Which "bilingual" countries are actually bilingual?

  • Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Lëtzebuergesch is in a good position in that people know it and use it. Not like Aragonese which seems to be fading away. It's informal though, the national but not official language.
    Really? Now you made me curious, because I was convinced that the three were official in the country, as Luxembourgish, just like Irish or Maltese, could become official languages of the EU if required.

    After reading several sources, even if many mention that the three are official, what seems to happen -correct if I'm wrong- is that there is no actual official language of the country, at least de jure. Luxembourgish is regarded as the national one as you say (somewhere I've read it's even required for naturalisation), although most legislation is done in French, and the three seem to be working or admitted languages in administration. So maybe the most accurate thing would be to say that the three are de facto official languages, I guess. But I can see why it is regarded as an informal local one in comparison to the two most spoken ones in the EU.
     

    Doraemon-

    Senior Member
    "Spanish - Spain" "Catalan - Valencia"
    It would be faster if we asked it backwards: which (few) countries are not at least bilingual?
    (I mean in reality, not for official issues)
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    It would be faster if we asked it backwards: which (few) countries are not at least bilingual?
    (I mean in reality, not for official issues)
    By "not for official" you mean the people, not the government. Then how do you define a country?

    For example, 75-80% of Americans are monolingual. That is high, but it means 20-25% of the people are at least bilingual.
    So what is "the country"?
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    For example, 75-80% of Americans are monolingual. That is high, but it means 20-25% of the people are at least bilingual.
    To me, high would mean over 90%. Countries like Portugal, Poland or Iceland look that high to me, where native speakers of other languages are fewer than 10%.

    Usually, when 20-25% -and often less- of the people in a country speak another language, that language tends to be an official language of the country too. Spain being the only exception that naturally comes to my mind, though I guess there must be some other countries too.
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    Usually, when 20-25% -and often less- of the people in a country speak another language, that language tends to be an official language of the country too. Spain being the only exception that naturally comes to my mind, though I guess there must be some other countries too.
    :confused: If we exclude Spanish, there's no language in Spain natively spoken by 20% (or more) of the population of Spain. By the way, you don't have to go too far away to find a country with more than 20% of the population natively speaking an unofficial language because in Andorra the only official language is Catalan and 43.2% of the population has Spanish as their mother tongue.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Portugal high? Portuguese living in Portugal proper? I don't have that impression. Knowing 30 key words is not bilingual. However The diaspora does speak several languages.

    I don't know about Poland but maybe @zaffy does? Are Pôles bilingual or multilingual?

    I have definitely had reports from acquaintances that Iceland is pretty much trilingual.

    Andorra also speaks 2,3, or 4 languages.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Usually, when 20-25% -and often less- of the people in a country speak another language, that language tends to be an official language of the country too. Spain being the only exception that naturally comes to my mind, though I guess there must be some other countries too.
    Latvia is another exception, where Russian is spoken by 37% of the population but it isn't an official language in the country.

    I have definitely had reports from acquaintances that Iceland is pretty much trilingual.
    Trilingual? Icelandic, English, and...? :confused:
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    Danish is mandatory in the country.
    They were part of Denmark not so long ago. There must be yet people born before they were recognized by Denmark as a sovereign state and even more people born before they became a republic (in-between they were a sovereign state but shared with Denmark the same king).
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    :confused: If we exclude Spanish, there's no language in Spain natively spoken by 20% (or more) of the population of Spain.
    What does natively mean? Are you saying that you don't consider those Catalan speakers out of the 10 million who may have another initial language as native speakers? Because first-language speakers of Catalan, Galician or Basque are always counted as native speakers of Spanish too. Otherwise Spanish in Spain should only be considered native to some 76% of the population.

    By the way, you don't have to go too far away to find a country with more than 20% of the population natively speaking an unofficial language because in Andorra the only official language is Catalan and 43.2% of the population has Spanish as their mother tongue.
    Yes, I admit I didn't have it in mind. But I don't think microstates are playing in the same league, to be honest. In such small populations, any sudden rise of newcomers can easily alter the landscape. Not only for Spanish, also for Portuguese in Andorra.

    Portugal high? Portuguese living in Portugal proper? I don't have that impression.
    My impression is that Portugal is one of the most linguistically homogeneous countries, at least in Europe.

    I have definitely had reports from acquaintances that Iceland is pretty much trilingual.
    But are we seriously counting foreign languages taught at school? I'd say Iceland is pretty homogeneous too, regardless of how good their command of English may be. I presume there must be some sort of divide too between those who are younger and better at English and those who're older and better at Danish.

    Latvia is another exception, where Russian is spoken by 37% of the population but it isn't an official language in the country.
    Oh, great, that could indeed be another good exponent. :thank you:

    I can imagine the reason behind it, though.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    But are we seriously counting foreign languages taught at school? I'd say Iceland is pretty homogeneous too, regardless of how good their command of English may be. I presume there must be some sort of divide too between those who are younger and better at English and those who're older and better at Danish.
    From my (biased) experience as a tourist, even older Icelandic people are very good at speaking English. Definitely better than older Flemings.
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    What does natively mean?
    One of the mother tongues.
    Are you saying that you don't consider those Catalan speakers out of the 10 million who may have another initial language as native speakers?
    Right. Their proficiency in Spanish may be equal to that of a native but they aren't native speakers of Spanish.
    Because first-language speakers of Catalan, Galician or Basque are always counted as native speakers of Spanish too.
    Not always. See, for example, Spain - The World Factbook
    Usually, when 20-25% -and often less- of the people in a country speak another language, that language tends to be an official language of the country too. Spain being the only exception that naturally comes to my mind, though I guess there must be some other countries too.
    Yes, I admit I didn't have it in mind. But I don't think microstates are playing in the same league, to be honest.
    Some examples from bigger countries:
    Umbundu is spoken by something like one third of the Angolan population but the only official language is Portuguese.
    I don't have data about Fon in Benin -where French is the only official language- but the ethnic group makes 38.4% of the population of the country and it's sure the number of speakers will be over 20%.
    Punjabi in Pakistan lacks official status and it's natively spoken by 38.48% of the population of the country.
    Wolof is the native language of roughly 40% of the Senegalese and lacks official status. In Gambia roughly 20-25%, and it lacks official status too.
    Estonia has something like 25% of ethnic Russians and I think Estonian is the only official language...

    As there are regional co-official languages in Spain, I guess similar cases around the globe could be quoted here. For example, Javanese in Indonesia has co-official status in part of the country but Indonesian is the only official language in all the country. Surely some Zambian co-official regional languages would meet the 20% threasold of native speakers nation-wide...
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    sudden rise of newcomers can easily alter the But are we seriously counting foreign languages taught at school? I'd say Iceland is pretty homogeneous too, regardless of how good their command of English may be. I presume there must be some sort of divide too between those who are younger and better at English and those who're older and better at Danish.
    Yes, seriously. In some countries like Iceland the study of foreign languages is so effective they can go live and study abroad.
    But in other countries of course people can study 10 years a language and retain nothing.
     

    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    I think it's more useful talking about specific areas rather than whole countries.
    Since the recent facts are happening, what about Ukraine (at least the capital and the Eastern part)?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    It's informal though, the national but not official language.
    Yes, it is one of the three official (=administrative) languages of the country. It has a somehow lesser status though, as it is not an official language of the EU although in theory any official language of a member state should also be an official language of the union.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    These are the countries that I think really are bilingual:
    Switzerland (3- 4 I forgot how many)
    Only few areas of the country can in any meaningful way be described as bi- or multilingual. In most parts of the country people only speak the language of their canton or town (in cantons with more than one official language). Knowledge of other national languages (4 but only 3 of them are official on federal level) is often no better than the (usually poor) knowledge of foreign languages taught in school elsewhere in the world. If I tried to get around in Geneva with German only (by far the most widely spoken of the four national languages) I would be lost.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Yes, it is one of the three official (=administrative) languages of the country. It has a somehow lesser status though, as it is not an official language of the EU although in theory any official language of a member state should also be an official language of the union.
    Any statewide official language. Regarding Spain, only one official language counts.

    (In theory, a Spaniard can write in Catalan to European institutions and receive the reply in Catalan too, but that's nothing but a leg-pull because it goes first into a Spanish institution which translates it into Spanish and then translates the European reply from Spanish into Catalan too, not liable to any delays or possible mistakes in the translations)

    For Catalan to be an official language of the Union, sad as it sounds, Andorra would have to become a member. That is, 0,7% of the number of speakers of the language. The fact that it's the 14th language with more speakers in the Union is irrelevant. That's how much important statehood is, regardless of what some people think.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Yes, this is because Catalan has official status only in one region. This is similar the 4th national language of Switzerland: Rumantsch. It is one of three official languages of the canton of Graubünden but not an official language of the Swiss Confederation. But all these considerations do not apply to Luxembourg. Since the remaining francophone part was ceded to Belgium when the latter became an independent country, there are no linguistic regions any more.
     
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    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Yes, this is because Catalan has official status only in one region. This is similar the 4th national language of Switzerland: Rumantsch. It is one of three official languages of the canton of Graubünden but not an official language of the Swiss Confederation. But all these considerations do not apply to Luxembourg. Since the remaining francophone part was ceased to Belgium when the latter became an independent country, there are no linguistic regions any more.
    Well, it's not just one, but three/four (= the former Crown of Aragon). So rather like the French side of Switzerland (20%).

    But yes, Luxembourg is a whole different thing. Although I would have sworn they were offered to have Luxembourgish as an official language of the Union too.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    They all can read, write and speak in French on a native level...
    I am not sure if you call a language you pupils get educated in from the age of about 10 really "native" but probably very close to that.
    ... and probably German too.
    Their German is about as "native" as that of a German having grown up in a dialect speaking family on the other side of the border. Except for the many French loans, Luxembourgish is about as distant from standard German as any close by dialect in Germany.
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I am not sure if you call a language you pupils get educated in from the age of about 10 really "native" but probably very close to that.
    There is so much French there, they pick it up much earlier than that, unless they come from a 100% Lëtzebuergesch environment from a small town.
    Their German is about as "native" as that of a German having grown up in a dialect speaking family on the other side of the border. Except for the many French, Luxembourgish is about as distant from standard German as any close by dialect in Germany.
    It sounds different to me. The announcements at the station for trains going to Germany sounds basically like they make no effort in German, just pronouncing it like Lëtzebuergesch but cleaning up the grammar to match Hochdeutsch. They routinely pronounce i like è, ch like sch, au like o. For example, Bet nescht roche in der gare (my phonetic spelling).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    There is so much French there, they pick it up much earlier than that, unless they come from a 100% Lëtzebuergesch environment from a small town.
    True.
    It sounds different to me. The announcements at the station for trains going to Germany sounds basically like they make no effort in German, just pronouncing it like Lëtzebuergesch but cleaning up the grammar to match Hochdeutsch. They routinely pronounce i like è, ch like sch, au like o. For example, Bet nescht roche in der gare (my phonetic spelling).
    I am not quite sure what you mean by "it". You seem to be comparing Luxembourgers speaking Luxembourgish or German. I compared Luxembourgish to dialects spoken by Germans on the other side of the border. They are closer to each other than they all are to standard German (safe for the French loans in Luxembourgish).
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    There is so much French there, they pick it up much earlier than that, unless they come from a 100% Lëtzebuergesch environment from a small town.
    They sound like native French-speakers to me. Jean-Claude Juncker has a slight accent in French but nothing major. French-speaking TV in Luxembourg sounds totally native.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    True.

    I am not quite sure what you mean by "it". You seem to be comparing Luxembourgers speaking Luxembourgish or German. I compared Luxembourgish to dialects spoken by Germans on the other side of the border. They are closer to each other than they all are to standard German (safe for the French loans in Luxembourgish).
    "It" means "German". I only understand something when they speak German in a formal setting, hence the reference to the station context, announcing the departure of trains to Germany, etc. When they speak Lëtzebuergesch I understand absolutely nothing. When I have looked at manuals to learn it, it seems as different from standard German as Dutch is, but in a different way. You see the family resemblance but almost every word- verb conjugation is slightly different. Fortunately they use so many French words and code switch so frequently I can follow conversations that way.

    What I meant is they do not make an effort to speak like Germans when they speak German. Imagine an American like John Kerry or Jane Fonda speaking French. It's fluent but the phonetics are totally English. I know Lëtzebuergesch is close to the German dialects spoken along the Moselle River in Germany so it is a different case. But when these people in Trier speak standard German, which is pretty much always, it is flawless.

    I only met one German from Trier who was working in Luxembourg city, in an insurance firm. She said she felt weird hearing them speak "dialect" to her. They understood her speaking in standard German but answered in Lëtzebuergesch/German mix. Apparently it is considered uneducated to do this in formal contexts in Germany. She was taking French lessons because they use so much French vocabulary in German that she got lost. Plus everything written had to be in French. In Trier English is studied in school, contrary to Saarland where it's French, so it's a handicap for some people from that region.

    I'm interested in knowing what happens in towns like Remich or Troisvierges which are much closer to the German border
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    What I meant is they do not make an effort to speak like Germans when they speak German.
    Why would they if the German they are talking to essentially speak the same language. Northern Moselfrankish dialects in Germany and Luxemburgish all but the same thing, except for the French loans in Luxemburgish and that Luxemburgish has a standard register, which German Northern Moselfrankish does not have.

    When a Luxembourger and a German from the Northern Eifel region speak German with their respective accents, I would probably be hard pressed to identify who is who.
     
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    gato radioso

    Senior Member
    spanish-spain
    Yes, this is because Catalan has official status only in one region. This is similar the 4th national language of Switzerland: Rumantsch. It is one of three official languages of the canton of Graubünden but not an official language of the Swiss Confederation. But all these considerations do not apply to Luxembourg. Since the remaining francophone part was ceased to Belgium when the latter became an independent country, there are no linguistic regions any more.
    In Spain, the point is that non-Spanish speakers aren't scattered across the territory. Those non-Spanish languages can be used more or less widely in their homelands (Galician the most commonly known/used, Basque almost ignored by most part of the population despite the efforts of local politicians), but in the most part of Spain you can live for years and years, greater cities included, and you never hear a word in those languages, only in Spanish, which is, so to speak, our innate language. For someone from Salamanca or Málaga there wouldn't be any point in learning those languages, incongruous with their local background. So, the geographical factor is crucial.
     
    Basque almost ignored by most part of the population despite the efforts of local politicians
    Basque is spoken by about 28% of the population in the Basque country, mainly in smaller towns and villages. Nevertheless, Basque ought to be preserved and promoted due to its unique and fascinating origins.
    Particularly in the Northern Basque region of France, where Basque is ‘severely endangered’.
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Basque is spoken by about 28% of the population in the Basque country, mainly in smaller towns and villages. Nevertheless, Basque ought to be preserved and promoted due to its unique and fascinating origins.
    It is being promoted and learned vigorously, O. The problem is it's a tough language for Romance language speakers. So lots of people have some knowledge of it but don't use it practically in daily life.
    Another issue is there are actually numerous dialects of Basque with important differences amongst them. The new standard that blends them all sounds wrong to native speakers who don't identify with it.
    Particularly in the Northern Basque region of France, where Basque is ‘severely endangered’.
    This is not so much a problem with Basque. Every single regional language is speeding towards death in France, even Corsican. There's no desire to save them. That is pretty much the opposite spirit of this thread, as the goal is to create monolingual people. It could be a good subject for a new thread. "Creating monolingualism" or something like that.
     
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    gato radioso

    Senior Member
    spanish-spain
    Basque is spoken by about 28% of the population in the Basque country, mainly in smaller towns and villages. Nevertheless, Basque ought to be preserved and promoted due to its unique and fascinating origins.
    Particularly in the Northern Basque region of France, where Basque is ‘severely endangered’.
    Many people knows, but a few speak it on a daily basis, I don´t know the reason.
    You virtually don´t hear it in big or medium-sized cities, despite the official efforts to write in Basque all traffic signs and the like.
    When I´ve asked a friend of mine, who´s a genuine basque from San Sebastian, she´s always answers that she remember certain things form school of course, can understand the radio more or less, but don´t ask her write something complicated or about many words, in fact she doesn´t use it in her daily life, not even when answering their mobile or this sort of thing.
     
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    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    When I´ve asked a friend of mine, who´s a genuine basque from San Sebastian, she´s always answers that she remember certain things form school of course, can understand the radio more or less, but don´t ask her write something complicated or about many words, in fact she doesn´t use it in her daily life, not even when answering their mobile and this sort of thing.
    She's not a native Basque speaker, is she?
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    This is not so much a problem with Basque. Every single regional language is speeding towards death in France, even Corsican. There's no desire to save them. That is pretty much the opposite spirit of this thread, as the goal is to create monolingual people. It could be a good subject for a new thread. "Creating monolingualism" or something like that.
    There is a vigorous nationalist movement in Corsica that will save the language. Most of the local political parties' names are Corsican etc. and lots of political banners at recent protests on the island were in Corsican.

    Elsewhere in France, though, you're right. Regional languages have been killed off.
     
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    gato radioso

    Senior Member
    spanish-spain
    She's not a native Basque speaker, is she?
    As far as I know, she isn´t, although her parents and family are genuine Basques, I mean, she´s not an immigrant from any Spanish province. I don´t know her grandparents and all that, but I imagine that some of them might be Basque speakers as well. In fact, it isn´t so unusual: my grandmother parents were born in rural Navarre and she used to tell me that their parents spoke some Basque and remember some things, although they lived most of their lives in Southern Spain.
     

    gato radioso

    Senior Member
    spanish-spain
    This is not so much a problem with Basque. Every single regional language is speeding towards death in France, even Corsican. There's no desire to save them. That is pretty much the opposite spirit of this thread, as the goal is to create monolingual people. It could be a good subject for a new thread. "Creating monolingualism" or something like that.
    I think that it all boils down to the fact that some languages are apt to survive in a modern world and others aren´t.
    The advantages that speaking languages like Spanish or English or French offer can´t be surpassed by small languages. I understand that some people can feel sad about this, but it always happened and it will continue. Perhaps, in a century or two, our grandchildren will speak Chinese, who knows?
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Perhaps, in a century or two, our grandchildren will speak Chinese, who knows?
    I hear this so often. I must be living on another planet. On my planet, Chinese speakers are learning English, but not vice versa, and there is a total disinterest for Mandarin Chinese except for people with Chinese ancestors. In fact, in America, Europe and Australia, even Japanese and Korean are more popular languages and cultures than Chinese. China's GDP increases much more than that of Western countries, relatively speaking, but when looking at absolute numbers, the GDP gap remains the same.
     

    gato radioso

    Senior Member
    spanish-spain
    I hear this so often. I must be living on another planet. On my planet, Chinese speakers are learning English, but not vice versa, and there is a total disinterest for Mandarin Chinese except for people with Chinese ancestors. In fact, in America, Europe and Australia, even Japanese and Korean are more popular languages and cultures than Chinese. China's GDP increases much more than that of Western countries, relatively speaking, but when looking at absolute numbers, the GDP gap remains the same.
    Don´t take it so seriously, it´s just a way of speaking ;), the idea I was trying to get at is that things change continously. In our world English is the prevalent language, at least in the Western World, followed at a great distance by Spanish and others, but nobody knows what might happen in the future. In fact, nowadays we don´t speak Latin anymore, do we?
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    There is a vigorous nationalist movement in Corsica that will save the language. Most of the local political parties' names are Corsican etc. and lots of political banners at recent protests on the island were in Corsican.

    Elsewhere in France, though, you're right. Regional languages have been killed off.

    I don't like Wikipedia, but this time guess I can't do any better.

    French is the official and most widely spoken language on the island. Italian was the official language of Corsica until 9 May 1859, when it was replaced by French. Corsican, a minority language that is closely related to medieval Tuscan, has a better prospect of survival than most other French regional languages: Corsican is the second most widely spoken language, after French and ahead of standard Italian. However, since the annexation of the island by France in the 18th century, Corsican has been under heavy pressure from French, and today it is estimated that only 10% of Corsica's population speak the language natively, with only 50% having some sort of proficiency in it.
    Hands down, this is, of course, better than any other minority language in France but the fact that the only common language on the island is French, the usage is decreasing, and what you hear nowadays sounds like a translation from French word for word with French phonetics, including rhythm, nasal vowels and guttural r, doesn't make me want to rejoice for Corsican just yet.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    The problem with Basque -and one important difference with regard to the Catalan system- is that there are several school systems there, and only in one of them Basque is the vehicular language, that is, the one used as the means of communication. So that means that a family can decide to bring their children to the Spanish system and they may grow up without any means or need to practice Basque in their lives, completely unable to speak one of the official languages of the country.
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    The problem with Basque -and one important difference with regard to the Catalan system- is that there are several school systems there, and only in one of them Basque is the vehicular language, that is, the one used as the means of communication.
    Yes but that model (model D, with Basque as vehicular language) is the preferred one. Overall, 68.4% of the students are schooled in that model (and 18.2% in the mixed model 50% Basque-50% Spanish). And the younger the students the higher the %. In students under 6 years, 81.2% of them are in that model (and only 3.2% in the model with Spanish as the only vehicular language). The data are from school year 2020-2021.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Yes but that model (model D, with Basque as vehicular language) is the preferred one. Overall, 68.4% of the students are schooled in that model (and 18.2% in the mixed model 50% Basque-50% Spanish). And the younger the students the higher the %. In students under 6 years, 81.2% of them are in that model (and only 3.2% in the model with Spanish as the only vehicular language). The data are from school year 2020-2021.
    Good to know. I hope it shows in a few years then.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Only if they are passed down from generation to generation do languages survive. How is Irish faring in the Gaeltacht? If we only took into account public signage we would get the impression it's alive and kicking, but this doesn't seem to be the case.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    It's already showing but in knowledge. Usage among youth in daily life is even going down lately.
    Usage can be reversed with that knowledge. I know teens here who never spoke much in Catalan until they started working. But if one has never learned it in his youth, specially with a language as hard as Basque, then things could eventually reach a point of no return.
     
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