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A recent article by Dewaele and Wei (231) regarding the relationship between multilingualism and personality has attracted my attention. In the article, the researchers state that tolerance of ambiguity is the tendency of an individual to see ambiguous situations as desirable or positive.
They used a survey of more than 2,000 individuals in examining the relationship between the two phenomena. In their findings, the researchers argue that monolinguals have a significantly low tolerance of ambiguity compared to the bilingual and multilingual people.
The authors admit that understanding more than three languages does not necessarily mean that an individual has a high tolerance of ambiguity. However, high scores of tolerance for ambiguity are associated with high proficiency. In their conclusion, Dawaele and Wei state that there are several psychological benefits for the people who speak more than one language, especially in language learning, especially in a person’s later life.
I think the article can change our ideas about the acquisition of foreign languages because most of us think that learning a foreign language is a waste of time and resources.
Personal conversation stream
I think the argument here is somewhat logical. Let us consider two main situations: understanding a foreign language due to social and cultural circumstance and understanding a new language due to personal efforts.
Here in Canada, we learn both French and English because of the prevailing social, cultural and geographical circumstances. Our children must learn the two languages because they live in a society where both French and English are national languages. On the other hand, learning a foreign language such as Spanish, Chinese or Arabic is rare in our country.
People with some knowledge of a foreign language are considered to be elites. I think this is true because these elites are able to integrate with foreign communities and adapt more quickly than us, because we only understand one or two languages.
In my opinion, multilingual individuals are able to live within foreign communities or in foreign countries without struggling to communicate. I think they can tolerate the social and cultural aspects of a foreign group of people because they understand what most of the foreign cultural aspects mean. How does the understanding of a foreign language help one fit in a new environment?
We should understand that language is the main social aspect that fosters understanding and the people’s ability to live with each other. While living in Japan in the 1990s, I realized the disadvantages associated with the lack of an understanding of local languages. Without knowledge of the Japanese language, I found it difficult to appreciate the social and cultural aspects of society. In particular, communication in the country was purely in the local language.
For example, I found it difficult to appreciate the local cuisine and entertainment. The cultural norms in Japan looked ambiguous to me. I think this is what Dewaele and Wei (233) were considering when studying a person’s ability to appreciate ambiguous things. I admired my colleagues who had some understanding of the Japanese language because they were able to fit in the new society.
Therefore, I think the article by Dewaele and Wei (234) attempts to describe some of the problems I experienced in Japan. This shows the existence of a strong link between tolerance of ambiguous things and knowledge of a foreign language (Dewaele and Li Wei 237).
In my opinion, a person with some understanding of a local language is likely to find some of the social and cultural things in a foreign country awkward or abnormal. If the person has no understanding of the people’s language, his level of appreciating the culture is likely to be low. On the other hand, if a person understands the foreign language, he is likely to appreciate the meaning of most of the cultural and social aspects of the community. Therefore, I agree with Dewale and Wei’s article.
Dewaele, Jean-Marc and Li Wei. ‘Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?’ Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 16.1 (2013): 231-240. Print