Twenty Reasons to be a Polyglot

6 Feb

Reason Number 1: Polyglots are cool


No denying that. If you look at the number of hits from Youtube on videos showing people’s ability to speak more than three languages… you will see that they rank very high. In fact, in the category of videos where no cat or no cat being hurt is shown… it is outstanding! Here are a few examples.

Reason Number 2: Easy on the joints!

Learning a language is not fun. Learning a skill is challenging but the rewards of having gained a new ability are very profound and permanent.

Interestingly, these abilities do not correlate with age or mental capacity. Once a person has learned the basics of another language they are on par with everybody else who can do the same thing. It is not like winning a gold medal in marathon in the Olympics, it is more like learning to ride a bicycle.

And compared to jogging… learning a language is easy on the joints.

Reason Number Two

Learning a new language delays the onset of dementia. You may have heard that it also increases brain development and delays Alzheimers.

Reason Number Three: More Better Grades!

Multilingualism is linked to better grades at school. A note of caution however, in the US billingualism usually means knowing Spanish. In Quebec it means learning English. But learning English is also dangerously linked to assimilation. The idea in this case, then, is *not to replace one language with another* but to add a new ability and manage both. Then and only then is bilingualism better.

Reason number Four: Creativity!

A great many scientific articles describe the higher creativity of multilingual people.

Reason number 5: Better Skills

From problem solving to organizing and managing: multilingual people do better.

Reason number 6: Good for Business

I remember my English teacher when I was just a student at university, learning to teach English. Business English was and is one of the main “businesses” of language teaching. Like most teachers I knew nothing of business. Our teacher used to tell us: “I don’t teach business: People do business. I teach people.”

We sometimes forget that business is about people.And you should learn to speak the language of the people you do business with. If you are doing business with someone from France… speak French. A strong economy is based on long term investment in human relationships. Business is about trust, commitment, shared goals. An economy is not just made of mathematical concepts, currency ratios and interest rates. An economy is built on people trusting other people over long time periods. It is also based on people doing business together while sharing common references, good meals and laughs.

Learning the language of the people you want to do business with: that means a plurality of languages because there is a world of markets out there waiting to be discovered.

Reason number 7: Cheaper

It means travelling for less money

Reason number 8: Being seen as a foreigner will limit you

When travelling, when meeting people… Learning the local language is the first step breaking down these limits even if it’s just a word. If you want to really travel, really have fun, discover the world… books, movies,… you learn the local language.

Reason number 9: Exit through the gift shop!

Speaking a local language helps in promoting the local language and is good for their local economies. Who wants to visit a place where the only souvenirs you buy are from China (and you are not in China)? The UN has warned about the effects of mass tourism in breaking down local economies and replacing it with completely artificial made-for-tourist products and services.

Reason number 10: Languages are unique

Linguists in the 50’s thought language to be a largely genetic affair, where the differences were minor. The reality is that you cannot write a language down anymore than you can describe a person’s personality and expect to predict their behaviour in the future. When a language dies, or commits suicide… it is  a world of knowledge that cannot be translated…

We’ve seen translations: Who in the world, when they know two languages, prefers a translation to the original? The original is more subtle, more coherent, has more impact!

Reason number 11: Infinite Expressive Abilities

Some people say that German is the language of management, Italian the language of love, French is the language of… love, Spanish is the … hey hold on…

Every language is infinitely adaptable and is perfectly suited to its world. The desert world, the world of snow and ice.

Here, in Canada and in Québec, strangely, we use the European languages to describe the seasons. In Innu there are 6 seasons… not one corresponds to our four. Theirs make more sense here. Ours make more sense in France/England.

Reason number 12: A Better World

A multilingual world, just like a diverse economy, is much more adept and flexible than a monolithic unilingual one. The more diverse knowledge you have the better you are at finding new solutions. The renaissance was fuelled by contacts between the arabic and the european world, democracy was heavily influenced by the stories of first contacts with aboriginal peoples of the Americas. For all these reasons, diversity… the one you can only get by learning a language on its own terms, fuels evolution.

Reason number 13: Personne aime les traducteurs!

Everybody hates translators. (But we are forced to tolerate them.)

Reason number 14: The World is Really a Big Place After All

Because the world is made up of many interesting nations. Speaking one language like French really means you are focusing on the experience of France, perhaps parts of Norther Africa, Tahiti, parts of Belgium, etc. If you speak English, you are closer to England and the US, Australia and New Zealand… not bad…but not “the world.”

Reason number 15: Not Catalan… but French thoughts in Catalan

This is a subtle point.

There is a language school out there that makes it possible to teach 100 different languages using the same system. They take French sentences and translate them in 100 languages. Hence you are supposed to “learn 100 languages”: You don’t.

What you are doing is learning how to say French concepts, and expressing French desires in other languages and often they don’t fit. They don’t fit with the reality of learning a new language, new concepts and discovering new interests: a much more profound experience.

Reason number 16: Main Street USA!

Place names suddenly make sense.

Reason number 17: Going out of Business Sale!

Sadly… 90% of the world’s languages are likely going to disappear in our lifetime.

The library is closing and they are burning all the books.

Reason number 18: But it CAN be done!

You don’t need to go up Mount Everest to enjoy hiking on mountains

Reason number 19: Accents are cool!

Although you will always be a foreigner…. you can show interest… and people respond to that. How about being an interested foreigner?

Reason number 20: Thank you Benny Lewis!

Learning a new language is not the end of the world… it is the beginning of a new one!

100 years ago knowing 3 or 4 languages was more normal for travellers, business people, diplomats, artists and painters…. perhaps this is the beginning of a new era… where internet helps people communicate and polyglots become the norm.

Hacking language learning: