Friday 23 April 2021

The Importance of Being Bilingual

Speaking more than one language fluently has some cognitive costs and many benefits.

From Merck Manuals Student Stories, we get a first-hand account of the importance of being bilingual from a med student who had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica and the benefit of knowing two or more languages.

Speaking more than one language fluently has some cognitive costs and many benefits. Photo Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr /

Here is Ashleigh Frialde’s story, originally from South Carolina, who before graduation, had the opportunity to spend a semester in Costa Rica, where she became fluent in Spanish.

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“I had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica back in Spring 2014. I became fluent in Spanish and completed 130 hours in a local medical clinic. Ever since I became interested in medicine, I knew that I wanted to become fluent in another language.

Knowing two or more languages can greatly benefit us as future physicians because of the increased patient population we would be able to reach. If you’re considering practicing medicine in the United States, you’d be at a great advantage to learn a second language because of the diversity and culture in this country.

One way to learn and maintain a second language would be to go to a country where you could immerse yourself in a different language. Being immersed and living in Costa Rica forced me to only speak Spanish, and taught me how to speak it ‘naturally’.

You can also look into study programs with universities on completing medical internships or clinical experience in another country, all while learning a new language as well. If you’re unable to relocate to another country even for just a few weeks, there are plenty of apps and website programs that are designed to teach you another language. There are also websites to pair you with a native speaker, so you can practice speaking to someone.”

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You can read more from Ashley here.

Want a more fulfilling personal life?

But did you know that the benefits of being bilingual go much deeper than being able to ask where the bathroom is or ask for directions when you get lost in Costa Rica?

Recent research on bilingualism has found that speaking another language can improve your life in many ways. Being bilingual can provide new career opportunities, improve your personal life and even lead to better health.

The benefits of being bilingual are lifelong, but they seem especially important in old age. Cognitive flexibility—the ability to adapt to unfamiliar or unexpected circumstances—tends to decline as we age, but speaking a second language can block that decline or at least significantly delay it.

Research shows that bilingualism can improve cognition and delay dementia in older adults, particularly related to general intelligence and reading abilities.

Are bilinguals more intelligent?

Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age. This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century.

What does it do to a brain when you re bilingual?

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The bilingual brain is used to handling two languages at the same time. This develops skills for functions such as inhibition (a cognitive mechanism that discards irrelevant stimuli), switching attention, and working memory. … Bilingual people also outperform monolingual people in spatial working memory tasks.

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There are numerous benefits to gain from speaking a second language, from professional and personal to health benefits.

Moreover, learning a foreign language is just fun!

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