“I’m Actually a Wookie!” The Advantages of Multilingualism

Contrary to popular opinion, it can be to your social advantage to speak in tongues.

Errrr… no.  Tongues, by which I mean other tongues–as in other languages (where was your brain?).  In my life I have found a few excellent benefits to keep my love for words growing deeper by the day.

In case you ever needed convincing, here are some prime reasons to pick up another people’s parlance:

  • Obviously, facilitated communication with a wider range of people other than those of your own culture or country (or within it! who knows?).
  • Practical skills to gain job market cred, especially internationally.
  • TRAVEL.  In my experience, the roads are friendlier, the welcomes warmer, and the deals better if you put in the effort to learn a little of the local argot.  Also it’s a lot easier to stay calm if you can communicate what’s going wrong. 
  • You become instant friends to expats wherever you are.  I will never forget walking into a cafe just off of Times Square in New York City and as the cashier rung up my tea and cookie, shouted to the manager how much the cookies were in Arabic.  A quick glance to the display case and I responded, in Arabic, that my cookie was $2.50.  He thanked me, did a double take, took another look at my face, and started up a conversation.
  • Your brain, in getting used to switching between sets of inputs, is statistically better at monitoring a changing environment and adjusting to varied stimuli. New York Times 
  • You get a lot better at sounding interesting while insulting people.  A good example: Dutch soccer fans broke with the tradition of hurling curses at the referee, players, and whoever else when one fan, pissed off at the home team’s (Ajax) loss, shouted at legendary former footballer and then-manager of Ajax, Marco van Basten, “Je wordt bedankt, pannekoek!” (“Thanks a lot, pancake!”)  The incident was widely reported and Dutch soccer fandom has never quite been the same.  
  • It keeps your gray cells a-pumpin’ making you less likely to develop dementia later in life.   The Guardian and Medical News Today.
  • Eavesdropping gets all kinds of interesting.  Just sayin.
  • You often get a better sense of the culture through the idiomatic expressions that dominate conversation and you can use them for your own purposes.  A good example is to count how many Dutch expressions involve water, cows, the weather, and ditches.  One of my favorites: “Alle beetjes helpen, zei de mug, en ze piste in de zee” / Every little bit helps, said the mosquito, as it pissed in the sea. (the meaning is pretty much self explanatory)  If you share a common foreign language with a friend, that’s one more way for you to maintain your “best friends never tell” secrets, just “best friends only tell in Catalan… or Korean
  • Faking the foreigner gets all the easier when you can just string a bunch of words together in Greek or Quechua.  Don’t want to deal with the guy handing out have-you-found-Jesus? leaflets but don’t want to look totally rude, just smile and give him your best “Ne, ačiū!”

    What's up with it, Vanilla face?

  • Mad vocal skills.  I was, and in many cases still am, that weird kid in the back of the room who walks down the hall making wookie noises to myself.  Why? Because I can!  I’m just waiting for the day that somebody shouts back “work it, grrrrl! USE THAT UVULA!”

 

*sigh*

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