The Power of Multilingualism
Why should you learn more than just your home language?
Nowadays, knowing more than just one language is an asset for individuals. According to research, people from all walks of life benefit from bilingualism in different areas. The power of multilingualism can be observed in terms of not only academic success but also in the workplace and pursuing a successful career. In addition, knowing more than one language brings a better understanding of different cultures and makes travelling and meeting new people smoother. Finally, the power of multilingualism lies in our brains.
Now, let's have a look into all these areas and see how being multilingual can be helpful in the workplace.
It seems that being multilingual also means that you are less likely to get fired. What's more, people who speak more languages are better paid when compared to their monolingual peers. Also, they have greater working mobility.
But, before getting a job, everyone has to go through a recruiting process. Luckily, human resource managers believe that recruits who know more foreign languages tend to have a range of transferable skills.
And once they get the job, multilinguals are generally more expensive, according to one Swiss study. However, their employers are less likely to let go of these workers. It's s almost as if bilingualism acts as insurance against mass lay-offs.
Several studies showed that those who study foreign languages are more likely to be working or studying when compared to their peers in professional programmes such as law.
Also, speaking more languages often means earning more.
The place where multilinguals can work and earn is linked to the languages they speak. More specifically, studying a foreign language at school greatly increases the odds of migrating to a country with that foreign language.
Another thing linked to a language is culture.
Language and culture are heavily intertwined.
Research shows that foreign language fluency predicts high Cultural Intelligence. Just like we use IQ when talking about intelligence, CQ is used for cultural intelligence. This term encompasses one's understanding of cultural differences, willingness to work with diverse others, and ability to flex mentally – being open to new or integrative ideas.
The bulk of previous research suggests that our decisions are affected by the language we use when making them. This means that when we switch languages, we also adjust how we think, our values and behaviours.
Language fluency also helps to create smoother social interactions– increasing a person's enjoyment and interest in dealing across cultures which brings us to a new area where multilinguals thrive – socialising.
A person who can speak two or more languages is better equipped to socialise with others who are also bilingual. Just imagine that your friend, who was born in France and has been living in Germany for a few years, invites you to a birthday party. There are so many new people you have to meet. Imagine the following constellation: some of the people there are French with some basic German knowledge. Then, there are two Portuguese girls who also speak English and Spanish. Finally, you meet three Germans-one speaks only German, but the other two know some Italian. The more languages you speak, the better the chances to socialise with more people at this party. And consequently, have a good time.
Being multilingual also means that a person has better chances to make new friends when travelling if they speak a language other than their mother tongue.
Another great power of multilingualism is – in our brains.
It is possible to distinguish bilingual people from monolinguals simply by looking at scans of their brains. Bilingual people have significantly more grey matter than monolinguals. In addition, evidence from psychological experiments shows that bilingual and monolingual brains function differently.
Some researchers believe that bilingualism rewires the brain and improves the executive system, boosting "cognitive reserve". It means that multilinguals have extra grey matter and alternative neural pathways. This is very important in ageing when executive function typically declines: bilingualism seems to protect against dementia. Of course, it's not like people who speak more languages can't suffer from dementia, but its effects are delayed for an average of five years.
Multilingual children demonstrate greater mental flexibility. What is mental flexibility? Do you know that test in which you have to read coloured words, and there is a mismatch between the name of a colour and the colour it is printed in?
Children who speak more languages are better at tests like this. You might wonder what this silly test has to do with anything. Because multilingual children switch among their languages and adjust their communication based on whom they are talking to, their brains are more used to ignoring irrelevant information (words from the language they don't need at that moment). This means that they can control their attention better than children raised in monolingual surroundings. This ability to focus on the task and ignore distractions is associated with better academic success.
So, a general conclusion would be that multilinguals have better chances in the labour market, are more tolerant towards other cultures, and can socialise with more people. Finally, their brains are more flexible and agile, which helps them at school and later in life.
Speaking more than one language is pretty powerful, don't you think?
Suggested reading on the topic:
- Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 16(4), 240–250.
- Craik, F., Bialystok, E., Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease, Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology, 75 (19) 1726-1729; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181fc2a1c
- Economic advantages of bilingualism (2016). Heritage Canada. https://www.caslt.org/files/learn-languages/pch-bilingualism-lit-review-final-en.pdf
- Kroll, J. F., & Dussias, P. E. (2017). The Benefits of Multilingualism to the Personal and Professional Development of Residents of The US. Foreign language annals, 50(2), 248–259. https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12271