By Petra Lindholm
Multilingualism, the ability to speak more than two languages fluently, is widespread in the European School System. Many students find themselves in a multilingual or bilingual household and/or learn a second, third, or even fourth language in school fluently thanks to the European Schools’ language-focused system. This focus on linguistics is one of the largest advantages of being in a European School. It comes with numerous everyday quirks; good or bad, which I will be discussing in this article.
The first positive quirk I would like to mention is the ability to communicate with a larger spectrum of people. Your ability to understand more people than your monolingual acquaintances is an extremely helpful asset whether it is a casual environment, for instance, you being able to communicate with the workers at the grocery store or even a larger scale professional advantage which provides you with opportunities to work all over the world. This extra-linguistic knowledge really allows one to widen their understanding of the world and have meaningful conversations with many people from different backgrounds.
The second positive aspect of multilingualism I would like to address is a slightly more specific one; the ability to overhear and understand. This sneaky perk gives you access to information you wouldn’t normally have and, additionally, gives you the impression that you’re some sort of spy. If you want to make your multilingualism useful, you can even help them out with the questions they were debating in another language. For instance, if people behind you on the bus are struggling to find out how to buy train tickets in a language you understand, help them out!
The last positive aspect I will be mentioning today is that being fluent in multiple languages actually helps your ability to learn new languages. Multilingualism trains your brain’s ability to assimilate new languages quicker than most monolingual brains and makes your language-learning journey much easier. It is easier to train your brain for linguistic evolution when you are young, from that moment on, if you have had enough practice, you won’t have to work as hard to learn a new language during your adult life.
As for the difficulties that come with multilingualism, you might not think there are many, but several small things can be very annoying in everyday life.
The first one, which is the most obvious disadvantage, is brain confusion and frequent mix-ups. Some people know exactly which language their brains operate in, whereas others forever struggle to make their brains make sense. These people often must quickly switch back and forth between languages which causes them to get confused and mix up the words. Their ability to express themselves becomes limited if they must narrow their thoughts down to one language and constantly forget the translations of the words they want to say. This can often result in writing things down in several different languages all in one sentence and then having to take extra time to translate it.
The second disadvantage I will address is that your phone simply doesn’t understand you. By this, I mean that you type and message people in many different languages and spell check and autocorrect become a nuisance. How many times have you typed something in one language using a second language’s keyboard and then had it correct your word to something totally different? It is extremely time-consuming and simply, frustrating.
The last and most personal disadvantage I would like to talk about is the feeling of being disconnected from your mother tongue. Growing up in a multilingual household could very easily make you feel disconnected from your roots and make you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. For example, if your parents are from two different countries when you are with your family from country A, you may feel too much like you are too “country B – like”; this also works the other way around. This makes you, maybe, know less about both of the countries and potentially leads to some variation of constant impostor syndrome.
Multilingualism comes with its pros and cons but at the end of the day, we can all be grateful for the opportunities our school system has given us to improve our language skills and widen our range of opportunities for the future. I would say that, even though there are some small frustrating quirks, the advantages of being fluent in several languages outweigh the disadvantages and it is a privilege to have a better understanding of the world through languages.