- What are the advantages and disadvantages of being bilingual?
- At what age can you be bilingual?
- How does being bilingual affect you?
Did you grow up bilingual? Are you wondering about the importance of learning a second language while you’re young? Let's take a closer look at what it really means to be bilingual in today’s world. 🌎
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being bilingual?
Researchers are yet to understand the full impact of bilingualism on the lives of those who grew up speaking two languages. However, what we know so far seems to suggest that the positive effects of bilingualism far outweigh the negative.
For starters, fluency in two languages has been shown to improve a person's ability to multitask, pay attention, solve problems and think creatively. Bilingualism also has been linked to boosting working memory performance.
Outside of cognitive development, bilingual people also have personal benefits. If you learned two languages as a child, you have access to two cultures. It also can allow you to travel with more confidence and have the opportunity for more professional and academic opportunities.
The disadvantages of bilingualism are few and far between, but it's worth noting that speaking two languages can bring its own unique challenges.
Bilingual people can experience language fluency delay, accidentally mix the two languages, and sometimes find that one language dominates the other, especially if you live in a country where one language is dominant.
Lexical retrieval (the ability to think of words) can also occasionally lapse, leading to the “tip of the tongue” (TOT) effect when someone can’t quite recall a familiar word from their learned vocabulary.
At what age can you be bilingual?
Technically, a person can be bilingual as soon as they start speaking. As a child’s vocabulary expands, so does their bilingual capacity. This can pose a challenge, though, as the more words you learn in one language, the more you need to learn in the other to maintain your bilingual ability.
If you have parents who are fluent in two languages, your parents may have communicated with you in two separate languages. (For example, your dad may have spoken to you in Spanish while your mum only spoke English.) If your parents are not bilingual, it’s possible you had a nanny or babysitter who spoke another language so you could gain exposure.
According to a study by Cognition, an international journal that publishes theoretical and experimental papers on the study of the mind, there is a “critical cut-off age” for learning a language fluently. Their research shows that if you want to have native-like knowledge of a language, you should ideally start learning before age 10. But you’re not doomed if you start your language learning journey after that!
How does being bilingual affect you?
Everyone is different, and there are no blanket rules when it comes to speaking more than one language.
Some bilingual children can struggle to develop reading and writing skills to the same level of proficiency in both languages simultaneously – racing ahead in one while the other lags behind.
Additionally, if you spoke two languages from childhood, you may also confuse the grammatical structure of the two languages, leading to mistakes in both languages in the early stages of language development.
However, you likely overcame these potential struggles as you grew up and your language skills improved. The pros of being bilingual definitely outweigh the cons. Here are our top six benefits of bilingualism:
#1 Academic advantage 📚
Studies into executive function have shown that bilingual students can outperform monolingual students in a number of subject areas. If you’re bilingual, you have strong mental skills, including working memory, flexible thinking and self-control – all of which can help with overall academic development.
#2 Easy travel and social success 🛬
Being able to speak a second language can make travel more accessible and enjoyable. The ability to easily converse with people around the world can lead to a greater sense of global citizenship and enhanced social skills—a win/win!
#3 A greater sense of personal identity 🧘
If you grew up in a bilingual household, speaking both languages likely helped you to feel more connected to your ancestry. Acknowledging the importance of family culture and heritage is an important part of developing a strong sense of personal identity.
#4 Increased appreciation of different cultures 🌏
You don’t have to speak a culture's language to learn about and respect it, but being bilingual can allow for a more immersive and direct way into different communities.
#5 Access a more exciting job market 👩💻
The global job market is increasingly international with many companies boasting several offices across continents. Being able to speak more than one language will make you a more useful and desirable candidate when it comes to applying for jobs and opportunities in adulthood.
#6 Becoming multilingual is easier 🗣️
Bilingual people have a better understanding of an ability to analyse different aspects of a language including sounds, syntax and words. This enhanced aptitude for languages, in general, makes it easier to learn a third or fourth language too!
Overall, the relatively manageable challenges that might crop up in the short term are well worth it when you consider the multitude of benefits in the long term. Being bilingual is a gift that keeps on giving. 🎁
If you haven’t spoken a second language from a young age, you may worry you won’t be able to learn one now. However, you absolutely can! If you’re interested in learning a second language, why not find a private tutor with GoStudent? We have experienced language tutors from all over the world who can help you become fluent in no time. Book your free trial lesson today!