A couple of months ago I read this article about the benefits of being bilingual which made me think a lot my own experience of not being only bilingual, but trilingual and the benefits it brought me in my eventual changes in jobs and since then I have been thinking about writing a post about this. A couple of days ago Jay over on From There to Here wrote a post on something similar after being approached by Kaplan International’s Inspire Language Learning Blogger Competition in which they challenge you to “Argue whether love, travel, intelligence or money is the most important benefit of learning another language”. So here is my own take on learning another language.
For context, I speak three languages fluently since my childhood: English, Portuguese and Afrikaans. Why all these languages? Well, I was born in South Africa to Portuguese parents (one of which spent their teenage years in England), in a small Afrikaans town. I spoke Portuguese to my dad, uncles and aunts; I spoke English to my mom, brothers and cousins; I spoke Afrikaans at school as all my primary and secondary education was in Afrikaans.
So how has learning/ knowing these languages helped me? Let me list the ways…
- Knowing Portuguese and Afrikaans has actually helped learn and understand other languages quite easily compared to someone who only speaks English. My Portuguese has helped me pick up Spanish with relative ease and has made French and Italian much easier understand. Afrikaans has on the other hand makes Dutch and Flemish easy to understand and means that I can understand the gist of a German conversation without needing to understand every single word.
- Knowing Portuguese and English got me a job in a Brazilian company, which for them was a usefull skill as the company did not have that many people who spoke Portuguese and English fluently. Afrikaans came into play as well when I worked with this company in Mozambique and all our subcontractors were South African, and some of the key people were Afrikaans.
- Maybe the ability of knowing these languages has enabled me to learn other languages not related to English, Portuguese and Afrikaans, as I am able to pick up languages with relative ease. I managed to pick up a lot of Greek when I lived with an aunt married to a Greek in the UK, and it also helped that I had many (maybe too many) Greek friends at university. I also managed to pick up a lot of Arabic whilst living in the United Arab Emirates and Libya even managing to write and read a little.
- Being able to speak Spanish definitely helped me when travelling in Spanish speaking countries like Guatemala and Peru, as I was able to understand when people were trying to rip me off or being able to find decent priced meals after speaking to locals. However in Peru, I realised that it also meant I knew exactly what the tour guide was saying in Spanish and realising that he completely mistranslated everything in English.
So what is the biggest benefit of learning another language? I struggle to decide between money (job related), travel and intelligence.
Even though I didn’t mention love, I’ve seen that during my travels I’ve come across so many international couples who would very likely not be together if it were not for a mutual second (at times third) language. The case of my wife and I is perhaps one of those examples as both of us are fluent in English and Portuguese which increased the possibilities of us communicating and eventually starting a relationship.
However I think my vote has got to go with money i.e. jobs. In an ever increasing globalised world, knowing more than one language (depending on the languages) can be a massive advantage when applying to jobs. Even more so during the current economic crisis in Europe and with youth unemployment levels in Spain and Greece reaching 50%, expatriation is something that someone who speaks their own language and English can consider as an option to avoid mid-term unemployment in tough economic climate which is not looking to improve any time soon.
Personally, speaking more than one language definitely has had its advantages in the workplace and has also given me much more confidence to move abroad and at times take risks when it comes to employment.
Yeah, I think that my vote goes to money.