Friday, July 2, 2010

The Case for Multilingualism....

Within 24 hours of landing in the country that gave birth to me, this conversation took place:

Daughter: What is the name of the language here?
Me          : Bahasa Melayu
Daugther: I know the Bahasa Melayu word for “What”
Me          : And what do you think that is?
Daugher  : Apa!
Me          : (jaw dropped coz my daughter got it right)…Wow! How do you know?
Daughter: I was listening and I figured it out (du-uh…with her most polite look)

Those who know me well, will know that I am a proponent for multi language acquisition. Having grown up in a multilingual society, I have not much appreciation for those who insist on staying within the boundaries of their own language. I mean, if you could, why wouldn’t you wish to understand more?

I mean, take a classic Hollywood movie, bad guys and not so bad guys. So there’s the Russian president and his translator, “talking” to the American president and HIS translator in a scene. How much do you wanna bet that in real life….all these foreign heads of states communicate well in English and simply use translators as protocol while not very many of the heads of states of English speaking nations understand more than their own language? I bet you a chocolate chip cookie, the former is true. PS - don't get offended if you are Russian or American... I'm just using a "classic" example..."classic", I tell you.... :-)

2 decades after moving to arguably, the most European city in North America, I still don’t get the hang-up many French Quebeckers have about “protecting” their language by insisting on French only signs and "encouraging" new immigrants to learn French as a way of assimilating to life there. While I say one language on your sign of commerce simply restricts how much business you get, I also say, more power to the immigrants. By the way, French is a bee-you-ti-ful language.

Maybe the French don’t notice it but I certainly do. The face of Canada is changing, it is becoming more “beige” as the years go by and these new “beige” faces speak a minimum of 3 languages well, the 2 official languages of Canada plus their mother tongue. Hmmm… I wonder who has the advantage in the long run, the unilingual French Quebecker or the multi-lingual new Quebecker? Sometimes the boundaries we set to keep others out, also serve to keep ourselves in and that is not always a good thing, n’est-ce pas?

I wonder the same for Malaysia...who has the advantage, the unilingual Malaysian or the multilingual one....hmmm.....

Back to my kids learning a 4th language while on vacation in the tropics. KiKi and King T – more power to you! Mommy’s proud of you!