What are the real-life benefits of being bilingual?

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6 wise “why’s” of language learning!

Hola! Kedu! And welcome back to Adventures in Language! In this article, we’re talking about the real-life benefits to being bilingual. Whether you’re embarking on, continuing, or re-starting your language learning journey, this article will help you frame your “why.” Now, 시간낭비 하지말고 ( ‘without further ado’), let’s get to it!

Did you know?

Did-You-Know-Mango

Globally speaking, being bilingual is actually the norm – NOT the exception! (Grosjean, 1982). In some pockets of the world, there are monolingual bubbles that might make that sound surprising – but it’s true. Now, there are various definitions for what it means to be bilingual – some based philosophically and some based on empirical metrics. In other words, opinions differ on the question of how fluent one must be to be considered truly bilingual. And maybe we’ll do a whole article dissecting that (let us know if you’d like us to). But, to keep things simple, we’re going to follow the most general definition of ‘bilingual’ here, which is this: a person who knows, has studied, and/or can can use 2 or more languages. That means, whether you’re a 10-languages-in-your-back-pocket-type-of polyglot or someone who is just starting out on their bilingual journey – enjoy this article, because it’s going to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. We suspect you’ll learn some new ways to leverage your plurilingual skills! So, what are the real-life benefits of being bilingual?

#1: It’s good for your brain.

There is a plethora of psycholinguistic research to suggest that knowing 2+ languages can increase executive functioning in the brain – and that it may even offset Alhzeimer’s Disease for those predisposed by roughly 4.5yrs (Grant et al., 2014). In some ways, you can think of bilingualism not just as a lifestyle but as a cognitive exercise that helps your brain fight back against the formation of nasty neural plaques and tangles (and nobody wants that). Building up your cognitive reserve through bilingualism even has a name: it’s called the “Bilingual Advantage.” It’s named that way to reflect the body of research for which evidence suggests that bilinguals on average perform slightly better on memory-related tasks. So, if you go to the gym to take care of your body – why not learn another language to take care of your brain?

#2: It can open up exciting career opportunities.

Knowing more than one language can make you more marketable in the workforce. For companies and institutions who are eager to reach a diverse swath of clients or consumers, or constituents – bilingual employees are especially attractive. And it opens you up to work in a wider range of locations and with more diverse groups of people.

#3: It can lead to meaningful personal connections.

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As a bilingual, you get to talk to people you wouldn’t be able to communicate easily with otherwise. While it’s true that you might be able to get through a conversation by relying purely on automatic translation software, you’re much more likely to strike a special bond with someone even if you can speak just a little bit of their language. Who knows – you may meet a new best friend, find a life partner, or foster a lifelong bond with that lovely neighbor who you never knew much about!

#4: It can help you lead a more diversity-rich life.

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Being even a little bilingual allows you to be more respectful of other people’s cultures, both when traveling and in your own multicultural community. Knowing how to properly greet people in their own language makes them feel respected and seen, and when you are abroad people always appreciate you making the attempt to speak with them in their own language. On the flip side, if you speak with someone from another country while they are in yours, reaching out to them in their language can make them feel welcome. In this way, bilingualism can act as a way of building empathy, as it creates a greater understanding between individuals across different cultures. This breaks down barriers and creates more unified communities, which after all, is kinda the whole point of this whole society thing. And the beauty is that in most cases, you don’t need to travel abroad to encounter speakers of different languages and people from different cultural backgrounds. You’re likely to find it in the multilingual, pluricultural fabric where you already live. Long story short, being bilingual can be a beautiful way to embrace diversity and lifelong learning.

#5: You get to perceive the world through new eyes.

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Different languages have different ways of carving up the world. They also have different ways of naming things, of perceiving and navigating everyday life. If you’ve ever heard the famous Charlemagne quote “To speak another language is to possess another soul” – that’s what this one is all about. For many, this is the most magical benefit of being bilingual. For example, in Korean, you never say “my Mom” when referring to your mom. Even an only child would always say “our Mom.” Why? It reflects the communal nature of Korean culture. Kinship terms are shared rather than individualistic. There’s a whole related topic in bilingual research for this (it’s called linguistic relativity – check out this awesome TED talk to learn more). But the takeaway is that culture and history are hidden all over in plain sight in language. By learning the ways other languages differ from your own, you will start to even realize things about your language and culture that you never noticed before. Pro-tip: the “Culture Tips” feature within the Mango app highlights some of these cultural differences that come to light as you learn your language.

#6: It’s just cool!

This girl gets it. #BeingBilingualRocks

What’s your why?

Thanks for reading! Now that you’ve finished the article, we hope you feel inspired to take these motivational ideas to fuel your language learning journey. We’re excited for you! If you’re feeling inspired, share a link to this article on social media (tage us @MangoLanguages) with a line telling us what fuels you to learn languages. 

Wondering what languages were used in today’s article? In addition to the article being written in English, you got to see some  Igbo, Spanish, and Korean. ‘‘Kedu’ and ‘nagboo’ are the words for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Igbo (a language native to eastern Nigeria). ‘Hola’ and ‘hasta la próxima’ are ‘hello’ and ‘until next time’ in Spanish (spoken natively and as a national language in ~20 countries worldwide). ‘시간낭비 하지말고’ (she-gan-NANG-bee ha-ji-MAL-go) is a Korean phrase that roughly translates to ‘and without further ado,’ but literally translates as ‘time waste but now…’ Interested in Igbo, Spanish, Korean, or one of our other 70+ languages? Click to check out our courses!
References and suggested readings to explore more about this topic:
  • To read more about the fundamentals of  bilingualism, check out this book: Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with two languages: An introduction to bilingualism. Harvard University Press.
  • To learn more about the research on Bilingual Advantage, check out this article: Grant, A., Dennis, N. A., & Li, P. (2014). Cognitive control, cognitive reserve, and memory in the aging bilingual brain. Frontiers in psychology5, 1401.
To watch one of the best linguistics TED talks out there by Dr. Lera Boroditsky (Professor, UCSD) on how the languages you speak can shape the ways you think, click here.
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Meet The Author:
Author - Emily Rae Sabo
Emily Rae Sabo
Linguist at Mango Languages
Emily Sabo (Ph.D., University of Michigan): A travel-hungry content creator with a Linguistics Ph.D. in bilingual language processing, Emily has studied 7 languages and loves getting to use them to connect with people around the world. When she’s not creating content for the Mango community, you can find her dancing, yoga-ing, or performing some good ole’ fashioned standup comedy.

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