Why not Embrace Monolingualism?

Author’s note: About a month ago I shared a piece written by my sister as it related to something I’m quite familiar with in Costa Rica.  Her thoughts were spot on and I totally thought the same, that learning languages opens up a whole world of opportunity (especially if you have to learn English).

I got to thinking though, and began to ponder, however, just what the world might be like if there was only one, universal, language.  This post started off as a fun, light-hearted jab at all the promotors of bilingualism (myself included).  However, the more I got into to picking arguments to justify the contrary, they didn’t seem as far fetched as I’d imagined.  I’m not sure I sold myself on the monolingual platform (languages are just too fun not to have) or if I’ll convince you, but it is interesting to analyze what a mono-world might look like.  Discussion/comments welcome 🙂

The first time I heard the term “monolingualism” used in the noun form (-ism ending) was about a month ago in this very same space.

It wasn’t a surprise that the author, my sister, would use a high-register, lexical term to send me running to the dictionary to find out what I was missing.  In promoting not speaking one language, she opened the proverbial “can of worms” in my head. Needless to say, there are two sides to every story, and even though we both chose to live in diverse, Spanish speaking countries, it seems we should be able to bend on the language aspect.

I’m not sure we really need more languages in our life.

If we break down the word “mono-lingual-ism,” we’ll find the prefix “mono” in Spanish translates to monkey.  If you’ve ever been in a forest and witnessed a pack of monkeys passing overhead, you’ll see they have it pretty good.

The alpha leads the pack and watches for predators while the mothers follow behind with their young ones. There is plenty of monkeying around for the teens and the noises they make are mostly squeals of varying degrees, but the understanding is there. Rarely do you see a monkey away from its troupe.

In all seriousness though, if monkeys can do it – and they’re close relatives to humans – there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to all agree on one language.

Think of the possibilities. Travel would instantly open up to all parts of the world and the connections made would be a lot more meaningful. No longer could someone rule out the Basque country because they don’t speak Euskera, and think how much more you could learn about another culture being able to understand it without relying on a filtered translation?

There would probably be fewer wars, and not that my mother-in-law would be interested, but at least she could knowingly nod in agreement when the Macy’s lady at the mall asks her if she would like to apply for a Macy’s card. She could even respond “Thanks, but no thanks.”

And with that, I think I just stumbled upon the economical ramifications of monolingualism.

Imagine all the business that could be done with one language. Granted, you could argue that this already exists with English being the proclaimed the world’s business language, but imagine being able to launch marketing campaigns in any country without having to translate.

Right now, if you want to see “The Conjuring 2” but happen to be in Costa Rica, you’ve got a problem. It’s bad enough you aren’t sure if it’s /kan/ or /kon/ -juring in the English pronunciation, but then think of the shame and possible humiliation trying to ask for tickets to “El Canjuro Dos.”

Besides that, it would be great to do away with all subtitles and horribly dubbed TV shows/movies. Remember when Psy broke YouTube with “Gangnam Style”? Just imagine how many more views it would have had if the lyrics could have been understood by more than 1.2 percent of the world’s population.

According to vistawide.com, there are approximately 71 million Korean speakers in the world, but at latest count “Gangnam Style: has just under 2.6 billion views on YouTube. There’s a simple explanation for how that has brought so many people to the same place: Music, like numbers, is universal.

Everyone can understand music, and apparently if the beat is catchy with a dash of humor and/or goofiness, you can reach billions. YouTube would argue the same, as 28 of the 30 most viewed videos of all time are music videos. So if music can unite us universally, language should, too.

If you aren’t born with the preferential language, you face an uphill battle to get it, and the costs can be quite high. Even in Costa Rica, a country that teaches English K-12, most students graduate shaky at best. What’s even more concerning though is that knowing English is not even enough.

A few years ago, San Ramon was buzzing because a new call center had just opened and had tons of positions to fill. Even I was excited, as this could be a potential job opportunity for me. But when I went to the job fair to get more information, I was astonished to hear the starting salary: just barely more than the required minimum-wage pay per month.

So applicants were basically better off cleaning bathrooms at a public institution and not spending their money on language classes.

Let’s face it: We’ll all have to have the world’s language as soon as we can. You shouldn’t waste time being taught the language in a classroom. Literally, you need to be born with it, because speaking it alone won’t get you ahead. You also have to be able to do something with it.

So instead of arguing against monolingualism, let’s argue for a world language. It won’t be easy, but maybe there’s some combination of singing and gestures that can unite us all in common understanding.  I nominate Psy and a pack of monkeys to get to work on it.

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