19 days ago

Pursuing multilingual skills

Illustrative image — Collected
Illustrative image — Collected

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Learning more than one language in addition to the mother tongue is not a luxury at all. It is always a necessary skill that helps expand the horizon of knowledge. English is the second but essential language to learn besides Bangla in the country. Then there are languages like Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish that many, especially youths, are used to learning mainly for academic and career purposes. A few also try to learn for pleasure. Thanks to virtual tools and online tutors, learning these or other languages becomes easier. There are some language learning and training institutions in the country where people can learn their preferred languages methodically.

It is interesting to note that a growing number of elementary-level school children are now learning a third language, mostly using online language applications. Middle and high school students watch television dramas and movies in various languages that help them develop some linguistic skills. Korean dramas and films have gained vast popularity in the country over the past few years.

Exposure to popular Hindi movies and television channels in Bangladesh also provides an opportunity to learn the language. So, it is not surprising that many in the country have developed essential communication skills in the language. They can easily understand and talk in Hindi, although reading and writing are an altogether different proposition. The skill helps many people in their business and trade when they need to communicate with Indians and even Pakistanis, as Urdu is a sister language of Hindi. The former uses Arabic-Persian script, while the latter uses Devnagri.

In some madrasas in Bangladesh, students learn Urdu besides Arabic. Some families also have a long tradition of communicating in Urdu among themselves. A select band of higher educational institutions like the University of Dhaka have Arabic, Urdu and Persian departments offering higher studies in these languages and literatures.

Learning Arabic for religious purposes is common in Bangladesh. Madrasas and some schools teach students Arabic. So, many have also developed skills in regular communication, reading and writing in Arabic.

A large number of non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) living and working in Middle Eastern Arab countries also have a good command of Arabic. They have attained the skill by learning and practising it on the job, mostly without institutional training.

It is important to encourage the learning of a third language for various reasons. A large number of people go overseas for their livelihoods. Most of them do not get a chance for basic training in the language of the country or region they land. So, they struggle more to be familiar with a new language, culture and society. Having some primary command of the language makes it helpful to get accustomed to the challenging environment.

A strong command of the third language also contributes to expanding trade in various regions. The local language helps explore market potential by communicating better with the local people.

Again, a third language also opens an opportunity to guide foreign travellers and tourists from non-English-speaking countries. For instance, many people from China frequently travel to Bangladesh, mostly for business. Having some essential skills in Mandarin allows one to easily communicate with them.  

It is said that knowing a language means knowing a culture, society and people. In the globalised world, there is no scope to be confined within a limited communication boundary. By developing multilingual skills, one can know what others are doing and how they are advancing. The state needs to patronise development of multilingual skills in a planned manner.

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