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What it's like to be plurilingual

October 2, 2014, 3:35 am | This story has an Influence Score of 2476

By riazhussain

Our modern world is a multilingual global village which enjoys advanced means of transportations and communication. These advanced means of transportation and communication have brought in unprecedented mobility of people on the face of the earth, especially in major cosmopolitans of the world. Multiethnic exposure and interracial encounters in the cosmopolitans cause people to become plurilingual. We see people solving intercultural communicative problems in major cosmopolitans of the world by using multiple languages collaboratively. Plurilingual competence refers to the ability of individuals to switch from one language to another for the sake of having effective and optimized communication with their interlocutors or listeners. Plurilingualism is a social necessity in a modern global village. This concept of plurilingualism is gaining popularity. It appears to be a new occurence in the world. But, there have been plurilingual people throughout human history. Actually, some people are explorers by nature. They want to know about diverse cultures and want to learn new languages. It adds to their qualification as professionals and gives them fun and energy as inhabitants of the global village. They appear to have special inbuilt capacity for learning new languages. Learning new languages becomes an addiction with them. Hazem Sobhi Kamal is one of them.

He was born in New Cairo city, Egypt in 1985. He spent his early life in Egypt. In his early youth he and his friends used to frequent the North coast of Egypt ( Al saheel Al Shamali) and Marsa Matroh, (especially a beach called Agiba, which means wonderful).He remembers these days as the most halcyon days of his life. But, then the sudden deaths of his two friends in horrible car accidents filled his life with grief and sorrow. 

His friends were full of life and had high ambitions but how secretly death took them away, he wonders.   Their deaths gave him great lessons about the transience of life. Then, he moved to Bahrain.

These days he is in Bahrain and works as Sales Engineer at EPC, Oil & Gas sector – ENERGYA CABLES INTL in Bahrain. His job involves having interaction with people who speak different languages. Learning and speaking different languages has introduced him to a new world. He is well versed in various Arabic dialects such as Egyptian Arabic, Khaleeji Arabic, Levantine Arabic and Eastern Arabic. He has learnt these dialects of Arabic from ordinary native speakers of these dialects and not through formal learning. 

He has also learnt non-Arabic languages. He says that ‘English enjoys the status of second language in Egypt. Multinational companies and organizations use English for communication. So, I learnt English.' Learning the English language has introduced him to non-Arabic foreign culture.  Then, he learnt German eight years ago when he was in Egypt. After learning German, he began to learn French. He says, ‘I am planning, God willing, to finish DELF B2 in French (Professional certificate, as ILETS in English) and then Spanish ( CELE ) afterwards ’. He can also speak Japanese.  He also plans to learn Mandarin. He says that he never wastes any opportunity of learning a new language or learning new words and storing them in his existing plurilingual repository.  These different languages serve different social purposes for him . Some are used as medium of instruction; some are used with colleagues and friends, while others are used with clients. He says that he does not have full mastery in French, German and Japanese. His proficiency in these languages varies from language to language but he can manage to interact with the native speakers of these languages. I asked him how he manages when has to listen to words he does not know. He says, ‘Well, you have to be pragmatic and creative and  understand things  from the context of the dialogue’. I asked him what he gets by learning new languages. He says, ‘language is everything; it is a window to other cultures. For example, grammar of foreign languages tells us how different cultures have different concepts of time and how they divide time differently. In addition, languages tell us how cultures look at things, for example, French appears to be a very irrational language with regard to numbers: ‘twenty’ in French is vingt  and  ‘eighty’ in French is quatre  vingt  which means ‘four twenties ’. This appears to be ridiculous when we compare it with Arabic or English words for the same number.

He says that the Internet helps a lot in learning foreign languages. There are language learning sites which can help you learn different aspects and systems of a language. He says, ‘I am downloading a lot of French songs documentaries  and movies about the Renaissance, the French revolution, Napoleon and other events , aspects and figures of French history and culture. I have some Algerian clients who were born and brought up in France. So, they don’t know Algerian dialect of Arabic or Berber language. I have to communicate with them in French’.

 I was inquisitive about the genetic background of this natural knack or aptitude for languages. He says that his mother can speak English and French very well. He says, ‘since my childhood I have been in situations in which multiple languages were used. Even these days, when I am with my colleagues and clients, there are situations where I have to use multiple languages in one and the same situation. I have to switch from one language to another.

He does not have narrow views. He considers himself a citizen of the world. He lost his two Arabic speaking friends in Egypt in accidents but his plurilingualism has won him many friends from different nations of the world.

I said to him, ‘Which language do you like most?’ He said,   Of all the languages that I have learnt, I like most the language of love’. He has recently got engaged. He talks to his fiancé or wife-to-be in Egypt on the phone. He is beginning to feel the sensations of love.  While his plurilingualism helped him discover a new world of multiple cultures, love for his fiancé has helped him discover a heart and his soul in his own being in a new way.

Young and tender hearts,
Filled with hopes and dreams,
Of building up a future,
Together as a team,
Always look to God,
For He holds you both,
Faith is your foundation,
With love, peace and hope.


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