Historically, being multilingual was considered to be a handicap or disadvantage. Due to flawed studies, it was believed that having to switch and distinguish between multiple languages while speaking, writing, and so on consumed an excessive amount of energy and slowed down the mind. Although these beliefs are valid to a certain extent in terms of difficulties differentiating between languages, we now know through more recent research that multilingualism is much more helpful than it is harmful. This is because it activates the region of the brain associated with executive function, problem solving, focus, and so much more. However, to this day, despite proof of its benefits, some still believe that being multilingual is harmful.
In my opinion, the reason some do not recognize the benefits of multilingualism is that they only speak one language and never had the chance to experience the benefits for themselves. Though from my own experience knowing two languages, I have encountered countless ordinary instances where my multilingualism has added to my general knowledge and to my joy in life. These occurrences usually fall under two categories.
The first category of benefits is having access to a wider selection of written and spoken content. A crucial part of going to school is exploring the world, which is made easier for me since I have a wider range of information and culture open to me. For example, I have the option of watching television programming in English or French. In addition, because these are the official languages of Canada, there are numerous programs in both languages. This category of benefits also extends to reading books, understanding the lyrics to songs in multiple languages, and simply conversing with people who speak different languages. Through these means I can relate to others through language, which brings me more fulfillment.
The second category of benefits consists of uncovering more significant meanings to words that would otherwise have no obvious connection. My two main languages are English and French, which are greatly interconnected and have many words in common. “Croissant” is a French word used in English that can be better understood with knowledge of French. Nearly all English speakers know that this word designates a type of pastry, but to them this word has no other significance in English. In French, however, “croissant” means crescent. From there, it becomes evident that the croissant is named after its crescent shape. There are also many other words that we can better understand by learning their origins from different languages. Similar connections between languages can be far more complex. Some may argue that this last group of benefits is not granted by learning languages that are not as interconnected, but in that case, one may gain an entirely new perspective and possibly learn more about a new culture.
In the end, some may still refuse to believe the benefits of being multilingual, and that is fine. Even so, I can say that in my case, the advantages of multilingualism are abundant.
Marian, Viorica, and Anthony Shook. “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual.” Cerebrum : the Dana Forum on Brain Science, The Dana Foundation, Sept. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583091/.
Nacamulli, Mia. “The Benefits of a Bilingual Brain.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/mia_nacamulli_the_benefits_of_a_bilingual_brain?language=en.