[DILA] Firth McEachern - Diversity Shock, Part 19
- (We are resuming the language series of Firth, five more to follow. -Benjie)
If you have many language groups in a small country like the Philippines, then people are compelled to learn more languages. Most Filipinos (except those in Tagalog areas) are trilingual in their native language, Tagalog, and English. In the Cordilleras, many people are even more multilingual, knowing their native language, English, Tagalog, Iloko, and at times another neighbouring local language. Similar conditions exist in other parts of the country, such as Mindanao, where there are numerous languages occupying small areas.
I don't see this multiplicity of languages as a problem. As long as we have lingua francas covering wide geographic areas (such as regional languages, Tagalog, or English), it doesn't matter how many other languages we have. The role of lingua francas is to facilitate communication between disparate groups; as long as such widely understood languages exist, there should be no limit or distaste for additional languages, no matter how small and obscure. In fact, we should appreciate having so many languages. As mentioned last time, there are numerous benefits of multilingualism, both for the individual and society as a whole.
In addition to benefits like greater job opportunities, more interesting jobs, higher wages, and access to lower prices, multilingualism offers easier access to information. If you speak more languages, the more information sources you have use of. News, for example, is often heard in different languages and at different times. If you turned on the radio during a serious warning or an important announcement, and you didn't understand the language, you could be in big trouble! The more languages you know, the more likely you are able to comprehend different sights and sounds, whether that be a local radio drama, a national tsunami warning, a street fight, a question from a stranger, a scientific journal, or the two sexy women gossiping about you at a café!
Another plus is that multilingual people are often better at learning languages. Admittedly, a multilingual person might know lots of languages because he's good at learning them, but it goes both ways. The more languages you know, the easier it is to learn another one. That's because you become accustomed to the requirements of learning a language, such as the memorization of words and the need to practise it. That is, the task seems a lot less daunting when you know the effort it entails. Two, one's brain becomes adept at recognizing grammatical structures. When you learn a new language you can compare the grammar rules with your own language: the similarities will help fasttrack your correct use of the language while the recognized differences might be equally informative. Since I never formally learned English grammar in school, most grammatical terms I know, and can now apply to English, are those taught to me while learning new languages.
Three, you become better at hearing and reproducing sounds. Rarely can a monolingual person pull off a convincing accent of another language, getting tripped up in rolling R's, glottal stops, velar fricatives (like the `kh' and `gh' sounds in Arabic), and other such sounds. The more languages you know, the better you become at differentiating phonemes, and imitating whole accents.
Fourthly, as an experienced language learner, you know what the best strategies are for learning. You presumably have experimented with a variety of learning methods -- such as computer programs, grammar books, informal conversation, watching movies, etc. -- and can immediately embark on your preferred method for faster results.
The relative aptitude of multilingual people in language learning may be demonstrated by contrasting the Philippines with different Asian examples. Korea and Japan are some of the most linguistically homogenous countries in the world, and despite pumping vast amounts of money and time into English education, English competency remains surprisingly low. When you're surrounded by only one language, and rarely need to adapt to someone else's speech, it's difficult to learn a new one. Filipinos, on the other hand, are used to a multilingual environment. They are used to picking up several languages. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, on a relatively small budget, the country can produce a citizenry with the highest English prevalence in Asia, a consistent selling point for foreign investment and employment. Yet one more reason the Philippines should be protecting and promoting its linguistic diversity!
Firth McEachern - Diversity Shock, Part 19