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I am a newcomer to the German language. I wish to say that it is very hard to learn a foreign language in an isolated environment. By "isolated environment", I mean you are living in a distant country, with little or no contact to the native speakers, who might come to your country as expats.

Es ist schwer, eine Sprache in einer isolierten Umgebung zu lernen.

It is hard to learn a language in an isolated environemnt.

I have been told that while the phrase is grammatically correct, it is a bit odd and awkward, strange to the ears of German native speakers because nobody express themselves that way. No-one say "in einer isolierten Umgebung".

I have grown to become very curious about the unnaturalness of this phrase "in isolierten Umgebung". Why is it strange to a native German? Is it because the concept of Umgebung is different from "environment" in English.

Incidentally, "environment" is a very versatile word that can be employed in multiple contexts in English.

I am really looking forward to hear from you guys, especially German native speakers.

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  • As a native English speaker, I'd challenge the original English phrasing, too. Isolated environment feels unnaturally abstract for a topic that is fairly concrete. I wouldn't use this phrasing unless the words had some specific relevance to the topic at hand. For example, in computing, we often talk about environments, which might be isolated from one another – both terms that are well understood in this context. But in your example, you're better off using phrasing that refers more directly to the concepts of language, people, speech, etc. Either that or just using "simpler" words. Sep 17 at 23:58

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As a Finnish learner in Germany I feel your pain :)

The problem here is not the word Umgebung which is a fitting translation for environment in this case. I'd argue that what makes this sentence a bit awkward is the word isoliert. While one can guess the meaning, (because what else could you possible mean that'd sense), isoliert typically is understood as being completely alone, like living on a remote island, or avoiding all possible contact to other people (Er isoliert sich von anderen / He isolates himself from others, in recent context possible linked to the covid-pandemic).

So to express the problem, it's hard to learn a language, when you're not living in the respective country, you could say:

Es ist schwierig, eine fremde Sprache im eigenen Land zu lernen.

It's difficult to learn a foreign language in one's own country

Es ist schwieriger, eine fremde Sprache zu lernen, ohne im jeweiligen Land zu leben.

It's more difficult to learn a foreign language without living in the respective country

Es ist schwierig, X zu lernen, ohne dort zu leben.

It's difficult to learn X without living there

Es ist schwierig, X zu lernen, ohne Kontakt zu Muttersprachlern zu haben.

It's difficult to learn X without any contact to native speakers

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  • I infinitely thank you for your response. :) So isolated and isoliert has a different connotations in their respective languages, is that the case? Sep 13 at 5:27
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    Slightly, but not much. I'd argue that even in English 'remote' might be the better fit here? Unless, of course, you mean that really nearly no person from any extern place, near or far, comes to your place Sep 13 at 6:42
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Let's look at a few similar words referring to how places are situated.

eine isolierte Umgebung

An isolated environment without much contact to any external places. This is something I'd expect to be used in context of a native village in the Amazonas jungle or a possibly small island out in the sea without many traffic connection. Contect to the world outside is (very) limited). This might also be used for wilfull isolation from external influence, e.g. in the Biosphere experiments.

eine entlegene Siedlung

A remote settlement, far off the beaten track. Contact to the world exists but is limited. Usually only locals will keep contact to the 'outside world', e.g. occasionally the next larger administrative and commercial settlement and surrounding villages.

ein ferner Ort

A distant place. This is far from the speaker's perspective. But it need not be far or remote less isolated for anyone living there. They usually do not have much long-distance contact to the place the speaker is or refers to (but simply due to distance not due to local conditions). Locally they might be as integrated into their society and culture as any other.

The differences can be quite gradual and subtle - there is not necessarily a hard-cut distinction, especially as this is open to personal judgement. For a German, New Zealand certainly is distant, it may be remote as seen from here, but is it isolated? Maybe, but that's certainly relative, and I'd argue it is not. There are still many vibrant and active connections to all parts of the world.

As to your example, trying to express that it is difficult to learn a language of a distant country with which there is only limited personal exchange, I'd formulate it as

Es ist schwierig, die Sprache eines fernen (or eines weit entfernten) Landes zu lernen, weil es nur wenige Möglichkeiten gibt, sich mit Muttersprachlern zu unterhalten.

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  • Thank you. Now I believe that my original English sentence is problematic. I didn’t fully understand the nuances of “isolation”. As such, it doesn’t translate well into German. English speakers may experience something similar, that kind of awkwardness. Sep 13 at 9:21
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Probably the most natural alternative to your

Es ist schwer, eine Sprache in einer isolierten Umgebung zu lernen.

would be:

Es ist schwer, eine Sprache im stillen Kämmerlein zu lernen.

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  • Im stillen Kämmerlein? While the premise is true, I don't see how this relates to "I mean you are living in a distant country, with little or no contact to the native speakers, who might come to your country as expats." Sep 13 at 18:18
  • @infinitezero: Ich habe die Antwort platziert, weil ich meine, dass sie in den Dunstkreis der Frage passt. Von In- oder Ausland rede ich nicht, ich sage nur das, was in der Antwort steht.
    – Pollitzer
    Sep 14 at 5:53

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