1. Brain Benefits
There have now been a vast number of studies conducted on the effect of bilingualism (being able to speak more than one language) on brain development, especially in children and young people. These studies have consistently shown a number of benefits and not just in the parts of the brain you would expect.
Research is now suggesting that one of the benefits of bilingualism is a better attention span. One of the suggested reasons for this is that through constantly evaluating the language they use, bilingual people are always training this aspect of their brains. Even after a conversation is in full swing, a bilingual person has to continually subconsciously evaluate the words and phrases they use to ensure they’re drawing from the right language.
The end result of this appears to be a better attention span that helps with tasks in all aspects of life and also seems to improve the ability to multi-task.
The relationship between bilingualism and better reading and language skills is now well established. It was, at one point, thought that having 2 languages confused children and lessened their ability to read but more recent (and better performed) studies conclusively show the opposite is true.
The recent Millennum Cohort Study did show that through the ages of 3, 4 and 5 bilingual children would lag behind monolingual children (children who only speak 1 language) in these skills, but that they would then very quickly catch up to and overtake the monolingual children by age 7. This applied to reading in both the children’s second language and in English, therefore improving capability across the board.
School Performance & Engagement
Researchers from George Mason University (Virginia, USA) found that bilingual students not only achieved higher test results (in all subjects, not just languages), they also had a better attendance rate, fewer behavioural problems and were generally happier at school.
Other research has, through new technological advances, found that bilingualism improves the “executive function” of the brain (the ‘control centre’ that organises the brain). This leads to better learning capabilities, problem solving, memory and more.
2. Health Benefits
Although it may be surprising, there are a number of health benefits linked to bilingualism.
The best documented and most obvious of these is the delay of cognitive decline. Across a number of studies it has become clear that bilingualism has a direct link to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s, Dementia and other similar cognitive diseases.
More surprising though is the stroke risk reduction. Multiple studies have shown that bilingual people are less likely to suffer a stroke and that those who do, recover quicker as well.
Bilingual people seem to also have lower levels of stress than monolingual people.
3. Open-Mindedness & Adaptability
Bilingualism seems to make people more open-minded. It is thought this is due to a couple of things that come inherently with being bilingual.
The first of these is differing perspectives. Different cultures tend to have different perspectives and ways of looking at the world. These differing perspectives naturally help shape the language of the culture. Through learning a language you subconsciously pick up these perspectives and they give you new ways of looking at the world and your surroundings, making you more open minded and willing to accept the views of others.
The second seems to be the continual assessment of social situations. Again, whether bilingual people know they are doing it or not, they are constantly assessing the situations they’re in and making decisions on the language and word choice they use. This continual social awareness also seems to help with empathy and open-mindedness.
Both of these things seem to also contribute to adaptability and allow bilingual people to be better able to cope with changes in their lives and surroundings.
4. Social Opportunities
With learning a new language, or having two languages from birth, new social opportunities open up to you. Language groups, sports clubs and teams, online spaces and other opportunities all exist for the speakers of a large number of languages. On top of these, there is also the ability to speak to any other speaker of the language and the shared language instantly gives you something you have in common.
5. More Options For Further Education & Work
There are a great number of additional opportunities for further education to be gained through being bilingual. Having a second language opens up the ability to enroll in courses or specific modules that are taught in your second language. In Scotland the most obvious example of this is Gaelic. Gaelic courses are now offered at the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow and the University of Aberdeen.
Not only are these courses (and courses taught in any language other than English) additional courses you can apply for that aren’t open to monolingual students, but they offer some brilliant opportunities such as a year studying as far afield as Canada.
Languages are also highly valued in the workplace. Industries such as tourism, journalism and translation are rapidly expanding and having additional languages can be a massively helpful skill within them.
Even if the job you apply for doesn’t require the use of a second language, it is still a great skill to have on your CV that can set you apart from other candidates. It can also open the door to exciting new opportunities that weren’t necessarily expected to be part of the job role.
6. Learning More Languages
It is well known that once you have learned a second language, learning a third (or as many more as you like!) becomes much easier and the door is open to endless possibilities!
7. No Negatives!
So far there have been no negative affects found to be connected to being bilingual.
Even if the benefits are small, or non-existent for that matter, why not pick up a second language anyway? You shouldn’t suffer any drawbacks and you never know what opportunities could stem from it!
To learn more about the benefits of bilingualism, there are loads of great articles and research papers out there like the study published on The Institute of Education Sciences and the articles published on Bilingual Kid Spot.