Even if you are bilingual, switching back and forth between the two languages can be difficult. In Spanish, it’s common to mispronounce a split verb, use the incorrect preposition in English, or lose track of the beginning and conclusion of a long German sentence. So, can learn a second language improves our multitasking abilities or just confuse us?
What are the advantages of being bilingual?
The first major benefit relates to what is known as executive function. This refers to the ability to direct, control, and regulate your attention, as well as your capacity to plan. It also assists you in ignoring unimportant information and concentrating on what matters. Because a bilingual person is fluent in two languages and the languages are engaged automatically and subconsciously, she or he must continually manage the languages’ interference to avoid saying the wrong term in the wrong language at the wrong time.
- Bilingualism is highly valued in the job market
Knowing a second language makes your resume stand out in a crowded work market. Multilingual professionals are in demand in all types of national and multinational enterprises, and being one of them makes you a more versatile and highly appreciated employee.
In other professions, such as national security, public health, tourism, international non-profit management, education, and even military jobs, bilingualism is even more useful.
- Bilingual people have a better memory
Bilingual people outperform monolinguals on memory tasks, according to studies. Rubin Abutalebi, a neuropsychologist at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, claims that brain scans can tell the difference between bilinguals and monolinguists. “Bilingual people have significantly more gray matter than monolinguals in their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and that is because they are using it so much more often,” he explains.
- People that are bilingual are better at multitasking
People that speak more than one language are quite adept at switching back and forth between them. To do so, their brains must maintain a high level of awareness of their physical surroundings, continually monitoring which language is required. According to a Penn State University study, this makes them excellent multitaskers and even better drivers!
- Bilingual people are more empathetic
Bilingual people outperform monolinguals in a variety of tasks that measure how effectively they read other people, according to numerous studies. Bilingual people are supposed to be more empathic because their brain ignores their second language and concentrates on the one needed to interact with the person in front of them.
- Bilingual people are apparently more attractive
Being able to communicate in two languages might make you feel smarter, more confident, and more cosmopolitan. Making a lot of mistakes and possibly seeming “dumb” are all part of the process of learning a second language. Someone who has achieved the status of being bilingual has handled the early days with elegance and confidence, not being afraid to make mistakes while honing their language skills.
Is it possible to confuse or delay a child’s understanding by teaching them two languages?
These myths regarding bilingualism can be traced back to research conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom during World Wars I and II. They were highly faulty research involving children from war-torn countries, including refugees, orphans, and even children in concentration camps in some cases. For years, their education had been disturbed. They may have experienced traumas before taking part in this research, which included examinations to assess their verbal language ability.
They performed poorly on these tests, which is unsurprising. Is it possible that the researchers blamed the low scores on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? They most likely had no idea what that was. They blamed it on the children’s bilingualism instead.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert of McGill University in Montreal released seminal research, that attitudes began to shift. Their studies revealed that bilingual children are not only not cognitively delayed or mentally retarded, but that their bilingualism has certain cognitive benefits as well.
Bilingual people and children have an advantage in metalinguistic awareness, in addition to executive function. This refers to the ability to consider language in terms of abstract units and relationships. The letter H, for example, is related to the English sound “he,” the Russian sound “n” as in “nickel,” and the Greek vowel sound “e.” There’s nothing exceptional about H that requires it to be pronounced with a “he” sound; a bilingual person will grasp this better than a monolingual person.