Textbook language

Yesterday I was discussing language learning with a friend and he mentioned that when he was in Japan studying Japanese, it was fairly easy to understand the other students, but very difficult to understand the Japanese themselves.

If you learn a language from a textbook and/or in a class, it’s often quite a surprise to discover that native speakers of your target language don’t speak textbook: they don’t necessarily give model answers to your questions, or speak in complete sentences, and they tend to use a lot of words you haven’t heard before, including slang. Most of your fellow students, and other people who have learnt the language as a second/foreign language, speak textbook, so they are usually easier to understand than native speakers.

Some textbooks claim to teach you the slang and other more colloquial aspects of language, but they tend to become out-of-date quite quickly because language is constantly changing.

In order to learn the language that native speakers use, you have to spend as much time as possible listening and speaking to them.

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

5 Responses to Textbook language

  1. TJ says:

    that reminds me when I wanted to start learning some irish and in the textbook it says that “ag” is spelled as “a” only and never as “ag” except when it comes before a word that starts with a vowel …then I was surprised when I talked to a friend from Limerick that they say it like (aeg) all the time … and also “ar” like (aer) …. that didn’t change my idea about keeping and cancelling the “G” but also changed my idea about the vowel “a” in the beginning of both of them! In the casettes that come with the text book they always say it as “A” in “mann” in german!

    One point that one of my friends actually sparked once upon a time, about the usefulness of those language books made for travellers and so …. they always teach you how to ask some stuff …… OK .. but what about the answer? how are you going to receive it!!!?

  2. Sam says:

    I’ve seen phrases for the model answers. In real life in my travels, I’ve found that the answers I receive are not often model answers. It can be helpful when people point.

    I’m amused at phrasebooks that include phrases such as “help!” or “stop, thief!” By the time you manage to look up such things, they aren’t quite as helpful.

    Some of the better ones include a small two-way dictionary at the end. I would suggest that it helps to run through possible scenarios before leaving and consulting a larger dictionary (and a native speaker) before traveling. That way it’s possible to supplement the book with things I think I might need or want to say and understand.

  3. One thing I’ve said before is that you can study a language with books and tapes all day long, but you won’t become fluent until you get out there and talk with native speakers. I’m not saying studying isn’t important, I’m just saying that you won’t acheive fluency that way.

    And it’s true, what you learn from books and even recordings will differ from what you hear from native speakers. For example, all students of Spanish will surely know that the word for ice cream is “helado”, but in Mexico, I found that they use other terms, such as “nieve” to refer to the dessert. And pronunciation is a factor also. A Spanish course I did on the computer a while back had recordings of native speakers from South America, and it wasn’t until later that I learned to pronounce Spanish like a Mexican!

  4. PhoeniX says:

    Japanese is probably one of the most notable languages that don’t comply to the textbook. Japanese has so many ways of leaving things out that you can’t possibly anticipate which answer you might get. Besides that, the Japanese use a lot of slang in speech. I always found that remarkable, because every textbook will tell you it’s a very polite and formal language. But the Japanese themselves have never given me this impression, at times they even corrected me for speaking to polite. I generally speak ‘anime-Japanese’, and I always considered this a rather rude way of talking, and I actually get corrected for talking to formally.

    I was told to start using “ore” instead of “watashi”/”boku”, and I had to start contracting -teiru constructions to -teru.

    This can mean two things, in the past few years Japanese has become a very informal language. Or the person who made the textbook only got to know about the formal Japanese speaking community.

  5. Ellen says:

    I’m in Japan, and (try as I might) I have a lot of trouble understanding my host dad. He’s an older guy and a chain smoker, plus his intonation is very strange. He makes every sentence sound like a demand. I can understand most little children and speakers from other parts of the country, but it’s taken me a few months just to understand the way he says “Gohantabetano?”

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