If you’ve ever met any Japanese person, chance is they’ve fussed over your ability to speak at least 2 languages. Most people who live here would know the Japanese language as well to some level. And for Singaporeans, that would mean being able to speak 3 languages. When I was studying Japanese over 10 years ago, people tend to ask if I could speak Japanese, and I always said “no” even after 3 years of learning it. Today, I can say I speak Japanese and confidently say I speak it fluently.
But to many people, having studied a language for a few weeks is good enough to say you speak that language. I don’t understand why. I’ve been learning Korean for 1.5 years now, but I never tell people I speak Korean because I really don’t. I just know a few words and sentences to strike up a very basic conversation or write very simple email exchanges. Not too different from Thai and Spanish which I studied for 6 months each.
Occasionally, when my friends invite me for parties and very kindly introduce me to their friends, I’m always introduced as the guy who speaks 3 languages. It seems like a big deal for many Japanese people, but the truth is, tons of people speak 3 languages nowadays. I’ve met Japanese people who speak Japanese, English, and Mandarin, Japanese people who speak Japanese, English, and Russian, and even a Japanese who speaks Japanese, English, Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. So much so that even he doesn’t know how many languages he speaks, which made some of us suspect that he is a former spy. Perhaps as foreigners, we get to meet more people who are less the average language speaker, which is what makes it seem like a big deal for those who do not get to come in contact with such “linguists.”
Yesterday, a very kind business partner gave me a call regarding his acquaintance who operates a business that deals with Singapore. He thought that with the amount of languages I speak, I could be able to offer something for this acquaintance of his. I didn’t think much of it but told him to go ahead and provide my contact details. A few moments later, he called back and said, “Oh, everyone in his company speaks at least 3 languages.”
Exactly my point.