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Sep 14 2017
by Melanie Haid

The Pros and Cons of Being Multilingual in College

By Melanie Haid - Sep 14 2017
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Being bilingual or multilingual, especially in America, is no new story. According to the New York Times, roughly 20% of all Americans speak another language besides English fluently. So chances are, in a room full of ten people, at least two of them likely speak another language. Even if you're not one of them, you probably know a few people who also speak another language. There are many pros to knowing how to speak more than one language, but also a few cons here and there. 

1. When people find out you speak another language and make you speak it.

Obviously, if you know how to speak the language, of course you wouldn't mind totally being put on the spot and showing off a little, right? The weirdest part is always figuring out what you should even say. Not that it really matters because it's not like your audience can understand you, anyway.


2. Of course, as soon as they ask you to say a certain word, you forget that one word.

It's never something simple because that would just be too easy. My history teacher in my freshman year of high school asked me how to say "airplane" on the very first day of class the second he found out I spoke German, and of course I froze like a deer in headlights even though I could've told him a detailed story involving a car or a train in that very moment instead. As if being in a new school for the very first time wasn't nerve-wracking enough, right? 


3. When people don't believe you actually speak another language.

You forget how to say airplane? You don't feel like drawing every ounce of attention in the room to yourself as you show off your other language(s)? You obviously must not know how to speak it, but nice try, right? One of the most frustrating things is when someone for some reason believes you're lying – because it's totally sensible to make up knowing another language just randomly, right? I'm fluent, I promise!


4. When you forget a word in English but you know exactly what it is in the other language.

In second grade, I had a horrible stomach ache, and of course I forgot the term for stomach ache in English so I told my teacher in German what was going on. This was one of the first instances I ever came across where someone outside my family understood me, and for some reason she remembered the German word for stomach ache from some obscure German class she must have taken years before. This still happens to me way too often – not to mention there are some words in other languages that aren't really represented and accounted for in the English language, vast as it may be.


5. But not all is lost! You can talk about people right in front of them to your buddies who speak the same language, which can be super great.

Not promoting talking smack about people right in front of them, and speaking another language directly in front of someone who doesn't understand it can be pretty rude. But if you have a question you feel is silly that you may not want to raise in front of everyone, being multilingual is like a secret language that you can use at your desire. 


6. Someone speaks the same language as you? Instant friend.

Okay, this may not go for all languages, but personally, when I meet someone else who speaks German, I get insanely excited. It's cool to bond with someone over something like that, especially since it isn't something that's insanely common. It's an instant link, not just linguistically, but in many ways. It's also a major cultural link and forms an immediate connection in a way that not a lot of other similarities could.


7. You can get more jobs in this day and age by speaking multiple languages, and it can have some health benefits.

It's a fact! In a globalized world, being multilingual is definitely a pro in the job market. A BBC story relays that "faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia" are among some of the benefits included within being able to speak more than one language. Who knew that being multilingual could make you healthier while getting you more opportunities at the same time?


8. Being multilingual can make other subjects easier to learn because your brain works twice as hard already to be able to understand two or more languages.

I actually wasn't aware of this until recently, but websites like Forbes draw attention to studies that show that children who learn to speak multiple languages actually gain more exercise in resolving internal conflicts because of their expansive knowledge of language. You can acquire and master certain skills faster than others because the brain is more exposed to a broader scope of language that goes past merely English.


9. Certain languages can help you understand super sophisticated English words.

The English language is comprised of words that have roots; roots generally come from languages like Latin, which influences many languages, especially European ones. Merriam-Webster states that French, German, Dutch, Latin and others influence words in the English language, and English has many words that are "stolen" from other languages and altered to fit into their own dialect. 


10. You're probably more open-minded because you're exposed to different cultures.

Chances are, if you speak another language close to fluently, it's likely that you have an extent of knowledge about the culture that the language comes from. Whether your family is from a country where the language is spoken or you're just really good at picking up new languages, culture makes up an important part of the identity of a language. For this reason, your worldview might be broader than the average person, simply because you're directly exposed to more culture and social diversity through the language. 


The ability to speak multiple languages may not be essential to living in this globalized world, but it certainly outweighs the cons when compared to being monolingual. On every level, languages are important to understand culture and different perspectives around the world, as well as the people around you, and definitely give you a leg up in the world. It's never too late to learn: more than half the world can speak more than one language, and with a little practice, you could join that majority too!

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Melanie Haid - Hofstra University

Melanie Haid is a freshman at Hofstra University, majoring in Journalism with a minor in German.

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