Armed and fabulous.
Bilingual people hold the big guns in this world.
Being fluent in a second language gives us a huge advantage when it comes to communication, travel, work, love and raw brain power.
There’s nothing that being bilingual doesn’t make better.
Research Concludes: Bilingual People Are Badass
The research is definitely conclusive. All kinds of studies have shown how positively being bilingual can affect the human brain.
If you’re on the internet looking up the benefits of bilingualism, then I bet you’ve already seen tons of headlines proclaiming that the bilingual brain is a lean, mean, information processing machine.
Bilinguals have shown enhanced creativity, better flexibility and multitasking capabilities, boosted problem solving skills and can even stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The Process of Becoming Bilingual
You may be wondering, “Does it matter if I’m not bilingual yet? Will I still get some awesome advantages after learning my target language?” The answers to those questions are “no” and “yes,” respectively.
Sure, you’re right about there being different types of bilinguals. There are successive bilinguals, like me (and possibly you), who acquired a second language after fully developing our native language. Then there are simultaneous bilinguals, you know, those jealousy-inspiring kids with the enormous gift of growing up bilingual.
Neither way is worse. Actually, each process has its own unique benefits for the language learner. For instance, one informative study showed us that kids who grew up being naturally bilingual are better with convergent thinking, and later-in-life bilinguals are better with divergent thinking.
The former (convergent thinking) means that your brain is better at giving the one, right answer, and the latter means your brain is better at producing a diversity of possible correct answers.
Both thought processes underlie improved creativity, so nobody is worse off based on when they became bilingual.
No matter when, how or why you start learning, you’re going to be equally badass.
Feeling pumped to make time for language learning? Then let’s take a look at all the great benefits bilinguals get to experience.
7 Benefits of Becoming a Badass Bilingual
1. When you speak two languages, you actually speak three.
Speaking with other bilinguals who know your particular language pair is a special treat. You’ll have the luxury of mixing up languages in whichever manner best expresses your thoughts and feelings. You may end up feeling like they’re the best friends you ever had—who else could possibly understand you so well?
The only catch is that you may soon feel your proficiency in each individual language slipping away. For instance, after speaking Spanglish so long with my friends, coworkers and boyfriend in Ecuador, I soon found that I was losing my command of Spanish and English when I had to speak just one.
It’s like if a monolingual person were forced to not use a huge percentage of their stored vocabulary. It’s hard, man!
In the end, though, our ability to switch back and forth between languages grants us a huge boost in mental flexibility and improves our ability to multitask. So it isn’t all that bad, after all.
2. Language broadens your perspective through “linguistic relativity.”
Language helps you understand the world. Any bilingual will know that learning a language isn’t just about learning words and grammar. You need to gain knowledge of the society and culture behind that language to achieve any degree of fluency.
And that’s because different languages aren’t simply different sets of words to express the same ideas.
They’re entirely different outlooks on the world.
Linguistic relativity is the concept that language dramatically shapes the way we think, perceive and interact with things around us. That means speaking a different language may actively alter your mindset and thoughts. It’s a big deal in the psychological and language learning communities, and it’s certainly up for debate.
Whether or not this is an actual, psychological process is one thing—most bilinguals can tell you that there is a profound spiritual and emotional element to being bilingual. It may lead you to develop a love of another language and culture, to fall in love with someone or to communicate with someone totally different from you and hear their thoughts on life and important issues.
Allow this to open you up to the world, broaden your horizons and bring you closer to people of all races and nationalities. The more languages we all learn, the closer we’ll come to being citizens of the world rather than citizens of our own specific chunks of Earth.
3. You get to really appreciate bilingual content.
This is probably the most fun perk to being bilingual, and you don’t even realize it until it happens to you.
People who speak Spanish and English can understand every last word of songs by Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Pitbull and other internationally-successful Latin pop stars. And thank your lucky stars: You’ll get to watch the masterpiece series “Breaking Bad” without missing a single precious word.
“Weeds,” another series about the international drug industry—more comedic and less artful than “Breaking Bad”—also gives you some quality Spanglish time. Plus, you’ll get a kick out of seeing the main character, Nancy, try to toss out a few terribly-pronounced Spanish words to communicate with her Mexican criminal pals.
French and German speakers can zip through multilingual “Inglorious Basterds” scenes without ever having to glance at the subtitles. Even though Shoshanna doesn’t understand the German being spoken, you can. Bravo!
Japanese and English speakers hold claim to some freaking mind-blowing “Kill Bill” scenes and the adorably awkward scenes of culture shock in “Lost in Translation.”
Now, those are just a few examples. Bilinguals of any language pair will likely be able to find some great content that features both of their languages. FluentU is a great source for this!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
4. Raise bilingual children.
Once you know multiple languages, teaching your children both will be a snap—and they’ll be lifelong bilinguals. You’ll have given some other human being the gift of being a badass bilingual.
Oh, and aside from that, they’ll gain all kinds of great development and learning-related benefits.
5. You’ll think before you talk.
You think more carefully about the words you use and what you express when speaking a non-native language. It forces you to think more and crank all the words through the logical gears in your brain.
This is a godsend for bilingual couples. Before I ever saw the results of scientific research, I already knew that this was a thing.
I noticed for the longest time that I’d developed a tendency to switch to Spanish when discussing a problem with my boyfriend (who’s perfectly fluent in English). I never really considered the reason why, but it makes complete sense—speaking in an acquired language helps you think more logically, process information better and speak more evenly.
6. Become a mega problem solver.
All bilinguals have gone through some moments of serious linguistic problem solving.
Think about the instances when you’ve had to pause while speaking your weaker language. Even if you’re not bilingual yet and only know a little of your target language, you’ll know what I’m talking about here.
You know what you want to say, but not in the language you’re currently speaking. It’s either on the tip of your tongue or totally eluding you while in the middle of a conversation. You can’t move forward without the word, so you have to snap into problem solving mode.
This often works in one of two ways: (1) You provide clues for your conversation partner so they can help you remember what that thing is called, or (2) you say f%$k it and decide to continue by dancing around the word with similes, roundabout explanations and hand gestures.
On top of that, you generally are required to be creative (often with limited language and mental roadblocks) and to consider different linguistic and cultural nuances while communicating in new languages.
Bilinguals have demonstrated to scientists, time and time again, that they excel in critical thinking and have special cognitive advantages when it comes to problem solving. Every time you stumble over words and phrasing, remind yourself that you’re training your brain and developing some serious skills with real-life applications.
7. Break the ice.
Dude, people respect the fact that you’re bilingual. It’s a huge ice breaker which gives you pleasant things to talk about, impresses others and helps strangers to gain interest in you personally. Monolingual people (and polyglots who don’t speak one of your languages) may be curious to hear how words in one of your languages sound.
If you’ve put in a lot of effort to learn a new language and are interacting with native speakers, they’re going to respect and appreciate this more than you know. For those of you planning to work internationally, the more fluent you are in your host country’s native language, the better your work will flow. People are more willing to collaborate with someone who’s gone the extra mile to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries.
If you’re originally from the United States, you’re going to blow people’s minds. You’re going to destroy long-held stereotypes of stubborn, monolingual Americans who refuse to learn “Mexican” and want foreigners to “speak American” in their country—or who simply don’t care about the rest of the world.
I know, you want to hide under a rock and die when you’re sitting around a table with 12 childhood friends and somebody challenges you with, “Oh my gosh! Say something in Mandarin Chinese!” Rather, you should embrace this as part of your bilingual life and learn to love the positive reactions to your awesome skills.
So if you weren’t already excited to become bilingual, you now have loads of motivation to push you towards your goal. Put it to good use, and get yourself a step closer to fluency today!