The world is becoming increasingly multicultural. A majority of the earth’s 7.8 billion people speak at least two languages. Yet, language proficiency remains a challenge. Most bilingual people aren’t fluent in their second languages. Fewer still can read and write a second language well. Learning a language to high fluency can have surprising benefits. Here is a look at why investing in a new language is a great strategy.
Multilingual environments are culturally more open and accepting. Many of the world’s financial centers including London, New York, Paris, Berlin, and Singapore are richly multilingual. Such environments foster globalization and commerce. Learning a new language enables business owners to cut out middlemen and increase profits. It also opens doors to new markets. A lot of content on the internet is simply not available in English. Having the ability to do online research in more than one language is a great asset. It enables businesses and individuals to make more informed decisions.
Knowing more than one language is advantageous for the development of the brain. Almost everyone grows up learning one primary language, which can be considered one’s ‘mother tongue’ or first language. Neuroscience research has shown that language use is strongly connected with how we use our brain. The way our brains store and recall information is influenced by what language we use and how we use it. People with bilingual and multilingual abilities display a more holistic neural development. Some studies prove that bilingual people are less susceptible than monolingual individuals to certain forms of mental disorders associated with ageing. Furthermore, sign languages help users incorporate linguistic abilities with motor skills. Bilingual folks habitually use more areas of their brains. This is great for keeping the brain healthy and active far into one’s old age.
Being proficient in more than one language can work wonders for a career. It is not uncommon for professional translators to charge in excess of $50 per page for legal documents. Interpreters are routinely employed at the highest level offices in Governments, large corporations, and international organizations such as the UN. Skilled translators find niches in diverse domains including hospitality, tourism, international business, marketing, art, archeology, and education.
Being bilingual can literally take you places. Canada has an effective points-based immigration system. Applicants are awarded significant points for being proficient in both French and English. Millions of bilingual migrants live in Canada and send money online to help their families back home. Similarly, Austria has a program for the immigration of skilled workers in shortage occupations. Under this scheme Austria awards up to 15 points for German language proficiency. That constitutes more than 27% of the minimum qualifying score of 55.
The value of fluency
It appears that simply knowing a little of a second language is not enough. Unless one has high fluency it does not count. Moreover one must be proficient in all 4 skills of a language namely reading, listening, speaking, and writing. This applies to employment options, as well as brain function.
Evidently the brain’s centers of verbal ability and semantic (meaning) facility are not in the same place. The productive lingual skills writing and speaking activate different parts of the brain. This was discovered by imaging people’s brains while they were performing tasks related to these two functions. For maximum effect one needs to be proficient at both speaking and writing a second language.
Languages are classified into families. Currently there are 141 language families on the world’s language tree, with a total of more than 7,000 living languages. Understandably some languages can be very different from each other. For example Arabic is a language in the Afro-Asiatic language family. It seems to have nothing in common with Spanish, which is a member of the very large Indo-European language family. The rich lingual diversity of our planet is to be celebrated.
In addition to the obvious benefits of being bilingual there are other advantages. By knowing a second language we can enjoy movies, music, books, poetry, and arts from another culture. Comparing the semantics of our first and second languages allows us to appreciate each one better. In and of itself, being a fluent bilingual is an accomplishment and a reward.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.