Learning to Appreciate Bilingualism

When I first applied to be an enrollment assister for Nevada Health Link, I was certain that I wouldn’t get the job, as I had little experience with health care. One thing stood out to my employer besides my education and other customer service experience; I was bilingual in Spanish and English. Being able to communicate fluently in Spanish added more value to my resume, which enabled me to get the job and receive the training necessary for the position.

In the state of Nevada, Latinos had the highest rates of uninsured people. My job consisted of educating the Spanish-speaking community of new changes as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Being able to receive this valuable information in their first language would guarantee that the Latino population knew how to proceed once the new healthcare law was enacted.

This made me realize that bilingualism is beneficial for bilinguals, their community, and the economy.

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Today, more companies are relying on bilingual-biliterate employees to serve as liaisons with clients both on a local, national, and global scale. Bilingual young adults are more likely to graduate high school and go to college. They are also more likely to get a job once they interview and remain employed; benefiting both the workforce and the community as a whole.

The benefits that bilingualism represents are great, but often dismissed until recently. Throughout much of the 20th century, a second language was considered to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development. Because bilinguals have to switch regularly from one language to the other, the brain is required to keep track of the changes and pay more attention to its surroundings to successfully do so. But what researchers have found out is that this is a blessing in disguise. The brain is forced to resolve internal conflicts, essentially giving it a workout and by strengthening cognitive muscles.

While bilingualism doesn’t necessarily make you smarter, it does make a healthier brain that is actively engaged, thus leading to better performance in tasks such as problem-solving. Mia Nacamulli describes three types of bilingual brains in a short TED Ed lesson video. Compound bilinguals develop linguistic codes simultaneously, learning both languages as they learn to process the life around them. Coordinate bilinguals learn a second language at school while they continue to speak their native language at home. Lastly, subordinate bilinguals learn a second language by filtering it through their primary language.

As a compound bilingual, speaking English and Spanish fluently has helped me analyze the world around me in a unique way. I’ve also had the opportunity to apply my linguistic abilities in the workforce, enabling me to be a stronger candidate for various consumer related positions. Bilingualism and multilingualism facilitate success in this informative and global era. So, if you speak more than one language, own it, and know that being bilingual or multilingual is a unique trait that keeps your brain healthy and has a positive impact in your community.