Are you basing this observation on Taiwanese trying to learn Western languages? Many Taiwanese are already bilingual – Mandarin + Taiwanese. Many Singaporeans of Chinese decent are trilingual – English, Mandarin, and Cantonese/Hokkien. I’ll bet that an average Taiwanese can learn Cantonese, Vietnamese or Shanghainese much faster than an average South African. Can I then conclude that South Africans are linguistically challenged?[/quote]
Seeing as the average South African speaks six, seven or more languages, I don’t think that would be a correct assessment. I’m on the low end of the scale with only five spoken languages, yet that’s still more than the Taiwanese average of two.
No, I’m basing my assessment on what I’ve experienced personally. Studying Chinese at NCKU we had (apart from Saffas , NA’s , Europeans  and Australasians ) Mongolian , Korean , Japanese , Indonesian , ABC  and one Thai  classmate.
Although the Korean and Japanese students could complete tests much quicker, the consistently did much worse on those tests than the Western students. Even with oral work during class they were consistently out performed by the western students. The top student, as it turns out was a South African (me), and I only got less than 100% on one occasion when I scored 98%. The second placed student was a young chap from America. Interestingly, one of the worst students when we began the first book was another American lad from Boston. But as we worked through book one (now books 1 and 2) he ended up near the top and out performed all the Korean and Japanese students.
The only exception to the under performing *Asian students was a Thai lady and a PhD student from Indonesia. The Thai lady had lived in Taiwan for over 20 years, was married to a Taiwanese man and spoke fluent (as far as I could tell, anyway) Taiwanese.
I would agree that the average Taiwanese could learn Shanghainese or Cantonese faster than the average Saffa, or Canadian or American (why pick on Saffas specifically…), but I’m willing to bet that the average Saffa (especially Afrikaners) could learn to speak German fluently while the same Taiwanese student would still be struggling with the basics (although this will hopefully be put to the test next year as I hope to be starting MA studies for which a foreign language other than English is required and I’ve decided that should I get in I’ll take German).
So my opinion is based on what I experienced in Chinese classes I attended with Koreans, Japanese and other nationals from other Asian countries. Furthermore, my opinion is also based on years of teaching English here, and on first hand experience with Taiwanese who have attempted to learn other languages (European and Asian).
It’s interesting that you went on about Saffas etc (where a bi-lingual person is considered extremely poor linguistically), when discussing the post it would have been better if you’d asked why I think so…
Why, indeed. It could be because most languages that Taiwanese and other Asians learn are hard to practice for want of speakers of those languages, but what about those students at university studying Chinese being outperformed by Americans, who are routinely ridiculed for being uni-lingual?
No, that can’t be it… Could it be that Asian people are just not linguistically talented? I don’t think so either, because as you pointed out, many are bi, or even tri-lingual (although the tri-lingual ones are few and far between IMO). At least, I don’t think they are any more or less able at the actual learning of foreign languages than say Europeans, Africans, Americans or Australasians.
Could it be a combination of the culture and the education system? Perhaps.
- We all know what the education system is like, and whereas it’s good for some subjects, for learning languages it’s a disaster. Trying to learn and cram for languages like you do for math or science is not ideal, IMO. Perhaps you care to differ, but then please explain why the results are so poor.
- Culture. The unwillingness to speak and make a fool of yourself and learn from the experience. And to learn from actually saying the words and not just learning to read and write something for a test and then forget it later. Which brings me back to my classmate from Boston. Whereas he started off as easily the worst student and ended up near the top after book 3 is due in large part to his willingness to answer questions, speak to the teacher and anyone willing to listen to him murder their language. He was engaging and we laughed at him. He was a source of amusement for the Korean students especially, who, I imagine, saw him as a clown for free as part of our tuition. They hardly ever spoke unless pressed by the teacher, and when they did it was almost always a short yes or no type answer or the shortest possible sentence they could ramble off. Mr Boston would crash in and try his guts out, using the wrong vocab, be corrected, try again, doing it until he got it right.
When we did class activities (bbq in our free time etc) the Koreans would speak Korean to each other, as would the Japanese student if a Japanese speaker was available. The western students, the Thai lady and the PhD student from Indonesia would speak in Chinese as best we could as it was the only common language amongst all of us.
So, basically, that’s what I’m basing my observations on. I’m not saying it’s scientific or anything, but it has been my experience on the matter.
Not sure what you problem with South Africans is though… But if you’re looking for a group of people that have proven themselves over and over again to be unable to learn languages (be they European, African or Asian languages) you’re barking up the wrong tree.
*Where I mention Asians I specifically mean Far East Asians, so the Thai lady and the Indonesian PhD student don’t really qualify under my opinion that Far East Asians aren’t good language learners. They do serve to point out, though, that whereas the other Far East Asian students struggled with Chinese, the other Asians didn’t…
[quote=“Charlie Jack”][quote=“bismarck”][quote=“JFP”]Not considering X as a disadvantage doesn’t necessar[color=#FF0000]il[/color]y mean X [color=#FF0000]is considered[/color] as an advantage, conversely, not considering X as an advantage doesn’t necessar[color=#FF0000]il[/color]y mean X [color=#FF0000]is considered[/color] as a disadvantage.
20 years ago, [color=#FF0000]in France,[/color] knowing English was considered as an advantage, [strike]not knowing English was not considered as an advantage,[/strike] but also not [color=#FF0000]necessarily[/color] considered as a disadvantage either, because we didn’t feel the need to know it.
Now, knowing English is[color=#FF0000],[/color] of course[color=#FF0000],[/color] not considered as a disadvantage, but also not considered as an advantage either[color=#FF0000],[/color] so much [color=#FF0000]so that[/color] it has become obvious that everybody should know it[color=#FF0000].[/color] [color=#FF0000]Therefore,[/color] not knowing English is now considered as a disadvantage.[/quote]
That makes more sense, but it’s still a tad non-sensical.
I think what you’re trying to say is (correct me if I’m wrong):
20 years ago, in France, knowing English was not necessarily considered an advantage, nor was not knowing English considered as a disadvantage.
Now, knowing English is still not considered as a disadvantage (obviously, because it is not sensible to consider knowing something like another language as a disadvantage), but it is still not considered as an advantage. However, not knowing English is considered as a disadvantage, because it has become obvious that everyone should know it.
Right or wrong? Feel free to clarify.
Lemme try an analogy:
Seventy-five years ago in the U.S., having a B.A. degree was considered an advantage (kind of a fancy deal back then, could very well open some doors), but not having one was not necessarily considered a disadvantage (you could get by or even ahead without one).
Nowadays in the U.S., having a B.A. is not necessarily an advantage* (they’ll just put your resume on the pile with the others), but not having at least a B.A. (distinguished from a B.S., which in certain fields could be a meal ticket) is considered a disadvantage by some (in many cases you won’t even make the pile).
*Of course there may be B.A. degrees that are meal tickets. I ain’t omniscient.[/quote]
Sounds about right…