8 Big Benefits of Being Bilingual
There are many, many advantages to speaking two languages—especially if you grew up doing just that.
Of course, if you have the desire and dedication to become bilingual, there are plenty of perks to inspire you to start learning your second language now.
But if you’ve spoken two languages your whole life, here’s what current research tells us about the benefits of being bilingual.
- 1. You have cognitive advantages during childhood.
- 2. Being bilingual strengthens many life skills.
- 3. You have unique perspectives about the world and yourself.
- 4. You have distinct social advantages.
- 5. Being bilingual improves your career options.
- 6. You’re more competitive in the job market.
- 7. Bilinguals have higher earning power.
- 8. Being bilingual can slow the effects of old age.
1. You have cognitive advantages during childhood.
Bilingual children have a host of other advantages alongside their double language abilities.
One study shows that bilingual children can better interpret an adult’s intended meaning than monolingual children.
It’s thought that the ability to select which language to use in different contexts makes bilingual kids better at considering the perspectives of others.
Since early studies in the field, bilingual children have demonstrated to scientists, time and time again, that they excel at critical thinking. They also have better focus.
Children who speak two languages show special cognitive advantages when it comes to problem solving.
In fact, a study in Scotland and Italy found that bilingual children were “significantly more successful” than their monolingual peers in tasks involving problem-solving and creativity skills.
Bilingual students may also score higher than monolingual students on standardized tests.
And of course, being a bilingual kid yourself makes it easier to raise your own kids the same way!
2. Being bilingual strengthens many life skills.
Don’t worry—bilingualism benefits aren’t limited to childhood.
A study from Northwestern University found that people who speak more than one language can process information easier and more efficiently.
Constantly choosing which language to use makes it easier for you to ignore extraneous details, even in adulthood.
Further, those who switch between their languages often have a huge boost in mental flexibility and ability to multitask.
Several studies required bilinguals and non-bilinguals to perform special tests—like spatial memory tasks. The results showed a correlation between being bilingual and having better brain functionality.
Another study showed that those who grow up naturally bilingual are better at convergent thinking, or producing one correct answer. (However, later-in-life bilinguals are better at divergent thinking, or giving a variety of possible correct answers.)
It’s clear your multilingual abilities are good for your brain!
3. You have unique perspectives about the world and yourself.
Knowing multiple languages gives you a special view of the world.
Beyond cultural knowledge, research has found that bilinguals literally see the world differently. For example, people who regularly speak a second language perceive differences in color variations that are not recognized by monolinguals!
Many people who speak more than one language also report feeling “like a different person” when they speak each 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’re speaking.
Yet another study found significant levels of “frame-shifting,” or changes in self-perception, among bilingual participants.
These researchers interviewed Hispanic women who were fluent in Spanish and English and found that many classified themselves as more assertive when they spoke Spanish.
So knowing a second language not only gives you an enhanced perspective of the world, but also of yourself.
4. You have distinct social advantages.
Maybe you’re a social butterfly who enjoys talking to people from all walks of life. Or perhaps you prefer to keep to yourself except for a small group of friends.
No matter what type of person you are socially, being bilingual gives you an advantage when it comes to communicating with people.
There’s simply more people out there that you can interact with and include in your circle.
Further, your bilingualism gives you innate knowledge of both language’s communication styles. Later-in-life language learners must include cultural and communicative learning into their studies—but not you!
You won’t struggle with the proper ways to express politeness or directness or anything else, because you already understand how to do that.
Speaking with other bilinguals who know your particular language pair will be a special treat too.
You’ll have the luxury of mixing up your 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?
5. Being bilingual improves your career options.
Multiple language skills can be particularly beneficial in the workforce, especially if you’re interested in new or growing fields.
For instance, jobs as translators and interpreters are some of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. Roughly 9,200 positions are expected to be available each year until 2031.
Additionally, the US military actively recruits people with a variety of language skills.
Other rapidly growing fields—like travel and tourism, healthcare and national security—need employees with bilingual language skills and the ability to work across cultures.
Still other fields like journalism, education and international development are always in search of bilingual employees as well.
And knowing a second language may also give you an an edge if you want to apply for the Peace Corps or become a Foreign Service Officer.
6. You’re more competitive in the job market.
Not only does being bilingual give you more job opportunities, it also makes you stand out to potential employers who don’t require extra language skills.
Companies today serve increasingly diverse, multilingual populations all around the world. Good business owners know the power of a multinational consumer base.
One report says: “Marketers and advertisers who grasp and activate the multicultural edge will be poised to thrive in an increasingly multicultural mainstream.”
Even if it’s not a requirement for the job position, knowing another language will give you an edge. Companies want to hire versatile employees who can navigate different cultural expectations.
Having another fluent language under your belt could mean you’ll be fighting off job offers!
7. Bilinguals have higher earning power.
Perhaps the best part of all this bilingual career advantage means that you can earn more money.
The financial returns of knowing a foreign language vary by language and job, but they can add up to a lot.
In jobs with pay differentials, being fluent in another language in addition to English can get bilingual employees 5-20% higher salaries, according to this report.
But MIT economist Albert Saiz discovered in 2005 that college graduates who speak two languages already make an average of 2% more than those who do not.
This extra percentage can add up to a lot over time, as a 2014 article in The Economist points out. At retirement, the extra earnings could mean an additional $67,000 in your retirement account!
8. Being bilingual can slow the effects of old age.
The brain-related benefits of being bilingual are lifelong. And they’re especially helpful 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.
Bilingualism particularly helps with cognition and reading abilities. It can also help stave off dementia. And while being bilingual cannot prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it can delay the onset of symptoms as much as five years.
One 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 spoke two languages did not exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s until much later than those who spoke only one language.
Clearly, your bilingual ability will help you out with memory, problem-solving and planning skills for a long, long time.
There are numerous benefits of being bilingual, from professional and personal to health and career.
Enjoy your multilingual skills and advantages, but of course… Don’t forget to thank your parents!