Language is the soul of a culture. Think about the old anecdote about how the Inuit people have multiple words for “snow”. Or think about how the ability to understand a language is a crucial prerequisite for historians, and those who study international affairs. Those people focus on language because they know that without the language, they cannot truly understand the cultures they study.
But those who learn more than one language are not just more knowledgeable about the world around them. Bilingual speakers are better thinkers, more creative, and are better at understanding people. It is a valuable gift that every person, no matter what stage they are at in their lives, should attempt to master for themselves.
They Are Smarter Than Average
It may seem obvious that a person who speaks two languages is smarter than a person who speaks one. But the results can be surprising. A medical study showed that bilingual children were better at solving puzzles compared to monolingual children. Also, in a study of elderly people conducted by the University of California, bilingual individuals proved to be more resistant to the negative impacts of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The brain is a muscle, and it is theorized that the effort of learning a language strengthens it, in a manner similar to how swimming and running can improve a person’s lungs and heart. As the New York Times declared in their report on these studies, being bilingual “can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.”
They Have Unique Ways Of Looking At The World
Bilingualism does not just improve a person’s ability to solve puzzles. It also improves their creativity and grants them new ways of seeing the world that they might have never thought about before.
As someone who speaks English and Japanese, let us use one of the simplest words in a language – “I.” The Japanese language possesses over 100 variations of the word “I,” though about only half a dozen are used today.
So, what is the difference between all of these variations? Some of these variations are only used by men. Some of them are used only by women, and some are used by both genders. Some are used by only young children, or by those speaking to their superiors within a particular hierarchy.
But the key thing is that each “I” is only used by a certain social group, and to use one “I” or another shows where you belong in the social hierarchy. In Japanese society, which can often be hierarchical, language helps to reinforce this hierarchy.
It is one thing to read a book which talks about the Japanese social hierarchy and how it is part of everyday life. It is another thing to experience it for yourself. Understanding how pervasive that hierarchy can be cannot be fully grasped without understanding the language.
They Are More Creative
As shown above, bilingualism can help your brain to think in different ways, using different perspectives. These ways of thinking can help liberate one’s creativity. As Psychology Today observes, bilingualism is a great way to access “new experience, new thought, new vision, and new solutions.” Moreover, a medical study conducted in 2012 showed that bilingual children were both better problem solvers and creative thinkers.
Bilingualism is a wonderful gift. It improves a speaker’s mind, both when they are young and old. It encourages them to see the world in a different light, and understand cultures in a way which just reading a book could never accomplish. There are also practical benefits of knowing two languages from a business and career perspective.
If you are not bilingual, it is never too late to learn. A person does not need to be completely fluent to earn the benefits of bilingualism, just as a person does not need to be an Olympic-class athlete to gain the physical benefits of a good diet and exercise.
Featured photo credit: Joseph McKinley via flickr.com