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English Plus One

Stephen Fry celebrates bilinguals' life stories and discovers the bonuses of bilingualism.

Bilinguals have big advantages. Those who are bilingual from birth acquire human empathy earlier and all bilinguals have advantages that go beyond language skills. Stephen delights in the stories of different bilinguals ranging from 4 year-old Luca, becoming fluent in English and French simultaneously, to 70 year old Barry Davis, bilingual in Yiddish and English. Stephen talks to him about how he uses his skill as an interpreter helping members of the London Chasidic community, many of whom have English as a second language.

In between, meet teenager Francesco in Rome who lives in a bilingual family but gets most of his English from the internet. Also there's Berliner Juliane, who learnt her English on an Arkansas rodeo and is a subtitler/translator currently working on MTV's challenging reality show Geordie Shore. And hear how Aatif Nawaz, bilingual comedian and Islam Channel chat show host, enjoys the way a multilingual audience laughs.

Bilingualism isn't that rare and bilinguals, according to new research, are often more attentive and better at decisionmaking. Antonella Sorace, Professor of Developmental Linguistics at Edinburgh University and a world authority, says there's no such thing as the perfect bilingual - one language always dominates, albeit slightly. She's bilingual in English and Italian, the latter surfacing when she gets cross.

There are downsides, but they tend to come from monolinguals' perceptions of bilinguals. People who speak the language of one place perfectly and then reveal they come from another place can make others feel deceived.

Producer: Nick Baker
A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

28 minutes

Last on

Tue 1 Sep 2015 21:30