As a student at secondary school, I was not good in languages, most probably because I was just a lazy student, interested in other topics. I can still be quite lazy, but if I am not, I tend to listen to people and try to understand what they are saying. Even if they speak another language and sometime I encourage them to speak their own language.
Last week I attended the 40th anniversary celebration meeting of our own Language Center. One of the key note speakers, Jan ten Thije from Utrecht University gave an interesting presentation on “Luistertaal” or Lingua Receptiva. This concept means that in a setting with people speaking different languages, each participant in the conversation uses their own language knowing that the other has a passive knowledge of the other language. One example from ‘nearby’: a Limburgian speaking in dialect to a German from across the border who speaks also in dialect. They understand each other perfectly well, more than if they had spoken Dutch and German.
Further thinking about this, this concept could save a lot of money. I wonder whether our Spanish students understand, that they can speak Spanish when they talk to an Italian student. No need to speak English! I know from my colleagues in Scandinavia, that as Norwegians, Danes and Swedes speak their own language when talking to someone with another native Scandinavian language. Apparently they have learnt which words and expressions have a distinctive meaning in their own language which they need to avoid because the same words mean something completely different in the other language.
I have worked in an inter-language work environment and have experienced during many occasions when we were in an heated discussion each of us used our native language, because we felt more secure using the right words and expression. I suggest that we try to use Lingua Receptiva as much as possible, I am sure it will work more often than we presume!
Hans-Georg van Liempd is program manager at TiU and president of EAIE. He blogs for Univers.