Language choice

If you’re with a group of people who speak various languages, which language do you all choose? In some cases you may switch between several languages, in others you may all settle on a single language. In many parts of the world, English is used as a lingua franca, though it is not the only language to be used in this way.

When studying Mandarin in Taipei, I had classmates from all over the world. The one language we all could speak, with varying levels of proficiency, was Mandarin. One interesting thing I noticed was that we were generally able to understand one another without too much difficulty, but talking to native speakers was a different matter: they weren’t always as tolerant of mistakes, dodgy pronunciation and incorrect tones.

The common languages of the office Where I worked in Taipei were Mandarin and English. Most of the Taiwanese staff spoke fluent English, though some only had basic English and weren’t very confident about speaking it, and some were more comfortable speaking Taiwanese. Many of the non-Taiwanese staff, a mixuture of Brits, Aussies, Canadians, Dutch, and Spaniards, spoke fluent Mandarin, though some spoke none at all or only a little bit. We used to switch between Mandarin and English all the time, though if anyone present couldn’t speak or wasn’t confident about speaking one of those languages, we all spoke in the other language. Sometimes I ended up speaking Mandarin to non-Taiwanese colleagues, which felt quite strange.

The other day I was hanging out with some friends from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I don’t speak Czech, yet, so they were all talking to me and amongst themselves in English. Though they sometimes swtiched to Czech or Slovak when they got excited.

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This entry was posted in Language.

7 Responses to Language choice

  1. Weili says:

    Ha! I was in a similar situation when I studied at BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University). Most of my friends were Korean but there are also many who were from other countries such as Australia, U.S., various European and even African countries. Our only common language was Mandarin, and it was a great situation for practice as well.

    It was definitely a bit strange at first to see an European speaking to an African in Mandarin though! But eventually it just became the norm.

  2. k says:

    I have a question not really topic-related: What is Mandarin for Beijing. In russian it’s called Pekin (Пекин) which is quite different. So I wondered what the original name is.

  3. Benjamin says:

    Its name in Mandarin is Beijing. ;-)

    In German and English it is/was called Peking, but meanwhile more and more people switch to the Pinyin spelling/pronunciation.

  4. k says:

    Thank you :)

  5. Weili says:

    “Peking” is the old romanization for Beijing. It was based on an older Chinese romanization system. Either the old Chinese romanization system wasn’t accurate or Mandarin pronounciation has changed (or both), whatever the case, “Beijing” refelects modern Mandarin pronounciation of the city :)

    However, the name “Peking” is still used in some cases such as Pekingese dogs or the famous Beijing cuisine of Peking Duck.

  6. Thomas Maska says:

    My friend Jordan and I often spend time at the local book stores or coffee shops, where we speak almost entirely in Esperanto. So whenever it isn’t just us, say, my girl friend comes with us, it is difficult to remember to speak in English for her sake. Fakte, I speak Esperanto so much these days I will find myself speaking in it when I don’t mean to. Sometimes in class my professor will say “What did you say?” and I will not even have realized that I spoke in a diferent language!