Steve and Alex – Multilingualism (Part 1)

Study the transcript of this episode as a lesson on LingQ, saving the words and phrases you don’t know to your database. Here it is!

Steve: Hi Alex.

Alex: Hey there, Steve.

Steve: Well, we haven’t done the podcast in quite a while.

Alex: No. What’s the reason?

Steve: Well, I wouldn’t say that it necessarily is because I was away for four weeks, but that might have something to do with it.

Alex: It might have something to do with it.

Steve: Something to do with it.

Yeah, I was in Rarotonga and a lot of people don’t know where that is, but Rarotonga.

Alex: I don’t know either.

Steve: I didn’t, but that’s one of the islands in the Cook Island group.

And the Cook Islands it’s all in that area with Tonga, Samoa, which is actually, apparently, pronounced ‘SA-moa’.

Alex: Oh, really?

Steve: Yeah, French Polynesian and so forth.

And it’s a four-hour flight north of Auckland, so we were there.

Rented a scooter, took it easy.

It’s just so laid back it’s just unbelievable.

I mean the whole island has 10,000 people on it.

Alex: Oh, really? Wow.

Steve: Sort of the interior of the island is all kind of mountain and jungle, if you want, and so everybody lives on the periphery, which is about 32 kilometers in length and there are two buses and they’re called Clockwise and Counterclockwise.

That’s the bus service.

Alex: Oh, wow.

Steve: You rent your scooter and you are told that the speed limit if you don’t have a helmet is 40 kilometers, if you get a helmet it’s 50 kilometers.

And nobody is in a hurry.

Nobody honks their horn at you.

People are just friendly.

We took part in sort of a Polynesian culture show.

Alex: Oh, wow.

Steve: The whole thing was just phenomenal. I very much recommend it.

Then we were in Auckland and meet up with Chris, who’s one of our members at LingQ and who is a computer programmer who has learned a number of languages.

I don’t remember all of them, but dabbled in more.

A very nice guy, we had a nice dinner.

Auckland is a spectacular city.

Alex: Oh, is it?

Steve: New Zealand is a lovely country, green and people are very friendly.

And then we were in Australia and again in Melbourne we met with four polyglots call them, linguists, speakers of multiple languages.

Sorry, in Sydney it was four, in Melbourne we were eight.

Alex: Oh, wow.

Steve: And in Brisbane there was only one.

But I was impressed, because there are many different backgrounds.

Like some people are from a multilingual background, but some of them are from very much a monolingual background.

Quite a few IT people actually, surprisingly.

Alex: Like computer programming and that kind of thing?

Steve: Computer programmers, yeah.

But the overwhelming impression was that they all have a passion.

Like it all boils down to a passion for learning languages.

Alex: Did you notice any differences between say the guys who came from a multilingual home versus a monolingual home?

Steve: Not really. Not really.

Although, I mean I would say maybe out of the total of say 12 people there were probably three or four who did come from a multilingual background.

I met, for example, Cooper I think was his name in Brisbane.

He speaks excellent Mandarin, he speaks French, totally monolingual background.

Yeah, I mean I don’t want to go through them all individually.

A good example to talk about is Luca.

For those of you who follow polyglots on the Internet, he’s very well known because he is extremely good.

He speaks French.

He’s an Italian, grew up in a monolingual environment.

He speaks excellent Spanish.

You can say okay, no big deal, he spent a semester there.

It’s very similar to Italian.

And he speaks excellent French and you can say okay, no big deal, he lives in France.

I’m saying excellent, like very close to native, right?

No big deal.

But German, his German is phenomenal.

He sounds so German to me.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: And, yet, he’s never lived in Germany.

We had our chat on Skype for my YouTube video and his Russian is very good.

His Swedish is very good.

Even his Chinese is good.

He is from a monolingual background.

It’s very interesting.

There is a thing called The Polyglot Project, which was something that a fellow called Claude Cartaginese from New York and David Mansaray from London, they got together on this in some way.

Or maybe Claude was the one who…

Alex: Yeah. So Claude was the guy who started the project itself, but it was he and David who started the podcast.

Steve: Oh, okay, that’s it.

Yeah, Claude put together the book, which is very interesting to read, about people’s stories and now they’ve started these podcasts.

I listened to a few of them, it’s very interesting.

All of them have slightly different approaches to learning languages, but the one common thread is their passion for the language.

So, you know, sometimes people think, oh… Oh, that reminds me.

There was an article in the newspaper today saying that bilingual people stave off Alzheimer’s by an average of four and a half years.

Alex: Oh, really?

Steve: And the article said it has to do with the fact that if you’re managing two languages then there’s actually space in your brain for dealing with two languages.

You have to go back and forth so that helps you in multitasking.

So if you speak more than two languages presumably that’s even more.

I find I’m forgetting more and more things, but that’s another story.

Alex: You need more languages, Steve.

Steve: Well, that’s right.

Yeah, and it can beat back Alzheimer’s.

But the whole point and the reason I think it’s worthwhile talking about this is like okay, let’s say your case for example.

I’ve heard you.

You speak very good Korean with very good pronunciation.

You don’t look the part.

Alex: Not so much. No.

Steve: No. And there’s no particular reason from your background that you should do that, except that you had a very strong interest in it.

That’s the point I want to talk about is how many people could be good speakers of more than one language if they really felt they could do it.

I think a lot of people don’t believe they can do it.

Alex: Yeah. I mean absolutely.

I think in my case now I’m nearing on 23, my first exposure to Korean was… When I say ‘exposure’ I mean the first I guess Korean friend that I had was in grade nine.

Steve: How old were you then?

Alex: I was I guess 15, but I didn’t really learn any.

I wasn’t pursuing the language at all.

I learned maybe like two words or three words and that’s it.

It wasn’t I would even say real exposure to the language.

It wasn’t until I guess when I was 17 that a friend of mine — well, who became a friend of mine — who was an international student from Korea came to my high school and lived with one of my Korean-American friends.

So through that I became friends with him and that was when I started to get exposed to the language, to the culture, more so with that.

So it was about a year after that that I actually started really learning the language, going from learning a few words and phrases from your friends, which doesn’t really get you that far, to actually buckling down, grabbing a textbook and starting to learn the language in a more dedicated manner.

Steve: Right, but what that friend or those friends gave you was the desire.

Alex: Oh, absolutely.

Steve: The passion, the determination, the interest, which is the key.

Alex: That’s the thing and when I compare that, I actually had a lot more exposure to French.

I went to elementary school here in Canada and middle school and high school in the States and so for four years in high school I took French.

In those four years obviously I learned something, but I had very little desire to continue on.

Steve: Right.

Alex: The only thing that motivated me to keep going was well, I need to take some classes and French is okay so I took French.

Steve: Yeah.

You know sometimes I get quite keen on this idea that we should be doing something to promote bilingualism, multilingualism.

Incidentally, May the 5th I’m on television, along with three or four other Canadian so-called hyperglots.

Alex: Oh, really?

Steve: Because there’s a fellow called Michael Erard who wrote this book about people who speak many languages.

I wasn’t in the book, but then this Canadian television network is doing a story on this subject so they were looking for Canadians who spoke a number of languages and they managed to find me and a group of others.

But that’s why, getting back to his book, I don’t think that people who speak many languages are necessarily people who are born with some kind of a mutant gene or something, you know?

They’re just people who like doing that.

That’s the big thing.

The key to getting more people to learn languages is not to force them the way we do in Canada with French in the school system and you should.

It’s your patriotic duty to learn French.

That doesn’t go very far.

Somehow you’ve got to motivate people.

Another interesting thing that Luca said is the more you learn, obviously, the better you get at it.

You notice more things.

You hear more things.

You know you’ve got two or three or four different language centers in your brain so you’re just better at it.

The biggest and most difficult step is to get from one language where you are monolingual to the second language.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: Thereafter, it becomes easier with every language.

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