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I have recently met a woman whose mother is German but who refuses to speak German to her because she is afraid of being corrected.  My father (nominally French but brought up in England) was very reluctant to speak French to his mother, who was French and taught French, for the same reason and his brother refused to speak French to her at all (though his French wasn't bad).  I usually spoke French to her, possibly because I was at one remove and didn't get corrected quite so much.

I wonder how common this is.  Does anyone here have a similar experience?

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I tried to teach my (very intelligent) wife to speak German. She knew the words she wanted to use but would not start the sentence until she was sure everything was correct - including the word order (all those verb bits at the end etc.). 

So most of the time there was complete silence. She never once joined in a conversation because everyone else had moved on before she had a chance to start. My two children picked up the language by being immersed in it (at school) and went from zero to fluency in no time at all because they had no inhibitions and I rarely corrected them. 

It is advantageous for people to be corrected, but there is a way of doing it. Head-on is not recommended, but if you help people along and/or repeat what they have said in a corrected form it may help. 

Interesting.  I can understand anyone not wanting to start a German sentence unless they know how it's going to finish.

My query was slightly different.  It concerned children with one parent who is a native speaker of a language.  The woman I mentioned wasn't taught German by her mother; she had acquired German as a result of family connections and, indeed, from her mother, but it wasn't a formal process of education.  Likewise my father and uncle and their French mother.  Even though such people are quite happy about speaking the language in the relevant country, they won't speak it to the parent who is a native of that country.

But Billy's general advice is good. 

When I am speaking (and writing) I never know how the sentence is going to finish. I think this is the way our brain works. We start off with an idea in our head, which we start to express in words; it's like jumping off a diving board. We rely on our command of the language (and confidence) to get us through to the end, although we sometimes struggle for the exact word/expression or to recall someone's name . 

When speaking in a foreign language we need to use that same technique, and if part way through a sentence we start to struggle, so what - that's part of the learning process. Most listeners are sympathetic and help you along. It's the starting that is key. 

I'm myself in this situation...

I'm French, born and raised in France, my father is French but my mother is born in Corsica from 2 Italian parents, Italian is her mother tongue. She entered french school at 11 years old without speaking a word of French and this was a hard period for her...  Now she is fluent in both Italian and French even if she lost a lot of Italian vocabulary not using it often. Her parents learned spoken french too but were never able to write it...

When I started middle school I had to choose a second language (English is the first one we learn at school and we don't have the choice) and I picked Italian because I used to ear some since I was little and I thought that with my mother speaking Italian it would be a piece of cake.

I was wrong.

Very quickly she found herself unable to help me with homework because she knew how things were, but not why. She wasn't able to give me any explanations... Very soon she refused to answers my questions saying that my teacher knew better and she didn't wanted to tell me something wrong that would confuse me.

It got worst when I tried to practice my speaking... My accent was so awful she wasn't able to stand it and laughed all the time...

(I must admit it took me YEARS to master the Italian "rrr" which is very different from the french one)

I quickly stopped asking for advice or help and worked by myself like for the rest of my school program. (I'm not blaming my parents at all, they never went very far at school, I was the first "scholar" of my family and was very comfortable and efficient working alone :)  )

I studied Italian for 8 years in total and went 6 month in internship in Rome. When I returned I spoke a better Italian than my mother and she was very proud of me.

But that was almost 7 years ago... Now my working tongue is English since 3 years... I lost almost all my Italian vocabulary, I'm not fluent anymore and speaking had become hard and unnatural, I take time looking for my words....

I think that's why today my mother and I still don't speak Italian to each other... (only when we want to say something that no one will understand around us) In daily life we all speak French and we don't even think about speaking Italian, we  just live our lives and speak naturally...

I think it's just laziness, french comes easy for both of us, Italian don't ...

I notice Francophones tend to use the preposition "since" before a duration of time. But "for" is really the one for that: She went to school for 3 years. "Since" is for marking a starting point in time, or an event as such: She has been working since June 2014 / since finishing school.

I have a different kind of fear with practicing French : If I try to approach someone with the little French I know, she will come back, all so happily to help, with her REAL French ! And that's the end of my overture.

May I pick up just one point?  I have long thought that the word 'fluent' is very imprecise.  My grandmother spoke 'fluent' English with a strong French accent.  My father spoke "fluent' French with a strong English accent.  As a result of this, I worked very hard to ensure that, despite having been brought up mostly in England, my French accent was as good as I could make it.  I think I succeeded.  People in France are usually surprised when they learn that I am (to all intents and purposes) English.  Vocabulary failings are much less important.  If you sound French (or whatever), then even a native speaker may think you are French.

So what is 'fluent'?  Perfect grammatical French, with a wide vocabulary, but with a strong English accent; or a perfect French accent, but occasional lapses in vocabulary or idiom?  Or should we confine 'fluent' to mean perfect in all respects?


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