Living

We’re back on track with L today! I’m talking to Antonella Sorace about her favourite places to live, different attitudes to languages and monolingualism. To hear more head to Antonella’s show ‘Monolinguals, Where Are You?’ on the 8th and the 19th of August. 

Where is your favourite place to live?

I’m a citizen of the world! I love Edinburgh, which is the place where I live and I’ve lived the longest in my life. I love Sardinia, which is where my roots are and where I spend my summers.

Where is your favourite place to visit?

See above. I travel all the time, all over the world, and I like both visiting new places and revisiting old ones.

How do attitudes to languages differ from country to country?

Attitudes to languages are particularly narrow in the UK: language learning is not a priority either for individuals or for governments because of the international status of English as a lingua franca, so people are not motivated to learn other languages. And they don’t know what the miss: not just the ability to speak with other people in their language, but also all the benefits that come with having more than one language in the brain.

In the UK there often seems to be an acceptance of being monolingual and a sense that “languages aren’t for me”, why is this?

See above. I’ve heard more people saying “I’m hopeless at languages” in the UK than anywhere else. This is often not true: in most cases they haven’t really tried, or they’ve been badly taught a tiny bit of French at school. When Brits really want to learn a new language, they can be very good at it.

Is it a problem?

Yes, it is a problem. Lack of language skills means not only being unable to communicate with people in other countries unless they speak English, but also missing out on the many benefits of multilingualism, such as the ability to see other people’s perspectives, the ability to focus attention in a more focused way, and the ability to adapt to change more quickly. Ultimately, not speaking other languages goes together with more self-centred attitudes and isolationism – as Brexit shows.

How is monolingualism changing?

The potentially good news is that even Brits hear other languages more and more often, whether by choice or not. Foreign languages are now taught earlier in elementary schools, and people are constantly exposed to other languages spoken by migrants, or to different dialects or varieties of their own language. This means that they may even learn some aspects of other languages without knowing it’s happening. So, the complete monolingual is becoming rarer and rarer, and may soon be a thing of the past. There are all kinds of implications of this simple fact, for languages and for individual speakers. If you want to know more, come to my talk!