On Friday night, I interviewed a Chinese man by telephone from Hong Kong.
His English was not only clear and grammatical, it was idiomatic. He expressed himself colorfully and with charm. As it happens, the man also speaks Japanese fluently.
It got me thinking about us Anglophones. You know, the folks who are convinced that the rest of the world speaks English for our convenience, along with whatever quaint languages they may have grown up with. The ones who expect new immigrants to pick up English at lightning speed, and get annoyed when their accents are hard to understand over the telephone. The global spoiled brats, who often make only token efforts to speak the lingua franca when they travel.
And in Canada, an officially bilingual country – well, don’t get me started. I’m ashamed to admit that although I studied French until first year university, today I’d be hard put to order a glass of wine in Quebec. (Which, when you think about it, is sad on a lot of levels.)
Really, we monoglots are the losers. Learning another language is an intellectual challenge that’s good for your brain. It gives you a better understanding of other cultures. It makes travel easier. It is an increasingly critical business tool. It’s a great way to meet people.
Along with the multitude of other advantages, learning another language helps you learn and appreciate your own. Don’t understand the difference between passive and active voice in English? That’s probably because you never learned it in French.
If you like words, a second language gives you twice as many to like. As the Czech proverb says, “You live a new life for every new language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.”