Nowadays multilingualism is a widespread phenomenon. A considerable number of people speak more than two languages in their everyday life due to historical, social, or economic reasons. They may live in a multilingual community as a result of colonialism and immigration, or they might be in constant contact with different monolingual communities because of globalization.
What does it mean to possess a multilingual competence?
It means to have the ability to use appropriately and effectively different languages for communication. This is just one of the many skills that a person with this competence can acquire or develop. So to possess multilingual competence means also to know: ▪ How these languages are used in different contexts ▪ How to express concepts in both oral and written form ▪ How to use the correct grammar, vocabulary and the capacity to communicate verbally ▪ How to apply formally and informally languages in life ▪ How to develop the mother tongue competences or the country’s official language(s).
Actually, this competence doesn’t just involve a linguistic side, on the other hand it is also related to historical and multicultural competences, because learning a new language means also getting in touch with a new culture and discovering the world from a different point of view. It is also a special type of thinking, which absorbs cultural values of multiple civilizations, and it is open to dialogue. Studies, in fact, report that to be multilingual gives you a more open and flexible mind. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that multilingualism is a unique opportunity to become familiar with traditions, customs and the culture of another country or countries. Some people are afraid of losing the individuality of their own.
Another interesting question would be: which methods can be used to achieve multilingualism? If we pay attention to our lives, during a normal day, we constantly come across multilingual elements. Just think about how many tourists you meet when you take for example the underground and they ask you for directions in a foreign language or how many international words are becoming part of our informal conversations or the music that you have downloaded on your device and that I will bet is 50% foreign. There are hundreds of other examples, but the key is to use the opportunity that we have in order to improve or learn a new language.
How can we apply it in our schools?
Nowadays to know more than one language is very important in both work and within a university context. As I wrote before, the use of a foreign language is a means of comprehension of the world, an introduction to the culture of various peoples, a dialogue between different cultures, promoting awareness of people belonging not only to their own country or civilization, but also to a global cultural community. Technological devices, linguistic experiences of students and also perseverance and motivation can play an important role in this journey of awareness of a language. Technological devices, if used in a correct way, are an open door to an enormous world. In fact, nowadays, several applications and web-sites are useful to learn a new language. When you are on your way to school, maybe on the train, you can enroll for online lessons, you can get in touch with a foreign pen friend or just relax and watch a tv series or some videos in the language that you want to learn. It is also scientifically proven that the use of technology in the classroom helps students to play a major role in collaboration, participation, communication and flexibility.
Another possible experience where you could put into practice this competence is for example a study-abroad holiday. Usually, if you decide to try this kind of experience by living with a local family, you are matched with another student, not from your same country. My first experience was when I was attending the second year of lower secondary school and I was matched with a Russian girl. In this kind of project, you get in touch with the two most important sides of multilingualism: the linguistic part (lessons in the foreign language in the morning) and the cultural part. You have to be open to communicate with those who at the beginning are strangers, but then will become your friends, always respecting their culture and customs and traditions. From my point of view these linguistic experiences are the best way to discover the entire world of multilingualism. To sum up, the goal of multilingual competence is to enable each human being to become multilingual and multicultural, knowing several languages, including mother tongue languages, languages of nearby ethnicities, and foreign languages. In the modern multicultural and multilingual world, dialogue becomes also a crucial factor in the rapprochement of people, in the mutual understanding among professionals working in different cultural and linguistic settings.
Proficiency in a foreign language involves interest in the values of another culture, traditions and customs, and the desire for tolerance and dialogue between different cultures. These elements acquire special significance in a globalized world and causes the appearance of what E. Durkheim called “organic solidarity”, integration and cooperation, which assume the ability to understand each other.
Sofie, London 2019
Sofie stayed with us as part of one of our Study Abroad Programmes in London. She is very hard working and dedicated to her studies. She studied General English and prepared for her international examination, Cambridge Advanced CAE. It was a pleasure to welcome her and guide her through her experience. We are also very grateful for her contribution to our Blogs. We are happy to share our students’ experiences and research work. If you wish to send us your story please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.