Many Languages, One World


What would the world look like if there is only one language? Some might say– it would be a perfect place and eradicate parochial attitude while some might say we could talk with no restrictions and there would be no misunderstandings, and others would say it would be so boring.

For me, it would be so boring and we would all be thinking in the same way, and there would be less diversity, and therefore less creativity in the world. More conflicts would occur more than the current ones we are encountering across the globe. We would never appreciate each other, we would never tolerate each other, and we would never welcome diversity in all forms.

This paper explains the ideas of global citizenship and explores the role of multilingual ability in fostering it.


There are many concepts and ideas of “Global Citizenship”. Many scholars and institutions have defined and discussed the ideas behind it, and there are many critics, too.

Global citizenship is the status to admit that one does not belong to a particular country, working selflessly to defend humanity as a whole. It is to accept and respect other people who do not share the same nationality as yours. Being a global citizen is to tolerate other people’s ideology and philosophy including their languages, cultures, customs, religions, and traditions. For me, this is enough for a young mind to assimilate and understand easily.

I was born and brought up in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, where many tribes and different ethnic groups across the country travelled to Lagos to make ends meet. There are more than 250 ethnic groups and there are also over 500 languages in Nigeria, [1] and Lagos is a home for many ethnic groups. Having grown up in Nigeria for 20 years, I cannot categorically consider myself a global citizen in spite of the diversity in Nigeria. A global citizen needs to travel beyond its country, learn other people’s language and understand the way of life of other people that is different from his.

An institution in the United States defines what being a global citizen mean on its website and it goes thus: To be a global citizen, one is knowledgeable of peoples, customs and cultures in regions of the world beyond one’s own; understands the interdependence that holds both promise and peril for the future of the global community; and is committed to combining one’s learning with a dedication to foster a liveable, sustainable world. [2]

Global citizenship has its place in education, human rights, mobility, and global awareness. That is, the ability to be able to migrate to any place of one’s choice, thinking beyond one’s national background, treating others equally ,and feeling responsible for others wherever they are.


Having defined the ideas and understanding of global citizenship above, there are qualities that a global citizen must possess. Below are the qualities a case study states:


  • Open minded/open to other ways of thinking
  • Culturally sensitive
  • Non-judgmental
  • Respective
  • View everyone as equal
  • Willing to help others
  • Well-educated/information seeking
  • Participate in advocacy work
  • Awareness
  • Practice cultural relativism
  • Well-traveled (some participants explicitly said this was not a necessary quality)
  • Accepting
  • Good listener
  • Positive – “need to believe change is possible”
  • Possess a strong cultural background of one’s own
  • Ability to think in terms of communities
  • Critical thinker
  • Impartial
  • Compassionate
  • Possess a “deeply rooted feeling of responsibility to others”
  • Recognize one’s own lens
  • Humility [3]

All the above mentioned qualities are embedded in a global citizen with multilingual ability.


The 21st century has presented us with opportunities to be able to connect to each other and learn other people’s language easily. There are more than 7000 living languages in the world as of today. [4]To have another language is to possess a second soul.” says Charlemagne. I agree with Charlemagne on this quote because one who possesses more than one language could live anywhere other than his home country. The ability to speak and understand other people’s language makes one to be more tolerant than others who are monolingual. It also reduces prejudices, misunderstandings, and misconceptions of intent. I cannot consider any one who is monolingual a full global citizen. For without understanding other people’s language, there will be some elements of misunderstanding which could break one of the qualities of being a global citizen.


I have been studying in the Ukraine now for the past 5 years and I have also traveled to other European countries like Poland and Germany, which has made me to understand people more than before. My interaction with other nationalities during my studies and travels has made me to be an open-minded person. I don’t judge people’s character based on their nationalities rather I dialogue, discuss, and hear their views about the world. If I don’t understand their language, I will be very afraid to contact them, I will be very defensive and angry if they are talking and laughing on their own even though, they are not talking about me. And, even they are talking about me; I can reply them back and correct any misconceptions they had about me in the first place. The ability to understand other foreign language is very vital in order to play the role of global citizenship.

A polyglot is very open minded because with the ability of speaking more than one language he is able to conceive the truth as what it is pertaining to other nationalities, he is able to defend other nationalities anywhere because he knows and understand their language. For him to understand their language, he has access to understand the nature of the people whose language he studied. This makes him a free-man, a global citizen. He doesn’t think his country is superior over others; he is ready to learn from other nationalities and tolerate them as much as he can and that is one of the roles of language in fostering global citizenship.


Understanding other people’s language makes one to be non-judgmental. How? A comical incident happened to a friend who lives and studies in Germany. He had lived and studied in the Ukraine for 5 years before leaving for Germany. He speaks Yoruba, English, Russian, and now learning German in Germany. While he was doing some shopping in a store, a kid pointed to him speaking Russian language, “Mama, see; why is he black?” My friend chuckled and replied him, “I am just black.” The kid was surprised that he could understand what he was saying. His mom and the kid both laughed and they asked my friend where he learned Russian language. The kid also understands German language, too. After the incident, my friend was wondering if he didn’t understand what the kid said, he could have thought the kid was chanting hatred words to him, he could have thought the kid is a racist. But, after many years in the Ukraine, he understood the curiosity of children asking their parents why black men are black. Language matters for someone who considers himself a global citizen because it makes him understand people better, and able to study them. Due to the multilingual ability of my friend, he understands the world more than it is, he is not being judgmental, but instead; he replied in a comfortable funny way.


Respect is very important in our daily dealings with people.  So how can multilingual ability make someone to respect others than the rest? A polyglot has the cultural insight of a community and he knows how respect is been perceived there. How Nigerians view respect is different from how the Ukrainians or Americans view it. Although, there is a general view and perspective of respect all over the world, but each country has its own view of it, too. In Nigeria, we don’t call elders by their first name and it is very rude to do so. But, if an American comes to Nigeria or an American who understands my native language, Yoruba, he will quickly apply the same rule of respect because he knows and understands my language and of course, he is not a monolingual.


Whatever language we speak—English, Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, or Arapaho— helps to define us personally and identify the community we belong to. But the fact that we can talk at all, the fact that we have a language, is inextricably bound up with our humanity. To be human is to use language, and to talk is to be a person. [5]

For the fact that someone acknowledges that to be able to speak a language is to be human automatically means that, one will be more compassionate to others who doesn’t speak one’s language. It’s a recognition that one must care and cater for others in spite of one’s language differences. Some monolinguals can be exceptional in this, but those who understand more than one language will appreciate and show more compassion by talking to others in the language they most cherished and loved.


The peoples of the world are one people, enriched by individual differences, united by the common bond of humanity. The diversity of the Global Community is its greatest strength; understanding and respect are its greatest gifts. [6]

As the biologist and author Lewis wrote: The gift of language is the single human trait that marks us all genetically, setting us apart from the rest of life. Language is, like nest-building or hive-making, the universal and biologically specific of human beings. We engage in it communally, compulsively, and automatically. We cannot be human without it, if we were to be separated from it our minds would die, as surely as bees lost from the hive. [7]

My journey to the Ukraine gave me more exposure and understanding to view the world better than when I was in Nigeria. Living and studying with the Ukrainians and other nationalities has given me more insights to other people’s culture and customs. My perspective of the world now is totally different; I am more tolerant, non-judgmental, open-minded, impartial, positive thinking, and more compassionate than before. With the languages I understand, I can relate with people all over the world and this is why multilingual ability is very important in global citizenship.



  1. There are more than 250 ethnic groups and there are also over 500 languages in Nigeria

  1. — Santa Monica College definition of Global Citizenship, adopted 2008

  1. Global Citizenship Perspectives: A Case Study of the WUSC International Seminar

Table Two: Qualities of a Global Citizen………………………………………………..13

  1. Languages of the World

  1. John Algeo “The Origins and Development of the English Language” p. 44
  2. Global Citizens Network’s philosophy

  1. John Algeo (Lives of a Cell 89) “The Origins and Development of the English Language “ p.44

I wrote this paper for the U.N last year, but didn’t submit it because it was required that I write it in one of U.N languages other than English.

MOAB © 2013



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