Pros and Cons for being bilingual

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There are pros and cons to being polyglots/bilingual. Each language has its own structures and syntaxes that are unique among all people. The pros for being bilingual are: 1) understanding two different groups of people and 2) being metalinguistic (aware of how the language is structured). The cons for being bilingual are: 1) slow cognitive development and 2) sometimes mixing up language structures.

I speak two languages, English and Hmong (green dialect). I have attempted to learn Spanish throughout grade school and although I comprehended the basics I could never get myself to speak fluently without looking up terms and stuttering. It was a lot easier for me to pick up English as a second language because I learned it when I was younger, around the ages of 3 and 4. I did not take Spanish until I was about 13 to 14 years old. Children tend to grasp these understandings a lot quicker than adolescents or adults. I also think that speaking two languages has made me high in metalinguistic.I even at times find myself mixing both English and Hmong words together in my sentences when I communicate with friends and family. The main reason why I do this is because some Hmong words can't be translated to English just as how some English can't be translated to Hmong. This shows how complex languages are within certain groups.

Scott Lilienfeld, 2nd ed. Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding. p.293


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You made some great points, but I feel as though being bilingual has many more advantages than disadvantages. It is great to learn multiple languages at a young age. It is easy for young children to learn a young age because their brains are wired for it. The brain later prunes neurons that are not in use so it is difficult to learn at a later age.

I also as a young child learned multiple languages. I am from an English speaking family, and when I went to kindergarten, I was put into a Spanish immersion program. I learned everything in Spanish from kindergarten through 2nd grade, but spoke English in my home. I transferred to a regular all English school in 3rd grade, and had trouble transferring my learning into English. I still said the vowels in my head in Spanish until about 8th grade and had trouble spelling for years, but overall I'm happy I've had that experience. I now have forgotten a lot of my Spanish, but when I hear someone speaking it or when I read it, I can usually understand, I just can't generate the words from my head alone. I find it interesting how easy it is for children to latch on the new languages.

I totally can relate to your situation as I am bilingual too. I'm a native Chinese speaker but have started learning English since 11 years old.Since then I've become more sensitive and attentive to grammars of both languages. And I have found that it turns easier for one to master the grammar of a language and make sense of the words when one is speaking an additional language as well. I guess it's probably because you are constantly comparing the two languages on both the conscious and unconscious level. Another interesting point in my case is that I find the short term memory impacts my speaking a lot. When some people around me speak certain English words several times during a certain period of time such as some verbs or adverbs, I would unconsciously and temporarily incorporate them in my sentences. It's also strange that I speak more fluent English at some time but broken one at others.

I am also bilingual, and I actually did a research project on the value of knowing a second language last year! I found out that knowing at least one other language not only helps a person with communication, but it actually also helps strengthen the brain overall as well because it engages the executive function. When doing research for the project I found out that children who grow up knowing two or more languages have some trouble distinguishing them initially,but eventually the brain learns to keep them separate. Not only does the problem sort itself out, but it can actually help them in other subjects, like math and science! I think learning another language is very valuable, especially seeing how globalized everything has become!

I also have learned another language fairly fluently and when talking with others who spoke both languages, we would inter-mix the languages. Some words have meanings that just work better! It's a cool phenomenon, I think! Do you see being bilingual as a benefit? Did you find that you had a slower cognitive development because of it?

I was so surprised by your blog that one disadvantage of being bilingual are slower cognitive development. I commonly perceive people who can speak two languages as highly accomplished, so maybe that's why this fact comes as a surprise to me. My questions would be why is slower cognitive development a consequence? Is that only true for people who learn two languages at a young age or does it also result for people who acquire an extra language later in life?

I am also bilingual; my native language is Hindi and I also speak English. I have noticed that I am able to speak better English rather than Hindi because I live in an environment where I need English to “survive.” I too mix English and Hindi words together without thinking about it because I don’t know how to translate some words. I agree with you that speaking two languages can be hard but I feel like that being able to speak two languages is a great talent to have.

You made really good points about being bilingual. I have also found that people who are bilingual and have been from an early age often mix the languages together. I also found it interesting that kids can learn multiple languages better than adults.

I'm in the same situation as you. I'm speaking both languages which are Vietnamese and English. I came to the U.S when I was 12 years old and I didn't know much English back then. It was challenging for me to adapt to the new language,but I learned it pretty quick by talking to others and watching cartoon on the television. I found that it was easier for me to learn English when I was young because I perceive things quicker. Now, I can speak fluently both languages, and I found that It's very useful because I can communicate well in both Vietnamese and English.

I had no idea that being bilingual was connected to slow cognitive development, if anything i thought it might increase it because your brain is doing and learning so many things, that's really interesting. I have been taking spanish classes since 2nd grade and hope to one day be fluent so reading this really grasped my attention. hahah i love that you find yourself speaking your sentences with half Hmong and half English, i tend to speak some spanglish myself. And i probably do that because of the same reason as you, that some words can be better explained in different languages. I've never thought about that, but now thinking back to when i do speak spanglish or just spanish or english there are always words that i think would explain how i feel or what i'm trying to say better in the other language. I really don't understand how that works or how our brains know that between the two or three languages we know there are words in 1 of the 3 that explain things best. So strange but so interesting, thanks for sharing!

I have always been jealous of people who are fluent in more than one language. I wish I was fluent in another language besides english. I tried to take Spanish in middle school and high school, but it never clicked, and like you said I was constantly having to look up words and forms of words, so no one could never really understand what I was saying. But I definitely think that learning a new language at a young age is much easier that learning a new language as you get older.

I never thought about the translation of certain words in one language to another language that way. I guess I never really thought of having some words in one language not exist in another. This blog reminds me of a Chinese girl that had come to our country in middle school and the fact that she learned English so quickly because she HAD to; I never realized how hard that might have been for her.

I agree with joh09374: I've always envied people who can speak more than one language fluently. I took Spanish in high school and can barely remember any of it. What's weird though is I studied Japanese here at the university for two and a half years and I'm actually able to retain a lot of it despite the fact that I'm even older than when I learned Spanish. I think part of it may have to do with the fact that I frequently watch Japanese anime in the original language: maybe it's this frequent emergence into the language that helps me retain it?

I had never stopped to really look at the cons of being bilingual, but after hearing your personal experiences, I have developed a much more realistic understanding of the idea. I knew that the age issue was always a factor since it is easier to learn a language at a younger age, but I never knew that people mixed up language structures due to knowing two different languages. I am going to minor in Spanish here at the U, but I have had the same issues as you with difficulties learning due to starting at a later age. It has been very frustrating since I love the language and culture but have to work harder since I am past the ideal stages for learning a new languages.

I know only english and I think personally the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Although sometimes it may not be good to mix the two languages, overall the benefits of being bilingual would be very beneficial.

Unfortunately, despite my efforts i am still monolingual. I think its astounding how learning multiple languages, especially those whose word meanings don't translate, could change the way that individual thinks relative to people who only speak one language.

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