Wise Words on Words: Talking About Multilingualism

How many languages do you think are represented in this group shot with my friends?

How many languages do you think are represented in this group shot with my  friends?

In my recent post about How To Raise A Multilingual Child, I described a bit of our family’s 20 years of living in many different countries where, for the sake of survival as well as for integration (which is ever my goal; I always want to be mistaken for a native), we have learned to speak a number of languages.

This is no big deal. At all. Hardly worth licking your lips at when you’re a European or Asian or African.  My friends from those cultures just nod (and yawn) as I tick off what few tongues we’ve learned to speak. Why? Because they’re all speaking four or five as a matter of course.

Mmmm. Vegetarian Roti Prata at my favorite dive in Singapore.

Mmmm. Vegetarian roti prata at my favorite dive in Singapore.

(My dearest Indonesian friend back in Singapore speaks Bahasa and six other distinct Indonesian dialects.  She also makes her way through in Mandarin. And Hokkien.  To boot, our relationship is in English.)

In such a broad world context, there’s simply no getting snooty about speaking a couple of languages. In truth, these friends of mine from all over the place wonder out loud why my Mandarin isn’t a whole lot better.

The Yu Gong, or old men, gathered in Singapore's Chinatown.

The Yu Gong, or old men, gathered in Singapore’s Chinatown.

Back Camera

Disclaimer: I’m finding it hard to keep encircled by a Mandarin-speaking community while living here in French-speaking Switzerland.  And while in Singapore, I never lived in full Mandarin immersion. Yeah. That’s right. I have this whole long fancy list of excuses!

Cute hiking buddy (but poor conversation partners) on Bukit Timah Hill in Singapore

Cute hiking buddy (but poor conversation partner) on Bukit Timah Hill in Singapore

While I whip up some more posts on the pluses and minuses of multilingualism and nomadic multicultural living, you might want to stop in at Ute’s lovely blog

If you are serious about investigating expatriate life and learning what its foundational demands and rewards are; if you are a parent who longs to offer a broad world view to your children; if you just want to dialogue with someone who is a seasoned world citizen, then I suggest you stop in and chat with Ute.

Otherwise, there’s me. I love your visits, too!

Thank you for visiting the Bradfords. Here, and wherever we are in the world.

Thank you for visiting the Bradfords. Here, and wherever we are in the world.

15 thoughts on “Wise Words on Words: Talking About Multilingualism

  1. Thanks for this post. I see you’ve also noticed how poly-glottery is yawn-worthy for many in the world. As Americans it feels like we’re playing catchup just to be ordinary.

    • Agreed. I’d love to find the studies that indicate that multilingualism is not necessarily related to academic superiority, or even access to a formal learning environment. In places where borders push up against borders on every side, where tribes or culture clusters trek in and out of one another’s domain, folks learn language as language is ideally learned: under duress and in that elemental contact with native speakers.

  2. I always wanted to learn and be fluent in a language to have several is a wonderful gift of tonques. I always I do have the gift . then why does it have to be spoken. . love is felt in all languages. My brother was called to go to Indonesia mission they closed it down meantime I was at byu-hawaii 2 of my room mates was from there . I have always been exposed and lived where many languages. even going to school with the Hopi and Navajo on the Navajo reservation. .. I enjoy reading what you write.. love cathy

    • And you are of course right: Love is felt in all languages, even without language. Music also communicates so much that words alone cannot. And you are a loving person, I know this, whose sincerity can be seen and felt in one glance. It’s a vast and powerful gift to be able to use words, too, to draw close to people and enter their worlds. Thanks, Cathy!

  3. Pingback: When there’s a will there’s a way to become multilingual « expatsincebirth

  4. Thank you, Melissa, for these compliments! I’m really very honoured and glad that you like my blog. I’m also very amazed about my African friends who speak several dialect – without any problem! – and some other languages like English, French etc. Here in Europe (and the US?) most of the people still think that being multilingual is an exception, but it’s not (just see the list of multilingual countries in the world on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_multilingual_countries_and_regions)

  5. Pingback: Challenges about raising bi/multilingual kids… | 3rdculturechildren

  6. Pingback: The endless challenges of raising multilingual kids… | 3rdculturechildren

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