Mind your language*

Mind your languageThere’s an interesting feature in the Guardian today about a 10-year-old boy who can speak 11 languages. Now this interests me a lot, as someone who considers himself a bit of a polyglot.

The boy, called Arpan Sharma speaks English, French, Hindi, Spanish, Italian, German, Mandarin, Polish, Thai, Swahili and Buganda (a Ugandan language).

Now, this is pretty impressive, although I am slightly suspicious. I know that being able to say “Hello, my name is Blah Blah, how are you?” in a foreign tongue is a far cry from being able to actually converse properly in it.

I also know that it’s one thing to be able to ask to a parent or kindly teacher about the best place to buy ‘un sandwich au jambon’, or ‘wie komme ich am besten sum Bahnhof?’.

It’s quite another matter to be stuck in the middle of a foreign city and trying to find somewhere to stay because the bus broke down and the hotel you wanted lost your reservation and is now full… (personal experience, surely not?).

I’m taking nothing away from Arpan – because he’s young, his ability to pick up languages is heightened, and I’m sure he could easily get by in most of those countries.

I guess someone should talk to him again in 10 years and see exactly how well he’s doing then.

I left University with an ability to talk 8 languages (although the Polish was a bit ropey). A decade and more later, and I could probably just about converse in all of them, but it wouldn’t be at anywhere near the standard I should be able to.

What’s more they’ve been about as much use to me in my career, as my ability to say the alphabet backwards in less than 5 seconds – eff all, in other words.

Keep learning, Arpan, just don’t expect your languages to get you anywhere fast.

* I wonder if ITV4 will ever show repeats of the ‘hilarious’ sit-com based around an English language school. The mind boggles at the sweeping, lazy stereotypes that adorned the programme now!

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