Parlez-vous français? ¿Hablan usted español? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma? If you answered oui, si, ja or shì, congratulations – you are one of the 35 percent of Americans who speak a second language. Bilingualism is chronically low in the United States, however there are many benefits related to speaking more than one language in the workplace.
English is currently the most spoken language by Experteer users by far. Almost 40 percent have some level of ability in the English language. The second most spoken is French, with 15.5 percent of Experteer users having some knowledge of the language. German is third, at 14.6 percent.
Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23, the question of the decline of the English language has been raised in Europe. Will the UK leaving the EU mean English will no longer be the common language used when doing business in Europe? The simple answer is no, especially in the short term. Currently, it is thought that 13 percent of EU citizens speak English as their native language and almost 40 percent have conversational skills in English. Globally, there are 380 million native English speakers.
Historically, language learning in the United States was an issue of national identity. The 1917 Immigration Act prevented foreign citizens who could not read or write in any language from moving to the US. A number of US states even passed legislation banning the teaching of foreign languages to young children. Speaking a language other than English was considered un-American. While times have certainly changed, rates of bilingualism in the US remain low when compared with other countries.
Despite that, the benefits of bi- or multilingualism cannot be denied. Not only does speaking more than one language better connect us with the world around us, it is also great for cognitive function.
Benefits of speaking more than one language
- Improves executive function, which includes the abilities to control thoughts and behaviors like focusing on a goal, ignoring distractions, switching attention and planning for the future.
- Distinguishes you and helps set you apart from the competition.
- Delays cognitive damage and the onset of symptoms of dementia and other degenerative diseases.
- Bilingual employees are superior multi-taskers. A study by the National Institute of Health also found that bilingual employees are better able to switch between two tasks than their monolingual colleagues.
- Makes you more appealing to global companies.
While there are certainly benefits to speaking more than one language, the question remains – is it really necessary? One hundred years ago bilingualism was thought to be detrimental to verbal development and to actually harm IQ. This has of course been found not to be the case; however there are some lesser known effects of bilingualism.
Lesser known disadvantages of bilingualism
- The vocabularies of bilingual speakers are thought to be smaller than those of monolinguals.
- Bilinguals suffer more often from having a word on the ‘tip of the tongue’, but not being able to spit it out, than their monolingual counterparts.
- A study by Cambridge University found that those who speak only one language may have better judgement and insight.
Despite chronically low language ability rates in the US, the fact remains that there are many benefits to being able to speak a second, or even third language. Being able to carry a conversation in a language other than your mother tongue not only looks impressive on your resume, it also improves brain function. Despite that, there remain a number of lesser-known side-effects of bilingualism, including the irritating phenomenon of having a word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite get out.