Why multilingualism rules

Knowing more than one language is a great advantage. I could proclaim this as a fact, and I could also very well write a few thousand high, lofty words about how it sharpens your mind and builds character, etc.pp. I still might, in the future. But this post is a little different. I am aware that there are people who think that since they know English, and most of the world (or at least, most of the part they’re likely to ever interact with) speaks English, they should be fine. And you know what? They’re probably right, they’ll do just fine.

And after all, learning a foreign language is hard, right? I won’t argue that. It can be hard, and frustrating, and boring at times. Some grammar just happens to be incredibly dull. I am aware that learning a foreign language can be incredibly hard, and incredibly frustrating, depending on what language it is and how you’re going about learning it. Some people are better at it, some people struggle more. But it’s always an effort. What I will be trying to show you is that it can be worth that effort. So here are some situations you probably haven’t considered before: three situations in which you would wish you’d learned another language.

1. Win A Quiz Show – Latin or Greek

Let’s say you’re on “Who wants to be a millionaire”, or whatever quiz show runs in your country. You’re set to win a giant pile of cash if you could just answer one question. You’ve already used all your lifelines/jokers. The host asks you:

“What animal is considered part of the family of the canidae?”

A: Wolf,  B: Ant, C: Frog, or D: Crab.

Imagine you’ve never had a look at latin in your life, and you aren’t eaxactly a biologist either. Would you know that canidae is the biological family of wolves, foxes, dogs, etc.? Had you learned latin, you might have remembered the word “canis, -e”, or at least the saying “Cave canem” – beware the dog. In fact, a scientific study of the german version of “Who wants to be a millionaire” has shown that more than 20% of the questions could be solved easier or immediately through knowledge of Latin or Ancient Greek.


2.  Don’t be fooled – German

Listen to this song. Yeah. Sorry I made you do that. Does that sound German to you? Well, 85% of it isn’t. It’s Gibberish. Good thing you wouldn’t be so naive to try and actually use that to talk to a native speaker. Anyway, my point is this: anyone can make up words and claim they’re speaking another language. If you have a slight inkling of many languages, you won’t be fooled as easily.


3.  Enjoy art in its original form – English/German/Latin

It is extremely difficult to convey certain phrases, nuances and connotations from one language to another. More often than not, something is lost in translation. So why not enjoy the original form, if you can? If you’ve ever read Goethe’s Faust in English, let me assure you that the German version is about three times as good. There’s a saying that goes “A translation is like a woman – it can be either faithful or it can be beautiful”. I find that to be true (the part about the translation, not necessarily the part about women). If you translate Vergil’s Aeneid into English, you’ll almost certainly lose the verse structure or the hexameter. In order not to, you will have to make certain adjustments with wording, losing the precise meaning of the words. This phenomenon is not limited to literature, either. It’s considered supremely difficult to translate songs, for instance. I find that I detest most German versions of musicals that I love, but that were written in English. Another little bonus, one that is more valid for those who picked up English as a second language, though: if you speak the language a certain book or movie is released in, you’ll get it that much earlier. I don’t think I could have waited for the German translation of The Wise Man’s Fear, for instance.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure I’ll pick up on this again later.


Published in: on May 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] I’ve said before,  it is extremely difficult to convey certain phrases, nuances and connotations from one language […]

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