By Tawanah Reeves-Ligon
Bilingualism and multilingualism, or the ability to speak at least two or more languages, can be an often-overlooked skill, but the candidate and recruiter alike should take the opportunity to reframe their perspective. The ability to speak more than one language is more than just valuable for a professional setting; it can also add many unique benefits to one’s mental health and social skills.
According to different sources, about half of the world’s population speaks two languages, while only about 40 percent is monolingual or speaks one language. The rest speak three or more. That means just under three-quarters of the globe knows and speaks more than one language, while in the U.S., that number is only about 20 percent. So, there’s an opportunity to use this skill to one’s advantage.
Being bilingual is not the only worthwhile trait that a successful candidate should have, but it can easily make one stand out amongst a group of exceptional options. Having someone able to translate or interpret makes collaboration smoother, quicker and less stressful for everyone involved. In our interconnected and global society, it is becoming more and more pressing to be able to relate and communicate with stakeholders and customers on a more personal level in every industry. However, having bilingual staff can be imperative in careers with high person-to-person interaction or communication, including healthcare, education, personal finance, politics, customer service and sales, law enforcement, social work or literature and publishing.
Mental Health Benefits
It’s easy for the mental health benefits of speaking more than one language to go unnoticed, but they are worthwhile. Studies have shown that the process of learning more than one language and alternating between them allows the brain to be more flexible. It increases executive functions of the mind, improves focus, and enables individuals to pull out the most important task from a group without being as distracted. Furthermore, research suggests that people who speak more than one language literally see the world differently. Language is intrinsically tied to culture and identity; thus, knowing more than one can help people root themselves in multiple identities or more strongly align to their culture. It also allows them to view and appreciate the nuances and differences of other cultures and peoples, which can foster a unique self-perception.
Being able to appreciate the distinctions between different people and cultures helps expand one’s worldview. This helps grow and shape one’s cultural fluency, which is the ability to relate to and collaborate effectively across cultures. Those who are bilingual or multilingual can interact with a wider variety of people and understand and appreciate their differences more easily. Since many bilingual people are also bicultural, intersecting different cultures as part of their identity, they have a lived experience understanding why cultural fluency is essential. They can expand their local communities and, through the internet, travel or work, build larger communities outside of what is within their ‘normal.’
The opportunities for self-improvement and career advancement for those who speak more than one language are extensive. If you have the skill, continue cultivating it by learning more languages or becoming more fluent and adept in the ones you already know. Also, don’t forget to use them to your advantage in professional and social settings. If you don’t know more than one language, it is not too late to learn. There are many programs and courses available to fit the needs of each learner. Even just a casual understanding of another language can make all the difference. So, take advantage of this skill and expand your horizons.