The power of bilingualism: 5 benefits for newcomers

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Most newcomers know more than one language and this is reflected in our growing population: In 2021, one in five Canadian households (21%) were bilingual or multilingual. Of the 21%, 16.2% were bilingual, and 5.9% were multilingual (Statistics Canada ). But what’s more noteworthy is that knowing more than one language is a remarkable advantage!

By the way, being bilingual means you can communicate in two languages. If you use more languages, then you’re multilingual. You can also use polyglot (knowing three to five languages), or hyperglot (over 12 languages). We call those who know a single language monolinguals or unilinguals.

Let’s explore why bilingualism (or multilingualism) is a superpower especially for newcomers:

  1. Your brain is stronger and more flexible (compared to monolinguals)

    When you use two languages, your brain’s vocabulary storage area becomes more developed. And when you’re learning or using a second language regularly, this area is always active. Whenever you communicate, your brain decides which language to use. This constant process of switching is like a workout – it makes your brain stronger and more flexible. It also makes it easier for you to learn even more languages later on.

    Another benefit of this mental exercise is that it helps keep your brain healthy as you grow older. Multiple studies have shown that bilingual brains are more resistant to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Stroke survivors who are bilingual also experience better recovery compared to monolingual patients.


    The benefits of a bilingual brain – Nia Nacamulli, TED-Ed

  3. You are better at sorting conflicting information and staying focused

    Scientists learned that the area of the brain that becomes active when choosing languages (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is also the area that plays a big role in executive functions. It’s where problem solving, judgement, filtering information, switching between tasks, and focusing happens. This brain activity makes bilingual brains are more healthy, complex, and more actively engaged.

  4. Bilinguals are more creative, flexible, and adaptable

    This is related once again to having a more developed dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Aside from this, exposure to various cultures contributes to developing creativity. Bilinguals navigate two different vocabularies and conceptual systems, and by extension experience customs, values, knowledge, and the wisdom of two cultures. This environment encourages the development of a wider perspective, livelier imagination, and the production of original ideas. This exposure also makes you more empathetic and open because you understand different perspectives.

    Creativity, adaptability, and empathy are useful traits that will not only help you adapt quickly in your new country, they will also help you succeed in any area of life.

  5. Bilingual children have better social skills

    Studies have shown that bilingual children tend to have better social-emotional development. This is attributed to their experience of listening to various languages and observing body language and social cues (and determining language and meaning) at an early age. Bilingual children have been found to be better at listening, understanding, and empathizing with other people. These skills lead to better interaction with others and make it easy to build friendships and strong relationships with peers.

  6. Expanded career opportunities

    Bilinguals have a unique advantage in the job market. You have access to more job opportunities and the capacity to earn more. Many companies need bilingual employees, especially those who can speak Canada’s official languages – English and French. In fact, this may be required if you plan on working in public service or government. It is also reported that bilinguals earn an average of 40% more than unilingual anglophones or francophones according to the 2021 Statistics Canada census.

    But whether it’s English, French or a different language, your communication skills are valuable in a multicultural country like Canada. Employers highly value the broader range of skills and abilities that you can offer.

Being bilingual offers numerous advantages, from strengthening your brain to expanding your social and career horizons. It’s a superpower that can make you live better and longer!

So, embrace your language skills. It’s your key to success in your new home!
Article developed with Lori Morency
Sources: Benefits of being bilingual (Powerpoint presentation), Lori Morency; Bilingual brains are better (video), Seeker; Beyond Words: The benefits of being bilingual, Neel Burton, MD, Psychology Today; The benefits of a multilingual brain (video), Mia Nacamulli, TED-Ed; and Benefits of being bilingual (pdf), US Department of Education. Accessed May 24, 2024.

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