A recent article in the New York Times (linked below) synthesizes several studies about people who speak several languages fluently. I am relatively confident that the ability to converse in more than one language adds to your human capital, increasing the likelihood of earning more money over time. There are some surveys that show that bilingual individuals are valued as employees more than those who speak only one languages and are compensated accordingly, but I’m not aware of any research study that proves that learning a second language leads directly to higher income.
When a child learns to speak in a bilingual household, the brain receives more exercise in resolving internal conflicts. This is a relatively new discovery, as until recently scientists believed that a second language would cause interference and would harm children’s ability to successfully master the first language.
The benefits of learning to speak more than one languages fluently are not necessarily limited to the formative years. Adults can possibly benefit from learning a new language.
Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.
One might take from this study the idea that those who are more resistant to brain deterioration could have more income-producing years. If bilingualism helps the brain stay competent longer, the result should be an increase in lifetime income. It has yet to be determined whether bilingualism or multilingualism can increase wealth or income by itself. According to Payscale, the data are inconclusive on this matter. There are several good signs, however, that multilingualism has the ability to open opportunities for growing wealth.
- Speaking more than one language could present more job or career opportunities.
- The act of multilingualism inspires the brain to do better work through improved cognitive ability and to work more efficiently.
- Scientists claim that bilinguals are better multitaskers. I think the idea of multitasking is mostly a myth, and what we call multitasking is actually quick task-switching, but whatever the cognitive process is called, bilinguals excel.
I’m not bilingual, but I’d like to be. As a child and teen, I studied a variety of languages, including Latin, German, classical Greek, and Hebrew, but I never learned enough to be considered fluent by any stretch of the imagination. If I were to study a new language now, I wouldn’t do so with the goal of earning more money; I’m more interested in the ability to converse with more people and perhaps feel comfortable traveling.
Has speaking more than one language provided you any benefits, financial or otherwise?
Published or updated April 3, 2012.