Language is the instrument of expressing culture and new knowledge.
Many modern language researchers agree with this premise. Not only does speaking multiple languages help us to communicate with a variety of people but bilingualism is great for the developing brain. A bilingual child has the ability to switch between languages, and because of this, the theory goes, he/she develops enhanced executive control, or the ability to effectively manage what are called higher cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, memory, and thought. She/he becomes better able to inhibit some responses and promote others. In summary, a child emerges with a more flexible and agile mind. This is a phenomenon that researchers call .
I understand first-hand the benefits of being bilingual as my family life is multicultural and I work at a language centre where all the staff speak a minimum of 2 languages.
On a personal level some of the benefits include:
- The ability to engage and be part of two different and diverse cultures and communities; two different customs, habits, food, lifestyles and ways of viewing the world. It continually challenges my habit of thinking that my cultural perspective is the only one that is right.
- The continual expansion of my mind; one of the areas where the bilingual advantage appears to be most persistent isn’t related to a particular skill or task: it’s a general benefit that seems to help the aging brain. Adults who speak multiple languages far better than monolinguals do.
- Being in a world where there are two cultural norms creates greater tolerance and open mindedness.
- Having learned my second language as an adult, I understand what it takes to learn a language and therefore have more empathy for non-English speakers.
- It continually expands my horizons. I tend to notice things that I have never noticed before (about people and cultures) and I have learned things that I would never have thought about in my own world.
- Language helps you make friends and acquaintances and you are able to have a deeper understanding about the culture and country – rather than just be a tourist.
- You don’t get “ripped off” when you travel.
- You can find out the places where locals go, rather than stick to the tourist destinations.
- Travelling is not a superficial experience - you have the ability to discover the real country, rather than the ‘tourist brochure’ country.
Most people I know would love to speak another language and be bilingual. Some hope for all the monolinguals in the world is that language learning has nothing to do with how smart you are. One of my favorite quotes about languages is ...
"Think of the dumbest person you know. They speak at least one language fluently." - author unknown.