The Benefits and Importance of Multilingualism

Learning multiple languages has amazing (and surprising) benefits.

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By Barney Meekin · September 1, 2023 · 8 minute read

There are millions of multilingual people around the world. They’ve mastered more than two languages. And they’re getting all the juicy benefits of that. Unfortunately, many people in English-speaking countries are missing out on a lot of these benefits — only 20% of Americans speak more than two languages compared to 67% of Europeans.

Bilinguals are people who are fluent in two languages. Multilingual people are fluent in more than two languages. If that wasn’t amazing enough, polyglots are people who are fluent in five or more languages.

If learning multiple languages sounds like hard work to you, well, that’s because it is. It takes years to master even one language. To learn a bunch takes even longer. But you know what they say: “Nothing good comes easy.” Yes, it’s difficult. And yes, it will take a long time but learning multiple languages has a ton of benefits.

People who grow up in multilingual environments get a range of amazing benefits without the hard work of learning a language later in life. For the rest of us, we need to work hard to master multiple languages. But if you do it, you’re in for a treat — being multilingual gives you a ton of benefits. We can break down these benefits of multilingualism into social benefits, cognitive benefits, and career benefits.

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The social benefits of multilingualism

1. It expands your mind and worldview

When you learn a new language, you also learn the culture of the people who speak it. You get a deep awareness of the world outside of your bubble. And you can see the world from other people’s perspectives.

This is good for a couple of reasons:

You develop professionally.

The modern workplace is multicultural. Tolerance and empathy are key. Learning a language boosts these characteristics, and makes you an in-demand employee.

You develop personally.

Sure, you could go through life never thinking beyond the borders of your hometown (lots of people do this and are perfectly happy). But if you’re a lifelong learner who isn’t satisfied with staying the same, learning a language broadens your horizons.

So what do you do with your expanded mind and worldview? You get out there and meet new people. For every language you speak, you have a whole bunch of new people to communicate with. So when you’re a multilingual person who speaks more than two languages fluently, you’ve got unlimited opportunities to interact with people from all over the world.

2. It gives you meaningful experiences in your local community and overseas

Many of us live in multicultural places. There are people from all over the world living on our doorstep. Being fluent in multiple languages allows you to make connections in these different communities.

It’s the same when you’re traveling. You can go overseas and only use English. It’s easy and you’d have a good time. But any interactions you have are superficial by default. But if you know multiple languages, you can have meaningful conversations with people all over the world. Your travel experiences become deeper and more meaningful than ever before. All by speaking the same language as the locals.

3. It helps you find a romantic partner

Here’s a less obvious benefit: Learning a language can help you find a romantic partner. According to a survey by the British Council, people who speak multiple languages are more attractive. Instead of spending time on Tinder swiping left or right, practice languages on Busuu’s app to wow your next date and improve your love life.

4. It increases your social skills

People who speak multiple languages are more empathetic and can consider other people’s points of view. They understand that other people’s beliefs, values, and opinions are different from theirs. And they’re accepting of those differences.

This improved perspective-taking means multilinguals have better social skills. Language is social. It’s a tool for communicating with other people. That’s why people who learn multiple languages from an early age have better social skills. They are great at monitoring who is saying what and in what language. And they can spot social patterns more easily than monolingual people.

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The cognitive benefits of multilingualism

Learning a language is like a brain workout. Every minute you spend learning or communicating in other languages, your brain gets stronger and more resilient. It’s good for cognitive function and it protects you from dementia. Let’s take a deeper look at the cognitive benefits of speaking multiple languages.

1. It reduces the risk of mental decline

Cognitive decline is a huge health issue in the USA. Women have a 37% risk of dementia (for men it's 24%). There are ways to delay this, however. And one of the best is speaking multiple languages.

Learning a language is a difficult mental challenge. Because it uses your neural networks extensively, it promotes healthy aging. It isn't a cure for dementia, of course. But it’s a good way to lower your risk and delay cognitive decline.

2. It improves your memory

This one seems like a no-brainer but it’s worth repeating. Learning a language is great for your memory. Obviously, you need to remember a lot to be fluent in a language. And this memory training spreads to other parts of your life. You’ll be less likely to forget birthdays and appointments. And you’ll always know where you left your keys.

3. Learning more languages becomes easier

The more languages you learn, the easier it is to keep learning them. It might seem like an impossible task to learn just one new language. But it isn't. And when you’ve mastered that first one, any subsequent ones become easier. Research shows that people who grow up learning multiple languages are more open to languages (obviously!) and are more enthusiastic about new learning than monolingual people.

The benefits of multilingualism in the workplace

1. It increases your employability

People with language skills are in high demand. Modern businesses operate in multicultural or international settings. People who can speak multiple languages are extremely valuable to them. Add your language skills to your resume, and watch your employability soar.

2. It opens exciting doors for interesting job opportunities

Ever wished you had a more exciting job? One that takes you to exotic locations, meeting interesting people. Well, being multilingual opens up a ton of interesting opportunities for you.

Here are some examples of multilingual jobs:

  • Diplomats find common ground with their host country and make sure their home country looks good. Speaking three or more languages is common for diplomats.

  • Translators take written words from one language and turn them into another. You can think of them as communication facilitators. If you’ve ever read a book from an overseas writer, you’ve enjoyed the skill and hard work of a translator.

  • Interpreters are live-action translators. They’re the people you see talking into important people’s ears. Making sure they don’t miss any important information — no matter what the language.

  • Military linguists speak multiple languages and work closely with the armed forces. They decipher foreign communications, gather intelligence, and facilitate communication all over the world.

  • Foreign service officers work all around the world fostering international relations, representing their country, and helping their fellow citizens abroad. Passport renewals might not sound very exciting. But imagine doing those passport renewals in Tokyo.

(Make sure you check out our guide to best jobs for language lovers for more info about these interesting jobs for multilinguals.)

If you want these benefits, it’s time to start learning your next language

Learning multiple languages is a huge challenge. It takes time, effort, and dedication. But when you get there the benefits are worth the struggle. Not only are there cognitive and health benefits, but there are social benefits too. You train your brain, develop as a person, and have opportunities to communicate with more people than ever before. You get opportunities to do a range of exciting and interesting jobs all over the world too.

The science about the benefits of learning languages is solid — there are cognitive and social benefits. When you combine this with the enjoyment and sense of achievement you’ll get from learning a language, getting out your phrasebook (or app) to study is a no-brainer. So what are you waiting for? Start studying your next language today with Busuu.

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