Multilingualism

There are numerous benefits of being multilingual, Oct. 24, 2021.

Bilingualism, the ability to speak more than one language, is a trait shared by between 60% and 75% of all people in the world. In the United States, however, this number is far fewer, with only around 20% of Americans knowing a foreign language, according to the Center for Immigration studies. There are a multitude of benefits to speaking at least one foreign language, and more students should take advantage of the language classes offered at Virginia Tech. 

The benefits of learning a second language are profound. Bilingualism is associated with better brain health; for example, Alzheimer’s patients who were able to speak more than one language showed symptom onset up to five years later than their monolingual counterparts, as said by Ellen Bialystok, whose comment is published on BBC’s website. According to a trial conducted by Jennifer Steele, reported in an article by NPR, children who studied foreign languages at school reported higher English reading comprehension

Finally — and arguably most importantly — learning a second language requires immersing yourself in the culture where that language developed, giving you greater insight into how others live and work. This is a sentiment shared byRichard Shryock, Ph.D., an associate professor of French. 

“When you're studying a foreign language, you're not only learning a language; you're also learning about another culture, and you're learning to go across cultures,” Shryock said. 

“So many of the skills that you learn in learning one language are transferable to other instances, other situations where you're encountering someone from a different culture,” Shryock said. “So that's something that's very helpful. (It) also is particularly useful in the United States, because so many people are monolingual here, and are not as familiar with other cultures. Foreign language is one way to open up the door to other cultures, and when you open up the door to other countries, (you) open up the door to seeing the world differently.”

We live in a globalized world. More and more companies are doing business globally. Millions of products and services cross national borders. Learning a second language can be a valuable job market skill.

“If students want to be more competitive, they really, really need to learn other languages,” Shryock said. “You take students from any other country and they're learning two or three, four languages as part of their studies, and also they start earlier and they go to a higher level of proficiency than what we do here in many cases — unless you major in a language or perhaps minor. So — to be you — no matter where you work, you're dealing with things on a global level through the internet, let alone through travel and so forth for Americans to be competitive on a business level.” 

Studying a foreign language is a small act that can make a massive difference in your life. By doing so, you will be opening yourself up to new countries and cultures, as well as millions of people who you never would have been able to communicate with. You will also make yourself more competitive in the future. Virginia Tech students are fortunate to have a department that teaches 12 different languages and offers degree programs in five. More students should take advantage of this opportunity for the betterment of themselves and the world around them.

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