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I speak Chinese as well as Spanish.

I want to say that my Chinese and Spanish are equally strong. So please help me out with this. I think it's weird to say speak "as well as". I don't know if there are other better expressions.

  • 1
    Suggestion: I think you need to add your proposed sentence completely. I think it would make your question more readable! – Cardinal Sep 2 '16 at 15:10
  • If you are fluent in Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin, by the way?) and Spanish, say so. If not, indicate your level of fluency in some way by saying something like, "I am reasonably fluent in both spoken and written Mandarin and Spanish, in addition to English." There is nothing wrong with saying "My Chinese and Spanish are equally strong." By the way, these are skills that many employers are actively looking for. Good for you! Just flesh out your question as @Cardinal suggested by giving an example of what you want to write and the context; for instance, to add to your resume. – Mark Hubbard Sep 2 '16 at 15:25
  • “I speak Chinese and Urdu equally well.” (I changed it to make it true for me. I can't speak either at all.) – Anton Sherwood Sep 2 '16 at 20:29
  • "As well as" is okay here. – Kirti Sep 3 '16 at 17:33
41

I speak Chinese as well as Spanish is "ambiguous", in that it could mean either of...

1: I speak Chinese and also I speak Spanish
2: I speak Chinese as competently as I speak Spanish

Context will normally make it obvious which sense is intended. #1 above is probably more likely, but you can easily force the sense of #2 using something like just as well as, for example.

  • 21
    "I speak Chinese as well as I speak Spanish" is a lot more natural if you want to remove ambiguity. Or "I speak Chinese and Spanish equally well" – Aurast Sep 2 '16 at 18:34
  • @Aurast: For reasons that aren't obvious to me, I associate I [v1] as well as I [v2] much more strongly with ironic usages (it's well-known / obvious that I do [v2] badly). But that's an unlikely meaning with just. – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '16 at 18:44
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    @FumbleFingers It wasn't my intention to lambaste you. I simply found it to be clearly ambiguous, myself, before ever reading your answer. I think that to use scare quotes for English language learners is to be subtle in a way that they are likely to miss. I see no need for taking a clever tack to expose meaning—just explain in plain English. You could say more plainly: The sentence "I speak Chinese as well as Spanish" is ambiguous as written, especially out of any context. Thus, no scare quotes are needed since you explicated instead of implicated. These are language learners, here. – ErikE Sep 3 '16 at 1:24
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    Thank you for raising my awareness about personally lamentable and serious life-interfering issues which emphatically require immediate remediation. I will take your comprehensive, razor keen assessment of my whole person with all seriousness by seeking the long-term help of a licensed psychotherapist at the first opportunity. I was under the lamentable, false impression that I was only trying to assist you in making your answer the best possible one it could be; I see now that I was merely viciously excoriating you due to my deeply rooted emotional problems and oversensitivity. Turnabout ifp. – ErikE Sep 3 '16 at 1:51
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    One more thing: The question is itself stating the phrase outside of any context. Thus it is legitimate to answer in the given context (of no context) and then speak about real-world contexts. When I read the question in Hot Network Questions, it was also out of context and was intensely ambiguous to me. Thus, in a very real way, there is, to me, quite a lot of point in saying a string of text without context has a plurality of meanings, if only to provide a different kind of context for the questioner. I find your reaction weirdly and knowingly pricklish, though can't fathom why. – ErikE Sep 3 '16 at 2:07
10

To announce that you speak both languages, you can simply say: 'I speak Chinese and Spanish'. But to announce that you speak them equally well, the construction alters to: 'I speak Chinese and Spanish equally well'.

To native English speakers, the latter is still ambiguous, but for a different reason. It can mean 'I speak them both well', certainly; but it can also mean 'I speak them both, equally badly'. The fact that a person has equal ability in each language tells us nothing about his level of competence, only that it is equal in each case.

An unambiguous construction is 'I speak Chinese and Spanish fluently'. Avoidance of the comparative term equally is a way of avoiding a comparison between the two: by substituting an absolute term, fluently, in place of a comparative term.

In English, comparatives are a common cause of ambiguity.

This is especially true of written English, where there are no verbal clues of stress and intonation to clarify what the intended meaning is.

For example, "I speak Chinese as well as I speak Spanish" can be interpreted as meaning "I speak Chinese about as well as I speak Spanish", because the phrase 'as well as' can mean 'as (in)competently as'. It does not solely mean also, it can mean at what level of competence; and in point of fact it is just as ambiguous as equally.

  • I disagree that "equally well" is ambiguous. "Equally well" strongly implies "to the same good standard", not just "to the same standard, whatever that might be." – David Richerby Sep 4 '16 at 11:18
  • Is there a possible ambiguity for "I speak Chinese and Spanish fluently" to be mistaken for "I speak Chinese. I speak Spanish fluently."? – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 4 '16 at 18:06
  • Nice answer. Could I suggest "I speak both Chinese and Spanish fluently" would make it clear that you don't speak "Chinese, and Spanish fluently". A slight spoken pause before the "and" could still confuse the listener. – iHiD Sep 4 '16 at 19:50
  • "Equally well" could be used sarcastic, or in humour, but I would add "which is not at all" to avoid confusion. Unless I want to cause confusion. I would also put the language that I'm less likely to know last. If I meet an average white person in Texas, there's a reasonable chance they might speak a bit of Spanish and it's less likely they speak Chinese, so that person might say in humour "I speak Spanish equally well as Chinese", but not the other way round. – gnasher729 Sep 5 '16 at 9:01
  • My experience is that, with spoken English, comedians often employ exactly this form of construction, intentionally, in order to generate humour out of ambiguity. Depending where the stress is placed when speaking, almost any sentence we can come up with is capable of being rendered ambiguous. For example, iHiD inserted one comma into my example, and thereby changed the meaning of my sentence, which can also be achieved during speech by pausing in the same place, whether the pause is intentional or accidental. In English, almost any sentence, especially taken out of context, can be ambiguous. – Ed999 Oct 29 '16 at 20:25
4

What you're saying now technically does communicate what you want to say, but you should say:

I speak Chinese as well as I speak Spanish.

or,

I speak Chinese and Spanish well.

What you're trying to say now can - and probably will - be interpreted as:

I speak Chinese and Spanish.

1

"I speak Chinese as well as Spanish." Is a perfectly acceptable construction. You could even add "I speak Chinese as well as Spanish fluently" or any other adjective besides 'fluently' really.

You could even say "I speak Chinese and Spanish" without the 'as well as'.

  • It's acceptable in the US (at least) because we know what that construct is supposed to mean. But it's ambiguous without benefit. Per the question, it doesn't inform how well the languages are spoken, nor does it denote equality of skill. – Tony Ennis Sep 3 '16 at 14:54
1

Your original suggests more that you speak them both than that you speak them equally well (though it's ambiguous). With the right timing/emphasis/tone on "as well as" would help to convey the intended meaning (to convey it via something more like "as well-as Spanish" rather than "as well ... as Spanish").

However, I'd say it this way:

"I speak Chinese as well as I do Spanish" (which is true for me, since I speak only a few words of either -- I speak them both extremely poorly)

1

How about next phrase.

My Chinese and Spanish are at the same level.

My Chinese is at the same level as my Spanish.

  • My Chinese and Spanish are at the same level. – Adam Starrh Sep 3 '16 at 16:51
0

As a native English speaker, I understand you if you were to say "I speak Chinese as well as Spanish."

Personally, it is easier and more natural to say "I speak both Chinese and Spanish." to demonstrate competence in the languages, or "I am fluent in both Chinese and Spanish." to demonstrate mastery of them.

Generally, shorter sentances are better, and "As well as" is longer than "Both".

0

I think it's good to use "as good as",

So you could say:

I speak Chinese as good as Spanish.

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