Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will probably have guessed that I’m a native English speaker.
However, what you may not know is that my wife is Russian, and that we’ve decided to raise our daughter in a bilingual household.
It’s one of the many parenting topics we’ve discussed at length over the past few years.
Mia is currently 3 and a half and she can speak both languages fairly well, without any accent.
I’m not sure this will continue when she starts school here in London, as she won’t be exposed to the Russian language as much, but both my wife and I would love her to be fluent in English and Russian when she’s older.
Being bilingual has many advantages in the workplace, and in education, so for this article, I thought would look at some of the benefits it can bring.
Some of these benefits are certainly up for debate on how much is due to bilingualism, but nevertheless it’s surely a big motivating factor to get your child to speak two languages.
Here are 15 benefits of being bilingual.
1) Better focused attention
Having read several articles on bilingualism, one of the most interesting features I came across is the ability not to speak one of the languages at a particular moment.
For example, for a bilingual child to say ‘Merci’ at home, and then ‘Thank you’ to their teacher at school, requires a special ability of task switching, and as such paying greater attention to certain situations.
2) Improved performance at school
There have been many different studies on the benefits of being bilingual with school performance.
a) One such study seems to indicate that bilingual children have better problem-solving skills and creative thinking than pupils who only speak one language. However, the size of the study is very small, only 121 pupils in total, including 62 bilingual children.
c) Finally here’s a study which indicates another advantage of being bilingual is the ability to make more rational decisions.
On the face of it, being bilingual seems to give students a considerable advantage at school. However, it should be noted that some of these studies aren’t wholly conclusive because they involve small numbers of pupils taking part in the research.
3) Better Reading in English
You would think that being bilingual shouldn’t have an effect on a child’s ability to read in English, but there are a couple of studies which say this isn’t necessarily the case.
According to a study in Portland, Oregon, pupils who spoke two languages were a year ahead of their peers in terms of English-reading skills by the end of middle school.
4) Better Memory
A study at the University of Granada revealed that bilingual children have a better working memory than monolingual children. In fact, the more complex the task, the better they perform.
5) Diversity and Integration
As a London resident, I live in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world.
Therefore, it’s highly likely my daughter will go to a school with other children who speak more than one language.
This will undoubtedly help her feel more at home in a diverse school environment where languages other than English will be spoken.
6) Social & Cultural Opportunities
Another reason why it’s important to be bilingual, extends from the previous point. Bilingual pupils will find it easier to interact and make friends with children of different cultures.
Consequently, they will understand the subtleties of foreign music, food, cinema and literature much better.
7) Useful For Travelling
I’m sure we’ve all been there before.
You’re on holiday in a foreign country, trying desperately to use sign language to communicate with a cashier or shop owner.
The old joke is that if they don’t understand you…shout louder!
Knowing the lingo in a foreign country surely makes things easier for you, and for the person you’re speaking to.
Travel can also be more fun when you understand the language of the place you are visiting. You can engage more with the local people…
..not to mention saving on the costs of hiring a tour guide!
8) Gives You A New Perspective
Being bilingual can make you see the world in a different way, and even possess different personalities in each language.
In fact, some research has suggested it’s possible they see colours differently too!
Also, learning a new language can also gives you better insight of your native language. This is because you get to compare what is different between the two languages and express yourself better.
Although I am nowhere near being bilingual, I studied French at school to a reasonable level and I can speak Russian fairly well. I can definitely say there is something in the idea of different personalities. When I speak Russian, I am a lot more direct and assertive, which is generally how Russians are when they speak. Where as in English, we are very polite, and it can often take us a while to get to the point! Therefore, bilingualism is a way to understand yourself better and behave differently in certain situations. A useful skill I think you’d agree!
9) Empathy and Communication Skills
There is a train of thought that bilingual children demonstrate social empathy quicker than others who only speak one language.
Also, they are able to better interpret what people REALLY mean when they speak to them.
Psychologists at the University of Chicago have discovered that children who weren’t even bilingual but had some exposure to a foreign language early in life had a better understanding of others
10) Competitiveness in the Job Market
In a globalised world with multinational companies operating in many different countries, having a second language on your CV can make you stand out from the crowd.
Being bilingual can make you appear more versatile, in terms of communicating with colleagues and clients, as well as adapting to live in other countries with different cultures.
You can also be sent to represent your firm in foreign business seminars where knowing another language is essential.
11) Opens Up More Career And Education Opportunities
Another benefit of bilingual education is that it opens up more doors in the world of work.
There are a lot of career opportunities where speaking a second language is a real asset.
Think of all the interpretation/translation jobs, careers in travel and tourism, healthcare, the legal profession and business jobs, where companies need an employee to speak a second language and work with different cultures.
Furthermore, fluency in a different language opens you to opportunities to study abroad. Some programs may have certain language requirements so studying that language allows you easier access.
Being bilingual also makes it easy to access information in printed materials or online, which differ from your native language.
12) Earn More Money
Speaking another language can also help you earn more money in the workplace.
In the US, bilingual speakers earn up about $7,000 a year more than monolingual speakers.
This is likely due to supply and demand, as the US doesn’t have many native-born bilingual speakers to choose from.
13) Helps You Learn Additional Languages
Why stop at two languages?
According to a study at the University of Haifa being bilingual makes it easier to learn a third language, than for students who are only fluent in one language.
This can help to enhance many of the benefits listed here already.
14) Makes You More Attractive?
Who doesn’t like an accent?
In a survey of 3000 people in the UK, it seems being bilingual makes you more attractive.
The French language is viewed as the sexiest language, and also the sexiest foreign accent to hear English spoken in!
15) Health Benefits
Finally there are various studies which indicate there are numerous health benefits of bilingualism, with most of them helping you in later life.
Speaking another language seems to slow the effects of old age in terms of brain function.
Do you agree with these benefits of being bilingual?
Even if some of these benefits are inconclusive, due to small sample sizes, it’s surely enough to motivate any parent to help their child speak more than one language.
Hopefully you found this article informative, and if you have a young child with parents who speak 2 different languages, I wish you the best of luck in raising them to be bilingual.
What are some bilingual statistics?
In a survey conducted by the European Commission in 2006, 56% of respondents said they could speak an additional language.
In the US, as of 2007, 20% can speak a language other than their mother tongue.