The Many Benefits of Being Bilingual

I’ve always been impressed with people who are bilingual, trilingual or even quadrilingual. That’s because I can speak only one language fluently. 

Despite studying French in high school, I can remember only a handful of phrases, such as “Comment allez-vous?” (How are you?), “Je m’appelle Melvin” (My name is Melvin) and “Je suis une bonne mangue” (I am a good mango). 

My knowledge of my mother tongue, Tamil, is a little better, and I am naturally funny in Tamil. Every time I speak the language, people roll on the floor in laughter. 

Many people in India can speak several languages, so being bilingual is nothing to brag about. 

Rohit: “I know three languages: Hindi, Punjabi and English. And I am currently learning Ukrainian.” 

Mohit: “That’s nothing. I know five languages: Hindi, English, HTML, Java and JavaScript. And I am currently learning Python.” 

Rohit: “Why Python?” 

Mohit: “I’m hoping to move to Florida. They need people who know English and Python.” 

I wish I was fluent in at least two languages. It would enable me to communicate with more people. That’s one of the main benefits of being bilingual, but there are many others. Being bilingual may even give you better memory in your older years and protect you against dementia and cognitive decline. 

The latest study to identify bilingualism as a protective factor against dementia was conducted by researchers in Germany and published in the April issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging. Just in case you’re not a subscriber, let me summarize the results: The researchers conducted tests on almost 750 older adults and found that those who had used a second language daily in early life (age 13 to 30) outperformed people like me (monolinguals) in

There are, of course, so many other benefits to learning another language. Let me just list three: 

1. Multitasking. Research has shown that people who can switch easily from one language to another can also switch easily from one task to another. Their brains are more flexible. My brain, in contrast, can barely focus on one task at a time. If I’m watching football on TV, a python could slither into our home and swallow my wife, and as long as it doesn’t switch channels, I won’t notice. 

2. Wealth. Studies have shown that being bilingual can increase your income significantly. But it depends largely on which languages you know. If you live in Canada and are fluent in English and French, you could land a good government job. If you are fluent in Zulu and Xhosa, you could land on the unemployment line. 

3. Popularity. Learning a second language makes you more popular, especially if it’s a language that no one expects you to know. If you’re an American or European who can speak Tamil (or another Indian language) fluently, you can amass views on YouTube from millions of astonished Indians. They’ll even post hundreds of comments, such as, “He speaks Tamil better than I do!” and “Oh my God, he has even learned the correct intonation! Is he single? I want to take him home to meet my parents!” 

In fact, a few people have made careers on YouTube in a special category of videos called “White People Can Learn Brown People’s Language.” 

To be fair, a Zambian who speaks Malayalam or Marathi fluently will also  get many views on YouTube, as would an Indian who speaks Bemba or Nyanja. Perhaps the category should be called: “You took the trouble to learn our language. We love you!”

Image courtesy of Provided

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