P5: Multimedia Feature: The Benefits of Being Multilingual — Final Draft

Many people all over the world are multilingual, however, within the United States, a considerably smaller portion of the population knows multiple languages compared to other countries. Many other countries place a greater emphasis on learning other languages and information about other cultures than the United States. However, there are many benefits for those who have taken up the challenge to learn a language other than the one they grew up with.

Close to 43% of the world population is bilingual, making up a considerable portion of people. Monolingual people come in at a close second, who make up 40% of the population, followed by trilingual people at 13%, and people who speak more than three languages making up around 4% of the population.

There are many benefits to being multilingual, related to both a person’s understanding of other cultures, as well as the functions of their brain. One of the benefits of being multilingual is that it sets you ahead on the job market. Employers have an increased interest in people who know multiple languages since they will be able to assist a wider range of clientele. Multilingual people are especially helpful for companies that sell products internationally since their ability to communicate easily in other languages can be put to use.

In addition to being helpful within a particular job, knowing multiple languages can open up the opportunity for someone to become an interpreter or a translator. These jobs make up some of the fastest growing jobs within the United States. It is expected that there will be around 25,000 interpreting and translating jobs available by 2020, meaning that many multilingual people will be at an advantage if they choose to go into this field.

Marieke van Bergeijk is a student at Goshen College, majoring in American Sign Language (ASL). She grew up in the Netherlands and moved to the United States when she was in fourth grade. Marieke has the unique perspective of a person who was immersed into a new culture and was forced to communicate in a new language that she did know very well.

Brenna: How many different languages can you speak?

Marieke: Three! Well, I can technically only fluently speak English, but I have the vocabulary of a nine-year-old and can gabble my way through Dutch, and I am so-so at ASL.

Brenna: Are you currently learning any languages?

Marieke: I am currently learning ASL because I want to become a sign language interpreter.

Brenna: How long have you been learning ASL?

Marieke: I have been learning it for about 15 months.

Brenna: What methods are you using to learn ASL?

Marieke: I am learning it in a classroom setting, but also by going to Deaf events and signing with Deaf people.

Brenna: What are some of the benefits you have found of knowing multiple languages?

Marieke: One benefit to knowing multiple languages is that you can communicate with people outside of your own culture. It can be hard because you need to step out of your comfort zone and try to communicate in a language that doesn’t come easy, but it’s always worth it.

Brenna: When have you personally been able to benefit from knowing multiple languages?

Marieke: I have personally benefited from knowing multiple languages for the last 11 years. When I moved to the US, I had to shove Dutch into the back of my head and rely solely on English because that’s the language everyone around me spoke, but I didn’t only speak English. For the first couple years after I moved to the United States, I would speak Dutch at home with my family and English at school with my friends.

Marieke (right) and her mother (left) pose in front the Eiffel Tower on a trip back to Europe. Marieke and her family travel back to the Netherlands frequently to visit family, and also go sightseeing in other European countries.

Brenna: Do you think everyone should learn more than one language?

Marieke: I think that everyone should at least try to learn a different language because when you learn a new language, you learn a new culture too! You get to see how people from a different culture perceive the world, it’s pretty interesting. You see your own life and worldview in a new light, and you begin to see things from other perspectives.

Brenna: What would you say to someone who wants to learn another language?

Marieke: Practice hard! It really takes time. You can’t expect to learn everything at once. Practice every day with native speakers. Again, it really just takes time. Don’t give up! Also, once you’re somewhat fluent, DON’T STOP PRACTICING!!!!!! Seriously! If you don’t keep speaking a language, you will forget it. When I first moved to the United States, people were like, “‘Oh, don’t forget how to speak Dutch,’ and I, in my nine-year-old arrogance, was like ‘HAHAHAHA yeah like I’m really gonna forget the language I’ve been speaking MY WHOLE LIFE!’” but then, sadly, I began to forget it and now I feel like I can’t really speak Dutch anymore. Just practice and don’t give up!

Another benefit of being multilingual is that it can significantly improve brain functions. There was a study in multiple European countries that concluded that multilingual people are considerably more creative and better at solving problems that they encounter. Another study within the United States determined that the brains of multilingual people work more efficiently and focus better since they are used to translating information and have to choose what information is important to include in a translation and what information is unnecessary and does not need to be included. Multilingual people also tend to be better at multitasking, since they are used to translating words and phrases while carrying on conversations with other people, and possibly doing other tasks as well.

Interterm trips offer chances for students to gain an appreciation for other cultures through learning different languages and information about different countries and cultures.

Multilingualism also helps slow some of the effects of aging. One of the most considerable effects of aging is that a person’s cognitive flexibility, or their ability to solve problems and make logical and informed choices in new or unknown situations gets worse. As a person reaches the age where most people begin to get worse at making choices in new or unknown situations, knowing another language can help delay this effect and the degree to which it affects the person. A study in multilingualism concluded that knowing more than one language could also delay dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who would otherwise have symptoms show up earlier if they only knew one language. The study also showed that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s have the same levels of physical brain deterioration whether they know one language or many languages, however those who know more than one language have less harsh symptoms. These people were typically better at remembering information, suffered from less confusion, and continued to be able to solve problems more effectively and efficiently than those who were monolingual.

Even though people who know multiple languages have a lot to say about the benefits of being multilingual, learning a new language is far from easy. Many people start to learn a new language but give up before they become fluent because they lose interest and are unable to make it part of their regular routine. The average person is also less likely to stick with learning a new language in instances where are forced to. Many schools require students to study another language for a couple of years. If students do not have a genuine interest in the language, they will not try as hard to retain the vocabulary in their memory and are more likely to lose their skills after they are no longer taking the classes. Learning a new language will take a lot of dedication, practice, and time, so it is definitely not for someone who is not willing to give it all their effort.

Listening to music from other cultures is a helpful tool for people who are in the process of learning new languages. Not only does it help people learn new words and phrases, but it also introduces a person to different styles of music.

Anna Breckbill is a student at Goshen College who is currently learning a couple of different languages. Anna has the point of view of a person who is in the process of learning multiple languages and is dedicating a large amount of her time towards learning them.

Brenna: What languages are you able to speak?

Anna: I can only speak English fluently.

Brenna: Are you currently learning any languages?

Anna: Yes, I am currently learning Spanish, Korean, and Chinese.

Brenna: How long have you been learning them?

Anna: I have been learning Spanish since middle school and I just started Korean last year and just recently started Chinese.

Brenna: How are you learning them?

Anna: I am learning Spanish in a class and then I am learning Chinese and Korean through language learning apps.

Reading books about different religious and cultural traditions is another great way to learn more about another culture.

Brenna: What are some benefits of knowing multiple languages?

Anna: There are many benefits to knowing multiple languages like being able to talk to people that you wouldn’t be able to converse with if you didn’t speak multiple languages. Also, I think that knowing multiple languages helps you to see the world in a different light and helps you to be more open minded to different cultures.

Brenna: Do you think everyone should learn more than one language?

Anna: I definitely think that everyone should learn more than one language because it helps you to know the world better and see cultural differences not as wrong or right, but just different.

Brenna: What would you say to someone who wants to learn another language?

Anna: I would say go for it! It is difficult, but if you stick to it, I think it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself and the world.

Anna (front right) on a mission trip to Nicaragua with her youth group. The group was in Nicaragua for a few weeks, where Anna was able to use her knowledge of Spanish to communicate with the people that they visited and stayed with.

Another impact that learning a new language can have on a person is that it helps them gain a greater understanding and deeper appreciation for other cultures. Some cultures have words for emotions and experiences that can’t be translated accurately into another language in simple terms. This gives certain cultures differences in the way they view things. Some individuals view themselves as a part of a bigger group and tend to identify more with a group, rather than as an individual. The words that exist in one language may tend to imply more of a group identity rather than an individual identity, shaping the way that a whole population views themselves. This group identity and the way that a whole population thinks is revealed when a person takes the time to learn the language of a specific region, broadening their understanding of other cultures, and helping them gain an appreciation for the culture that is intertwined with the language they are taking the time to learn.

All of the benefits of knowing multiple languages may make it seem like learning a new language is an easy and lighthearted matter, and that everything about it is good, but many people underestimate the amount of time, effort, and dedication that are necessary for a person to reach the point where they are fluent. It is not something that is easy, but as long as the dedication is there, anything is possible.



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