Inspirational quotes about language and multilingualism

1 Feb 2013

A list of some of my favourite quotes about language and multilingualism. When you need a little inspiration or moral booster, these are perfect to inspire and motivate you. 

Language quotes

One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die. Evelyn Waugh

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
James D. Nicoll

In the lives of individuals and societies, language is a factor of greater importance than any other. For the study of language to remain solely the business of a handful of specialists would be a quite unacceptable state of affairs. 

C’est dans et par le langage que l’homme se constitue comme sujet.
Emile Benveniste

Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The individual's whole experience is built upon the plan of his language.
Henri Delacroix

There is in every child a painstaking teacher, so skilful that he obtains identical results in all children in all parts of the world. The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!
Maria Montessori

One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.
Frank Smith

Do you know what a foreign accent is? A sign of bravery.
Amy Chua

Multilingualism quotes

Many Americans have long been of the opinion that bilingualism is ‘a good thing’ if it was acquired via travel (preferably to Paris) or via formal education (preferably at Harvard) but that it is a ‘bad thing’ if it was acquired from one’s immigrant parents or grandparents.

It makes as much sense to ask your doctor for advice about bilingualism as it would to ask him about your car.
Harding and Riley

To have another language is to possess a second soul.

Apprendre une autre langue, c'est comme le commencement d'une autre vie.
Michel Bouthot

If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
Nelson Mandela

One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.
Frank Smith

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And if in doubt, remember this one:

There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.
Unknown author

Which one is your favourite? Do you have another one I could add to my list (even if it is not in English)? Please do share.


  1. Annabelle, I like this collection of quotes very much. Fishman's observation about the American opinion of bilingualism (though it's hopefully changing now!) is thought-provoking. My mother, in fact, acquired Finnish as a child, from her immigrant parents, but it wasn't maintained as she grew older and I suspect that unfortunate "American opinion" had something to do with it.

    Arigato for this post (and for mentioning me)!


    1. You are right Adam. While the quote is a bit of a stereotype, I think it is still the case, to a lesser extent, on a lot of western countries.

  2. Is there a reliable source for that Charlemagne quote? I love it, but it doesn't ring true to the time period.

    1. I think it would be really difficult to find a reliable source for Charlemagne. You may be right though.

  3. Hi there, I like the last one the best. A smile always works if you're at a loss for words no matter what the native language is. Happy New Year!


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