Bilingualism is the Way to Go

Now that I’m here in Mexico and pretty well settled, I’m starting to realise that what everybody says is true – the best way to learn a language is to just go out there and immerse yourself; you’ll pick it up.  I’ve been here for two weeks already (time is flying!) and I’ve noticed that it’s starting to feel natural to speak Spanish – even with my English-speaking housemates, when we open our mouths, Spanish comes out.  Johannes, who a week ago didn’t speak much Spanish at all, is now getting along fine, understanding everything.

Well, it’s hard to understand everything.  I know that the first few weeks of Uni are going to be challenging, but I’m confident that it will get much easier once I get used to the pace.  I actually think humans have a natural ability to learn languages, even as we get older.  There are countless anecdotes of people moving to a foreign country with no knowledge of the language at all, and in next to no time, they find themseleves fluent.

Anyway, since it’s the main reason I’m here, I thought I’d finally write down what many people I know are probably sick of hearing me prattle on about.  Everyone should learn a second language.  Everyone.  Especially English speakers.

Yeah, I said it.  English speakers need to get their act together and stop assuming it’s okay to go abroad and expect everyone to speak English.  I know it’s a sad reality that many, many foreign people can and do accommodate for our laziness, but the way I see it, just because they can doesn’t mean that they should have to.  It’s just disrespectful.  Obviously it’s not possible to learn every word of the language of every country you might ever visit, but even just knowing basic ‘hello’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’ is enough to show that you respect other people’s right to speak and hear their own language in their own country.

You won’t see it anywhere else – only in an English-speaking country will people get annoyed if someone doesn’t speak English, and only an English-speaker will be equally annoyed if, on their holidays, the taxi driver doesn’t understand where they want to go.  Only English-speakers seem to feel entitled to being understood without having to put in any effort.  In other European countries, it’s normal for even children to speak two or three languages.  In the UK, it’s not even really considered a good thing – the response tends to be ‘why?’ Why would you bother when everyone speaks English?

And if they don’t? ‘Well, they should!’

 Just say no to cat photos. 

No.  They shouldn’t.

Okay, rant over.  I hope I’ve portrayed my absolute disdain for people with this attitude.

If ‘to not be ignorant, lazy and selfish’ isn’t a good enough reason to learn a second, third or fourth language, here are a  few other things to consider about why multilingualism is such a GOOD thing:

  1. Travel: Not being limited to touristy areas, opening your mind to hidden away places where you’ll find the real culture and see how real people actually live.  Imagine how much you can learn from that.
  2. Not being afraid to travel: When you speak the same language, people become a lot less scary.  It’s easier to see people as people, just like you, not a different species with wildly different ideas that should be feared.
  3. Friendship and communication: What in the world is more important than being able to talk to people?  Learning another language improves your grasp of your own and your ability to communicate effectively.
  4. Employment: Despite the ‘Everyone speaks English’ theory, having more than one language allows you not only to work in another country but offers you more opportunities in your own.
  5. Art, Music, Literature, Food, Fashion etc.: Learn what some of the greatest cultural movements in the world were/are really all about.
  6. It’s good for your brain: A 2010 study showed better cognitive abilities in elderly people who had learned a second language.  Another study in 2004 showed bilingual children were able to perform tasks faster than their monolingual counterparts.  Several studies suggest language learning can prevent/delay the onset of Dementia.
  7. It’s good for your soul:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

–  Nelson Mandela

¡Amigos!

¡Hola from México!  Yes, I’m finally here – I say finally; it seemed like a long time coming (I just noticed it’s been two whole months since I last blogged) but during my last few days at home I sometimes got the feeling that I really wasn’t ready.  But, someone wise once said, ‘if we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.’ (A quick Google search tells me it was Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events – hopefully that’s not a premonition…)

Anyway, I’ve been here for 4 days now.  I’ve been very lucky so far – a lot could have gone wrong in those 4 days, but as of yet, no food poisoning, no getting lost (at least not completely) and not too much homesickness.  I’m actually feeling quite proud of myself for having found somewhere to live, got myself a Mexican phone number and, after only a slight panic, figured out how to use cash machines.  What I was most worried about was feeling uncomfortable and out of place because I am very obviously foreign.  It was recommended to me that I dress conservatively and in plain clothes so as not to draw any attention to myself – which I have been doing, but I don’t think I have anything to worry about.  I feel very safe.  People are helping me out a lot, answering any questions I have and showing me what to do when I’m clearly clueless.  The people I met in the hostel I stayed in for the first few nights were also keen to tell me about lesser-known places to visit.

Still, as expected, it’s a bit of a culture shock.  What I’ve found most difficult is the seemingly simple task of buying things – how it’s done in the UK is simply not how it’s done here.  It won’t take long to get used to but it isn’t as simple as going to a supermarket and buying all your food, all your toiletries and anything else you might want all in one place (maybe it’s an option if you can drive but I get the impression it’s not the most common way).  Here you buy fruit and vegetables at the market (today I got onions, peppers, chiles, and carrots all for 10 pesos (46p)), meat from the carnicería, fish at the pescadería, tortillas at the tortillería, sun cream and insect repellent from the farmacia (both very necessary).  I really like the way it is – everything is fresh, you chose exactly what you want and only pay for what you need, but, in a foreign country and a foreign language, it took me some time to pluck up the courage to go ahead and ask for what I wanted.  I’m still not 100% sure how it all works but I’m getting there!

I start Uni on Monday. Looking forward to that (: