Why do Amercians have problems practicing languages?

Compare these typical situations:

  1. A foreigner who is a beginner in English goes to the United States. He speaks very slow, struggling English to Americans and they speak English back to him.

  2. A foreigner vacationing in the United States speaks English to an American, and the American answers in the foreigner’s language, because he sees a chance to practice it. The foreigner tells the American to speak English, because he is in the US to learn English. The American speaks English after that.

  3. An American who is a beginner in a foreign language goes to the country where that language is spoken. He speaks the language slowly, and struggles with it, so the local people answer him in English. He tells the people that he is in their country to learn their language, but they continue to speak English to him anyway.

The Americans, the British, the Irish, the Australians and other English speakers have one disadvantage in learning foreign languages that other people don’t have when they learn English: People frequently won’t let us practice!

What would be your advice to an English speaker on how to get people to speak their own language to him?

And how about a little parody on these typical situations?:

  1. A foreigner who is a beginner in Spanish goes to Spain. He speaks very slow, struggling Spanish to the people and they speak Spanish back to him or, at worst, baby talk Spanish, or, at the worst of worst, very loud baby-with-dyslexia talk Spanish… (anything but having to speak English!)

  2. An English speaking foreigner vacationing in Spain speaks Spanish to a Spaniard, and the Spaniard answers in Spanish, because he senses the imminent danger of having to practice English. The foreigner tells the Spaniard to go on speaking Spanish, because he is in Spain to learn Spanish. The Spaniard might speak English after that.

  3. An American who is a beginner in Spanish goes to Spain. He speaks the language slowly, and struggles with it, so the local people answer him in baby talk Spanish. He tells the people that he is in their country to learn good Spanish, so they continue to speak baby talk Spanish to him, only much louder this time and as if they had some kind of speaking disability.

Seriously now:

I would be surprised if many English speakers had this ‘problem’ in Spain! In some places, they would even be hard pressed to find someone who understands English, never mind speak it! Otherwise, they could always say they don’t speak English or are from another far away country. It would be their tough luck if the person they were speaking to just happened to be from that place!!!

Here’s another parody:

An American couple go to Mexico and speak whatever sort of Spanish they can speak. A lot of Mexicans laugh at their Spanish, so they change back to English. When they get back home, they complain to the other Americans that the Mexicans laughed at their Spanish. They claim it was because they learned Castilian Spanish in school, and that the Mexicans speak Latin American Spanish. It never occurs to them that their Spanish isn’t Castilian, and that maybe it’s just funny.

This is the US equivalent of the worldwide “British English” excuse.

Hi Jamie, I know I might be running the risk of being called a nitpicker but shouldn’t this read He speaks very slowly?
The issue you have raised is highly interesting and I don’t want to distract you from the initial topic. Just thought we could speak about adjectives vs. adverbs as well ;-).

Sorry for not having read your sentence carfully enough - I have only now realized that slow is not an adverb in your sentence but an adjective (very slow English), so maybe my question is pointless now?
Anyway, let me know what you think - adverbs vs. adjectives always make for a good discussion…;-).

Your second observation was right. I was using slow as an adjective. However, your question is not pointless, because many native speakers sometimes use slow as an adverb in place of slowly. “If you drive so slow, we’ll never get there!”

Hi Jamie, could you please elaborate on this? I mean, would it be correct to use adjectives in the way you have described? Is there any difference in how adverbs are used in British English and in American English? Also, at school I was taught that the comparative of an adverb is more + adverb. For example, you would have to say Could you speak more slowly please. But I’m quite sure I have read phrases like Please driver slower in US thrillers (which I used to read on a regular basis).
Thanks for sharing your experiences.

It can’t be a British versus American difference, because both my British and my American dictionaries explain the usage of slow as an adverb. (Anyway, most unusual grammatical features of American English came originally from some kind of British English.)

One pair of dictionaries I have says that slow is often used as an adverb in informal contexts, and that slowly is preferred in standard English.

The Merriam Webster dictionary says that this formal/informal explanation is still used even though slow has been used as an adverb for more than 400 years. Then it gives examples of it from Shakespeare and others. It says that slow, as an adverb, is used after the verb and usually with verbs involving movement.

There is more to their very good explanation, and I’d suggest you go to m-w.com look up “slow” and choose “slow[2, adverb]” from the menu.

Hi Jamie, thanks for pointing me in the right direction. So, would it be correct to say:

Could you speak more slowly please. (‘speak’ = not a verb of movement, therefore slowly should be used as the adverb?)

Could you drive slower please. (‘drive’ = verb of movement and therefore ‘slow’ can be used as an adverb?)

I figure it might not be as simple as that and maybe it’s best to read and review more examples?
Anyway, I think we can take it slow here ;-).

Both of those are correct, but it’s also correct (and more formal) to say, “Could you drive more slowly, please?” In less formal situations, we might say, “Hey! Slow down, Lead Foot!” :slight_smile:

Lead Foot? So, that’s a direct translation from the German Bleifuss or maybe it’s vice versa - first, there was the English lead foot and then the term was translated into German?

Who knows? All I know is that a lot of German, Czech and English automotive slang seems to consist of calques in one direction or the other.

We say, “give it some gas”, and in German you say “Gas geben”, even though we Americans are the ones who call the fuel “gas”, and you call it Benzin. We also say “step on the gas” or just “step on it”.

If you try to figure out which direction all the calques have gone, you’ll flip out. (At least I know that ausflippen did come directly from English.)

Ha, I’ve just learned a new word from you: calque
I looked it up in Wikipedia and it turns out it is pronounced [k?lk] and it is a so called loand translation. (a phrase that was translated word by word from one language into another). Very interesting…

Jamie (K) wrote:

‘To walk with lead feet’ is a Spanish expression that means ‘to be very careful’: andar con pies de plomo.

So it means rather the opposite of ‘lead foot’!

In English we say to walk on eggs.

Imagine the result of walking on eggs with lead feet…

If the eggs are placed vertically, your lead feet will not break them. Take an egg in two hands and try to break it by pressing against its vertical axis. You can’t. The pressure is distributed across the whole surface, and the egg doesn’t break. This is often used as a children’s lesson on architecture.

Hi Jamie, what is the difference between to crack up and to flip out? Does crack up have anything to do with dope or any other drugs?
Thank you,

I think it’s flip out that has its origins in the drug world. When people would get scared and hysterical while they were high on LSD, people would say they were flipping out. Now it means to go emotionally out of control for some reason. This emotional state is usually temporary, and it usually involves being upset about something, but not always.

Crack up has more than one meaning nowadays. Meaning 1 is to go insane, usually a permanent condition, and often from stress. Meaning 2 is to start laughing or to laugh out of control. Maybe there’s another meaning I haven’t thought of.

That’s also true for Moroccan Arabic, “to walk on eggs” means to walk very slowly & lazily…