The world has long since been a globally connected economy. While from a transportation and communications technology standpoint the majority of cultural challenges have been overcome, language differences stand as the last, and often most difficult, barrier to connectivity. As such, individuals who have spent the time to master multiple languages contribute in significant ways.
Bilingualism has actually become quite common across the planet, and people who take the time to learn three or four languages, while rarer, are still not too hard to find. The question for monolingualism becomes, “Are there any advantages to being multilingual?”. While the answer generally speaking is clearly a “Yes!”, this article will go into some of the reasons and benefits of being multilingual, as well as provide a list of some resources to become multilingual.
Various Advantages of Multilingualism
The ability to speak multiple languages has a number of advantages, some subtle, others more significant. The most obvious is that being able to do so greatly reduces the stress that can occur in cross-cultural communication, but this goes beyond just being able to ask basic questions like, “Where is the bathroom?” Besides being able to hold a conversation, navigate a city better, order food, or make friends, multilingualism helps to ease the frustrations that so often accompany miscommunication.
Since language and culture are inseparably intertwined, the more someone understands that language, the more they understand its people and their history. Having this added knowledge does much to foster stronger, healthier social connections which contribute to cross-cultural understanding and respect within communities as an immigrant social worker, or in scholastic settings.
This is often an essential, and sometimes missing factor in business. As such, multilingualism is a great asset economically.
Multilingualism in the Business World
There is a huge, and somewhat immeasurable value in business for those professions which have and can employ people who are multilingual. There are thousands of businesses worldwide today which conduct themselves in multiple countries simultaneously thus the need for multilingual employees is not just a helpful skill to have on hand, it is essential in some situations. Business deals are one of those.
While translators are a quick solution to this problem, having team members who know the language— and especially the customs— have the ability to garner greater trust and respect. This ability to rely upon the skill of a well-trained employee enables businesses to more effectively communicate with customers, negotiate deals, and forge stronger partnerships. Additionally, from a marketing standpoint, a multilingual employee carries a deeper insight and understanding of how and why another culture may present themselves in certain situations.
This is critical to presenting a brand that is sensitive and inline with the customs and the customers they hope to reach. This helps to identify new markets to expand into, creating brand and marketing strategies that are informed, rather than dependent (or ignorant) of what another culture values.
It shouldn't surprise anyone to hear that learning multiple languages carries with it multiple cognitive benefits. The necessity to expand the brain through the memorization of new vocabulary, tonal recognition, and speech patterns leads to a more focused and developed brain. This increased brain activity makes more neural connections which enhance many underlying cognitive capacities.
From a problem-solving place as well, those people who speak multiple languages have higher executive functioning skills like problem-solving, attention, and the ability to switch between tasks. Perhaps most importantly is that research shows learning new languages aids in memory retention, even assisting to combat cognitive decline in things like the onset of dementia and old age and creates strategies for improved speech. Overall, learning multiple languages contributes to better health throughout one's life span.
The number of resources available today in the form of apps, computer software, podcasts, videos, and lectures are inexhaustible in one lifetime. While many of these may not be free, there are a host of affordable options out there. Additionally, the variety of mediums by which someone can learn a new language allows for many different types of learning styles and age groups to have access to these resources, one only needs to do a quick search online to discover a number of respected resources.
If the more traditional approach to learning is wanted, then there are always some forms of in person training available for citizens or educators and administrators. From colleges, to Facebook groups, to grabbing lunch with a neighbor, there is no lack of ways to become multilingual in today's global economy.