It is said time and time again that if one is bilingual, they will have a better chance of being employed in the future, boasting an entirely different set of linguistic skills as opposed to their monolingual counterparts. While it is true that being bilingual affects one's value as a candidate in the career sphere, many seem to forget that there are much more benefits to being bilingual, beyond employment, that serve to open pathways to higher learning and knowledge overall.
Believe it or not, throughout much of the 20th century scientists and researchers believed that being bilingual was more of a hinderance than a benefit. Their premise was that when a person learned a second language, the language would cause interference within their everyday communicative functions. While this in fact turned out to be true, it is common knowledge now that this interference of cognitive linguistic functions was not harmful in any way. Quite contrarily, the interference between a person's understanding of a second language forces the brain to resolve the internal conflict, giving the mind a mental workout that serves to strengthen one's cognitive muscles.
In a study conducted in 2004, researchers found that being bilingual actually makes one smarter than those who aren't. They came upon this conclusion after running multiple experiences with bilingual and monolingual preschoolers in which they were asked to sort blue circles and red squares into corresponding bins. In the first task, the children were required to sort the objects by color, which both groups of preschoolers executed with ease. But in the second task, they were asked to sort the objects by shape -- the blue circles would go into the red circular bin, while the red squares would go into the blue square bin. In this test, the bilingual students were much quicker.
Among other things, the research completed on bilingual persons in comparison to monolingual persons has revealed an increased ability for the multilingual population to monitor the environment at large much better than those who can only speak one language. This is because those who can speak more than one language are used to changing their tongue often, requiring them to be acutely aware of their surroundings at all times. For example, a person may speak to their mother in one language, and to their father in another. They must be ready to switch language when it's required of them. This mental exercise makes them more environmentally aware.
Aside from heightened awareness, bilingual individuals also boast improved memory. Knowing two languages requires that an individual memorize a whole new set of grammatical rules, vocabulary, conjugations, and more. The bilingual mind is much better at remembering than the non-bilingual mind, most simply, because it has more material to remember. Bilingual persons will be happy to find out that along with improved memory, being bilingual also prevents the onset of memory destroying diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia. The average age for the first signs of dementia in monolingual adults is 71.4, while for the bilingual adult it is 75.5.
Bilingualism can also improve an individual's overall creative ability. Having an understanding of more than one language makes an individual more prone to see a second option in situations, where a second option would seem improbable. It is for this reason that bilingual individuals are also excellent problem solvers. Being bilingual remaps an individuals mind to the point that it can warp the way that one sees the world around them. Beat writer William Burroughs was keen to this idea in the early 50's. He believed that monolingualism, especially with the English language, can restrict our creativity and our ability to communicate. Burroughs came up with what he called a "cutout" to help re-open the monolingual mind creatively. A "cutout" served to chop up a sentence and its syntax in one language to reveal the restrictions that language may impose. For example, in the sentence: "The sky is ______." You will notice that there is only a finite number of words that can be inserted into that space, leaving us only with a few ways to see the sky. In other languages, like Spanish or French, the speaker could alter this sentence and would therefore have a much different, and often times more creative, way of describing the world.
It is surprising that at one time in history, people actually believed that learning more than one language was harmful to one's intellect. Today we know that this couldn't be further from the truth, and that it is often the bilingual individual who is more intelligent that the monolingual person. Beyond intelligence, jobs, creativity, memory, and the many other benefits of bilingualism, it is important to remember that perhaps the greatest gift of being bilingual is the freedom to travel to the world with ease, ably interacting with the local populations. This advantage allows one to experience new countries and cultures as they should be experienced, and infuses more color, flavor, and experience into their life.