San Antonio Sabbatical

Bilingual Advantages

Posted on: October 25, 2010

Psychology Today has a feature article in the current issue about the advantages of being bilingual (“Double Talk” by Carlin Flora, September/October 2010, pages 70-79).  Four successful individuals with different language backgrounds (varying combinations of Cantonese, English, Mandarin, Russian, Hungarian, French, and German) and careers are profiled.  Each one discusses how speaking more than one language has been an asset in life.  As a whole, they are better able to communicate meaning because they have a larger repertoire from which to select just the right words to describe something or express a feeling.  Facility with language has opened doors for them in their careers and strengthened their personal and professional relationships.  Their personal stories — all are immigrants — are engaging and inspiring.

In the Psychology Today article, Flora mentions that “…half of the world’s population conducts life in multiple languages” (page 72) and that bilingual individuals “…are always dipping into their total language knowledge.  And they often intermingle their languages…in a natural quest for optimal self-expression and understanding” (page 75).  Brain scans show that “Monolinguals are essentially underutilizing their abilities” (page 75).  The author goes on to say that “Bilingual brains are fitter, too” (page 76) and mentions studies which have shown cognitive advantages in bilinguals — things such as enhanced attention and cognitive control, increased ability for learning additional languages, and better performance on divergent thinking tasks (pages 76 and 79).

Flora notes that:

  • “The most widely spoken languages in the world are Mandarin, English, Spanish, Arabic, and Hindi.” (page 75)
  • “There are more than 50 million bilinguals in the United States today, including a full 42% of Californians.” (page 76)

It’s clear that being bilingual or multilingual has advantages.  These advantages extend beyond the personal and into the business arena as well (global networking).  Bilingualism is a valuable and marketable skill.  There’s more information about these advantages in the resources at the end of this post.

I’ve been interested in Spanish for a long time.  The first Spanish words I learned (for example, agua, beso, and numbers) were from “Sesame Street” but I didn’t have the opportunity to study the language until high school.  During college (where I encountered a large and impressive international and multilingual student population) I wanted to study abroad during my junior year but couldn’t afford to do so.  As I was completing graduate school, I applied and interviewed with the Peace Corps and requested a placement in Latin America so that I could learn Spanish while performing my volunteer service, but once again, I couldn’t work out the financial aspect (I needed major dental work and my debts couldn’t be put on hold for two years).  I still have an interest in the Peace Corps and may choose to serve in the future if circumstances allow.  Returned volunteers with whom I’ve spoken have found their Peace Corps experiences to be very rewarding.  For now, I have been taking Spanish classes, doing short-term (2-to-4 weeks) study abroad trips to Mexico and Spain (where I’ve met several multilingual students, especially from Europe), and did a 3-week volunteer stint in Costa Rica through Cross-Cultural Solutions.  Currently I’m spending my sabbatical leave in San Antonio, Texas in order to learn how to provide effective and culturally-sensitive psychological services to Hispanics/Latinos through lecture and practicum courses I’m taking at Our Lady of the Lake University.  I continue to learn about Spanish languages and cultures, and hope to one day be fluent.  My goal is to be one of the millions of bilingual individuals in the United States.

Resources

(1)  Why Teaching Your Child a Foreign Language is Important (video)

(2)  Why it Pays to be Multilingual (video)

(3)  Benefits of Being Bilingual

(4)  Why it Pays to be Bilingual

(5)  The Benefits of Study Abroad

(6)  The Big Guide to Living and Working Overseas

(7)  Peace Corps

(8)  Polyglot Club (video, in French)

(9)  Psychological Services for Spanish Speaking Populations (OLLU)

 

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