Learn English Article 128
Practice Will Make You Better In English Listening And Speaking
The Podcast Series ARTICLES
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Hi, I’m Hilary and welcome to the latest podcast from Adept English. I hope you think that our podcasts are of a good quality and that they’re worth listening to. Hopefully you find that the English language that I use is both good for your understanding and that we choose interesting subjects for you to practice on. If you like our podcasts, why not try our courses? We’ve been selling courses since 2016 – and we’ve helped a lot of people to improve their English. We could help you too, as using a course will give you some more structure and accelerate your learning.
Today’s subject – why is it that people from certain countries speak English really well? And I’m not meaning here the English speaking countries. No, I’m meaning that people from certain countries tend to speak English as a foreign language really well. Which countries do I mean? Well, I suspect you probably know who you are! Certainly the Scandinavian countries – so that’s Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. It seems to us British people as though you are almost born speaking English! Your English is so good! I would probably also include the Dutch too. People from the Netherlands seem invariably to speak good English. So for those of us who struggle, who find it difficult to learn a foreign language – perhaps it’s useful to look at this. What do the Scandinavians and the Dutch do to learn English. How come most of them are so good at it?
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Just to give you some statistics to back up this idea – 70% of Swedish, Danish and Dutch people speak fluent English, 67% of Norwegians do and 65% of Finns. To be fair, not far behind are people from Estonia, Luxembourg, Poland and Germany. But 70% of Swedes, Danes and Dutch? That’s remarkable! Compare that to the 70% of Irish people who can’t speak a foreign language and the 74% of Americans who can’t either. To be fair to the Irish, lots of people in Ireland learnt Irish as their foreign language – but that doesn’t really count for much outside of Ireland! Sorry, if you’re Irish!
So what happens in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Holland? They aren’t really born speaking English – so how is this remarkable skill at speaking English achieved? Well, first of all, children are taught English from the age of 8 or 9 years – so from a much younger age, than is usual for example in the UK. Often here children don’t start learning their first foreign language until they’re 11 years old. That’s a mistake, I think! So in these countries, learning English is given priority. It’s considered a core subject, like maths or science. Children’s brains, as we know are absolutely ready to learn language. So that’s one important part of it.
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And there’s also an emphasis on learning English. If the your own language isn’t spoken very much outside your own country – which is the case for Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Holland, then perhaps you tend to be more outward looking, perhaps you tend to place a higher value on learning other languages. And if you’re a small country and you want to be part of a global economy, then learning other languages is helpful. And if you’re European, then I guess English is the obvious one, though of course, people learn 3rd and 4th languages too. It’s interesting. The countries whose languages are spoken most in the world, perhaps have fewer fluent foreign language speakers. [That didn’t sound very fluent, did it? I’ll say it again!] That’s a tongue-twister almost! So for example, English speaking countries like the UK, the US, New Zealand, Australia – they tend to speak foreign languages less. So for example Australia - 76% only speak English. Spain has fewer people who speak a 2nd language than most other European countries. Could this be because Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world?
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Another thing which helps the Dutch and the Scandinavians speak really good English – it’s all around them! Television adverts are often in English. People watch films, in the original English – so there’s a lot of opportunity to hear English being spoken in those countries. So listening to the English language starts early. And this is what we encourage you to do by listening to podcasts. And people in these countries are exposed to English all the time. In fact, English is so much used in Norway, Sweden and Denmark that the governments there are having to take measures to protect their own languages. In higher education and in business, English is always used. So there’s a worry that those languages must continue to develop, rather than English being used all the time for certain things.
Another advantage – the Scandinavian languages are similar to English in some ways. Let me fiddle with Google translate here ‘God morgon och välkommen ’ Have you any idea what that was? That was ‘Good Morning and welcome’ in Swedish. And if you want to say Good night in Swedish ‘God natt’. Not all of the language is similar, of course, but I think it’s always easier when you’re learning a language, if there are some similarities. Dutch is also quite close to English in a lot of words and phrases. So of course, all of that helps too.
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So – it’s not that the Dutch and the Scandinavians have super brains, though it can seem that way. No, it’s the fact that they start early, when children are just at the right age to be receptive to learning a foreign language and the fact that there’s such a focus on learning English. But above all, it’s the amount of exposure, it’s the amount of English that they hear. It’s noticeable particularly in their accent. Many Dutch and Scandinavian speakers of English seem to hardly have an accent at all. This is something that’s only possible if you have listened to a great deal of spoken English. So people from Scandinavia and the Netherlands – they’ve put the hours in, they’ve had to listen to hours and hours of spoken English to get to where they are!
So what do the rest of us learn from this? Well, we may not have had the advantage of having started our foreign language learning early and it may be that your language isn’t very similar to English either. But, the one thing that we can all do is make sure that we listen to lots and lots of English. Make sure that we have a lot of exposure to the language we’re trying to learn. Probably for a number of hours a week. And this is really important. If you hear something a lot, it becomes automatic, it becomes what we call ‘second nature’ to you.
So I hope that’s a helpful insight for your language learning. Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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