Around the globe, it’s estimated that over half the population speaks more than one language. Nevertheless, in the U.S., stigmas persist when it comes to students who grow up speaking languages other than English. April is National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, which is the perfect opportunity to give multilingual students a shout-out by reminding them and your school community about the amazing benefits of speaking more than one language.
- Mental flexibility
Cognitive flexibility refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change depending on the environment and different stimuli, so it makes sense that multilingual individuals would have a leg up over monolinguals in this area. Afterall, expressing an idea in more than one language requires the brain to shift and recalibrate. Additionally, when you adjust your perception, you can often see a problem from multiple angles.
- More executive control
You use the executive functioning skills of your brain whenever you must attend to a task, plan, reason, or pay attention for an extended period. Some research has shown that multilingual people have improved executive functioning, especially when it comes to their working memory and attention span.
- Heightened perception
Perhaps the benefit of being highly perceptive develops in multilinguals because their brains must learn to focus on important information while allowing other stimuli to fade to the background. When you speak multiple languages, you’re also often required to interact with people from different cultures. This means you’ve had practice picking up on subtle social cues and nonverbal communication.
- Delayed mental decline
The good news about being bilingual is you may be able to slow the aging process of your brain even if you learn another language in adulthood. One study suggests that symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be delayed by up to five years on average in adults who are fluent in more than one language. One theory that attempts to explain this phenomenon suggests that monolingual people depend too heavily on the brain’s frontal circuits, which can make dementia worse.
- Economic opportunities
In today’s global economy, many U.S. companies have offices in other countries that offer opportunities to people who are fluent in both the target language and English. Even if you aren’t interested in working abroad, knowing more than one language makes you a desirable candidate because evidence suggests that multilinguals are better at communicating and writing—skills that are valued in almost every profession.
- Appreciation of culture
Appreciating cultures different from your own goes beyond listening to music and enjoying food. To truly value others, it’s necessary to understand their perspective and life experiences. This often happens through immersing yourself in language and culture. Being multilingual provides you with that opportunity.
- Improved ability to learn
This benefit goes along with improved executive functioning. Because multilingual individuals can have better working memory and an enhanced ability to discard irrelevant information, studies show that they can not only learn other languages more quickly, but they can learn other skills faster as well.
- Better multitasking
We all need to multitask today more than ever. Even if you try to keep multitasking to a minimum, the demands of living often require us to have more than one activity going on simultaneously. Fortunately, if you know more than one language, there’s evidence that multitasking is easier for you and, thus, less stressful.
By: Kelli Drummer-Avendano
Also read: 5 Famous Multilingual Women You Should Know