Benefits of Bilingualism

In the second debate among Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election, the subject of language came up. Donald Trump objected to Jeb Bush’s use of Spanish when answering questions he had been asked in Spanish. Bush explained that it was courteous to respond in the same language in which a question had been asked.

Marco Rubio went further. “I do give interviews in Spanish,” he said, “and here’s why– because I believe that free enterprise and limited government is the best way to help people who are trying to achieve upward mobility, and if they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me. Not from a translator at Univision.”

A new report from the Instituto Cervantes puts the current number of native speakers of Spanish in the U.S. at more than 41 million, second only to Mexico among nations of the world. Spanish is by far the most popular language other than English in the United States, and another 11 million speakers use Spanish as a second language.

Far from being a disadvantage, being able to speak more than one language is an advantage. Look at some of the research results on the subject:

  • Bilingual children do better in school, perhaps because executive functions are enhanced by the process of learning more than one language.
  • Bilingual adults are less likely to suffer from dementia; when they do so, the ailment begins later than for monolingual people.
  • People who know more than one language may be more broad-minded, since their bilingual view of the world is less limiting.
  • Some research suggests that bilingual people focus better on tasks and are better able to make decisions, because their brains develop greater skill at sorting information.
  • Fluency in a second language makes people more employable and more valuable to their employers.

Another candidate, Carly Fiorina, followed up on the discussion in the debate by saying, “I admire the fact that Jeb Bush is multilingual. I admire the fact that so many people are multilingual. And I also think that English is the official language of the United States.” Fiorina is mistaken. The United States has no official language.

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