Have you heard this quiz in Europe? What is the word for someone who speaks five languages? A quintilinguist. What is it for someone who speaks four languages? A quadrilinguist. What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American. Sad but true. Why learn another language? Not only is it a good stretch for the brain, it makes travel a lot more fun when you fit in easily.
One of the first things my husband and I discovered as we traveled in Central and South America is that Europeans often speak 3-4 languages. Many Taiwanese we met spoke more than that. The Dutch are particularly fluent in other languages, perhaps because their economy has long been based on international trade. Luis, a tourist guide we met in San Agustin, Colombia, spoke eight languages fluently (Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Yiddish, Dutch, and one other). He was in the process of learning an additional eight. His philosophy: Why watch TV or drink beer in the local bar when one’s free time can be put to good use learning languages! As more tourists come from South Korea and Japan, those are useful languages for his tourist guide business, as are many others.
While camping in Guatemala, we spoke with the seven young Europeans camping next to us. They had met while traveling and were from different nations. It was amazing to hear their conversation switch from Italian to English to Spanish to French to Dutch to German, back to Italian. Not all of them spoke the same languages so they rotated the language to include everyone. Each of them spoke at least three languages and one spoke six. These were young men aged 18-21!
It is unfortunate that learning foreign languages are no longer emphasized in our elementary and secondary schools. Although we had heard that you have to start learning another language by age 7 or 8, that is only true for those who want to be perfect. For the purposes of travel, reading a book in another language, or just for fun, it is wonderful to exercise the mind and expand the brain when learning another language.
We met quite a few Americans who spoke Spanish well enough to converse and get around. When asked, they said they had learned it from a Rosetta Stone Spanish (Latin America) Level 1-5 Set package. We heard, “It was easy to do and I never thought I could learn Spanish so quickly” or “We did not have time for a class so we shared the Rosetta Stone learning materials and practiced with each other.”
Watching them converse with the hostel staff or in restaurants, we noticed they were at ease and had confidence. It is quite satisfying to learn something new and to have fun with it. We have been reviewing with the program and when we next travel in South America, it will be easier to converse with the local residents.
But even when we do not travel, we make a point of listening to Spanish radio, watching Spanish movies with the English subtitles off, and going to concerts and other activities. Do we understand it all? Not but a long shot, but we do improve. Rosetta Stone, either the Latin American version or the version for Spain. (There is a difference, even in vocabulary and pronunciation. Stretch yourself. When you are ten or twenty years older, you will be glad you did.