The Benefits of Speaking Multiple Languages
Opinions / November 19, 2019
Knowing Multiple Languages Can Help You Grow, but Can Sometimes Get Confusing
For me, being born in India and fluent in three languages brings a lot of benefits. In the very beginning, when children step into schools, they’re taught that they can’t survive without learning English. That’s the power of English language. It rules the whole world, and for many, English has become part of the basic need to survive.
Learning and becoming an expert in more than one language gives people a more positive perspective. It helps in maintaining good communication skills and makes a person a quicker and more effective learner.
The world is full of meaningful things, many of which are only available for multilingual people to understand and experience compared to people who only know one language, and when a person is able to communicate with other people fluently, there is a corresponding rise in the number of conversations that can eventually lead to a relationship.
Knowing multiple languages also helps in seeing personal experiences through the lenses of different cultures.
In a country like Canada, English and French are known to be most spoken languages, but Punjabi has also become one of the most spoken languages here.
Being multilingual definitely makes it easier to find a job, and it feels like making a special kind of connection when people who work together in an environment share the same language, culture, and tradition. A lot of times, it can automatically result in mutual bonding.
This is a positive aspect of being multilingual, but many claim that they never received any phone calls or any messages after job interviews, suspecting that it is because of the way they speak English or French.
In a recent study published in Sociological Science, researchers found that Canada has a discrimination problem when it comes to hiring, with “nonwhite natives” being less likely to be called back and invited for an interview than “white natives.”
Another unique aspect of multilingualism can be seen in daily life when we use different languages in different contexts. For instance, a lot of people use their mother tongue language when it comes to expressing anger for things like yelling at their siblings. This is common, and many of us must have experienced it for sure.
Conversations which contain idioms are a good example of how this can get confusing, because when we try to translate idioms into another language, it completely destroys the whole meaning and makes no sense at all.
Multilingual people often mix two different languages when they speak, and it is often hard to explain to others who don’t know both languages what a person is actually saying. This can also be disorienting and make it hard to communicate.
Even if English is the world’s most spoken language, people’s motivation to learn it and become multilingual should not only come from their need to thrive. Likewise, their cultural roots should always stay connected to their mother tongue so that at least one part of their culture can be passed to future generations.
Being Monolingual Sucks
While it meant nothing to me when I was a child, as a teenager, I started to get jealous of something that was normal to most of my friends: speaking a different language at home.
Something my father likes to occasionally taunt me with today is the fact that he forced me through a French immersion program. Sometimes he even brings up that I resisted joining a Chinese immersion program as well.
Regardless, while I’m not perfectly fluent in anything but English, I’m conversational in French and German, and can get by with my Japanese. The French came easy in the sense that I was immersed in it at school from age six to 12, and the German came from two exchanges I spent in Europe.
What learning these languages has done for me goes well beyond providing me with job opportunities. If I’m being honest, I don’t believe I’ve made much extra money off of my language skills thus far in my life, and even if I never earn another cent off of it, it won’t dissuade me from learning to speak other languages one bit. The connections that I get through it, even if they’re only brief, are deeply human.
This may sound like some hippy stuff, man, but I really mean it.
One of the most important reasons I find so much value in being able to at least form coherent sentences in other languages is to demonstrate that I’m willing to connect with others who speak them.
Anglophones are possibly the most privileged language group in the world. In China, you’re considered to have a ceiling on your lifetime earning potential if you don’t speak English. Anglophones who frequently travel to other parts of the world may know that many travel guides state that you “needn’t worry too much” about speaking the local language. Even in Japan, where the average English confidence of locals is low, signage has been set up in the streets and subways just to help Anglos get around.
In all of my travel experience, knowing more of the local language than “Hello,” has resulted in me being invited behind more closed doors than I would have otherwise. I’m confident that the lad I met in Vienna at 3:00 am asking for a lighter in German wouldn’t have invited me to a party if he didn’t get a sense that spending time in his country was more to me than a vacation.
The number one reason is that if you can go further than “Hello,” the locals will respect you a lot more and recognize that you’re serious about learning about their culture. Maybe all you know is how to ask basic questions, state opinions, and observations and what the elementary grammatical structure is like, but by extension you can get a weak grasp on how they think and how their culture is shaped.
I strongly encourage you to give it a try, and not to worry about certain languages being “hard.” The easiest languages to learn are the ones you’re most enthusiastic about.
If you want to demonstrate cross-cultural appreciation, consider learning a second language.