Old Money Essential: The Second Language

One of the characteristics often found in the Old Money culture is the presence of a second language. (Note my reluctance to use the term ‘foreign language.’)

The value in learning and using a second language, especially for Americans who often live in an English-only world, is invaluable for numerous reasons.

Not only are there increased career opportunities for bilingual or multilingual employees and entrepreneurs: a new language enriches a person beyond measure. There’s the chance to not only communicate with a new demographic: there’s the chance to understand another culture. “Another language is another world,” so the saying goes.

There are also tangible psychological benefits. When you learn a new language, as I’m doing right now with Italian (still awful) and French (worse than awful), your brain is stimulated. You must listen. You must put an unfamiliar group of sounds and words into a logical context and make sense out of it. Doctors recommend learning a new language as you get older to improve and maintain mental health.

What’s more, as it scrambles your brain and you scramble to understand and respond in a new tongue, you become more humble, more patient, and more empathetic: you know how non-English-speaking immigrants coming to America must feel.

There are more shallow considerations. In even modestly elevated social circles in countries and cultures outside the United States, speaking only one language can instantly put you in a certain category of being, let’s say, a little provincial. For me, personally, it becomes embarrassing when I’m at a dinner table full of multilingual people and they’re all accommodating you by speaking only in English.

This motivates me even more to hit the Rosetta Stone, learn the verbs and vocabulary, and push on when it feels like the blood is going to ooze from my forehead if I have to think of another word in another language.

But, c’est la vie.

  • BGT







9 thoughts on “Old Money Essential: The Second Language

  1. I work at a university and have students working for me from around the world. I am so impressed by their ability to come and excel at university, which is a difficult task in your first tongue. To do so in a second language has to be beyond difficult. Recently I had two young women working for me that each spoke three languages. When they spoke to me it was in English. When they spoke to each other it was in Hindi. I asked once if that was the language they spoke at home (one lived in northern India and the other in Tibet). The answer was no. And they are perceived by many Americans as less than intelligent because of an accent. Crazy!

    1. Thank you, Janet. I also marvel at the ability of people to learn new subjects, at a very demanding level, in another language. And a good point to reserve judgment on people because of their accents. What comes out of someone’s mouth is much more important than the way it comes out of their mouth. – BGT

  2. I became interested in learning learning languages after reading a Spanish writer . I figured if the language was so beautiful in English, the original had to be even more so., and that was correct.
    Byron, since you like to read you might consider getting a novel or essays,and a good Italian dictionary and translate a few passages every day. That’s how a literary translator got her start .She makes it a point to learn a new language every 7 years.
    Between that and watching films, listening to lectures, and TV programs ( to understand what’s going on around you when on the streets) you’ll learn quickly. Be careful with newscasts because the grammar is not always as up to snuff.
    You should be ready to celebrate the carnival in Italy by next year.;)

    1. Thank you, Mary. Good advice and much appreciated. I did start a novel by Flaubert, but it was translated From French to English. It didn’t resonate at all.

      Television and the daily newspapers have been a big help in the learning process. I think structured classes are in my future to really nail this thing down. Fascinating story about the translator! – BGT

  3. I am raising my children to be bilingual and it has its challenges as I was raised only speaking English. My wife speaks Portuguese fluently as that was her first language so she speaks primarily to them in Portuguese. When we eventually visit Portugal where my in laws are from, then my children will possess a great asset. I will struggle but I will know that I did right by my children despite the challenges. As an OM value, being bilingual is a necessity. My ancestry is from Italy and only spoke English in the house. My great grandmother spoke Italian and so did my grandfather, but everyone after spoke exclusively English because that is “American.” How foolish and a disadvantage to me. My children will be better off because I am changing the course. Lesson well learned.

    1. Good for you, Dario. Your children are going to have so many advantages.

      In a few years, we’ll meet in Porto, and enjoy a great glass of port. While everyone else is speaking Italian or Portuguese with ease, we can huddle in a corner, nod like we understand, and take comfort with our beverage…and our English. (Wink, nod.)

      Thanks for sharing. – BGT

  4. How timely this post it, as learning a second language is something I have challenged myself with this year.

    My Mother is a Danish national who moved to England when she was four years old. Back then they actively encouraged my Grandparents to stop speaking to her in Danish so that her English would improve and she could get on better at school. It’s such a shame because this meant I was never exposed to what should have naturally become my second, if not first language. It’s most awkward at passport control, holding that Danish passport and not being able to speak a word of it!

    Determined to learn Danish this year – its probably more of a necessity as I plan to retire in Denmark.

    Just to add, I also think it is useful to study and broaden your knowledge of your first language too. A challenging crossword is brilliant for expanding the vocabulary.

    1. Excellent points, Alena. You have my admiration and best wishes on your endeavors with Danish! Keep us posted on the progress and the resources you find along the way. I know everyone would be interested to know which programs and methods seem to be effective. Thanks much. – BGT

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