpoet: I think we are all, after the post by Kuiperdolin, saying and thinking the same thing. And I agree with CW that Spalding said it best. Unfortunately, in some places on the globe the misunderstanding in regard to what lends someone identity is abused by demagogues and that's when it matters. Even here in Slovenia there is abuse of this misunderstanding perpetrated by people who would separate the Slovenes from other southern Slavs, as if it would matter (if Slovenes really were, get this, descendants of the Etruscans).

    Nov 21, 2018, 7:21am Top

    >36 RickHarsch: Etruscans of the world, unite!

    Nov 21, 2018, 7:30am Top

    People have less awareness about it, well I totally agree with you regarding this point.

    Group: Pro and Con

    419 members

    126,358 messages


    This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.


    No touchstones

    About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 131,688,093 books! | Top bar: Always visible