Skip links

Being Multilingual

Being able to speak a number of languages comes with a number of benefits. A huge amount of research is has and continues to focus on the psychological, economic and health benefits of being multilingual. Speaking more than one language improves cognitive functions as well as our social and emotional attitudes too. The scientific world is starting to really take seriously the potential life changing advantages to speaking multiple languages.

Here are 9 practical benefits to being multilingual.

1. It makes learning further languages easier

This may seem like an obvious one but if you can already speak two languages then the chances are that you are already pretty good at learning languages. A study at Haifa University proved that those who were bilingual were able to find it much easier to become multilingual by adding a third or even a fourth language. Even by removing factors such as IQ, reading ability and some other cognitive aspects, multilingualism can be isolated as a causal factor increasing the ability to learn more languages.

2. Increased ability to Multitask

Multilingual people are often seen as in a constant state of multitasking. When they have to shift from their native language to they have to switch and shift in real time. But what is interesting is that this is not just applied to language but also non-linguistic multitasking too. In a study with children which tested their ability to multitask with noises, pictures, letters and musical instruments, multilingual children tested considerably better.

3. Makes you more Empathetic

Being empathetic is the ability to relate to someone else and to see things as they do. No surprises, but multilingual people are better at this. An important review was made of the research into this topic which concluded that “acquiring two languages helps Theory of Mind development [this is the ability to attribute mental states to other people and to predict and explain other people’s behaviour based  on the individual’s mental state].” Entering into different linguistic systems makes it easier to understand someone else’s mind.

4. You’ll be more Interesting

Knowing that being multilingual makes you more empathetic, it therefore allows you to be more interesting. See this video about how Royal International College makes its students ‘interesting’ people. This is because of Theory of Mind which helps to develop ‘prosocial’ behaviours. Children who develop this are better conversationalists, more social mature and are often rated the most popular and interesting in class.

5. Multilingualism helps you to view in a different Perspective

The language you speak helps you to determine how you can interpret actions. Imagine the following scenario… A person is walking down the street to meet a friend. Do you focus on the act of walking, or do you focus on the goal of walking (the goal being meeting the friend). English and French speakers tend to be the latter whereas German and Swedish the former. What becomes interesting is that multilingual people are able to flip between both perspectives.

6. You have the Opportunity to be Paid more

If you are multilingual, the chances of you being paid more over the course of your life, increases. An article from the Economist described that being multilingual would increase your salary by 2% over the course of 40 years (this equated to $67,000 more by the time you retire). The effects are often different, depending on what language you speak. German and Mandarin are sough after languages but it is Arabic which can increase your wage more. Arabic speakers are seen to have the highest average salary based on statistics in the UK. Particularly those in teaching, accountancy, IT and PR.

7. It can make your Country Richer

Not only can you become richer from being multilingual but the more a local area, state or country can speak other languages, the greater the economic output. Economists state that 10% of Switzerland’s GDP is due to multilingualism. A think tank in the UK suggested that increasing language acquisition in UK school children could boost the economy by £9 – £12 billion.

8. Reduce the chances of Dementia

As we get older, our cognitive functions become slower. The worst scenarios of this can be dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. According to data on the topic, learning and becoming multilingual helps in 2 ways. 1, it reduces the chances of getting dementia, and 2, if you were to get dementia, it slows its onset and lessens the symptoms.

9. It Improves Executive Functions

Executive functions are those little jobs that the brain does without thought or consideration. Multilingual people are better at certain kinds of these functions, namely, those that involve flipping between different types of brain activation. A classic test in the “Stroop” test which involves reading out words for colours (like purple or green) that are written in different colour ink. Multilingual people are not always best at these executive functions but are certainly better than most.

Leave a comment