By Ruby Liles
America has the lowest number of multilingual persons in the world, meaning the majority of the American people speak only one language. In this piece, the reasons behind American monolingualism and the benefits of multilingualism are discussed.
I have taken Japanese, Spanish, and Latin for four years each, and yet, I am fluent in no language other than English, my first language. But it seems I am not alone in this sorry state of being. According to a study by SwiftKey, only 27.5% of the entire world is multilingual, with only 0.4% of those people being from the United States. Canada, Australia, the UK, and the US, all dominantly English-speaking countries, have the lowest rates of multilinguality respectively with Canada being the best of the dominantly English speaking nations and the US being the worst.
This fact doesn’t surprise me, and it definitely doesn’t surprise many of the bilingual population at St. Mary’s.
I talked to senior Charlotte Livesay and freshmen Rhea Vohra and Ananya Malholtra. These three girls are bilingual, fluent in German and Hindi respectively. When I asked them each why they decided to be bilingual, all three answered that it was less of a choice and more of a necessity for them personally because of their families. Both Charlotte’s mom and sister are fluent in French and Spanish and her grandfather is from Germany, so Charlotte says that “it was just something they always encouraged.” For Rhea and Ananya, they both agree that “it wasn’t really a decision that I made; my parents just spoke [Hindi] while I was growing up, and it sort-of ingrained itself into my head.”
Studies show that many monolingual people stay monolingual their whole lives because they don’t think learning another language will really help them, but all three girls interviewed are living proof that this claim is totally false. They each have been to the country where their language is spoken, and as Charlotte said, “[In Germany], it helped me communicate with people, but it has also helped me think about things in a different way here in America and get around complex ideas that I can’t quite understand.”
“There’s this culture that English speakers live in of ‘I don’t need to learn their language; they need to learn mine.’ That, at least, definitely needs to shift,” said Ananya about language learning enforcement. Charlotte said, “I don't think it’s uncommon for English speaking [people] to not try to learn other languages, because they are stuck in this mindset that everyone else will learn English, rather than trying to meet non-English speakers in the middle. I think when you learn a second language, you really do meet other cultures in the middle, which causes them to be more accepting and happier that you tried, rather than just sitting there and expecting them to accommodate you.” Rhea added, “You never know when knowing another language will help you, and to think that it never will is pretty naive.”
Though I am not yet fluent in any language I’ve attempted to learn, I refuse to give up. I agree that this culture Ananya spoke about needs to change, and I hope we can all be a part of that change.