Our world is becoming increasingly multilingual. According to the National Center for Education Statistics , 21% of school-aged children (be...

The Benefits of Bilingualism According to Research

Our world is becoming increasingly multilingual. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 21% of school-aged children (between the ages of 5-17) living in the United States speak a language other than English at home. This number is projected to increase in the coming years.

Worldwide, it is estimated that...
  • there are more second language speakers of English than native speakers (1),
  • and there are as many bilingual children as there are monolingual children (10).

The term "bilingual" refers to someone who speaks two languages, and "monolingual" refers to someone who speaks one language.

What these trends suggest is that many children are being raised bilingual. Sometimes bilingualism is a necessity, as a child's parents may not be fluent in the dominant language spoken in the community. Maintaining use of the mother language may also be a means of preserving culture and heritage. In the aforementioned cases, the child may learn one language at home, and another at school.

However, bilingualism is sometimes a choice, and parents may wish to expose their child to another language, even if they do not speak a second language themselves. This could be due to the many benefits of being bilingual. Below are the top benefits of bilingualism, according to research.

Benefits of Bilingualism

Better focus and attention

Bilingual children are better able to focus their attention on relevant information and ignore distractions than same-aged monolingual peers (3).

Better at creativity, planning, and solving complex problems

Bilingual individuals have been shown to be more creative and better at planning and solving complex problems than monolinguals (2, 4, 5). Some studies also suggest that persons with full proficiency in more than one language outperform similar monolingual persons on both verbal and nonverbal tests of intelligence, which raises the question of whether ability in more than one language enables individuals to achieve greater intellectual flexibility (6, 7).

Diminished effects of aging on the brain

The effects of aging on the brain are diminished among bilingual adults (2, 8). In one study, the onset of dementia was delayed by 4 years in bilinguals compared to monolinguals with dementia (2).

Greater access to people and resources

An obvious advantage of knowing more than one language is having expanded access to people and resources. Individuals who speak and read more than one language have the ability to communicate with more people, read more literature, and benefit more fully from travel to other countries. Introducing students to alternative ways of expressing themselves and to different cultures gives greater depth to their understanding of human experience by fostering an appreciation for the customs and achievements of people beyond their own communities. Ultimately, knowing a second language can also give people a competitive advantage in the work force by opening up additional job opportunities (4).

Want to learn more?

All in all, research has shown that being bilingual or learning a second language offers numerous benefits. Advantages include improved communicative ability, cognitive development, cultural awareness, and increased job opportunities. Society as a whole also profits economically, politically, and socially when its citizens can communicate with and appreciate people from other countries and cultures.

Parents and educators would be wise to take advantage of the many available opportunities and resources for second language learning for the benefit of children coming of age in the 21st century.

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  1. Genesee, F. H. (2009). Early childhood bilingualism: Perils and possibilities. Journal of Applied Research on Learning, 2 (Special Issue), Article 2, pp. 1-21.
  2. Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011). Dual Language Development and Disorders: A handbook on bilingualism & second language learning. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
  3. Poulin-Dubois, D., Blaye, A., Coutya, J & Bialystok, E. (2011). The effects of bilingualism on toddlers’ executive functioning. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 108 (3), 567-579
  4. Center for Applied Linguistics. Benefits of being bilingual.
  5. Bamford, K. W., and D. T. Mizokawa. 1991. “Additive-Bilingual (Immersion) Education: Cognitive and Language Development.” Language Learning 41 (3): 413–429.
  6. Bruck, M., W. E. Lambert, and R. Tucker. 1974. “Bilingual Schooling Through the Elementary Grades: The St. Lambert Project at Grade Seven.” Language Learning 24 (2): 183–204.
  7. Hakuta, K. 1986. Cognitive Development of Bilingual Children. Los Angeles: University of California, Center for Language Education and Research. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 278 260.
  8. Canadian Council on Learning (2008). Parlez-vous français? The advantages of bilingualism in Canada.