I grew up bilingual — speaking English at home with my British parents and Afrikaans at school. I can actually speak passable Dutch and German as well. I find it interesting, having moved to Britain, that this is seen as unusual since I had many friends at school who were completely fluent in 6 or 7 different languages. After all, in South Africa we have 11 national languages to choose from!

Growing up in the Western Cape, there were a number of interesting effects of the majority of people speaking multiple languages. For a start, if someone seemed to be struggling in one language, the polite thing for the other person to do was just to swap into their native tongue, where possible. Equally, you quickly learnt that there were some concepts that were just more powerfully described in one language over another. As a result, you’d just use the best terms from the best language available — resulting in a hybrid mish-mash of the different languages.

Personally, this is what I think the true value of multilingualism is. It’s about more than just understanding different words for the same concept — it’s about understanding the different concepts that exist, that possibly cannot even be articulated in your home language. This social bilingualism gives you a base-level understanding of the differences between cultures and an appreciation for the value diversity can bring.