The Benefits of Being Bilingual

 For many of us who grew up bilingual, we didn’t know or understand the gift that our parents were giving upon us as children. Now, as adults, we can see and take advantage of those benefits.

My mother is of the half generation, emigrating to the United States from Mexico with my grandparents at about a year old. She grew up, went to school here in the U.S. and learned to speak English as fluently as she did Spanish. My father, on the other hand, finished his education in Mexico emigrating to the U.S. at the age of 19.

My parents have comfort in different languages. My mother can speak Spanish but reading and writing in Spanish aren’t exactly her strong suits. My father made it his goal to teach my sister and I to speak Spanish fluently because of the cultural ties, traditions and history that comes with the language.

Since I was a child, I always understood that I spoke to particular people in my family in certain languages. Growing up, I knew that I had to speak to my father in Spanish and my mother in English, although at times she spoke to us in Spanish. My maternal grandmother, who also spoke Spanish, reinforced my father’s teachings and gave me someone else to communicate with in Spanish.

Little did they know that they were doing what bilingual professionals advised of parents who wanted to teach their children two languages. One tactic that experts advise is “one parent, one language,” where each parent takes a language and speaks to the child in that language.

However, the Linguistic Society of America suggests that children need as much exposure to the natural language as possible, regardless of who is speaking. Because it is very easy for children to pick up languages at a young age, they will realize that particular languages are needed to communicate.

Mixing languages happens. This is not a bad thing. It is called “code switching,” when people mix both English and Spanish in the same sentence, and happens with other languages besides Spanish. When this mixing happens in Spanish, it’s called Spanglish (Spanish and English), but there is also Chinglish (Chinese and English), Manglish (languages from Malaysia and English), Japanglish (Japanese and English), Franglais (French and English) and Arabish (Arabic and English). 

In the last few years, bilingualism has been seen as exercise for the brain, according to NPR, which improves the ability to multitask and “could even mean a four-to five-year delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.”

Needless to say, learning two languages has a multitude of benefits that monolingual individuals might not develop until a later age, or not at all. Many benefits emerge in later years, as adolescents and young adults.

The list is long, but here are a few benefits of being bilingual:

  1. Maintains strong ties with family, community and culture

    Languages carry with them centuries of history. Dissecting a language means learning about immigration, anthropology and history. Questions may come up like, why do Filipino people have Spanish sur names? Did you know that they also count in Spanish? Why? Where do words like “almohada” (pillow) and “alfombra” (carpet) come from? What does “Ojalá” (hopefully) really mean?
    The understanding of culture and ability to speak with relatives and people of different backgrounds also comes with learning languages. It also joins you with another type of community and is a tool for building relationships.

  2. Advanced critical thinking skills

    Bilingual children are able to focus on the bottom line. It has been found that bilingual people acquire the type of language expertise that helps attend to critical tasks and ignore irrelevant information.
    Being bilingual also has a positive effect on intellectual growth and enriches and enhances a child’s mental development, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.

  3. Bilingual people find it easy to focus, remember and make decisions

    Training the brain to remember vocabulary, accents and more, evolves as adults. Because of the additional benefits of learning, critical thinking skills and the ability to focus, making educated decisions will come easier to them.

  4. The ability to problem solve

    Bilinguals have the ability to multitask and eliminate meaningless information when looking at an issue. Seeing the end result or keeping the goal in mind makes getting there much easier. Bilinguals are also said to be better communicators because of an enhanced perspective, which may also aid in problem solving abilities.

  5. Being able to learn new words easily

    When you’re bilingual, new words are coming at you all the time. Picking up, learning and understanding new vocabulary comes easier and aids in understanding roots, related words and definitions. And if you think about it, as a bilingual person you know double the amount of words as a monolingual person. For example, if you know 40,000 words in English and the translation of them, then you know 80,000 total words.

Do you have a story about being bilingual or the benefits of it? Share it with us in the comments below! 

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