The Importance of Multilingualism

Tue, 04/12/2016

By: Na'im Muhammad

 

Learning a new language can seem very difficult. Your world language classes can seem very hard because of the challenges you face when learning a new method of oral/written communication. This challenge then results to some students not taking world languages seriously and then giving up on actually learning the language for long term usage. Some students even graduate and never return back to what they learned in high school, not capitalizing on the hours upon hours of time spent studying a world language.

I, Na’im Muhammad, am here to reinforce the importance of learning these world languages.

I recently had the pleasure of getting to ask Mr. Ferme, our technology coordinator, some questions regarding how he became fluent in multiple languages and how they affect his everyday life.

The questions and answers are below:

1. How many languages are you fluent in? What are they?

I can speak and write fluently Italian (my first language), English, Spanish and Portuguese. I can read and I can sing in French and I can read Latin with the help of a dictionary. If music is a language, I can read both notation and tablature (a graphic form of writing music which dates back to the Renaissance).

2. Which was your first language? What language do you use the most? Least?

I spoke English until I was five. Then I started attending school in Milan, Italy, where I grew up and English went out the window. I picked it back up in 7th grade. I definitely use English the most today, but I speak Italian with my wife, whose mom is Italian. When I remember, I speak Italian to my kids. The language I speak the least is Portuguese: I don't have that many friends from Brazil or Portugal anymore.

3. What convinced you to learn another language other than your first language? What made you learn even more?

I never really chose to learn another language: Someone else did that for me. When I was born, my mother raised me speaking English, her mother tongue. Then, in 4th grade, everyone had to learn French (I don't know why, it may have been because that's the only language teacher they had). Later, in 7th grade, my mom told me about some classes they were teaching after school in English, and I liked the idea.

When I was twelve, my mother sent me to Ireland to improve my English, and there I would socialize a lot with the Italian and Spanish students. The Spanish students didn't speak a word of English, so the only way to communicate with them was by learning some rudimentary Spanish. After high school I came to Chicago and I found out the people I related best with were all from South America, Mexico, etc., so my opportunities to practice Spanish increased exponentially. It was a real asset for all the jobs I got, because my employers were always impressed I could speak Spanish so fluently. As far as Portuguese, I play guitar and sing, and I always loved Brazilian music, so when I heard about the opportunity to go to Brazil on an exchange program in college, I jumped at the opportunity right away.

4. What do you think Brooks students should do when it comes to learning a language?

Learn it! And then make plans to spend some time in the country where that language is spoken. You can never learn a language like when you go to another country and practice it every day.

5. How has learning languages benefited you? How do you use them in your life?

One word: Tremendously. First, of course, in finding work, because employers always appreciate you can communicate with the occasional foreign customer in their tongue. But also when you travel: People treat you differently. I remember when I was in Brazil, people changed their demeanor when they found out I could speak their language. And it helps to learn about the history and politics of the country you go to: In other countries people are a lot more "political" in all senses of that word, whether just about the political events, but also socially there are a lot more politics, more nuances, more dialectics than we are used to here in the States. Americans are more pragmatic, which is a precious quality if you want to get things done efficiently. But being able to listen to people and respond meaningfully to their thoughts opens a whole different world to you. There is gratitude on both sides: You are grateful the locals let you into their world, and they are grateful you spent enough time to learn their language to understand what they are telling you.

To conclude, learning a language is extremely important and it can really make a difference in how to communicate with others. The journey may be long and challenging, but the reward is great. An article from AOL stated that, “government workers in California who hold bilingual positions earn an extra $0.58 an hour.” For 40 hours, this translates to $23.20. And 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, this translates to $1,206.40 annually. Some businesses pay even more! Many companies look for bilingual persons, as your communication abilities are now on par with an even larger group of people.

 

I also want to recommend a resource named Duolingo. Duolingo (www.duolingo.com) is a free language learning resource that offers the ability to work on your phone (as an app) or on your computer (website). Duolingo first prompts you to either start from the basics of a language or take a placement test to start you at your skill level. Numerous languages are offered and you can learn on the side or along with the world language class you are taking now. For students who are already polyglot, you can use Duolingo to start something new or improve what you already have. I hope to learn Spanish (and possibly more languages with Duolingo) while I am here at Brooks! I hope you will too!