Want a new job?
Wish you had better health?
Want a more fulfilling personal life?
Learn a second language!
Here’s a review of what the current research tells us about the benefits of knowing a foreign language.
- Workplace Benefits of Being Bilingual
- Life Improvements Gained by Being Bilingual
- Health and Well-being Advantages of Bilinguals
Workplace Benefits of Being Bilingual
Knowing more than one language can give you a big boost professionally, and in today’s economy, that’s something everyone can use.
1. Bilingualism can improve your competitiveness in the job market.
Knowing a second language makes your resume stand out and can boost you to the top of the interview list with potential employers.
Companies today serve increasingly diverse, multilingual populations at home and abroad. Managers know that multilingual consumers are a huge commercial force and represent a significant opportunity for future business. A recent report goes as far as saying that “marketers and advertisers who grasp and activate the multicultural edge will be poised to connect with rising super consumers.”
Many companies have international offices, sell their products abroad and have production facilities in other countries. These companies want to hire versatile employees who can speak other languages and navigate different cultural expectations. So once you’ve got a second language under your belt, you might be fighting off job offers!
Even knowing just a few words of a foreign language can be helpful. Taylor Diaz-Rogers, a student at Florida International University, found this out when she interviewed for an internship at the marketing company Optimum7.
According to the FIU career services department website, Diaz-Rogers said, “The COO of Optimum7, who was at the fair and with whom I got the chance to speak to, was from Turkey… I had visited his country 5 years ago and still knew a few words in Turkish. Because of that, we were able to build a good rapport.”
It was partially because of her knowledge of Turkish that Diaz-Rogers was offered an internship at the company!
2. Knowing a second language can open up new career opportunities.
Foreign language skills can be particularly beneficial if you’re interested in changing careers to a new and growing field.
Jobs as translators and interpreters are in the top 15 fastest-growing occupations in the United States, with nearly 25,000 translation and interpretation jobs expected to become available by 2020. This estimate does not even include jobs in the military, which actively recruits people with a variety of language skills. (They then use the DLIFLC GLOSS to teach languages to recruits—which is surprisingly available to the public, so you can use it to learn a language too!)
Other fast-growing fields like travel and tourism, healthcare and national security need employees with bilingual language skills and the ability to work across cultures. Fields such as journalism, education and international development are always in search of bilingual employees. And knowing a second language can give you an an edge if you want to apply for the Peace Corps or become a Foreign Service Officer.
3. Bilinguals can earn more money.
The financial returns of learning a foreign language vary by language and job, but they can add up to a lot. Salary.com found that jobs with pay differentials based on bilingualism usually pay 5-20% more per hour for bilingual employees.
MIT economist Albert Saiz discovered that college graduates who speak two languages make an average of 2% more than those who do not. This can add up to a lot over time, as an article in The Economist points out. At retirement, the extra earnings could mean an additional $67,000 in your retirement account!
Life Improvements Gained by Being Bilingual
Aside from improving your career prospects, speaking another language is just plain fun, and can add great value to your personal life.
4. Being bilingual opens up social and cultural opportunities.
Speaking another language lets you interact with different people and understand the nuances of another culture. This means you might have more opportunities to make friends, explore different hobbies and better understand your favorite foreign music, film and literature.
Programs like FluentU make it possible to benefit from these cultural insights by making authentic content accessible at all levels. Videos on this language learning program use interactive subtitles, flashcards and quizzes to help you understand what you watch. FluentU uses videos that native speakers actually watch to teach languages as they’re really used, so you can start reaping the benefits of foreign music, movies and TV shows at any point in your studies.
Travel itself can be cheaper and more rewarding when you speak the language of the country you’re visiting. You won’t be limited to staying in expensive foreigner hotels, eating at restaurants where the staff speaks English or traveling with a tour group.
Instead, you can find your own way and experience the country the way a local would. You might enjoy cheaper access to museums because you don’t have to pay for a foreign-language guide, and you will certainly have more opportunities to meet people, engage in conversation and learn about the culture.
It used to be really hard to achieve this level of cultural fluency when learning a language, but modern language learning programs make it possible to do it from the comfort of your own home. For example, FluentU uses authentic videos intended for native speakers and blends them with interactive subtitles, flashcards and quizzes to help you understand everything you see and hear. You’ll get to learn languages as they’re really used by natives, along with all their cultural nuance, which is something you could previously only do by actually living abroad.
5. Speaking another language gives you a new perspective.
Even if you don’t travel abroad, becoming bilingual can help you see the world in a different way and understand yourself better.
Research has found that bilinguals literally see the world differently. People who regularly speak a second language perceive differences in color variations that are not recognized by monolinguals! How’s that for a new perspective?
Many people who speak more than one language also report feeling “like a different person” when they speak the other language. Research by a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has found that bilinguals emphasize different character traits depending on which language they are speaking. The professor interviewed Parisian adults who were fluent in French and Portuguese and found that they acted differently when speaking one language or the other. For example, one girl sounded like an “angry, hip suburbanite” in French and a “frustrated, but patient, well-mannered bank customer” in Portuguese.
Another study found significant levels of “frame-shifting,” or changes in self perception, among bilingual participants. Researchers interviewed Hispanic women who were fluent in Spanish and English and found that many classified themselves as more assertive when they spoke Spanish. The women also had different perceptions of the same advertisements when they saw them in English and in Spanish.
So if you want to understand yourself better, learning another language might be the key!
Health and Well-being Advantages of Bilinguals
One of the best reasons to become bilingual is the enormous health benefits it can have, particularly for the brain.
6. Speaking a second language improves problem-solving, multitasking and decision-making.
Numerous studies have found that bilingualism can improve brain functions like the ability to focus attention and perform mental tasks.
A study in Scotland and Italy found that bilingual children were “significantly more successful” than their monolingual peers in problem-solving and creativity tasks. Another study found that people who speak more than one language can process information more efficiently and easily.
As a bilingual, you are constantly choosing in which language to say a word, and this gives you a lot of practice choosing important information and ignoring extraneous details. This seems to help bilinguals do better at tasks that require multitasking and blocking out distractions.
Speaking another language can even help you make more rational decisions! A study conducted by a team of psychologists at the University of Chicago found that forcing people to rely on a second language when making decisions reduced their natural human biases. The scientists concluded that using a foreign language provided increased cognitive and emotional distance that allowed people to focus on the information rather than their own emotions.
The next time you want to make the most “rational” decision possible, consider thinking about it in a foreign language!
7. Bilingualism can slow the effects of old age.
The benefits of being bilingual are lifelong, but they seem especially important in old age. Cognitive flexibility—the ability to adapt to unfamiliar or unexpected circumstances—tends to decline as we age, but speaking a second language can block that decline or at least significantly delay it.
Research shows that bilingualism can improve cognition and delay dementia in older adults, particularly related to general intelligence and reading abilities.
And while bilingualism cannot prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it can delay the onset of symptoms as much as five years. A recent study found that the brains of people who suffered from Alzheimer’s show the same physical deterioration whether they were monolingual or bilingual. But the people who speak two languages do not exhibit the typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s—such as memory loss, confusion and difficulties with problem-solving and planning—until much later than those who only speak one language.
There are numerous benefits to gain from speaking a second language, from professional and personal to health benefits. Moreover, learning a foreign language is just fun!
You’ll thank yourself both during the journey, and when you’re reaping the benefits of being bilingual!