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What’s it like to be bilingual?

guten tag bonjour hola hello
igor levin

Almost half the people in the world speak at least two languages. And, it turns out, that includes a lot of But Why listeners! In this episode we talk about what it’s like to speak multiple languages and kids from around the world share phrases in many different languages so we can all learn something new! Plus, linguist and professor Anna Babel answers questions we’ve gotten about languages, including: What does it mean to be bilingual? Why do some people speak two or three languages? How many languages can someone learn?

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • To be bilingual means you speak two languages fluently.
  • There are different ways to be bilingual. Some people speak two languages regularly and can switch back and forth between the two. Other people might use one language in certain situations and will speak their other language in other situations, for example someone might speak Spanish at school and English at home. 
  • There isn’t a limit to how many languages a person can speak. It’s not uncommon for people to speak three or four languages - especially if they live in a multilingual country. 
  • A polyglot is someone who speaks five or more languages. 
  • It seems to be easier for kids to learn a new language than for adults. Linguist Anna Babel says, “Some people think it's because kids' brains are just better at learning new things. And some people have said that around 11,12,13, is kind of a sharp cutoff point when you can't learn new languages as well as you did when you were younger. Other people think it's just because kids have more time. They often have more access because they're spending seven or eight hours a day at school or with caretakers that speak the language.”
  • People often learn and maintain languages best when they're using them to talk to other people. 
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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