The Benefits of Multilingualism

The Benefits of Multilingualism

Did you know that being multilingual was considered a handicap up until the 1960s? Raising children speaking multiple languages was discouraged, as it was believed that switching between languages slowed down their response time. 


While it is true that we are more prone to take our time answering or make mistakes when speaking a foreign language than our native one, it is most definitely not a disadvantage. Brain activity is actually increased when we communicate in another language, which comes with multiple benefits. 


Given that nearly half of the population (33 billion people) worldwide is bilingual, speaking two languages doesn’t seem as impressive as it may have been in the past. However, because only a further 17% of people are multilingual, the more languages you speak, the more admirable you will become - and the more advantages of being multilingual you will be able to observe.


Types of multilingualism

Before we move on to discuss the benefits of being multilingual, let’s briefly explain the 3 types of multilinualism:


  • Compound multilingual - develops skills in more than one language simultaneously, for example by growing up in an international family, where the mother speaks a different language than the father.

  • Coordinate multilingual - works with a few sets of concepts, for example by learning one language at school and speaking another at home or with friends. 

  • Subordinate multilingual - learns a language by filtering it through another language, for example by comparing grammatical structures in order to understand them. 


Are you able to identify which type you are? Bear in mind that you can be more than one if you speak multiple languages! 


Benefits of multilingualism


1. Being multilingual improves your health

2. Being multilingual makes decision-making easier

3. Being multilingual boosts your employability

4. Being multilingual makes you more attractive

5. Being multilingual has a positive impact on your everyday life


  1. Being multilingual improves your health


Scientists race one another in conducting studies concerning the benefits of a multilingual brain. In the vast research in this field, quite a few health benefits of multilingualism have been named. 


Firstly, learning a new language results in a higher density of grey matter in the brain. It contains a majority of your neurons and synapses, which are responsible for thought processes and your overall intellectual fitness.


What’s more, engaging in a foreign language is one of the most effective brain workouts. More activity has been noted in certain regions of the brain when speaking in a language other than our native tongue. 


Increased connections between different areas of the brain have also been observed in people who can speak multiple languages. This results in higher cognitive intelligence. 


Learning a language can even cause some regions in the brain to increase in size! This has been proven in the case of the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, both responsible for learning and memory retention. 


To top it all off, one of the best health benefits of multilingualism is its ability to delay certain diseases. Learning and functioning in a foreign language requires lots of focus, which thoroughly stimulates the brain. Increased brain activity, especially as we get older, can delay Alzheimer's and other types of dementia by up to 5 years. 


That is not to say that being multilingual can prevent those diseases altogether. But, as we have already mentioned, using a foreign language is one of the best workouts the brain can get, so keeping it active significantly decreases the chances of getting them early on in life. 

  1. Being multilingual makes decision-making easier


The majority of us can agree on one thing: making decisions is hard. Some of us only find ourselves in a pickle when taking major, life-changing steps, while others can’t avoid a dilemma every time they need to pick the right yoghurt flavour on a trip for groceries. 


And, because decision-making is an unavoidable part of all of our lives, it is an incredibly crucial skill to master. 


Minds which have to constantly switch between different languages are used to making choices. Their activity is a constant matter of choosing the right vocabulary, register, and grammar to facilitate communication with other people. 


This makes it easier for multilingual people to make decisions. The more we do something, the more we get used to it, and repeating it in the future comes more lightly every time. 


It’s visible in down-to-Earth situations, such as spending money. The University of California conducted an experiment in which participants had to make financial decisions while given instructions in two different languages. 


When functioning in their native language, they were less likely to take risks and preferred to play it safe. Making a decision in a foreign language made them more likely to take an attractive money bet while demonstrating a lower concern of losing. 


This is explained by the fact that we are often more emotionally connected to our native tongue than the foreign one. Therefore, thinking in the native language may evoke more fear, passion, or longing. 


Think about this: is it easier for you to curse in your mother tongue or a foreign language? We often feel fewer inhibitions using bad words in another language because they don’t carry such an impact as those in the language we grew up with. 


Interestingly, a study by the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona revealed that this also applies to moral decisions. Participants of the experiment were presented with the famous train dilemma in two different languages.


In a hypothetical scenario, they had to choose between actively sacrificing one person in order to save five people, or not sacrificing anyone directly but passively letting the five people die by not taking any action. 


When making the decisions in a foreign language, the participants were much more likely to adopt a utilitarian approach and decide to kill one person to save five. This is also deeply connected with our ability to be more rational and distance ourselves from emotions when speaking a language other than our native tongue. 

  1. Being multilingual boosts your employability


Languages were, are, and will continue to be amongst the most desirable skills by employers. If you need tangible proof, just visit our job board and see how many job offers we languages we list there. 


What benefits does multilingualism provide for employment? 


Well, certain fields value multilingualism more than others, but the universal truth is that the ability to speak an additional language is always a plus in most industries and companies. Language skills are often the deciding factor when an employer is faced with a choice between two candidates with very similar experiences and backgrounds. 


What are the benefits of multilingualism in the office?


We have already discussed how speaking multiple languages helps us make decisions. This is a sought-after attribute in employees, as swift decision-making leads to efficient work and increases productivity. 


What’s more, when learning languages, we also get to know various cultures. This makes us more open-minded, globally aware, and tolerant. Language learning is also proven to boost creativity, which is another important skill in the professional world


Facts: why is multilingualism an advantage in the workplace? 


If you need facts and figures to be convinced, here they are. Did you know that bilingual people earn an average of 11% more than those who only speak one language? 


Additionally, according to The Economist, being bilingual could increase your salary by 2% over 40 years. This may not seem like much, but once you do the maths, it could amount to as much as $67 000 by the time you retire!


But that’s not all. You’re probably aware of Switzerland’s status as a wealthy country and one of the financial leaders in Europe. So many dream about relocating there, or at least setting up a lucrative Swiss bank account.


But did you know that Switzerland is also a very multilingual country? This relatively small nation has 4 official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh)! And that’s not including all the other languages commonly spoken in the streets, given the large number of immigrants living there.


Therefore, economists working for the University of Geneva that about 10% of the country’s impressive GDP can be tied to Switzerland’s multilingual nature. 

  1. Being multilingual makes you more attractive


Languages are sexy. We are not going to get into the debate of which languages in particular are considered the most charming, but one thing is certain. Speaking any foreign language makes a person more attractive in the eyes of others. 


No, it’s not just a stereotype. This statement is supported by various studies from different, independent sources, and they all reach the same conclusion: being multilingual is sexy. 


For example, a study conducted by Unuhi revealed that 79% of respondents agreed that someone who is bilingual is more attractive. This may be explained by the fact that we often consider intelligence as an alluring quality, and the same survey discovered that 77% of participants admit to perceiving a person as more intelligent if they speak a foreign language. 


If looks do more for you than intelligence (we don’t judge), then here’s a fact for you: 93% of the responders to a study by Babbel claim to find a partner with language skills more enticing than one with an athletic build. That’s almost all of the participants. 


And yeah, maybe they might be a little bit biased based on the fact that they mostly use the language app themselves, but let’s admit it: who doesn’t? 


In the same survey, 43% said they would be more willing to go on a date with someone who claims to be multilingual. Bear in mind that the way the sentence is formulated suggests it’s about people who say they are multilingual rather than people who are multilingual, but we still don’t recommend lying on your dating app profile!


The British Council, on the other hand, revealed that 34% of respondents to their own study would consider learning another language if it could potentially result in romance. The old saying that the best motivation to learn a language is love is based on some truth, then!

  1. Being multilingual has a positive impact on your everyday life


Multilinguals are better at executive functions. These are cognitive skills that involve:


  • Resolving conflicts

  • Filtering out irrelevant information

  • Flexible thinking

  • Working memory

  • Juggling multiple tasks

  • Focusing attention 

  • Self-control


As you can see, they are all important and we apply every single one of them on a daily basis, even when performing the most basic activities. 


The most popular example of testing your executive functions is the Stroop test. It is the famous test in which you need to read out loud the colour a word is written in, rather than the word itself. It is more tricky than it initially seems, and proves that something as simple as recognising colours can actually be more challenging to our brains than we think.


Multilinguals participating in studies involving this test are noted to complete it with more accuracy than people who only speak one language. This is attributed to the fact that their brains are more used to the gymnastics of filtering, processing, and remembering information when they deal with different languages than those of people who don’t experience this challenge on a daily basis. 


Speaking multiple languages also boosts our self-confidence. Children raised as bilingual experience less anxiety, have higher self-esteem, and are said to feel less lonely. They also reportedly feel sadness and anger less frequently than monolingual children, and are therefore less likely to pick fights.


This particular study focused on children, but how we feel and what we learn in the early stages of our lives heavily impacts who we become later on. It is safe to say, then, that the results observed for children won’t be much different for adults. 

Those are the main benefits of multilingualism. Bear in mind, that’s not all! The advantages of being bilingual are never-ending, and are not limited to the ones we mentioned here. Depending on your personal circumstances, some of them might be more important to you than others. 


You can add easier travel, cultural awareness, easier communication, and lots upon lots of other reasons for why it is important to be multilingual to the list. We couldn’t describe them all, but we hope the conclusion is clear: the benefits of speaking multiple languages are clear, and it’s never too late to become multilingual and discover them all

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