‘Do you speak English?’
For British and American girls who travel to a different country, that question is often the first sentence we learn.
‘Sprechen Sie Englisch’
‘habla usted Inglés’
‘Вы говорите по-английски’
What is it like for the estimated two thirds of the world’s population who speak at least two languages? The people who we refer to as ‘bilingual’, if they speak two languages, and sometimes as ‘multilingual’, if they speak more than two languages.
The researcher and writer David Crystal estimates that of the approximately 570 million people in the world who speak English, over 41% are bilingual in English and some other language.
Today’s contributor knows all about speaking more than one language.
Hi, my name is Eva. I’m 11 years old and I live in Italy. My mom is Canadian and my dad is Belgian. With my twin sister and younger brother I always speak Dutch but I also speak English, French and Italian. Until now I went to a European School in Dutch with second language French but next year I’m starting secondary school and I’m changing to second language English because I want to be able to write English perfectly.
Learning languages is not always easy! All the languages are very different so it’s a bit confusing. Sometimes when I speak, I say an English sentence with a Dutch word in the middle. The hardest part of all these different languages is the spelling. A sound in one language can be completely different in another language. Also, the grammar is very different.
To go to school we have to be on the bus for an hour. And in the bus (also on the school playground) I speak a lot of different languages because there are kids from all over the world. Like my friend in the bus is half Italian half Ukrainian. But I speak to her in English. And my brother’s best friend is half French half Danish but they speak Italian together.
In the bus, you hear a lot of different languages and kids switching from one to another without really realising it. For example: I’m talking to my friend in English and I don’t know how to say a word in English so I ask my sister in Dutch, then someone in the seat behind me throws a paper airplane on my head so I ask in Italian to them to stop, after that a French friend of mine asks what had happened so I explain it to her in French…. Sometimes on the bus, my brother’s friend says some Danish words to me and I can understand most of them. So some languages are similar to another.
Sometimes being able to speak a language that nobody understands can be handy. Like one time we were standing with a group of people and I noticed my brother’s pant zipper was down. I told him in Dutch so he could close it quickly without anyone knowing.
But sometimes you have to be careful because you never know if the other person understands you. Like once in our Italian supermarket we were lining up to pay and my mom said in English that the guy in front of us looked like my teacher (thinking he was Italian) and then the guy turned around and said: “I do?” And on the way home in the car we were all laughing a lot.
If you love reading like me, being able to understand different languages is very helpful. In my opinion books (or movies) are much better in their original language. For example, I’m happy that I could read the Harry Potter series in English. Being able to read English is also good for instructions or signs and stuff like that because they always write it English.
It’s fun that I can speak different languages because then it’s easier to communicate with others. Like sometimes when I’m travelling and I have to sit in the airplane for a long time I can talk with some other kids that speak the same language and make new friends.
All my after school activities like piano, tennis and theatre I do in Italian. I’m happy that it’s in Italian so I can practice it and to be able to communicate with the kids from here.
So learning languages is hard but fun and very helpful. By knowing different languages you can make new friends from all over the world. I can’t wait to learn more!
Bye, Dag, Ciao, Au revoir!