To me there is no doubt that being bilingual can only be beneficial for you. Some people have challenged my view and asked me to write about situations that would have been easier had I been monolingual. Right. Hmm. OK, for the sake of balance it is only fair to take on this challenge and tell you about situations where I (for a split second only) have thought “Oh, I wish I didn’t know this language!” … so here goes:
Overhearing discussions that are not meant for anyone else
You are more likely to experience this if you know a language that is fairly unusual in your environment. It has happened to me many times, especially on public transport. Often I have been unable to move away so not to have to share the experience, which was clearly not meant for my ears. There you are with the conundrum whether to make the others aware that you can actually understand their discussion and thereby potentially embarrass, upset or anger them; or just sit there and listen to how someone describes something awful/disgusting/illegal/you-name-it that you rather did not know.
Understanding other’s comments
Similar to the previous situation, but here what is spoken is about yourself, your family or the company you are in. This can easily happen if you do not look like a typical speaker of a particular language. As you may be aware, I have gained a passive understanding of basic Punjabi. This was particularly interesting when I spent some time in India and was able to comprehend comments when I was out on town. These situations were mostly funny, but there were some instances I rather would not have known what was said.
“You know German, can you quickly translate this article about liquid-propellant rockets for me”
Yes, I know German and Yes, I do translations, but No, I can’t quickly do the translation for you. And Yes, I would actually expect you to pay me for the translation. That you know a language does not mean that you can rustle up a translation in no time. To translate something properly, you have to know your subject (I don’t know anything about liquid-propellant rockets!) I am sure I speak on behalf of all bilinguals when I say that we are proud of our languages and do not like to produce anything substandard, so if we translate we want it to be good. Don’t take me wrong, I don’t mind helping anyone with a couple of sentences here and there – but for a longer translations with special terminology, please pay someone to do it for you, don’t rely on your bilingual friends.
Those were the situations I could come up with – so nothing too much to complain about really. Certainly these inconveniences do not in any way measure up to all the positive reasons why I am truly thankful for my languages.
Have you ever experienced anything along these lines?
PS I have no idea whether ducks and swans can understand each other’s language …