Bilingualism Around The World: The Amazon To Siberia

by Jeffrey Nelson

Bilingualism isn't a rare phenomenon, in fact over 50% of the population of Earth is bilingual according to most estimates. It isn't something that is regularly tracked, however, so it makes it a bit tough to say definitively. However, whether it's 45% or 55%, the same truth remainds; it's not rare to speak more than one language in most places.

In fact, according to the Center For Applied Linguistics, there are actually many more children that are educated in more than one language than there are monolingual children. This is surprising, especially in light of the lack of government support, with only 25% or so of the roughly 200 countries in the world claiming to be bilingual and offering more than one national language.

Outside of the mainstream languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, German, etc ...) the other 5,975+ languages that make up the worlds lexicon are spoken more remotely. In India, for example, many people speak a tribal language, a local lingua franca, and then Hindi or one of the other mainstream and nationally recognized languages in India. This is more the rule than the exception, although it certainly fears foreign to most of us reading in this language.

The Amazon

The Amazon Rainforest is perhaps one of the most untouched places on the face of the planet. There is a tribe called the Pirahã who have a language that sounds like a whistling or humming sound. The reason they are unique is that they consider all other languages "crooked head" and inferior to their own. Most tribes discovered in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, which accounts for about 25% of the entire Rainforest, are indeed bilingual. The Pirahã, in this sense, are very unique.


While Siberia is still very Russian, they are currently taking steps to increase bilingualism as well. Interestingly enough, many native Russian speakers are quite bilingual. Other countries with that have native languages in the Slavic family are also very bilingual. Smaller countries like Slovakia speak Slovak as well as larger languages, like Russian. Ukranians speak Ukranian and Russian as well. In fact, one such country is estimated to be around 97% bilingual; that is incredible.

What Does It All Mean?

As I've advocated before, the growing level of immigrants and bilinguals throughout the world, as well as the shifting of world powers, leads us to a place where knowing more than one language is fairly important. While not everyone has the time or intention of learning another language, those of us who do should get a least a basic understanding of one or more other languages.

Certain languages are especially helpful in specific situations; in law, for example, depending on the type of lawyer you want to be, Spanish or perhaps an African language would be quite helpful. If you are studying business, languages like Chinese and Japanese (the #2 and #3 economies in the world) might be advantageous to getting you that leg up.

Multilingualism is here to stay, and we should embrace it whole-heartedly as we continue to learn more and more about our brains, how they work with regards to language, and find interesting gems within stories like the Pirahã of the Amazon.


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