By Jeffrey Nelson
Being bilingual has many vast and rewarding benefits. Bilingual education, or language learning in general, produces cognitive benefits, person satisfaction, and various other perks that go hand-in-hand with language learning.Those things, while great, are not within the scope of this article. This article is to talk about the intangible aspects of bilingualism. To define bilingual is quite hard, but we will leave it at the following: A person able to communicate with someone else in two languages. For that to be of any help, we need to further define communicate, but alas that is not for this particular work.
Connecting with others is an often overlooked aspect of bilingualism that is missed by many people. People want to learn languages, or want their kids to learn languages, for various reasons; connecting with people is usually not at the top of that list.
The following quote from Nelson Mandela fits nicely: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
Speaking to someone in their native language is a great complement to that person. Most people don't care enough to learn the language of a country they are visiting, for example, and just expect everyone to speak English. The ones who do, however, hold a special place in the locals hearts.
When my wife and I travel to Mexico, her family and friends are so excited that I can stay in the conversation and we can all speak together. Some people need to be bilingual more than others; for me being bilingual is not an option, it is a necessity.
Connecting with others through the medium of a non-native language has had a profound impact on my life. Growing up in North Dakota, the thought of being bilingual one day never crossed my mind. But life twists and turns, and here we are; bilingual and bicultural, married to a Mexican and with a half-Mexican son.
One of the great joys of marrying a foreigner is to be able to connect to a whole new culture with their help. Being bilingual has really helped shape my entire outlook on life. Conquering a language, from start to finish - which isn't all that easy at age 26 but certainly can be done - gives a person a sense of satisfaction that lasts a lifetime. To have an alternate bicultural identity is a thrill in itself. It's as if, to some degree, you get to reinvent yourself. A famous language quote states that having another language is like having another soul. This, from my experience, is very true.
As you may know, if you've seen me around, I'm a big proponent of the benefits of bilingual education. I regularly regurgitate factoids, information, statistics, and various other pieces of information necessary to convince people that bilingualism is something to be sought after; to be searched out. However, in doing so, I rarely mention the topic of this article: connecting with people. Another language allows you to plug into a whole different culture, society, and base of people. It allows you to see the world in a different way; through the eyes of a different culture.
Connecting with people through their own culture, language, and identity is one of the most underrated benefits of being bilingual. If you're already bilingual, that is fantastic. Please pass it along to your children, if you have any. If you're a bilingual in training, keep at it! Speaking another language at a high level has been one of the best accomplishments of my life.
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