Being bilingual is a necessity for millions of people across the globe. While many United States citizens may never need to speak any language other than English, that’s not the case for people who reside in other parts of the world. Even some citizens of America’s neighbor to the north, Canada, may need to learn both French and English depending on where they live.
Fluency in more than one language can produce some surprising benefits. For example, a 2017 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that lifelong bilingualism may help to delay the onset of dementia by as much as five years. In addition, numerous studies, including one conducted by an economist at MIT, found that people fluent in more than one language can earn tens of thousands of dollars more than their monolingual peers over the course of their careers.
Perhaps in recognition of the benefits of bilingualism in an increasingly global world, foreign language programs are now part of the curriculum at many daycare facilities and preschools. That might come as a surprise to parents who did not begin studying foreign languages until junior high or even high school.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services notes that a nearly 20-year-old study from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education found that bilingual students had an easier time understanding math concepts and solving word problems than their peers who were not bilingual. The DHHS also notes that researchers have uncovered numerous additional cognitive benefits to being bilingual as opposed to monolingual. These benefits include a greater ability to use logic, focus, remember, and make decisions.
Researchers with the National Academy of Science found that children who grow up in bilingual households exhibit better self-control than those who grow up in monolingual households. That’s an important benefit, as the DHHS notes that self-control is a key indicator of academic success. The DHHS adds that bilingual children benefit socially from being bilingual because they are capable of making new friends and building strong relationships using their second language as well as their first.