Literacy: Language Competence Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Literacy: Language Competence Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Someone monolingual is one who speaks one language. Someone bilingual is fluent in two languages, trilingual is fluent in three languages and someone multilingual is fluent in multiple languages.

Speaking one language connects us to other speakers and the culture of that language. We are able to communicate, discuss and learn of different perspective through face to face interactions, literature, books, blog posts, newspaper or journal articles, videos, images and other online resources

It is not a secret that being bilingual or mulitlingual has its benefits. From being better at multi-tasking, decision making, sharper reasoning, holding off the onset of Alzheimer and being able to see or read about situations from a different perspective or cultural point of view . Larry Ferlazzo has in incredible resource page if you want to learn more about the advantages of being bilingual or multilingual.

Especially in the age of global business, the value of employees being able to speak more than one language has increasingly been highlighted over the last few years by pointing out that multilingual employees earn more money and have “practical benefits in a globalized economy“.

Reality is though, that many American are monolingual. With many foreign language programs in the US being delayed (until students are older), reduced or directly cut, not everyone is or will be bilingual in the foreseeable future in the US. Unfortunately many still don’t see the personal need for a native English speaker to go outside their language capability (Why? Examples: “I have everything I need in my language”. “I don’t travel much to countries who don’t speak English”. “I expect everyone else to speak English”.)

I am continuing to examine how the concept of what literacy has been and is continuing to evolve. Does literacy include a certain degree of language competence beyond our native comfort zone?

How can a monolingual still take advantage of gaining multiple perspectives, amplified resources and be part of a global conversation?

In dem Google Zeitalter, ist es einfacher als je, trotz Sprachunterschiede und Beherrschungsgrad zu kommunizieren und miteinander zu lernen. Es is wichtig Sprachfertigkeiten im digitalen Zeitalter zu erweitern, um Perspektiven und Zusammenhänge ausserhalb seiner Sprachkenntnisse zu sehen und erkunden zu können.

Interested in what the quote above said? Why not copy and paste the above into Google Translate and find out in what language it was written in and what it means?

Three things need to happen:

1. Monolinguals need to be AWARE of one-language limitations, the options open to them as well as the need and benefits by extending their available resources, voices, opinions in languages OTHER THAN their mother tongue.

2. Ability to use tools, which will simulate as best as possible the logistical language translation component of being multilingual (I am not aware of a technology yet, that will “translate” the cultural component of being able to speak another language)

3. Increased fluency in using and switching between situation-appropriate tools to understand and communicate in a variety of languages

In case, you continued reading and did not choose to have your browser, website or app translate the quote in German above, here is the translation side by side.

While it is not a perfect translation, I believe Google Translate did a decent job in communicating the meaning of the quote. One would realize that a native speaker did not write it, but for the purpose of understanding content, Google Translate can be an invaluable tool to amplify one’s reach outside of one’s comfort language.

How far are monolinguals developing the skills of reading text in languages other than English and for comprehension in their own language ,when the text came digitally translated? Is this a natural skill all monolinguals possess or one that needs to be practiced and developed similar to the way younger students are being taught?

What will it take for all of us (monolinguals and multilinguals) to REGULARLY and FLUENTLY go beyond the comfort zone of our native languages and tap into the resources of the network of speakers of other languages?


  • raise awareness of expanding our language horizon to our readers
  • break down skills of using tools to overcome “not speaking the language” the article is written in
  • ask yourself, how do we translate these language competence into our classrooms?



cross posted at

Silvia Tolisano is a Curriculum21 faculty member, author of the book Digital Storytelling Tools for Educators and founder of the Around the World with 80 Schools project. Read more at