The benefits of being bilingual

Unless you’re born and raised in a multilingual environment, studying and mastering a foreign language generally requires months – if not years – of hard work and perseverance. Now more than ever, it seems that that hard work is well worth the effort. 

It is estimated that 40 to 50% of the current world population speaks at least two languages. Beyond a speaker’s satisfaction of switching languages, recent trends highlight significant benefits of being multilingual. 

Having a bilingual brain comes with a lot of perks: from improved health to increased creativity and enhanced job opportunities. Let’s delve into some of the outstanding benefits of being bilingual.

It will sharpen your communication and social skills

Early exposure to multiple languages is key to enhancing children’s communication skills, as shown in the study Exposure to multiple languages enhances communication skills in infancy (2018). The earlier a child is exposed to two languages, the easier it will be for them to pick up each language and achieve a native accent. 

A 2013 study revealed that bilingual children as young as 20-months are able to understand code-mixed sentences (sentences in which two languages are spoken).

“Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain, especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system.” said psychologist Ellen Bialystokat for the York University in Toronto.

As we age, we reap the benefits of a bilingual brain: the more languages spoken, the easier we’re able to connect with people from different backgrounds.

It will improve your competitiveness on the job market

Following the rise of the global economy, the majority of job postings require mastering a second language, the most popular being Spanish, French and German.

Learning a second language provides a competitive edge over other applicants and makes you stand out among hiring managers, all the more so if you’re applying for a multinational company. It often comes with higher salary potential. According to recent findings, bilingual employees can earn up to 10% more per hour than their monolingual peers.

Overall, having a bilingual profile makes you more valuable from your employer’s perspective, and you’ll be more likely to be sent on overseas meetings and negotiations.

It makes learning other languages easier

According to a study from the University of Haifa Advantages of Bilinguals Over Monolinguals in Learning a Third Language (2013), bilinguals find it much easier to learn a third or fourth language – bilingual students outperform monolingual students in this respect by 13%. Another study published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition in 2017 backs up that theory, suggesting that early bilingualism helps considerably with learning new languages later in life.

Of course, this factor depends on the choice of the third language. If you are an English speaker and have already reached Italian fluency, you may want to take up other Romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese, which share the same Latin roots as Italian.

It will make you a better multitasker

When it comes to multitasking, it seems that bilinguals also have an advantage. According to the study The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual (2012), a bilingual person performs better when it comes to multitasking than the average monolingual, thanks to a more developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. 

The 2015 study Bilingualism as a Model for Multitasking showed that the average bilingual was able to complete multiple tasks faster than their monolingual counterparts. Why? Because bilingual people are used to switching between different systems of speech, including structure, grammar, and writing.

It increases awareness of other cultures and improves your travel experience

When it comes to traveling, reaching fluency in the local language will help create a much more immersive experience. Being proficient in two languages facilitates meeting and communicating with people from around the world during your travels. By mastering two (or more) languages, you’ll get by a lot easier in most countries, and make your travels more memorable. You’ll be able to talk spontaneously with the locals, find tourist-free spots and order the right food in local joints. Everything becomes more seamless and more fun!

Mastering more than one language provides a gateway to other cultures: French culture, English culture, Spanish culture, German culture, Italian culture… all within reach.

Want to delve further into the subject of bilingual education? Check out Fabrice Jaumont’s The Bilingual Revolution: The Future of Education is in Two Languages.

It delays symptoms of dementia and keeps the brain active

Research published in the Neuropsychologia journal in 2021 revealed that advanced language skills help slow the onset of age-related cognitive diseases. It can hold Alzheimer’s disease at bay for longer – for an extra four to five years on average compared to monolingual patients. These findings were backed up by Research Professor Dr. Ellen Bialystok, whose discoveries suggest the postponement of symptoms of dementia in bilingual older adults.

“There is a set of cognitive processes known as the executive control system, which is the most important part of your mind. In a large program of research we have been able to show that this executive control system is enhanced in people who are actively bilingual.” – Ellen Bialystok, psychology professor at York University, Toronto

A 2015 study carried out by Judith Kroll, a psychologist at Penn State University, supported the theory that learning a second language helps keep the brain in shape and bolsters mental function. In fact, the longer a person studies a second language and the more fluent they are, the better they perform on memory and thinking tests.

It’s worth boasting about

Ultimately, the incredible ability to switch between two languages should be something to be proud of.

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