Opinion: Becoming bilingual can be life-changing

Opinion: Becoming bilingual can be life-changing

The United States has historically been a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and languages, something that continues to this day. Although many of us are proud of our nation’s diversity, few educate themselves and their children in a second language.

Those who argue that English is sufficient for their lifestyles are not realizing the potential benefits of becoming bilingual. By dedicating yourself to practicing another language, you can improve mental and physical health, employment opportunities will become more numerous and you will discover more about yourself and other cultures.

Public education in the United States has ill-equipped our students for international or cross-cultural work. In fact, when compared to European countries, the United States is extremely far behind in the foreign-language department.

More than 20 European countries consider learning a foreign language at a young age mandatory, while the U.S. continues to cut down on foreign-language opportunities in education. This is troubling, since globalization does not seem to be slowing down.

According to the Guardian, the United States now has the second-largest population of Spanish speakers on the planet, beating out Spain and Colombia. Behind Spanish, languages such as Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean, French, Arabic and German are used by significant portions of the U.S. population.

Employers are very aware of this, making bilingual citizens much more employable here and throughout the world. According to Forbes, bilingual Americans earn 10-15 percent more money on average in their lifetimes.

The physical and mental health benefits of committing yourself to a second language are nearly unbelievable. Research from the Georgetown University Medical Center shows that the gray matter in one’s brain actually increases in size when a person picks up another language. Yes, learning a second language will actually make your brain bigger.

Many studies also have been performed to test the effects of being bilingual on brain-related diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The results have been pretty clear in suggesting that acquiring a second language will delay the onset of the diseases.

Lastly, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that children who are raised in multilingual environments are less likely to develop mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. The significance of these health benefits must not be overlooked, as many of these issues affect large numbers of our society today.

As a Lindenwood student with a passion for languages, I can tell you that attempting to converse with our international students in their own tongue with my awkward American accent has allowed me to make friends and memories that I will not forget.

This skill will ultimately allow you to experience more empathy, open-mindedness and an awareness of other cultures, making you a better, more well-rounded person.

Now that you know some of the advantages of diving into the world of foreign languages, I hope that you take a step forward in your education. Whether it is signing up for a foreign-language class at Lindenwood, downloading a language-learning app or perhaps just having international friends teach you phrases for fun, you too can begin to reap all of the benefits of learning another language.