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  • The language I'm speaking right now

  • is on its way to becoming the world's universal language,

  • for better or for worse.

  • Let's face it,

  • it's the language of the internet,

  • it's the language of finance,

  • it's the language of air traffic control,

  • of popular music,

  • diplomacy --

  • English is everywhere.

  • Now, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more people,

  • but more Chinese people are learning English

  • than English speakers are learning Chinese.

  • Last I heard,

  • there are two dozen universities in China right now

  • teaching all in English.

  • English is taking over.

  • And in addition to that,

  • it's been predicted that at the end of the century

  • almost all of the languages that exist now --

  • there are about 6,000 --

  • will no longer be spoken.

  • There will only be some hundreds left.

  • And on top of that,

  • it's at the point where instant translation of live speech

  • is not only possible, but it gets better every year.

  • The reason I'm reciting those things to you

  • is because I can tell that we're getting to the point

  • where a question is going to start being asked,

  • which is: Why should we learn foreign languages --

  • other than if English happens to be foreign to one?

  • Why bother to learn another one when it's getting to the point

  • where almost everybody in the world will be able to communicate in one?

  • I think there are a lot of reasons,

  • but I first want to address

  • the one that you're probably most likely to have heard of,

  • because actually it's more dangerous than you might think.

  • And that is the idea

  • that a language channels your thoughts,

  • that the vocabulary and the grammar of different languages

  • gives everybody a different kind of acid trip,

  • so to speak.

  • That is a marvelously enticing idea,

  • but it's kind of fraught.

  • So it's not that it's untrue completely.

  • So for example, in French and Spanish

  • the word for table is, for some reason, marked as feminine.

  • So, "la table," "la mesa," you just have to deal with it.

  • It has been shown

  • that if you are a speaker of one of those languages

  • and you happen to be asked

  • how you would imagine a table talking,

  • then much more often than could possibly be an accident,

  • a French or a Spanish speaker

  • says that the table would talk with a high and feminine voice.

  • So if you're French or Spanish, to you, a table is kind of a girl,

  • as opposed to if you are an English speaker.

  • It's hard not to love data like that,

  • and many people will tell you that that means

  • that there's a worldview that you have if you speak one of those languages.

  • But you have to watch out,

  • because imagine if somebody put us under the microscope,

  • the us being those of us who speak English natively.

  • What is the worldview from English?

  • So for example, let's take an English speaker.

  • Up on the screen, that is Bono.

  • He speaks English.

  • I presume he has a worldview.

  • Now, that is Donald Trump.

  • In his way,

  • he speaks English as well.

  • (Laughter)

  • And here is Ms. Kardashian,

  • and she is an English speaker, too.

  • So here are three speakers of the English language.

  • What worldview do those three people have in common?

  • What worldview is shaped through the English language that unites them?

  • It's a highly fraught concept.

  • And so gradual consensus is becoming that language can shape thought,

  • but it tends to be in rather darling, obscure psychological flutters.

  • It's not a matter of giving you a different pair of glasses on the world.

  • Now, if that's the case,

  • then why learn languages?

  • If it isn't going to change the way you think,

  • what would the other reasons be?

  • There are some.

  • One of them is that if you want to imbibe a culture,

  • if you want to drink it in, if you want to become part of it,

  • then whether or not the language channels the culture --

  • and that seems doubtful --

  • if you want to imbibe the culture,

  • you have to control to some degree

  • the language that the culture happens to be conducted in.

  • There's no other way.

  • There's an interesting illustration of this.

  • I have to go slightly obscure, but really you should seek it out.

  • There's a movie by the Canadian film director Denys Arcand --

  • read out in English on the page, "Dennis Ar-cand,"

  • if you want to look him up.

  • He did a film called "Jesus of Montreal."

  • And many of the characters

  • are vibrant, funny, passionate, interesting French-Canadian,

  • French-speaking women.

  • There's one scene closest to the end,

  • where they have to take a friend to an Anglophone hospital.

  • In the hospital, they have to speak English.

  • Now, they speak English but it's not their native language,

  • they'd rather not speak English.

  • And they speak it more slowly,

  • they have accents, they're not idiomatic.

  • Suddenly these characters that you've fallen in love with

  • become husks of themselves, they're shadows of themselves.

  • To go into a culture

  • and to only ever process people through that kind of skrim curtain

  • is to never truly get the culture.

  • And so to the extent that hundreds of languages will be left,

  • one reason to learn them

  • is because they are tickets to being able to participate

  • in the culture of the people who speak them,

  • just by virtue of the fact that it is their code.

  • So that's one reason.

  • Second reason:

  • it's been shown

  • that if you speak two languages, dementia is less likely to set in,

  • and that you are probably a better multitasker.

  • And these are factors that set in early,

  • and so that ought to give you some sense

  • of when to give junior or juniorette lessons in another language.

  • Bilingualism is healthy.

  • And then, third --

  • languages are just an awful lot of fun.

  • Much more fun than we're often told.

  • So for example, Arabic: "kataba," he wrote,

  • "yaktubu," he writes, she writes.

  • "Uktub," write, in the imperative.

  • What do those things have in common?

  • All those things have in common

  • the consonants sitting in the middle like pillars.

  • They stay still,

  • and the vowels dance around the consonants.

  • Who wouldn't want to roll that around in their mouths?

  • You can get that from Hebrew,

  • you can get that from Ethiopia's main language, Amharic.

  • That's fun.

  • Or languages have different word orders.

  • Learning how to speak with different word order

  • is like driving on the different side of a street if you go to certain country,

  • or the feeling that you get when you put Witch Hazel around your eyes

  • and you feel the tingle.

  • A language can do that to you.

  • So for example,

  • "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,"

  • a book that I'm sure we all often return to,

  • like "Moby Dick."

  • One phrase in it is, "Do you know where I found him?

  • Do you know where he was? He was eating cake in the tub,

  • Yes he was!"

  • Fine. Now, if you learn that in Mandarin Chinese,

  • then you have to master,

  • "You can know, I did where him find?

  • He was tub inside gorging cake,

  • No mistake gorging chewing!"

  • That just feels good.

  • Imagine being able to do that for years and years at a time.

  • Or, have you ever learned any Cambodian?

  • Me either, but if I did,

  • I would get to roll around in my mouth not some baker's dozen of vowels

  • like English has,

  • but a good 30 different vowels

  • scooching and oozing around in the Cambodian mouth

  • like bees in a hive.

  • That is what a language can get you.

  • And more to the point,

  • we live in an era when it's never been easier to teach yourself another language.

  • It used to be that you had to go to a classroom,

  • and there would be some diligent teacher --

  • some genius teacher in there --

  • but that person was only in there at certain times

  • and you had to go then,

  • and then was not most times.

  • You had to go to class.

  • If you didn't have that, you had something called a record.

  • I cut my teeth on those.

  • There was only so much data on a record,

  • or a cassette,

  • or even that antique object known as a CD.

  • Other than that you had books that didn't work,

  • that's just the way it was.

  • Today you can lay down --

  • lie on your living room floor,

  • sipping bourbon,

  • and teach yourself any language that you want to

  • with wonderful sets such as Rosetta Stone.

  • I highly recommend the lesser known Glossika as well.

  • You can do it any time,

  • therefore you can do it more and better.

  • You can give yourself your morning pleasures in various languages.

  • I take some "Dilbert" in various languages every single morning;

  • it can increase your skills.

  • Couldn't have done it 20 years ago

  • when the idea of having any language you wanted

  • in your pocket,

  • coming from your phone,

  • would have sounded like science fiction to very sophisticated people.

  • So I highly recommend

  • that you teach yourself languages other than the one that I'm speaking,

  • because there's never been a better time to do it.

  • It's an awful lot of fun.

  • It won't change your mind,

  • but it will most certainly blow your mind.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

The language I'm speaking right now

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【TED】John McWhorter: 4 reasons to learn a new language (4 reasons to learn a new language | John McWhorter)

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    Samuel posted on 2018/02/05
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