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Introduction: The Multifaceted Advantages of Bilingualism

Famous psycholinguist Frank Smith once said, “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” In today’s modern global world where it is possible to communicate with anyone anywhere on the planet at any time, there are still a few barriers to communication remaining. One of those barriers is language. In the United States, roughly 80% of people speak only one language, in comparison to this roughly 40% of Europeans speak only one language. America is a wide-ranging and diverse nation, a nation of many cultures and peoples. By learning a second language and becoming bilingual you can reap the rewards with long term economic benefits, increased mental health, and an expanded ability to communicate.

For as long as there have been humans there has been a language for them to communicate with. As we evolved as people, we created more complex and more diverse languages which made it more difficult for us to understand each other. With these complex languages, it becomes critical that people understand more than just one of these languages. By understanding, just one language people severely limited their ability to communicate and trade and learn from one another. Communication is without a doubt one of, if not the most critical skill you can have, not only for work or for relationships but for life in general. It is critical to be able to communicate effectively.

The Economic Upside of Knowing Multiple Languages

One reason that becoming bilingual can benefit you is the multitude of economic benefits that it can bring you. Knowing multiple languages opens many opportunities for economic gain and prosperity, through more job opportunities and more international business. As communication improves and more businesses gain more global influence, knowing more than one language gives you more opportunities and a leg up on the competition. The articles by Patricia Gándara and Francois Grosjean support the claim of the many economic benefits of bilingualism. Patricia Gándara sees bilingualism as a vital tool in a Globalizing world and economy. Gándara is a research professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. She has worked for decades to support Hispanics and inclusivity in education. In 2011 Gándara was appointed to President Obama’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and has worked to support bilinguals during her entire career. The article “The Economic Value of Bilingualism in the United States” from The Journal of the National Association for Bilingual Education goes into detail about the multiple benefits bilingualism has on economic opportunities. In this article, Gándara says “Full literacy in another language brings substantial economic benefit. Moreover, the failure to nurture these linguistic skills in the children of immigrants exacts a cost to the earnings of these potentially bilingual students” (Gándara 4). Bilingualism can provide many different economic benefits, employment, and overseas opportunities as well as communication benefits. Bilingualism is helpful in so many ways and we should support bilingual learning more as a country. Gándara’s ideas on the economic benefits of bilingualism are supported by the beliefs of Francois Grosjean. Bilingualism has a multitude of benefits and there are many reasons why more people should pursue bilingualism. Francois Grosjean sees bilingualism as an increasingly beneficial tool in life and a necessity for the future. Grosjean is the former Director of the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory at the University of Neuchâtel. He was also the co-founder of the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition from the Cambridge University Press. Grosjean’s article “The Amazing Rise of Bilingualism in the United States” from PsychologyToday talks about how bilingualism has seen a steady rise throughout the United States and the importance of starting the search for bilingualism early and its benefits. “There is a steady increase of the percentage of bilinguals between 1980 and 2018 … this percentage is still low compared to traditionally multilingual countries” (Grosjean 5) America is becoming a bilingual country and it is achieving that quite quickly. Within the next 10-20 years America will likely become 35-40% bilingual. Bilinguals often see more opportunities for communication and economic advancement, and it is important to not get left behind. The multiple economic benefits of bilingualism are plain to see. Bilingualism is soon going to be critical for job interviews and resumes everywhere. Bilingualism will be crucial to achieving economic prosperity and it is never too soon to start.

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Boosting Mental Health and Brain Functionality

Another reason that becoming bilingual can benefit you is the long-term mental and brain health benefits. Studies have shown that bilinguals have better long-term mental health and see the onset of diseases such as Dementia much later than monolinguals. Jubin Abutalebi and Rebecca Fox are both dedicated supporters of bilingualism. Jubin Abutalebi sees bilingualism as providing a long-term mental benefit that can improve brain health. Abutalebi is a cognitive neurologist and Assistant Professor of Neuropsychology at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan. He is the editor-in-chief of the international journal “Bilingualism: Language and Cognition” and has been published numerous times in different prestigious neurological journals. Abutalebi collaborated on this article with, Lucia Guidi, Virginia Borsa Matteo Canini, Pasquale A. Della Rosa, Ben A. Parris, and Brendan S. Weekes. The article “Bilingualism provides a neural reserve for aging populations” published in Neuropsychologia (March 2015) discusses many of the beneficial effects of bilingualism. One of the main points is how bilingualism can improve brain health and can help slow the onset of dementia and other brain-related health problems. This study by Abutalebi states that “behavioral evidence shows that bilinguals are diagnosed with dementia about 4–5 years later compared to monolinguals” (Abutalebi et al 3) and “aging induces a decline in performance on conflict resolution that is more prominent in monolinguals with respect to bilinguals and this decline is reflected in the decreased gray matter” (Abutalebi 23). There is a clear scientific benefit to bilingualism, with increased brain health and gray matter, and delayed aging effects in comparison to monolinguals. Being a large supporter, Rebecca Fox also sees bilingualism as beneficial in cognitive abilities and benefits, aging and health, and employability. Fox is a Professor of Education and Division Director of the Advanced Professional Teacher Development and International Education in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University; Fox is also the author of dozens of scholarly articles and two books on multiple education topics. “Benefits of foreign language learning and bilingualism: An analysis of published empirical research 2012–2019” from the journal Foreign Language Annals discusses many of the wide-ranging benefits of bilingualism. In this article, Fox states, “Additional results stress the benefits of foreign/world language skills relating to employability and academic achievement and propose that the accumulation of years of language learning positively impacts the development of cross‐cultural awareness and communicative competence” (Fox 3). Bilingualism does not just help with academics or brain health it can have benefits in every part of life. Mental and brain health is an important part of life; bilingualism allows you to improve that health and see more long-term benefits as compared to monolinguals. Bilingualism has many benefits for the future; starting young and staying consistent can help you in your journey.

Enhanced Communication Skills and Global Reach

The final benefit of bilingualism is the ability to communicate. Communication is critical for all aspects of life. Being able to communicate effectively and between many different people is especially important and bilingualism allows you to do that with many more people than monolinguals. Linda M Espinosa sees bilingualism as increasingly beneficial in modern life and sees it as critical to start teaching children multiple languages at young ages. Espinosa is a former professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has served as the Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Espinosa has done extensive work and research with lower-income families throughout California on the benefits of bilingualism. In the journal, Global Education Review Espinosa authored an article, “Challenges and Benefits of Early Bilingualism in the United States Context” in which she talks about the multiple benefits of early bilingualism on young children and young minds. Espinosa states in this article “Despite the robust research documenting the extensive capacity of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to learn multiple languages and the cognitive, social, and linguistic benefits of early bilingualism, most young learners in the United States do not receive enriched education that supports their emergent bilingualism” (Espinosa 2). The American education system does not have the ability to effectively support and assist young bilinguals in their search to learn a second language and it is hurting these students in the long run. Similarly, to Espinosa, Rosselli also sees bilingualism as a critical part of communication. Mónica Rosselli sees bilingualism as important to increase individuals’ cognitive performance and brain reserve. Rosselli is a Professor and Associate Chair of Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Psychology. She focuses specifically on the cultural and linguistic variables that influence the onset of dementia in patients. Rosselli’s article “The Effects of Bilingualism on Verbal and Nonverbal Memory Measures in Mild Cognitive Impairment” from the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society discusses many of the aspects of brain health that bilinguals have. Rosselli’s study states “Bilingual group significantly outperformed the monolingual group on two LASSI-L cued recall measures and showed the increased volume of the hippocampus” (Rosselli 4). The bilingual group showed increased memory on verbal tasks and an increased volume of the hippocampus, the section of the brain that focuses on learning and long-term memories. The ability to communicate is critical to every single part of life and knowing just one language severally cripples who you can communicate with. In today’s ever-expanding globalizing world, knowing just a single language really limits you. Bilingualism allows you to talk to people from all over the world and communicate effectively.

Debunking the Myths: Addressing the Criticisms of Bilingualism

The studies into the many benefits of bilingualism have shown how it can benefit Brain health and Communications; however, certain studies show members of the scientific community who believe that while bilingualism has its benefits, it also has detriments. Julia Ouzia sees bilingualism as more of a hindrance than a benefit. Ouzia is a Ph.D. graduate from Anglia Ruskin University and is a teaching fellow at London University. She also has several published studies on bilingualism and its effects on cognitive processing. Ouzia’s article “There are also drawbacks to being bilingual” from and The University of Cambridge, states that bilingualism has many disadvantages that go along with its benefits, namely Cognitive processing. “Monolinguals were better able than bilinguals to discriminate between when they were right and when they were wrong. In other words, bilinguals had less insight into their performance than monolinguals. … These results indicate that bilingualism may be associated with cognitive disadvantages as well as benefits” (Ouzia 2) this excerpt from Ouzia’s article says how while bilinguals have their advantages over monolinguals, they also have certain disadvantages and the research into these differences has not been conclusive enough. While there is certain evidence stating that bilingualism has specific detriments in decision making and Metacognitive processing the research into these supposed detriments is truly little and these studies that are quoted in this article are very new and have been contested within their scientific communities. Even if these detriments in cognitive processing are real it does not affect the other benefits of bilingualism such as communication and economic opportunities.

Conclusion: The Indispensable Value of Being Bilingual

In today’s world of many people, cultures, and languages, knowing just a single language is very limiting. By learning a second language and becoming bilingual you can reap the rewards with long term economic benefits, increased mental health, and an expanded ability to communicate. Bilinguals see more economic opportunities and more Job positions, especially in overseas markets which is especially important in today’s economy. They also benefit from improved and better brain and mental health compared to monolinguals with delayed onset of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Finally, being bilingual allows you to communicate with billions of people with whom you would not otherwise be able to communicate. Some studies show that bilinguals also have some detriments along with their benefits. However, these studies are relatively new, and these detriments do not affect bilingualism’s communication and economic benefits. Becoming bilingual can be easy, fun, and can provide several benefits.

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