Speaking two languages rather than one has obvious practical advantage in an increasing globalized world. Even in the US, a country that is largely made up of a monolingual society, 1 in 5 residents speak a foreign language, a record 61.8 million (Census Bureau). It’s estimated that more than half the world’s population is bilingual. Essentially, they communicate in more than one language everyday.
“It is in and through language that man constitutes himself as subject."
– Emile Benveniste
Studies have shown that being able to speak another language other than your native tongue is a great way to exercise your brain and keep it in prime condition. But learning a new language is harder the older you get. In case you needed any more convincing, here are seven benefits — both scientific and anecdotal — of being bilingual or multilingual.
You’ll Be Smarter. Faster. Taller.
Okay you got me. Being bilingual does not make you physically taller or faster, but it you will be quicker and taller in a sense. Being bilingual, it turns out, can make you smarter. Early research into the benefits of bilingualism, conducted before the 1960’s, linked bilingualism with lower IQ and even mental deficiency. This grew the perception amongst the general public that being bilingual leads to a ‘language handicap.’
Today we know this to be unfounded. In fact, a 2004 study found that those who were bilingual had higher levels of cognitive brain function, and were more skillful at solving problems, planning, and tackling tasks that are mentally demanding. The fact that bilingual people are often forced to shift between languages makes for a great workout for the brain; making them quicker (told you) better at multi-tasking, and, yes, smarter. Now who wouldn’t walk taller from these confidence-boosting benefits?
Better Problem Solving Skills
Bilinguals seem more skillful than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. It turns out that when you’re switching from one language to another, as most bilinguals tend to do, shows advanced mental flexibility (Zelasko and Antunez, 2000)
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in 1922, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (Tractus Logico-Philosophicus). Basically, the more diverse the words we have at our disposal, the better our perception of things around us. This has lead to the term the bilingual advantage.
Bilingualism can create more job opportunities
Bilingualism can help open employment opportunities because more and more employers see language skills in a prospective employee as advantageous.
It's never too late to learn a second language, and since December is National Learn a Foreign Language Month, there's no time like the present. In case you needed any more convincing, here are seven benefits — both scientific and anecdotal — of speaking more than one language.
You'll Have More Job Opportunities
Although the majority of the world is bilingual, statistics show that only 17 percent of Americans can speak another language. Compare that to 56 percent of Europeans and 38 percent of Brits, and we have our proof that Americans really need to step it up. It all means that in the American job market, you're totally putting yourself in another tier if you can speak second language. From government to hospitals, local courts to Fortune 500 companies and the State Department the need for bilingual people is growing. The Department of Labor expects roughly 25,000 jobs are expected to open up for interpreters. Just this week alone, there are over 91,000 job listings that include bilingualism as in the job description.
It Will Keep You in the Know
Cross-cultural subtleties are slipping into our daily lives. Being able to understand cultural nuances through language can open the door to an entirely new culture and way of viewing the world. As we all know from using an online translation service like Google translate, cultural context is lost in translation. Ever read a book and find that the author threw in a phrase in French, Spanish or maybe German? Instead of having to Google the hell out of that phrase to find out what the writer is trying to say, most bilingual people instinctively know. Result, you feel fancy and looped in pretty ¿Muy bien, no? And, because French is a Latin language, one can usually figure out, basically, what's being said if it's in Spanish or Italian, too, very handy if you’re traveling to a foreign land.
You'll Boost Your Memory
Having a killer memory isn't just a great cognitive skill; it’s a great social skill too. Just think about how nice it would be to be able to always put a face to a name instead of listlessly staring at people as your brain for a name to put to that face.
Being Bilingual Will Help You Enjoy Other Cultures Even More
If you’re someone who enjoys travel like I do, you’re no doubt grateful whenever you run into someone who speaks a language you understand. Being bilingual boosts your cultural experience because language enriches it because of the cultural differences associated with every different language.
As a result you feel more relaxed, more at home when you travel. Bilingualism no doubt will pave way to deeper and meaningful relationships with the people you come across be it on vacation in a foreign country, in your neighborhood or at work.
Bilingualism Helps You Role Play. ¿Estás ready?
Many who are multilingual often feel a ‘shift’ in their personality depending on which language they’re speaking. For instance, a joke may not be funny in English but is a real belly splitter in Spanish or Korean. This is because there are certain words that may not exist or convey the right nuance in another language. Perhaps this is what brought up the quote by Charlemagne to say “ To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
Research from as early as 1964 by Susan Ervin; a sociolinguist at UC Berkeley examined just that. The results of the Thematic Apperception Test she conducted revealed that bilinguals, in this case Japanese Americans, not only used different wording to described pictures, but the intention was different as well. This is because of the cultural inferences associate situations differently.
It's never too late to learn a second language, no matter your age. As we get older the ability to pick up language can be difficult, but don’t despair, it’s not impossible. There's no time like the present so go forth and conquer.
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