TED Conversations


This conversation is closed.

How many languages is it possible to know?

I admit that I am not a genius. I have never had an idea that I would end up speaking more than one language but it happened.. in my early 20s I found myself speaking more than 4 languages... few years later a coupe of languages came along and I learned them as well... Why? I don't know.
true to be told I didn't go to university for this, I only went for Communication Science. after learning all those languages, it made me believe;
if I can, then anyone can (but maybe not everyone)

How many languages do you speak?
If you could learn one more foreign langues, what would it be?
What stopped you from learning more than one (if you speak only one)
why is it so important to learn any foreign language when we want a global village, and what language should be spoken in that village?

an interesting article to be read about the capacity and ability of human brain in learning and knowing languages:



Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Mar 8 2013: it is comparatively easier for a person whose initial language is in alphabet to learn another languages in this form. For example, It is quite easier for a British to learn Spanish , French and etc. However, it will not be necessarily that easy for him to learn a language which is not in alphabet form, e.g. Chinese. It is also reasonable to argue that it is not easy for Chinese people to learn English.
    • Mar 8 2013: I agree you just said it all I would like to add is that there are differences even in the same alphabet, I believe you are aware of Germano Language Group and Romano Language Group, don't you? if you do, then you know that there are less letters in Spanish and Italian than there are in English or Dutch, yet both use the same alphabet.
      now would you be agree with that easiness lies in language group?

      when you speak a Romano Language then it is easy to learn any language that is in that group: (Portugese, Italian, French, Spanish). and when you speak a Germano Language it is easy to learn any language that is in that group (English, Dutch, German Denis)

      so now, the alphabet has little to do here... in the world no one uses Armenian expect Armenians ... (check the alphabet if u please)... it has all to do with your will.

      what are you willing to lose in order to win something?

      Well, honestly, I live in Spain where there are many English people, guess what!? they do not learn / want to learn local languages... why? they haven't got any reasonable excuse, but to say: It is difficult !
      English is Germano language. and Spanish is Romano Language... now could I help you to agree that alphabet has got less to do with learning?

      • thumb
        Mar 8 2013: Thanks for your input. You do give a deep insight of thinking about this issues. I am sorry I do not know Germano Language Group and Romano Language Group. But as far as I know, there are more Spanish letters than there are in English, rather than less. In fact, there are 29 letter in Spanish which are 3 letters more than In English. ch,ll,ñ, are the three letters that English does not contain.

        Even if the differences in the same alphabet, can we necessarily draw conclusion that alphabet has less importance in acquiring other languages which are constituted by letters? What examples you gave Germano and Romano , they are all formed by letters, aren't they. Can we agree that it is easier to learn languages among the same form than in different forms?

        Your personal example of Brits's the unwillingness to learn Spanish can only work for those specific people. Well, I am living in the UK, People around me from European countries are mostly multilingual. Some even can speak 3 or 4 European languages. Guess what, those languages are in the same form . If they do have such a gift of mastering language, why not Chinese? It is simply because Chinese is in different form from European languages

        It is my pleasure to share ideas with you!

        DIngshou Yang
        • Mar 8 2013: Antonio,

          Sound you have Spanish name...

          yes I agree that there are letter in Spanish that they aren't in English and also some of them pronounce differently.. "CH" isn't a letter that is the combination of two latter that makes one sound. in English we also got some combinations: "sh" "ch" "ts" "kh" ... surelly we use this to make foreign names sound closer to its origin.

          difference between people in main land Europe and England is big... sometimes the possibilities to travel makes you to learn languages... like in 70 or 80 more people could travel within main land Europe, but less people from England to main land Europe.
          TV plays a great role us well. such as in Belgium and Netherlands you can watch a film in original version with subtitle, , but in southern Europe it is translated, you can't hear the original languages)

          no young English lives in Spain, by the way, only ones who could afford to buy property in early 2000s ... but what I could understand that having an international language makes one to think that we got they most spoken language so the rest should know... regardless location. well it is same with Spanish people, they have third most spoken language and they do not speak other languages. yet in Spain there are more than one languages ( I think five languages, Catalan, Euskera, Gaego, Valenciano, Castilliano - they all are Spanish languages- that's why Spaniards say "We speak Castilian" and the Latin Americans say: "We speak Spanish")

          Of course I can agree that it is easy to learn languages that has the same form... Language Group, writing stile (right to left, and left to right, up and down) ...

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us...

        • Mar 11 2013: I was born in China, but when I was a young boy I was already interested in foreign languages. Fortunately I lived in Shanghai which was an international city with many foreigners. I learned English in regular school courses. But I started to learn some Russian and French before I was 18 years old. And later I also learned Japanese and Spanish as well. I agree with you that when one first try to learn a language which is drastically different in both the structure (alphabets vs characters) and grammar. In addition, the pronunciation for many Chinese in different regions seemed to be stuck with their lack of certain unique consonant sounding because they usually don't have that particular tongue in their own dialect.
          The difficulty of learning a different language is of course well established. But , for the Europeans their relative ease with languages of their neighbors are due to their close vicinity to each other, some of them were even consists of citizens with differing mother tongues (Switzerland). Also, it is very easy to learn other languages if you are speaking Latin (Romano) languages of your neighbors. Furthermore, if you look at the English language, there are many words that were originated from Latin or French, and a few from Spanish, German and Russian as well. So, after learned a few of the languages, it becomes easier to learn more.
          And, the "form" of the languages are blurred noways. For example, the Vietnamese are now written in French alphabets, but the sounds are still derived from the Chinese. The Japanese are even stranger, they have their own alphabets but the sounds are a mixture of Chinese and English. So the learning of even their own language for the Japanese, young or old, is more difficult than either the Chinese or the English to learn their own languages. It was well known that even one of the prime ministers in Japan had once misinterpreted a word for his own language.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.