You may be wondering why learning a foreign language is important, especially if you do not intend to pursue a career in translation or interpreting services. The answer is that being bilingual offers many benefits. Bilingualism can open the door to new opportunities and enrich your life in ways you had not previously imagined. If you are thinking about earning a foreign language degree, taking language courses while in college or brushing up on the foreign language skills you acquired in high school, here are some advantages you may accrue.
Becoming a More Competitive Job Candidate
A primary motivation for earning a bachelor’s degree is access to a lucrative and worthwhile career. However, even with a degree, graduates may find themselves competing for professional positions. Job applicants who are bilingual are more competitive candidates. Employers understand that bilingualism is an asset in the workplace – no matter the industry.
In a hospital or a pharmacy, it is important for staff members to be able to communicate clearly with all their patients, including those who do not speak English. In a corporate setting, bilingualism enables employees to communicate with clients, vendors and other parties in foreign countries.
In short, bilingualism makes a person more employable. It may also provide a salary boost. If you are asked to provide ad hoc interpreting services on top of your usual responsibilities, you may have some extra bargaining power when it is time to request a raise. Furthermore, being bilingual gives you the options of tutoring students on the side or preforming occasional translation work.
Gaining Significant Cognitive Advantages
Beyond the monetary rewards of bilingualism, knowing a foreign language offers personal rewards. Numerous studies have been conducted regarding the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, and they reveal that bilingual people tend to have better brainpower.1 Brain cells, called neurons, are made up of cell bodies and connections called dendrites. Collectively, these form the gray matter of the brain. The more gray matter people have, the healthier and sharper their brains are. Studies have shown that bilingual brains have a higher volume of gray matter.
In addition to gray matter, the brain has white matter. This is a fatty substance that protects the connections between brain cells. The white matter enhances efficient communication of messages among the neurons. People who are bilingual have white matter that better protects against the effects of the aging process. Since they have stronger, healthier neural connections, these individuals can expect better cognitive function throughout their lifespan.
Furthermore, individuals who are bilingual often display better executive function than their monolingual counterparts. Executive function allows people to plan, organize, remember, juggle multiple tasks simultaneously and maintain focus. A greater ability to switch between tasks and stay focused is an asset in any line of work.
Acquiring New Cultural Perspectives to Enrich Your Life
When you learn a new language, you are not simply acquiring a new vocabulary; you are also exploring new cultural perspectives. To a certain extent, every language is a product of its culture, and every culture is influenced by its language.
As an example, in the 1960s, psycholinguist Susan Ervin-Tripp performed tests on women who were bilingual in Japanese and English. She asked them to complete sentences in each language. When completing the sentence, “When my wishes conflict with my family…,” in Japanese, the women said something to the effect of, “it is a time of great unhappiness.” When completing the same sentence in English, the respondents said, “I do what I want.”2
As you can see, cultural values are quite different from one country to the next. Ervin-Tripp concluded that people who speak multiple languages also have multiple (language-based) mindsets, within which different, culturally- influenced thought processes take place.2 As a result, being bilingual can stimulate your thought processes, challenge you to think in new ways and broaden your perspectives.
Enjoying Better Experiences When You Travel
Some of the most enriching experiences of your life will occur outside the classroom – but what you learn inside the classroom can facilitate those experiences. As a powerful example, learning a foreign language while you are in college will vastly enhance your experience of the world after you graduate.3 When you travel, you can immerse yourself more deeply in new cultures if you speak the language. Of course, you can travel to countries whose language you do not speak. However, the ability to converse easily with those around you will take the experience to a new level.
1PMC, The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual, in October 2012.
2 The New Republic, Being Bilingual Keeps Your Brain Fit, in August 2016.
3JSTOR, An Analysis of the Interaction of Language, Topic, and Listener, in December 1964.
At Grand Canyon University, our 21st-century curriculum encourages students to explore other cultures and languages. If you have a passion for language, consider applying to the Bachelor of Arts in Spanish program at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, or consider earning a minor in Spanish. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore the possibilities in our dynamic learning community.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.