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Would the World Be Better if Everyone Were Bilingual?

In the 2009 movie The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson imagined a world in which humans had not yet evolved the capacity to tell lies. In a similar spirit, I’d like you to imagine a world in which all humans have perfected two languages to native-speaker levels. They can switch seamlessly from one to the next, with neither feeling more or less natural than the other.

Get that firmly in your mind, and then ask yourself a question: Is this a better world? You can think whatever you like, but in my mind, at least, the answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why:

1. Those chic coffee house terms will start to mean something

No longer will people butcher those French, Italian and Spanish coffee house expressions when ordering a particular size or style of coffee. For a great number of us bilinguals, these languages will make up one or both of our two “parent” languages, and will come as naturally to us as our greetings.

2. I’ll finally understand cooking terms

Assuming one of my languages is French, I’ll be able to recognize and appreciate much more about the world of my own kitchen. I’ll know why it’s called a bain-marie, and what it really means to flambé, sauté and gratinée without just grouping them all as kinds of frying. The world of the kitchen gains new dimension, depth and clarity, and I can sound more like I know what I’m doing!

3. I’d know that Sichuan is a province, and not just a sauce

If I were lucky enough to count Mandarin as one of my two, then places and styles that others only read on distant menus in California would mean so much more. Sichuan isn’t a mere method or a sauce, but an entire culture, and one of China’s 8 “great cuisines” and a province home to more than 80 million people.

What’s really happening?

As I read this back, I discover that my main problem might be hunger rather than frustration over a lack of aspiration in many to learn and master a second language. In all seriousness, the world being bilingual would be a better place. First of all, a second language gives you an entirely new perspective on the world and its problems. If everyone were able to think about their own lives and the world in at least two different ways, then we might have more empathy and consideration, and less knee-jerk and ill-informed responses to things happening around us.

Finally, a bilingual world would be a better place because we would be freer and more empowered to communicate, appreciate, understand and love more of our fellow human beings around the world. Language is a liberating thing; a key that unlocks new levels of our humanity.

By Thomas Longrigg