Tuesday, 20 June 2017

What do you call someone who can only speak one language?

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Learning a new language. How many of you can speak another language besides your mother tongue?

I can speak Japanese to a reasonable level and have a few (basic) sentences of Chinese.

My friend Dafydd, (sorry mate, I hope you don't mind me not using your real name) can speak, it seems, about a million languages. His mother tongue is English. He also speaks Portuguese, German, Japanese and I think he might speak French as well. I haven't seen Dafydd for many years but I think he might have some Russian in there as well.

Now, you are probably wondering what this has to do with anything. Dafydd is one of the biggest extroverts I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. When we were living in the same area he always seemed to be out very night socialising. Of course I thought that it was all a bit strange and I now know why I thought that.

I have always wondered why Dafydd can speak a whole bunch of different languages and I am still struggling with English.

My theory was and still is and I used to joke about this, is that Dafydd is a real talker. He loves talking and it seemed at the time that he needed five or six languages to say everything that he needed to say. Dafydd was just non-stop with his chatter, which for an introvert is quite nice believe it or not. It is easy to tune out occasionally and as long as you grunt a few times at the appropriate places then you will have no problem as someone like Dafydd will just talk.

You were never short of conversation topics.

My question is, does all of this talking and your extroverted nature make you better than other introverted people at speaking a foreign language?

My very unscientific guess is YES. If you aren't frightened to make mistakes and to look stupid then you will always find occasions to use your new language, Because of your outgoing personality, you will probably make friends with people who speak that language so you will always have opportunities to improve your skills.

In this post I asked the question whether or not there is such a thing as an extroverted country or an introverted country.

I believe there is. I live in Japan and I consider this country an introverted country and as we have just learnt you need to be comfortable making mistakes to learn which Japanese are certainly not, generally.

In this article from the BBC, we see proof of that:

"There is also a barrier from a culture of perfectionism in Japanese education, with a belief that there is a "right" way to do something.
Students do not want to make mistakes and they will not attempt something until they are sure they can get it right."

With this kind of attitude it can be difficult to express yourself and when you would rather say nothing then you are going to have some problem in language acquisition.

One country that admittedly I have never travelled to is Israel. From what I can tell from talking to people is that Israel seems to be a very extroverted country and most Israelis I have talked to have spoken English perfectly. They have all been friendly and outgoing and I wonder if this attributes to their English proficiency.

In saying all of this, probably the biggest extroverted country in the world is, yes you guessed it, the United States of America. I read something the other day that suggested that 75% of the population would fall on the extroverted side of the spectrum but foreign language study doesn't seem to be that popular there. What is that old joke?

" What do you call someone who speaks two languages?"

"What do you call someone who speaks three or more languages?"

"What do you call someone who speaks one language?"

Sorry my American friends as this could equally apply to some people in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

The point of today's post is that if you haven't already, pick a foreign language and see if you can speak a little bit of it. I assure you it opens up your world. You get to meet people you might never had the chance to and it provides you with experiences that you can dine out on for years to come.

For example, I went out with a Colombian woman a few years ago. She couldn't speak English well and my grasp of Spanish is limited to "hola, gracias and amigo." (Thank you Sesame Street.) However, we could both speak Japanese and that is how we communicated. It must have been amusing to the Japanese people around us in the cafe. Two white people speaking in Japanese. That is how the world is these days though.

Another example was when I was in Shanghai a few years ago. I was with a Chinese woman who couldn't speak English but was fluent in Japanese. That was how we communicated. The server at the restaurant complimented her on her Chinese when she said something in Chinese. He thought she was Japanese and couldn't figure it out why she was talking in Japanese to a white guy.

Anyway, I would never have had these experiences if I was monolingual.

There you go. Get out there. Learn a foreign language. It might change you life. You don't have to speak dozens like the guys in the video below but it is possible. Just see for yourself.

Another thing is with language is some of my favourite songs are sung in languages that are not Japanese or English. I find them catchy and even though I don't understand the lyrics I still like to listen to them.

Gangnam Style comes to mind when I think that.

Here is another one I enjoy:

E Ihowa Atua,
O nga iwi Matou ra,
Ata whakarongona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai
Kia tau to atawhai
Manaakitia mai

Finally I just want to quote something that I saw on Instagram the other day:

If you are not willing to look a little stupid or weird, nothing great will ever happen to you.

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