There have been studies researching the benefits of multilingualism and its effect on a person’s linguistic, cognitive, educational, and cultural development. Unfortunately, only 15-20 percent of the US population can speak a second language. Let’s look a little deeper at the benefits of being multilingual and the effects of language development during early childhood.
The Importance of Being Multilingual
According to a 2011 US Census Bureau survey, 60.6 million Americans (21%) speak a language other than English. Globally about 60-75 percent can speak a second language.
Studies have shown that children are better able to learn a second language while they are toddlers. It takes about 5 to 7 years to learn a second language proficiently. I grew up learning and speaking both English and Russian. When learning both languages simultaneously, this demonstrates a higher level of cognitive skills.
Additionally, foreign language classes are still considered an elective in high school instead of being implemented in the curriculum. When switching from one language to the other, multilingual speakers learn how to keep track of changes around themselves; similar to how we watch our surroundings when driving.
For the past 20 years, I have studied English, Russian, Spanish, and French, making myself quad lingual. Not only did I attend an immersion school for about nine years, I also continued language studies into high school and, ultimately, college where I studied Spanish as a minor. Speaking more than one language has become one of the most useful skills I have acquired thus far. I began learning my third language, Spanish, at the age of 4 and I continue to study it and am now a junior in college. I have recognized notable improvements in my language comprehension, specifically in regards to reading, writing, and speaking but also in my ability to translate and interpret languages.
Better career opportunities for multilingual people
Being able to speak another language makes you a competitive contender with potential employers. Multilingual consumers are increasingly becoming a larger market for a global business community. Therefore, being versatile, knowing another language and understanding the cultural expectations places you ahead of other possible candidates. You are also able to look at career opportunities that are unavailable to monolinguals, such as translators, language teachers, or with international companies.
Because I am multilingual, I have been granted work and school opportunities in Spanish speaking countries. There I am networking and learning about different people and cultures. I have been able to travel to Nicaragua, Spain, and Mexico where my Spanish speaking skills were of vital use. There is just such an accomplished feeling in being able to communicate with a wide array of people, sharing cultures and experiences together.
Being multilingual opens up social and cultural opportunities. Speaking another language allows you to interact with a larger variety of people. You are better able to understand the nuances of their culture.
More than half of the world speaks more than one language everyday. This should not be seen as a rare occurrence. Instead, it should be celebrated and implemented into everyday life, especially within the United States. While you may have the option of learning a second language in most US schools, schools in Europe have mandates in place for foreign language curriculum. In most European countries, students begin learning a second language between the ages of 6 and 9, according to a 2012 report from Eurostat.
Children who do not implement a second language before they begin school often have more difficulty developing total fluency in the language, making it almost impossible to change the language of the home after it has been established. Once we implement a better structure for language development in school systems, we will be better able to take advantage of the benefits of language development during early childhood for the future of our children. I recommend to anyone who is seeking to learn a new language to start early, and stick to it!
Multilingualism is an asset to our world that will bring great payoffs in the long term!
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