Having spent my school years in international schools I seem to take it for granted that everyone speaks more than one language. In fact I was always slightly ashamed that I only know two languages well and can just about get by in Spanish and French. (What i call cut and paste knowledge) Today as I am doing just that, cutting and pasting French and Spanish translations onto web pages, I realize that meager though my knowledge may be, I can always look at the text and guess what each word means. When I took French and Spanish I had no dreams of ever living in countries where I would need to converse in either, but throughout my working life, these skills have come in handy more times than I can count. More than just the obvious ways that knowing a second or third language comes in handy, I believe that it changes the way you think and adapt to cultures and the people in your life.
Cartoon taken from Borg Blog
Its a running global joke that Americans only speak English. This seems to say that Americans view themselves as the ‘kings’ of the world and everyone else needs to learn English to communicate with them. I am sure we have all witnessed the loud American tourist shouting at a foreigner abroad. (Note: increasing volume does not necessarily increase comprehension)
Learning another language gives insight into what that particular culture deems important ie. class structure/ respect for elders, formal vs informal, even how a language uses pronouns tells us something. It forces us to restructure our ideas and that is always a good thing.
Of course this goes both ways. Wherever you live, you should ‘do as the Romans do’ … if you live in the US, you should learn English. That’s a basic fact of life. There’s a big debate about immigrants and language…but i think that’s a whole other post.