Friday, August 27, 2010

More Benefits of Multilingualism

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
— Charlemagne (742/7 – 814), King of the Franks

I was just alerted to an article written about the Benefits of Multilingualism. Though I have a few links to other articles like this one in my resources section on the right, I felt like it would be beneficial to post some of the highlights of the article here. Clearly there are moments in my life, and perhaps in yours too, when a reminder could be helpful...

One point that was made is that "multicompetence does not require perfect fluency in all the languages at one’s command...", meaning that I, and the rest of us in this endeavor, can let go of the belief that making mistakes in our non-native language will harm or take away from our children's multilingual experience. Letting go of this belief feels HUGE to me...

In addition to this valuable point, the author sums up a number of other important benefits, adding that "the advantages that multilinguals exhibit over monolinguals are not restricted to linguistic knowledge only, but extend outside the area of language. The substantial long-lived cognitive, social, personal, academic, and professional benefits of enrichment bilingual contexts have been well documented. Children and older persons learning foreign languages have been demonstrated to:

* have a keener awareness and sharper perception of language. Foreign language learning “enhances children’s understanding of how language itself works and their ability to manipulate language in the service of thinking and problem solving” (Cummins 1981);

* be more capable of separating meaning from form;

* learn more rapidly in their native language (L1), e.g. to read, as well as display improved performance in other basic L1 skills, regardless of race, gender, or academic level;

* be more efficient communicators in the L1;

* be consistently better able to deal with distractions, which may help offset age-related declines in mental dexterity;

* develop a markedly better language proficiency in, sensitivity to, and understanding of their mother tongue;

* develop a greater vocabulary size over age, including that in their L1;

* have a better ear for listening and sharper memories;

* be better language learners in institutionalized learning contexts because of more developed language-learning capacities owing to the more complex linguistic knowledge and higher language awareness;

* have increased ability to apply more reading strategies effectively due to their greater experience in language learning and reading in two—or more—different languages;

* develop not only better verbal, but also spatial abilities;

* parcel up and categorize meanings in different ways;

* display generally greater cognitive flexibility, better problem solving and higher-order thinking skills;

* “a person who speaks multiple languages has a stereoscopic vision of the world from two or more perspectives, enabling them to be more flexible in their thinking, learn reading more easily. Multilinguals, therefore, are not restricted to a single world-view, but also have a better understanding that other outlooks are possible. Indeed, this has always been seen as one of the main educational advantages of language teaching” (Cook 2001);

* multilinguals can expand their personal horizons and—being simultaneously insiders and outsiders—see their own culture from a new perspective not available to monoglots, enabling the comparison, contrast, and understanding of cultural concepts;

* be better problem-solvers gaining multiple perspectives on issues at hand;

* have improved critical thinking abilities;

* better understand and appreciate people of other countries, thereby lessening racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, as the learning of a new language usually brings with it a revelation of a new culture;

* learn further languages more quickly and efficiently than their hitherto monolingual peers; (YEAH BABY!!)

* to say nothing of the social and employment advantages of being bilingual – offering the student the ability to communicate with people s/he would otherwise not have the chance to interact with, and increasing job opportunities in many careers.

This, my friends, is why I teach language. And why I continue to stick it out when my doubts hold the reigns. Recently, Kaya's German "jaaaahhh" has morphed into a clearly English-sounding "yeeeaaahh". I can't help feeling a little sad and I've "lost" one more word to the other language (how in the hell did I grow so competitive?!). But reading this list helps me get my little brain back on track, and remember that, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. Once again, I can tell myself, Kaya will be fine. In fact, according to this article, it seems like she'll be even better than that...!


  1. "meaning that I, and the rest of us in this endeavor, can let go of the belief that making mistakes in our non-native language will harm or take away from our children's multilingual experience. Letting go of this belief feels HUGE to me..."

    Yes! Me too! The more we can share this idea, the better!

  2. Thank you for your posts. It gives me encouragement to keep raising my daughter non-native bilingually! :)

  3. Sarah and Matt and Lauren,

    a HUGE delay in my thank you, but here it is nonetheless (here's to gmail's newest function of all unread emails at the top!!).

    Your support continues to inspire me!

  4. Awesome post you have here. A very interesting topic. Thanks for sharing! Anyway, good thing about being a multilingual is that you'll have a lot of opportunities in jobs like document translation services and will have a great chance of becoming a translator.


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