Published in El Pais, 12 February 2022.
Approximately twenty-two years was the first time I arrived in Bolivia and my knowledge of Spanish was zero, I only spoke English and Dutch. I tried to speak in English, but very few people spoke English and most people had no idea what I was trying to say. Since my goal was to stay and live in Bolivia, I had no choice but to learn Spanish so I could interact and work.
A few days ago I began to teach the subject of international administration at the University of Cochabamba. I have a group of 25 students. As always in the first few minutes I ask if anyone has any problems if I teach the subject in English. Normally in the past, there were always one or two people, who told me that they did not speak English and, therefore, I should do the subject in Spanish. However, this time it was different. Everyone understood English and could follow the class in English. The advantage is that I have a text in Spanish and English, so students who do not understand certain details can always solve their doubts in an easy way in the text. I am very happy and impressed as these last years the new generation is preparing better for their life and possibilities.
The ability to speak multiple languages opens many doors. Not only to travel, work, or study abroad, but also to have more successful companies and organizations at the national level. When one speaks more than one language, it is easier to get customers or suppliers abroad. It also improves access to greater knowledge as many of the books, scientific articles, and news in general from the rest of the world are presented in English, for example. When a society can communicate in more than one language, it increases its innovation, productivity, the chances of ensuring success, and improves its access to everything.
Just as the formidable utility of a public official who speaks Quechua or Aymara perfectly can improve access to public services and reduce all barriers to access to all people who previously did not have the possibility of being understood by the language, knowledge of other languages improves access to the rest of the world.