Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Multilingualism, whether it be bi- tri- or more is an inadequate term for a complex state. For one thing, there are a lot of things that go with a language. There is of course the ability to speak and the whole range of fluency that comes in that skill, but there are other skills too. What about reading? Or hearing? And of course there is writing.

What if you can understand a language well, but can’t speak it? Don’t think that can happen? Talk to nearly any two year old. What if you can understand a passage of text pretty good, but couldn’t write a sentence to save your life? While were at it, how good does your grammar need to be for you to be fluent? Europeans often claim to speak several languages, but that does not mean they are fluent in any of them.

Learning and speaking multiple languages is an incredibly enriching experience. For one thing, every single language is more than another set of labels for things; it is a whole new way of thinking. Cognitively—you approach reality from a whole new perspective. In English, you are cold. In Spanish, you have cold. In German, it is cold to you.

So anyway, what do you call someone who:

can understand 100% of English, 98% of Spanish, and 90% of well spoken German;

can carry on Adult sounding conversations in English, close to intelligent sounding Spanish conversations, and can slaughter the grammar of an albeit intelligible German conversation;

reads English at 400+words a minute, struggles to stay awake reading Spanish, muddles through complicated German passages, but can make out some simple Latin and other romance language passages;

and finally, would simply die if computer spell check didn’t exist in any language?

Trilingual is not a precise enough word.


  1. Great post!!! I wish all Christians prioritized communicating more highly than we do.

  2. ¡Muy bien!

    and think about how we old folks feel about "text speak". I don't even know what it's called. IM vocab?

    anyway LOL


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