The Benefits of Being A Multilingual Speaker

benefits of being bilingual
benefits of being bilingual

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The Benefits of Being a Multilingual Speaker

Do you speak two languages? Are you a multilingual speaker?

This is part two of our interview series, “Thinking in Two Languages.” I had the chance to sit down and talk with Sandra Hough, Assistant Educator about her life, her work, and her thoughts regarding dual language.

(Please scroll down to the middle of this interview if you’d like to hear Sandra‘s story first).

Thinking In Two Languages

One area of interest that caught my eye this year is how we can “think” in two languages. Although we talk about reading, writing, and speaking, it is rare to discuss the topic of “thinking” in two languages.

If you are multilingual, or an emerging bilingual learner, do you ever merge languages when you speak? Do you see something and think about it in two languages?

Were you ever upset with someone and made comments to them in your native language? I’ve repeatedly seen this behavior in my husband’s family (they speak another language fluently). I’ve also seen it in movies as well as in music.

the benefits of being a multilingual speaker
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The capacity to learn a language has left those who study language and how the brain learns a new language with many questions.

However, you can break language development for emerging bilingual learners into the following categories:

  1. Cognitive Development: The ability to think, problem-solve, and make decisions.
  2. Learning: We are not born with a language; instead, we learn by hearing and engaging using auditory and vocal means.
  3. Rapid growth: As we learn a language, the faster our minds may be able to work.
  4. Future opportunities: Many people who speak two languages might have more career doors to open.
  5. Easier to learn another language: When you have one language down fluently, it is easier to learn another language (especially when you’re young).

I “think” in two languages all of the time. For example, when I’m grocery shopping, reading signs, or simply hearing others speak—I have found myself translating words into Spanish. I’ve done this type of translation so often that sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing it.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21.6% of people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home —that’s 1 in every 5 adults. Also, nearly 68 million people spoke a language other than English at home in 2019.

How Language Can Shape The Lives of Multilingual Speakers

I wanted to understand better how a native Spanish speaker thinks in two languages. As mentioned above, I had the opportunity to interview Sandra Hough last month, and I think you will enjoy her “thoughts” and story as we take a closer look into this phenomenon.

Our Interview

Please note, this interview has been edited for reading purposes.

Robyn Shulman: Can you tell me about your personal and professional background?

Sandra Hough: I live in Beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. I’ve lived here for over twenty years. I have a wonderful supportive husband, and we have three beautiful children who we have the honor of raising. 

Shulman: Can you tell me about your teaching background?

Hough: I have been a certified Early Childhood Educator since 2005 and am currently an Education assistant in the Greater Victoria School District. 

Shulman: What content areas have you taught?

Hough: I taught everything from cooking, sewing, piano, Spanish, and English as a Second Language to elementary and middle school students. I am a lifelong learner.

Shulman: How did you get where you are today?

Hough: I am a Mexican immigrant who first came to Canada for medical reasons. At that time, I was seven years old. I only spoke Spanish (my mother tongue). I learned English and French, I was told, within three months. At the age of seventeen, I decided to immigrate to Canada. Due to more medical issues, I finally moved to Canada when I was nineteen.

Shulman: This interview is about “thinking” in two languages. Can you share your story about this phenomenon?

Hough: I have always considered myself fully bilingual, but I have yet to understand how I learned to think in two languages thoroughly. 

This realization came one day when I woke up one morning, and my mother asked me what I had been dreaming about. I asked her, “Why?” 

She said, “Because you were talking in your sleep.” I said, “Well, mom, what did I say?” She said, “Well, I don’t know because you said a couple of sentences in Spanish, but then you spoke in English, so I didn’t understand you!” At that time, I was ten years old and had been speaking English for three years.

Shulman: You picked up on English quickly. Did you find yourself helping others when you were young? 

Hough: Yes, I later found myself translating for adults attempting to talk to children and children, trying to convey something to an adult, like a patient to a doctor or a parent to a doctor. 

Shulman: What motivated you to help others translate language?

Hough: I wanted to remove the look of confusion, frustration, and anxiety from people’s faces. I learned very quickly how speaking to people in their own language instantly put people at ease in any situation, be it a doctor, a patient, a student, a customer, or a salesperson. 

It didn’t matter which side of the counter I was on if we shared a language; it was all a lot easier. 

Shulman: Tell me how speaking two languages helps you connect with your students.

Hough: Nothing makes a message hit home more accessible and faster than giving instructions to someone in their own language. 

I now apply that in teaching anything to anyone to make that connection. Because if there is no connection, there is no forward movement in a relationship and much less in learning.

Shulman: Thank you for sharing your story with us.

You can follow Sandra’s work on LinkedIn too.

the benefits of being a multilingual speaker
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If you are an emerging bilingual learner, or if you speak two languages, we’d love to hear your “thoughts” story too. Please fill out this form if you are interested in participating!

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