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  1. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #1

    speaking a language + progressive form

    In OALD, I read that the verb "speak" (meaning to know a language) cannot be used in progressive tenses. However, I don't think that's entirely true. Or at least not according to what I found in COCA. So, is it OK to say something like this?

    I have been speaking French for a few years.
    Please note that I'm not a teacher.

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    #2

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    As always, interpret rules as guides rather than absolutes. We tend to use the simple form with the ability to speak languages, but that does not mean we cannot ever use the progressive. However, your sentence doesn't work for me.

  2. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    However, your sentence doesn't work for me.
    Thank you for your answer. I just want to say that I speak French and that I have had this ability for a few years. What tense do I use if present perfect progressive doesn't work? Would the following be acceptable?

    I've been speaking French since I was eight. I'm twenty which means that I've been speaking French for 12 years.
    Please note that I'm not a teacher.

  3. charliedeut's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    You can say "I started learning French a few years ago. Just around a year after taking it up, I was already able to speak it fairly decently". Using the proggressive in your sentence makes me feel like you started speaking it and have not stopped ever since.
    Please be aware that I'm neither a native English speaker nor a teacher.

  4. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    Can anybody explain to me how come that sentences like the following are OK (they're taken from COCA) ?


    • Are they not aware that there are numerous communities (i.e., St. Augustine, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Los Angeles, etc.) within the U.S. which have been speaking Spanish longer than the U.S.
    • You know, Watson is not saying, hey, Ken has been speaking English like a native for 30-odd years and I'm only four years old.
    Last edited by CarloSsS; 27-Sep-2012 at 19:22.
    Please note that I'm not a teacher.

  5. Chicken Sandwich's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    NOT A TEACHER

    Quote Originally Posted by charliedeut View Post
    Using the proggressive in your sentence makes me feel like you started speaking it and have not stopped ever since.
    I don't agree with such a literal interpretation. I don't think that in a sentence like, 'They've been playing tennis since 2 o'clock' we have to assume that they have been playing tennis non-stop. They may have taken a break every once in a while.

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    #7

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    Quote Originally Posted by CarloSsS View Post
    In OALD, I read that the verb "speak" (meaning to know a language) cannot be used in progressive tenses. However, I don't think that's entirely true. Or at least not according to what I found in COCA. So, is it OK to say something like this?

    I have been speaking French for a few years.
    I don't think that your sentence is all that unusual, and I do think that the listener/reader would most certainly understand that the person was not speaking "non-stop" for "a few years".

  6. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    Thanks to everybody for their contributions. It seems that my sentence is fine in AmE, but not natural in BrE.
    Please note that I'm not a teacher.

  7. BobK's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    Not so fast! Both those COCA examples sound OK to me. I think the OALD rule was just trying to rule out sentences like 'I am speaking English'* in the sense 'I [can] speak English'.

    *I was going to mark that sentence as wrong, but of course it's not - in another sense. It means 'Of all the other possibilities, the language I am speaking at the moment is English'.

    b

  8. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #10

    Re: speaking a language + progressive form

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    Not so fast! Both those COCA examples sound OK to me. I think the OALD rule was just trying to rule out sentences like 'I am speaking English'* in the sense 'I [can] speak English'.

    *I was going to mark that sentence as wrong, but of course it's not - in another sense. It means 'Of all the other possibilities, the language I am speaking at the moment is English'.

    b
    So I take it that my sentence in post #1 sounds OK to you too? Or does it?
    Please note that I'm not a teacher.

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