Places with the most multilingual people.

It’s a stereotype that people from the US only know one language. I know that there are several areas of the world where it is typical for individual people to fluently speak several languages.

Where in the world is it common for people to speak large numbers of languages fairly well? I’m talking about having lots of very multilingual people, rather than talking about areas where lots of languages are spoken, but the common person might only know one or two, such as NYC. For example, while Yiddish and Spanish appear to be spoken in NYC, they are typically spoken by different demographics as a primary language and so the number of NYC residents that speak both fluently or fairly well is probably fairly low, though I expect that the number of bilingual English/<other language> speakers is very high. E.g. there are probably lots of English/Spanish bilinguals and lots of English/Yiddish bilinguals, but few English/Spanish/Yiddish trilinguals.

Are there places in the world where you can expect the common person on the street to speak three languages fluently or, if not fluently, rather well? What about four languages? Five?

For example, can I land somewhere in Eastern Europe where the guy behind the lunch counter probably speaks fluent Polish, Russian, German, and English?

Lots of people I dealt with in Malta spoke Maltese, English and Italian. English thanks to British colonial rule. Italian thanks to proximity and getting a lot of television from Italy.

You probably have a good chance of that - depending on what you mean by fluency - in Belgium (Flanders at least) and Switzerland maybe. Of course there are always people who just speak the one language, but I think most people in the countries mentioned would speak a few.

Africa, in general, is famous for this. Most people (no cite, but this was mentioned by linguist John McWhorter in The Power of Babel) speak at least three languages: 1. The “tribal” language, spoken just in their part of their country, 2. The “national” African language of their country (or one of the several such), and 3. The language of the European country which formerly colonized the place. Many speak several examples of “1”, because they married into, or work with, people from another “tribe”.

Also, places which have been occupied by many different cultures over the centuries would tend to have speakers of multiple languages today. I once had a camp counselor who grew up in the part of Hungary that was near several national borders, and which was also once occupied by other groups (Turks? Russians? can’t recall exactly), so he spoke at least six languages pretty well.

In my experience bunches of Dutch people speak English with near flawless accents. It drops off quite a bit in the smaller villages, but it’s rare to meet a younger Dutch person who doesn’t speak English

Yes. It is typical for educated Dutch people under sixty to speak Dutch, and English rather well. They will usually speak a little bit of French or German, too. People in the border regions of the Netherlands will trade the fluency in English for a better fluency in the language of the adjoining region.
It is worth to mention that in addition to the above, Dutch Moroccan second generation immigrants will usually add to this the languages Morroccan and French, as that is the colonial language of Morocco. AND some Arabic.

My nephew-in-law, son of an Dutch Moroccan Immigrant, living in a border region with Germany, was an typical example of this. He spoke Dutch (and Dutch dialect); English learned in school and from the media; French from school and from his Dad’s knowledge of it; Moroccan as his dad taught hm and the vacations they took with his dad’s family; Arab from the Muslim Sunday School he attended in Holland; German because he lived so near the border.

So he spoke seven languages quite well. He now works for the European parliament where his language skills come in handy.

I myself am more typical in that I speak Dutch, Dutch dialect, English, some French and a bit of German (mostly passive).

South Africa. I believe they have 11 official languages.

There’s a lot of languages in South Africa, but I don’t think most of the English speaking South Africans I’ve met spoke Afrikaans or a native African language. Doesn’t India have about a billion official languages?

124, according to col. pickering.

I think a large region where people can afford to be monolingual is more the exception than the norm. Usually, there’s the local language (or dialect) and the national language, at the very least, but in areas that were colonized the third colonial language gets added, plus the world language for tourism / trade (usually English now) and the trade language if it abuts an area with a different regional language.

I think the bar has to be set at regions where people routinely know at least four languages. I can’t think of anyplace in Europe where that is the case, though I’ve certainly known individuals who do.

The OP might also want to think about what is a language. Do the Swiss German speakers get to count German as a separate language? Do Norwegians get to count Danish and Swedish? Do Galicians get to count Spanish, Galician, and Portuguese? (Because if they do, they might be a candidate: anyone speaking Galician and English probably has Spanish and Portuguese as well.)

Any area within broadcast range of the BBC is going to be fluent in English. The Dutch and Norwegians, for example, and the Norman French even though they won’t admit it.

There’s probably at least a weak correlation between the number of languages spoken within an X mile radius of a country and the multi-fluency of its inhabitants. Thus, northern and central Europe would, I’m speculating, show a high degree of multi-language competency.

In Germany, at least in the 1980’s it was require to take English and French, plus a 3rd language (no it didn’t make you fluent) and it seemed many took Russian as the 3rd (maybe they knew something we didn’t).

Most Dutch I’ve met are incredible English speakers, one couple I spent time with in Spain, while the guy spoke with a pretty heavy Germanic accent, the girl, I assumed she was an American for 6 months. She only displayed a typical Dutch accent when she was confused about something (mostly when we wee trying to figure out how to pronounce something in Spanish. We also had a Swiss girl, and having studied in the States she was also somewhat undetectable unless she was asking a question. Of course she was conversational French and Italian too, familiar with Romany.

There were a diverse group of eastern europeans, Georgia, Poland, Estonia, Russia, and of course they all just spoke Russian to each other.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the North Caucasus. About 18 million people, 50-some languages (depending on how you count what’s a language vs. dialect). Most people are at least functional in Russian, plus at least one semi-major regional language (like Azeri or maybe Avar or one of the Circassian languages, depending on where you are), and then possibly also a smaller, more local language (or two, or maybe three). Plus any other foreign language studied in school, etc.

Of course, if your native language is only spoken by 10,000 people, and basically all education past the first couple of years of primary school is in Russian, you kind of have to speak something else, too.

More info on language distribution patterns in the North Caucasus.

White South Africans are mostly bilingual (English-Afrikaans) or monolingual, it is true. But I believe that black South Africans quite often speak three or more languages. This is basically an instance of what JKellyMap mentioned above. It’s not unusual to speak two or more indigenous African languages (mother’s and father’s languages, or family language and different community language, etc.) as well as speaking English and Afrikaans.

ETA: Except for English and Afrikaans, South Africa’s languages are regional, so that in any given area there are maybe three or four significant languages. Except for Gauteng province (Johannesburg) which has a fragmented linguistic map.

My experience is that what you guys call “a little bit” we call “near fluency” in the US. :slight_smile:

Swiss, in my experience, typically speak German and French and then English. All well. THis might not be true in the Italian Canton, or it might be that they just speak Italian as well.

They won’t admit it because they won’t be fluent. Or rather, if they happen to be fluent, that will be because they learnt it. French people in Normandy don’t watch the BBC.

Apart from that I too think that on a global scale being monolingual is probably the exception rather than the norm.

I would assume that since Papua New Guinea has more languages than any other country by far, that there would be a lot of multilingual people there, at least in Port Moresby.

This doesn’t make any sense. Most people in the US get Univision, but can’t speak Spanish.

Wouldn’t that imply that the multilinguaglness of West Africa, India, or Malaysia is much higher than any part of Europe?

South Asia.

Almost everyone will speak
1)Major regional language
2) The national language

And that is not even counting the fact that many regions have multiple regional languages besides the major regional language, so someone from the (Pakistani) Punjab might speak Seraiki as the mother tounge along with the above three. In addition knowing or at least understanding other major or minor regional languages besides the above is very common.