#302 Steve and Alex - Multilingualism (Part 2)
Alex: I think that's definitely true.
I mean, from my own experience as well, I think my background in learning Korean has absolutely helped with my ability to learn other languages and, also, my confidence in actually believing that I can. Now, a few years ago I took the step of starting to learn Chinese. I've taken a break since from it and focused back on my Korean. The toughest thing with Chinese was I didn't have enough characters, so I couldn't read very much.
Steve: Right, I know.
Alex: You spend a lot of time in the beginning stages with Chinese just learning the characters so you can actually read stuff.
Steve: It's very, very time consuming, there's no question.
But at the same time, even though I had this limited number of characters, I didn't at all lack the ability to formulate stuff to really kind of begin to understand the foundations of the language.
Steve: And it's not related to Korean, so the Korean doesn't help you at all.
Alex: No, not at all.
Steve: Not at all.
Alex: It's, in fact, totally different.
Steve: Totally different, yeah.
Alex: But I think that kind of awakening, exactly as you say, of learning to notice things, learning to pay attention to things that are different, that is really what helps them stick.
Steve: You know I really believe in rather than you have a natural talent for learning languages, you are a good language learner. Why? Because you notice things. You notice the sounds. You notice the structures. Noticing, there are so many different ways; things that will help you notice. Obviously, lots of reading is going to help you notice because as the whole language becomes less and less foggy you start to notice more things. Luca has a technique where he likes to use bilingual texts and study how certain concepts are expressed in the foreign language and compare it to his and then translate. I mean I wouldn't do that, that's his thing, but that helps him notice.
One thing I'm going to try now is to alternate Czech and Russian, because if you stay with one language all the time you start to stagnate. You start to notice less because it's just all flowing by you. You're okay and you're picking up some words, but the brain is maybe not necessarily getting used to some of the new structure that you have trouble reproducing.
So I'm going to do this experiment now, I'm going to go one week Russian one week Czech. The idea there is that when I go back to the one or the other I'll be fresher. So I may, in fact, notice more because noticing is absolutely key. Maybe that gets back to why language learning is good for the brain, because it's forcing you to notice, to discover this new language rather than just staying with your old language.
Alex: I mean there's no question that learning a language is a lot of brain work.
Alex: Really, you have to make an effort to improve. It's hard work, but I think definitely it's so rewarding.
Steve: Well, it's rewarding once you achieve the goal, but it's also rewarding if I'm sitting there reading a book on Czech history in Czech. I mean I'm saying wow, look at me, I'm reading about Czech history in Czech. That's very rewarding. Also, it's very good for the brain, but I don't necessarily think that you deliberately force the brain to do anything. It's the fact that the brain is having to some how struggle with and put labels on and figure out this new language. As you are reading stuff that's interesting, as you're listening to stuff that's interesting, all of that is very good work for the brain, I hope.
Steve: I always keep forgetting things, but it's supposed to be. But, no, I mean even without that it's just so very rewarding. In this article, too, they pointed out that in the world 50% of people are bilingual, it said. I find that surprising, but maybe it isn't if you look at places like India and China where they have a lot of regional dialects and so forth and in Africa I know I read somewhere in Ethiopia the average person speaks four or five languages.
Alex: Oh, really?
Steve: So, yeah, I guess it's not so surprising, but that in North America only 20% of people and that's typically immigrants. It's not people who were born here.
Steve: It's the immigrant who is still learning English or who maybe speaks English very well, but also still has their language that they came over with. So, yeah, we've got to try to promote multilingualism. Ah, it makes the world a better place.
Alex: It does, definitely. I think one of the best things for me about, again, learning a new language is that there's this whole other culture that's opened up to you. I know quite a few people who know a lot more about Korean history than I do or a lot more about Korean politics or whatever, but they don't know the language to the degree or at all. There are a lot of people who look at it in a very academic way. They study the history and that's what they do. I compare that and I say well, I mean what they know is interesting, but for me I'm connected with these people.
Steve: No question. You have a totally different perspective. I mean I had read a lot about Russian history and Russian literature in translation, but my understanding of Russia and Russian culture and so forth is totally different once I have the language. It's just you're on the inside, so there's no comparison. You were talking about Korean history, I mean you don't have to know it all or like it all. You just have to find those aspects of the culture that you want to participate in that you like and you enter with your language. It's great.
I think it's a great pity that, at least in Canada, we discourage so many people from learning languages. It's really a disgrace when you consider the amount of money that goes into language instruction in our schools and that the vast majority of people who were born here are monolingual. Something is not right there. Anyway, maybe we should end it there and go off on a tirade.
Alex: Sure, sure.
Steve: Okay. Thank you.
Thanks for listening, everyone.
Steve: Thank you. Let us know what you would like us to talk about.
Alex: Have a great day.