I have been asked this question many times and usually the answer I give is: because I like it! But the other day talking to one of my friends about the bilingual and multilingual speakers and why it happens, I realized that most everyone has a very interesting story behind. I decided to ask people some questions but will start with my own answers:
1) Why do you speak more than one language?
2) How many languages do you speak and to what degree?
3) When, where and why did you learn your first non-native language?
4) Why other languages and in what order?
5) What language would you like/do you think you will learn next?
And my answers are:
1) Why do you speak more than one language? Because I like it! But seriously, because I enjoy learning languages: the process and the resulting ability to communicate and consume knowledge in other languages.
2) How many languages do you speak and to what degree? I currently speak Russian (native) , English (native fluent), French (fluent but rusty), Spanish (conversational), German (understand a lot but speak just as a beginner now), Italian (understand a lot speak just useful phrases), Japanese (beginner, used to be intermediate but it's dying off due to lack of practice).
3) When, where and why did you learn your first non-native language? I started with English at the age of 9 at my elementary school in Russia. Probably would have never been interested in languages if not for my choir. We sang in all languages (from what I can remember: Italian, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, but I am sure there were more). That was my real introduction to languages (also met my first AWESOME teacher - my choir master). My first trip abroad (at 14) was also with my choir to Germany (I only spoke English then, low-intermediate level) and with the general culture shock came the realization that my English was horrible and not enough to talk to people and have fun. So I started taking English lesson with a private tutor (another teacher on my AWESOME teachers list) who got me to a great level, so I passed my entrance exams to the University with flying colors and then continued studying English at the University. My first trip to an English speaking country was at the age of 20. All of my teachers before were Russian native speakers and taught me British English. I ended up in Southern Arkansas and had to re-learn a lot (British English vs.southern US - I am sure you can imagine it felt like a different language).
4) Why other languages and in what order? In my university as part of curriculum you would study a second language and with my major I had to take German as my second language. It started the second year of school. But I was not too fond of German at that time (a lot more fond of it now),and I was in love with Spanish and French just I could not wait a whole year to start studying another language. So - I signed up to to take additional classes of Spanish in my first year as a paid course (I was on scholarship and was not paying for my classes otherwise). Then the second year I started German as I was supposed to (one of my least favorite teachers there...so German still was not fun for me), so the summer after my second year I took an immersion course in French (2 months) and then went on a trip to France where I started using it and loved it! So my third year I was doing English and German as major and minor, Spanish as an additional course at the University and French classes at the French Cultural Center with native speakers (too much fun!). During that time I visited Spain and France several times, and the next summer I decided to learn some Italian. Just because I thought it was lovely. Took a one month course and used it a little bit when we had a short trip to San Remo during our long trip to France. Then I had a long pause in new languages (due to the move to the US, getting married, finding a job in the US...) I started my last to date language (Japanese) when I was 28 - free language classes were a perk at the company I was working for. I wanted a challenge, something with a different script, different sounds, different grammar structure - exercise for the brain! Was about to go to Japan but baby number 1 came along and then came along number 2 and I still have not visited Japan. Right now just slowly forgetting everything
5) What language would you like/do you think you will learn next? The plan was to study Arabic - love the sound of that language and should be fun to have yet another script to learn. But could be Portuguese, just because I have recently been obsessed with Zumba and listen to a ton of songs in Brazilian Portuguese and have several friends from Brazil and it's so easy to learn (when you know Spanish and French) - so we'll see!
This blog post is by Anna Watt (born in Russia, also lived in France, currently living in the US), husband is American, kids: 3 yo speaks both English/Russian and 8 mo does not speak any languages yet!