Pros and Cons of Multilingualism

Natalie Lark

In chapter 10, Van Herk talks about multilingualism and multilinguals who grow up speaking different languages subconsciously without thinking about their language proficiency.

First, I would like to define multilingualism, and then to talk about its advantages and disadvantages. What is multilingualism? Who is considered mulilingual? And what are the benefits of being multilingual? To answer all these questions, I’d like to go over the definition of the word multilingualism first, and then to move on to multilinguals, speakers of two or more languages and their language skills.

Multilingualism is viewed as the use of two or more languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. It is believed that multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world’s population. The chapter is about different ways that multilingualism can be developed and used socially, at both the societal and the individual level. Most of the planet’s people live in multilingual societies (Van Herk, 2012). However, there are many different ways that a society can be multilingual; for example, in some multilingual societies most members of the community are multilingual, using different languages due to the variety of languages spoken by parents or community members like in Quebec province, where some children speak two or more languages, for different purposes. In other societies, individual speakers can be monolingual, but the political entity and the government institutions can be bilingual, like in northern part of Montreal, called Montreal Nord, where some French native speakers tend to speak French only, or in Chinatown, the most beautiful area of Montreal located not far from the Montreal Old Port and famous by its gorgeous Gothic architecture of catholic churches, museums, stores, and restaurants, where you can meet with some people speaking mostly Chinese, but nevertheless trying to help you to find the place you are looking for. The author also talked about societal multilingualism, which he defined as co-existence of multiple languages in a single community. But, what are the benefits of being multilingual these days? Can everybody become multilingual?

Nowadays, being multilingual is considered a huge asset for everyone applying for a job in Canada or outside of it as not everyone can inherit or possess the gift of speaking more than two languages fluently. And that’s one of the benefits of multilingualism. However, despite the multiple linguistic theories and hypothesis, I personally believe that multilingual speakers do not have proficiency in all those languages just due to the nature of the brain, requiring regular language use and practice. Unfortunately, by nature we cannot speak all those multiple languages at the same time, and that means that our brain might choose only one language among the other three or four which would be spoken most of the time; therefore, the others would be regarded as additional ones, and their use would be considerably restricted. So, this would be regarded as a disadvantage.

Finally, I think that multilingualism is a new way of human evolution and brain development, because there is no more powerful and intelligent organism on the earth than human brain. To know and explore human brain abilities will take centuries, but what I know for sure and we can do now is to start exercising our memory by learning languages.

2 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Multilingualism”

  1. Hello Natalie,
    I completely agree with you. I think speaking multiple languages is a huge asset, especially moving into the future. I think for business it will be incredibly useful because it will make it much easier to communicate with others around the world. I think it will be useful for anyone who likes to travel. I also think it will be useful for education, but one of the biggest reasons I think multilingualism is important is its effects on the brain. Multilingual speakers are less likely to get Alzheimer’s and dementia, both of these diseases plague the older generations and there’s little that can be done once they have them. Therefore, if we can lower the rates of these diseases by doing something as easy as learning a second language, shouldn’t we? I think we should!


  2. Shengwen Xu (comment #4)

    Hello, Natalie

    I totally agree with you. As international mobility is increasing common nowadays, I think multilingualism will develop along with the development of globalization. Especially in Quebec, we can often see in job advertisements that bilingualism (of course, French and English are important for a job in Quebec) is a basic requirement, but sometime we can see multilingualism could be an asset for a job applicant.
    I think this is also true for a ESL teacher, especially in Canada, a country with people from distinctive cultural backgrounds. I think multilingualism in a way can help the teacher to understand different cultural backgrounds. As for me, when I get in touch with a new language, I get into touch with a new culture and social traditions and values.


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