The Second Language Advantage: 8 Ways Being Bilingual Brings Big Benefits
Learning a second language can give your the advantage in almost any situation!
Not only does being bilingual increase your intelligence, earning power and attractiveness, but it’s something anyone can achieve with a smart and effective approach.
Ready to see exactly how being bilingual can work in your favor in nearly any situation?
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Advantage Point: 8 Ways Being Bilingual Gives You an Edge
1. Being Bilingual Gives You a Social Advantage
Let’s say you’re a social butterfly who enjoys talking to people from all walks of life. You have hundreds of friends following you on your social media pages and you’re always that one person to greet almost anyone you meet (whether they like it or not!).
Or perhaps you’re on the other side of the social spectrum, and you usually keep to yourself. You have a small circle of friends who are close to you, but you’d still like to meet new people and improve your social skills.
No matter what type of person you are socially, being bilingual, or even just deciding to become bilingual, gives you an advantage when it comes to meeting new people for the following reasons.
There are simply more people to communicate with
Being bilingual can improve your social life due to the simple fact that it allows you to talk to more people.
For example, if you were a person who could only speak English but you learned how to speak Japanese fluently, you could then speak to people who speak English and to people who speak Japanese, therefore potentially expanding your social circle.
The process of learning a language improves your communication skills
In addition to increasing the number of people they can talk to, people who learn a language later in life (as opposed to growing up bilingual) can improve their social lives in another cool way: When a person learns a new language, they almost always end up improving their communication skills in the process.
But how is this possible?
It’s simple! To successfully become bilingual, one needs to develop great listening and speaking skills in the language being learned, both of which are essential to handling social interactions with others because they’re how you effectively connect with people and build solid relationships.
Furthermore, reading and writing skills in your new language are strengthened in the process of becoming bilingual, and these are crucial to good communication, too.
This means that whether you’re a total shut-in who only practices your new language by communicating with native speakers and other learners on the web, or you’re the type who dives right into local language exchanges because you can’t stay in the house for two days straight, the process of familiarizing yourself with the language makes you better at communicating.
This rings true no matter what language is being spoken or how you’re conversing with others (whether via chat, phone, email or face to face).
The process of learning a language gives you a chance to connect
What’s also neat is that this benefit to your social life doesn’t just happen after you’ve become bilingual. Who says you have to wait until you’re fluent in a language to enjoy this perk?
You can start meeting people who speak a different language while you’re learning another language. The journey to becoming bilingual can definitely be a fun one, especially if you include others along the way, so why not give it a go?
Some awesome ways to possibly expand your social circle while becoming bilingual include connecting with others in language learning communities near you or hosting a foreign exchange student in your home.
To start off, though, one of the easiest ways to get going on the social aspect of language learning is to find a language exchange partner, or even just a pen pal.
A couple of terrific sites to find pen pals are PenPalWorld and WorldFriends.
If you think you’re ready to have real conversations with native speakers, you can find a language partner through sites and apps like italki or Tandem.
But if you’re not quite confident enough in the language to have conversations with native speakers yet, you might find it helpful to immerse yourself in authentic examples of the language used in context.
You can even start learning a language from watching foreign media like TV shows on Netflix, videos on Youtube, or authentic videos like news clips and movie trailers on FluentU.
All videos on FluentU include interactive captions so you can pick up phrases and vocabulary in context while you watch. All these resources can help you make a connection to the culture, which can be just as important as connecting to individual people.
2. Being Bilingual Gives You Advantages at Every Stage of Life
Learning a second language doesn’t only give you advantages in different areas of your life, it gives you age-specific advantages at every stage of your life. Whether you learn a second language when you’re young or old, it can only make your life better.
Let’s go through the main stages of the life cycle and see how becoming bilingual can positively impact people of all ages.
Advantages for children
Learning a foreign language as a child can be beneficial in so many different ways that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but here a few just to give you an idea:
- It can accelerate learning and help build social skills, cognitive skills and emotional skills that have positive effects for many years to come (even beyond school years).
- It can teach children to be more culturally accepting, which is very useful in a world that’s becoming more globalized every day.
- It may even help children’s brains to better resist distraction!
What’s also really cool about children who learn languages is that they can help adults learn languages by example, because they’re so good at it!
So if you’re teaching small children to become bilingual and you want to learn other languages, too, you could potentially be helping them to help you. Pretty awesome, huh?
Advantages for adults
Okay, let’s be honest. Children are better at learning languages than adults are. However, that fact alone means that it’s doubly impressive if you pick up a second language as an adult (and you absolutely can). It does get more difficult to learn new languages as we get older, but it’s far from impossible.
In addition, being bilingual as an adult makes you look good in several areas of your life, including your social life (which we’ve already discussed), work life (which we’ll get to) and even your love life. In fact, most of the advantages of being bilingual should stick with you throughout your adult life, including all of the other advantages mentioned in this post.
Advantages for seniors
Many people may mistakenly think that you can’t really learn new things when you reach the final years of your life, especially foreign languages. However, in actuality, you’re never too old to become bilingual. If picking up a language when you’re an adult looks good, picking one up when you’re a senior looks even more impressive!
Plus, recent studies show that certain activities such as learning a new language can actually strengthen your cognitive skills to keep your brain sharp as you age. Studies have also shown that being bilingual can possibly reduce the risk of dementia and delay Alzheimer’s. So these are good reasons for anyone to become bilingual, no matter what stage of life they’re at.
3. Being Bilingual Gives You an Everyday Advantage
Don’t you just hate it when people tell jokes in foreign languages in front of you and you feel out of the loop? Like when you go to a restaurant and the workers there are laughing it up in a language you don’t understand and you’re just dying to know what they’re talking about (especially if their conversation sounds like it might be about you!)?
Now, if you were bilingual in this situation, you might be able to not only understand what they’re saying, but laugh right along with them. Sure, you might get some funny looks, but at least you’d feel good knowing that you could follow along.
This idea extends far beyond jokes, though. Being bilingual can give you an edge in just about every aspect of everyday life. For example, if you love Italian food and are bilingual in both English and Italian, when you go out with friends or family, you can feel good knowing what the Italian dishes are at an authentic restaurant without having to read the descriptions or ask.
4. Being Bilingual Gives You Advantages as a Traveler
For those of you who love to travel, consider this tidbit the next time you’re planning your future itineraries: Being bilingual in the right languages for your travel agenda helps make trips more fun, relaxing and cheaper.
Think about it.
Usually, when people travel overseas for leisure, they want their trips to be as stress-free as possible. In many cases, they will choose to travel using escorted tour packages so that they can let these touring agencies do all of the hard work while they focus on packing and sightseeing. While these tourist trips can be a lot of fun, they can be costly as well.
Then there are those who venture out alone or in small groups, relying heavily on various language and travel technology to help them navigate around. However, this isn’t a perfect solution, either. We all know that putting all of our trust in technology can be iffy, especially when it comes to finding your way around.
However, when you’re bilingual, there’s no need to buy these fancy packages or invest in expensive technology in order to have a good time. To have successful trips, all you need is your effective language skills and the willingness to continue learning new words and phrases. (And maybe a map. Maps are good to have as well.)
Here are some other little pluses to being a bilingual traveler that are worth mentioning:
- You’ll feel more free and independent because you’ll know the words and phrases you need to get around with having to resort to a phrasebook.
- Even if you’re not fully fluent in your second language, you’ll become more confident in yourself and your language learning abilities during a stay abroad. You might even end up trying to become multilingual or a polyglot. Keep in mind that you may not become fully fluent in a new language while you’re in the foreign place you’re visiting unless you plan on staying for awhile, but you’ll still probably learn more as an even partially-bilingual traveler than a monolingual tourist.
- You’ll probably end up spending less money because your foreign language skills can help you find the least expensive places to eat, shop, sleep and visit without having to rely on a single book or the advice of a non-native.
So don’t be a clueless, touristy type of traveler! Become bilingual to get the most out of your trips, and while you’re at it, use your hard-won confidence to try to become multilingual or even a polyglot.
5. Being Bilingual Gives You Advantages in the Workforce
If you’re job hunting and you can only speak one language, you may feel intimidated every time you come across an ad where they say that bilingual people are preferred. The truth is, you have good reason to feel a little worried!
Nowadays, more and more employers are looking for people who speak multiple languages. This is especially true for certain job fields such as customer service, hospitality, health care, information technology and administrative work.
What is it about being bilingual that makes job seekers that much more desirable? Perhaps it’s just that more and more employers are doing business with customers and clients from all over the world and they need employees who can effectively communicate with diverse groups of people.
But that probably just means more people have already become bilingual to meet that need, right? Actually, a study conducted by the University of Phoenix Research Institute shows that there aren’t enough people learning languages like Spanish and Mandarin Chinese to meet the rising demand among employers.
By the way, the career advantage of being bilingual doesn’t only apply to regular 9-to-5-type jobs either. Are you employed or considering being employed by the military? Being bilingual (especially in certain languages such as English, Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin, Korean or Pashto) while serving can be beneficial for you as well. Chances are high that when you enlist, you’ll have more opportunities available to you than your monolingual comrades, such as jobs like translation and interpretation. Recruiters also love to see bilinguals sign up because they figure you’ll be able to handle foreign environments pretty well.
Also, there’s the nice fact that (at least in the United States), you can be compensated for maintaining your language skills (depending on the language) through foreign proficiency bonus pay, which is always neat.
But in case you were wondering which languages are the most common ones that civilian employers want their ideal applicants to be fluent in, these usually include English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese, German and Mandarin Chinese.
Even Latin, while not as common as other languages, can be beneficial in certain careers related to law, education, computer science and medicine.
Of course, feel free to learn any language you want. No matter what language you decide to become bilingual in, it will most likely give you an edge over your competition in any career that you want to pursue in today’s job market.
6. Being Bilingual Gives You an Intelligence Advantage
Indeed it will. Several studies that involved having both bilinguals and non-bilinguals perform special tests—like spatial memory tasks—showed a correlation between being bilingual and having better brain functionality. In other words, being fluent in multiple languages can actually make you smarter.
But how exactly does being bilingual make your brain function differently? Some scientists say that learning two or more languages helps your brain to exercise, which can boost its performance, sort of like how bodybuilders exercise to grow and tone their muscles. Isn’t that wonderful? Who wouldn’t want to have a powered-up brain?
7. Being Bilingual Gives You Advantages as a Business Owner
If you’re a business owner and you can only speak one language, you might be missing out on an effective way to make your business better. Sure, hiring employees who are bilingual can be beneficial to your company, but being bilingual yourself will be even more advantageous.
Don’t believe it?
Here are a few ways that being bilingual can be better for business.
It gives you more networking opportunities
Business owners who are bilingual should simply have more opportunities to network, as they’re able to converse with more people than monolinguals.
It helps you think outside the box
Bilingual business owners also are likely to be more mentally fit, as learning a new language (or just speaking two languages), requires mental exercise and thinking outside the box. Because of this, they can take their creativity skills from language learning (or the extended insight they have from having grown up speaking two languages) to their business models, enabling them to think of unique ways to make their business endeavors more successful.
It makes you look good to your employees
Lastly, being a bilingual business owner can help you gain respect and admiration among your employees. It shows them that you’re willing to put effort into adapting to the world around you to help your businesses soar. Also, if any of your employees are bilingual or speak foreign languages, you may be able to win respect from them on a more personal level (as well as communicate with them better!).
Of course, running a business does take a lot of time and effort and you may not feel like taking additional time out of your busy day to learn something new. However, if you can set some time aside (even just 30 minutes a day) to learn a foreign language, you might be surprised at how much you retain in that short amount of time and even more surprised at how much developing this new skill can help your business in the long run.
8. Being Bilingual Gives You an Advantage in Helping Others
You probably read the title of this section and either rolled your eyes or felt a sudden urge to get a cape and costume while thinking of a cool hero name to call yourself. No matter how you reacted, there’s probably one question on your mind: Being bilingual can make you a hero?
For most of this post, we’ve been talking about how you can help yourself by being bilingual. But hey, it’s not always about you. And it may not seem obvious at first, but if you use some of your language skills for the greater good, in any way, who’s to say you’re not acting like a true hero? There are tons of ways you can use your bilingual talents to make a difference in the world while also gaining respect and admiration from your fellow humans.
For example, if you’re a certified teacher who’s bilingual, consider using your unique language skills to teach or tutor overseas where you can make an impact in the lives of students anywhere. There’s also the possibility of teaching your friends and family the foreign language(s) you speak, so they can experience some of the advantages you do, which would probably at least make you a hero in their eyes!
Not cut out for teaching? Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) teach, you can always find other volunteer programs where bilinguals are needed either locally or around the world. Just being bilingual can help you communicate with people from other cultures, and the amount of joy you’ll feel when you interact with them will make all the hard work of learning a language worth it.
The truth is, you’ll never know who you might affect in the future if you become fluent in a second language. While being bilingual may not directly benefit you all of the time, being able to help others with your talents when you can should be a huge advantage in itself.
Do you believe that learning multiple languages can help you be a hero now? The correct answer is yes. Yes, you do.
So, what have we learned?
Basically, when it comes to learning a new language, there are so many advantages that it’s hard to not be bilingual in this day and age.
Believe it or not, there actually used to be a time when people thought that being bilingual would put you at a disadvantage, but now we know that this is certainly not the case.
Hopefully, after reading this, you feel super motivated to start learning one, two or more additional languages.
Good luck on your journey to becoming bilingual!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)