Why I'm grateful for the gift of bilingualism

I distinctly remember the day my parents decided I needed to be bilingual. They had pulled us out of our regular school and told us that we would be at a bilingual school the following year.

It was the year I started fourth grade.

It wasn’t that big of a deal at first — I had learned some foreign words from TV, and I thought the second language was easy. The new school was really nice and I was excited to start.

But it didn’t take long for the tears to begin.

I was frustrated. The other kids had been reading and writing in two languages for far longer than I had, and I remember staring at the pictures in our strange and foreign textbook looking for clues. A picture of an old lady in purple and some cats sticks out in my mind for some reason. I specifically remember a very tearful math homework session — MATH! — why did I have to learn math in a stupid foreign language?

The language was stupid and useless and I didn’t see the point.

Thankfully, my mother, who didn’t speak the language, calmed me down and helped me with my homework.

El inglés valdrá la pena,” she said. “English will be worth it.”

It was, of course. Fast forward a few decades and I make a living communicating in English, and occasionally Spanish.

And I am forever grateful.

In honor of Thanksgiving and the publication of Bilingual is Better (co-written by fellow Babble writer and friend Ana Flores), I’ve decided to share a few reasons why I’m grateful that my parents gave me the gift of bilingualism. I hope it inspires you to stick with learning a second language, or to encourage your children to learn as many different languages as possible.

  • You are welcome at more places 1 of 7
    You are welcome at more places
    The more languages you speak, the more warm welcomes you'll receive at more places. It's simple math.

    photo credit: Listener42 via photopin cc

  • Bilingual brains are flexible and focused brains 2 of 7
    Bilingual brains are flexible and focused brains
    Per the Washington Post, "whenever bilinguals speak, write or listen to the radio, their brains are busy choosing the right word while blocking the same term from the other language. This is a considerable test of executive control — just the kind of cognitive workout, in fact, that is common in many commercial brain-training programs, which often require you to ignore distracting information while tackling a task."

    photo credit: El Bibliomata via photopin cc

  • Be a part of the conversation 3 of 7
    Be a part of the conversation
    In order to participate and share ideas with others, it helps to speak the language.

    photo credit: Project Dinner Table via photopin cc

  • Gaining new perspectives 4 of 7
    Gaining new perspectives
    There is always more than one way to look at a problem -- when you are bilingual and bicultural you automatically look at everything from at least two perspectives -- you can't help it! This makes it very easy to question when someone insists that their way is "the only way" to think.
  • Opportunities 5 of 7
    Because I was already bilingual, one of my past employers (a French multinatinational corporation) offered me free private French lessons. Once you are fluent in two languages, it is easier to learn others -- it was a great investment for the company, and a great benefit for me!

    photo credit: Erman Akdogan via photopin cc

  • Money! 6 of 7
    My bilingualism has been an economic boon from the beginning -- it has made me more employable and increased my income at every step of the way. Standing out at an interview or salary negotiation is easier when you are a skilled professional who can do everything the competition can but in two languages! (And if you are bilingual, don't forget that your bilingualism is a valuable skill you should demand a premium for.)

    photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via photopin cc

  • Exploring different facets of personality 7 of 7
    Exploring different facets of personality
    I have noticed that I act differently depending on the language I am speaking or thinking in. I'm still me of course, but I notice subtle differences depending on the language.

    photo credit: shaun wong via photopin cc

Article Posted 4 years Ago
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