If life today had to be described by one jargon-filled buzzword, hyper-communication would be it. Technological innovation has been the primary medium by which we’ve got to this stage, but the focus and result of it all seems pretty much entirely information-based and communication-orientated.
Bilingualism was always going to occupy a central position in this new kind of world, a world that allows for real time contact between people, wherever they are, at any given point in time. After all, languages are what we use to communicate.
As our world becomes defined increasingly by networking structures and communication itself, it’s the most dexterous communicators who’ll become key-players in these new ‘global societies’.
1. Language is Culture – Multilingualism is the Norm
Recent research has found that approximately two thirds of all children in the world today are growing up in a bilingual environment.
In many societies, it’s been a tradition to know multiple languages for a long time – but today, we have increased mobility, more contact and far more cultural exchange. This means that those who don’t possess enough language skills may find themselves at more of a disadvantage than they may have done in any other age and time.
It’s important to recognise what language is: A medium for delivering how we see the world, for expressing our opinions, for describing things, and an absolutely essential ingredient for successful collaboration. Language gives meaning to things and enables understanding between people. In other words, language is the bedrock of all society and human interaction.
Words are what carry the meaning, so learning to speak another language fluently will not only enhance your capacity for communicating with a whole extra group of people – it will open your mind up to completely different ideas, structures, and cultural systems. In this sense, multilingualism cultivates flexible thinking and unique perspectives all round.
2. Multilingualism is Good for the Brain
Image by: Rural Sprawl
It used to be said that the confusion of learning to speak more than one language at a time could cause problems for kids growing up in multilingual households, that it could be detrimental to the intellectual mastery and sophistication of any one language.
There is now solid evidence against this; linguists and psychologists today state that disadvantages caused by confusion or interference when learning to speak are far outweighed by the positives of knowing another language fluently.
Multilingual speakers do have to do a lot of switching, but in fact, this is great for them. All this switching keeps the cognitive muscles in shape, improving capacity for maintaining focus and moving between different but important tasks in a way that monolingual speakers are likely to struggle with more.
3. Adults: It’s never too late to learn
Language learning is easier at a young age, this is common knowledge, but it shouldn’t put you off trying to learn a language later on in life. Research has shown that those who pick up the language books later exercise their grey matter in a way that helps to fend off the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia in old age.
If you’re already a multilingual speaker, why not keep going? If you already know more than one language, learning more will be even easier and it will help your career. As business becomes increasingly border-less, the options for those who can culturally glide between locations and communicate effectively with whoever they’re introduced to, are growing by the day.
More than anything, if you’re a multilingual speaker, you should take advantage of your position as much as possible – read and absorb as much as you can in your respective languages and consider how being able to process more than one system of meaning and understanding can most definitely help you socially, culturally, and in the business world.
4. Language Schools, Language Tools
From a business perspective, if you’re passionate about education and languages, there are few sectors so good to get into right now.
Today, people want to communicate with whomever they feel they can get along with or learn something from and leading global language-learning organisations are already taking notice of this by offering a range of master franchising options to interested purchasers from around the world.
If there’s any industry that’s only going to increase in demand, it’s the linguistic one, and this is a great thing.
Read More: I Only Speak English
There is no doubt that learning a second language “to proficiency” will assist a person to broaden their perspective, let go of certain attachments, stimulate their senses and mind in ways that nothing else will.
Having said that the following observations also need to be made:
1) the vast majority of people who begin to learn a second language never master it. There are many reasons for this but one of the most important ones is not that they don’t have what it takes…it’s just that they went about it the wrong way. That is not their fault…the problem lies with popular methods of instruction which don’t engage the learner in areas where they need to be engaged. Adults believe that the way to learn languages is the way they were taught in schools…heaven help them…as there is no other model that us the one they gravitate towards, despite the fact that most kids give up on languages ( for a good reason…boring and hard work!!)
2) So as most language learners are not successful, it is important to make sure that you find alternative means to learn languages than how you learn ( unless you were the small percentage at school that were successful). If you don’t the results you get will be not much better and then all the benefits that could have accrued will not…and the opposite may happen in fact. You end up regarding yourself as a “failure”…that will do no good at all!
So if you are serious about learning a language take some time to look around before you jump in. AND if you already have and are struggling, don’t give up…do the same! Look around to see what else is around.
Thank you very much for taking the time to make such an insightful comment. I really appreciate it. Some incredibly astute observations I’d not thought of at all in there.
A couple of suggestions for learning as an adult:
1.) Remember your childhood. Don’t be embarrassed by laughter at your mistakes. It’s probably delight that you’re trying.
2.) Learn orally first. Earth has 5000 languages, only 500 with a writing system. That says something. (I learned Spanish in traditional schooling: Read and drill. Now I’m learning Japanese with Pimsleur audio: Listen, think, and respond–a much more living way to learn.)
3.) Remember learning to read: When you DO finally turn to text, remember the experience of learning unfamiliar words by context.
Buena suerte. Ganbatte ne!
Sounds like excellent advice. Learning online can be very fun, too!
Talking to people on fora can help with tricky issues of grammar and tone that might be too hard to explain in real life.
I definitely agree that remembering your childhood and where your knowledge of your mother tongue came from are important steps in learning a new language, for me, at least.
Part of what makes learning in general such an interesting subject is that everyone learns best in a different way.
For an early and seminal scholarly treatment see “On the Superiority of the Bilingual Brain” by world-renowned Canadian Neurosurgeon and Scientist, Dr. Wilder Penfield III, written over 50 years ago.
Interesting. Here is a link to a newspaper article discussing the neurosurgeon in question: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19680615&id=t_wtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0J8FAAAAIBAJ&pg=3870,3272624
Do you think the fact that he’s Canadian brings some kind of political edge to his work?
I’m Bilingual and I just love it!! PS loved the article I posted it on my Facebook Group.
Thanks very much! Really appreciate it :)