Updated date:

10 Unexpected Benefits of Being Bilingual or Multilingual (Especially When Traveling)

Jorge speaks more than one language. The actual number is debatable.

One of the benefits of being bilingual is that a whole world of friends opens up to you.

One of the benefits of being bilingual is that a whole world of friends opens up to you.

Benefits of Being Bilingual or Multilingual That You May Not Have Realized

We all know the more obvious benefits of being bilingual, even those of us who are still learning:

You can list it as a skill on your CV, you can make more friends with less of a language barrier, and traveling in certain countries becomes much easier.

However, there are also many more subtle advantages that you may not realize until you become more fluent. Here are some of the unexpected benefits of being bilingual:

1) A Whole World of Film and TV Opens Up to You

If you're looking to learn a language, one of your motivations might be to be able to watch the movies and TV shows that come from that country. This is a common motivation, but you might not realize at first the sheer volume of media that you were missing out on until you really dive in.

This is because most of us are only exposed to a small fraction of the media that comes from other countries--the fraction that is translated. If you don't speak the language, you'll be limited to whatever happened to have been translated, whether officially or by fans.

When you're bilingual, you're free to discover your new favorite movie in that language without having to wait for someone else to tell you what the actors are saying! An entire entertainment industry, with its thousands of movies and shows, will open up to you.

2) It Can Help You Express Yourself Better in Your First Language

This isn't so weird if you think about it, but learning a new language can give you a new perspective on your own. You'll notice its unique quirks more. You might appreciate it more. You might even start to notice patterns it has in common with your second language, and use the things you learned to express yourself in new ways.

If the languages are related (let's say, Spanish and Italian), you might also gain some intuitive insight about the origins of words they have in common.

3) It Helps You Understand Different Points of View

A language is much more than just words; it's a certain way of thinking. It also strongly reflects the values of the culture that speaks it, so you'll have a much deeper understanding of that culture if you learn the language.

You'll also appreciate much more how your own language influences the way you see the world. Some ideas and concepts simply don't exist in every language, and having that realization will help you not take your own point of view for granted. One of the benefits of being bilingual is slowly learning to switch to a different way of thinking at will.

Knowing a different language helps you understand the point of view of the culture that speaks it.

Knowing a different language helps you understand the point of view of the culture that speaks it.

4) Being Bilingual Helps You Learn Even More Languages

If you know two languages already, it lays the foundation for learning more. You're already used to switching your brain between different modes of expressing yourself. While this can be a challenge when trying to learn a non-native language for the first time as an adult, it gets easier with subsequent languages.

Also, many languages in the same family have words and concepts in common, and this can make it easier to pick up several languages in that group. For instance, once you speak Portuguese, it's not such a huge leap to start speaking other romance languages such as Spanish. The same can be true for Malaysian and Indonesian, or Swedish and Norwegian, and so on.

5) You're More Likely to Find What You're Looking For

There's a natural benefit to being bilingual when traveling and needing directions, but that's not necessarily what I mean.

Do you need to plug a question into a search engine, but the results are irrelevant or unhelpful in your native language? Try it in your second language.

Are you trying to check out a book at your local library, but there's a long waiting list because it's so popular? Try finding it in your second language; there may not be a wait at all.

Is there a movie, or novel, or comic book genre that is unpopular or nonexistent in your country, but that you really like? Maybe there's tons of media in that genre in your second language. Take a look!

Are you looking for an apartment in your city, but don't like what you're seeing so far? Try searching for ads in your second language. There may be people renting--even at lower prices--and you may simply have never noticed before.

Speaking more than one language expands your choices, so you're more likely to find what you need.

Being bilingual is like suddenly having binocular vision--it's a bit easier to see (so to speak), and so it's a bit easier to find whatever it is you're searching for.

Being bilingual is like suddenly having binocular vision--it's a bit easier to see (so to speak), and so it's a bit easier to find whatever it is you're searching for.

6) You Feel More at Home (and Safer) in More Places

Do you feel like an alien sometimes?

A lot of us do. Adding a language barrier sure doesn't help. If you're traveling to a new country, you can instantly feel more at home and secure if you learn the language.

Most people realize that they can make friends more easily (and deepen their friendships) if they speak the local language, but there's another, more subtle element, too: You will have less to worry about. You know that you can answer questions, fill out paperwork, and call the authorities in an emergency without having to rely on someone else. These are all parts of feeling "at home" somewhere.

With all those worries resolved, you can focus more on enjoying your life wherever you are. This is why it's a good idea to learn a language that lots of people speak in many different countries across the world (such as English, Spanish, or Mandarin). You'll start to feel more like an Citizen of Earth and there will be fewer barriers for you.

7) You Can Automatically Be Part of a "Secret Club"

This happens more when you speak a minority language in an area where there is a powerful majority language. Let's say most people in your city speak English, but you get a job where some of the other employees only speak Spanish. You happen to be bilingual in both languages.

Congratulations, you are now part of the "secret club." Once the Spanish-speaking employees realize you understand them, they will shoot the breeze with you in Spanish, complain about the boss in Spanish, and whisper things to you that they do not share with the English-speakers (even if they speak a little bit of English).

This is because people tend to be more comfortable with those who speak their native language, especially if few others around them do. It's kind of like, "Oh, thank God, someone who can think like me!" It's a breath of fresh air to not have to struggle to be understood.

You may have experienced this yourself on your own travels. Have you ever found yourself culture shocked, having a difficult time navigating a situation in a foreign country, then felt relieved to hear someone speaking your native language? Did you trust the person more because you could understand them?

Probably so. It's just human nature.

8) Being Bilingual or Multilingual Can Save You Money

It's no secret that foreigners in many countries get the opposite of a discount. This is especially true in the type of markets where prices are less fixed and more informal.

If you speak the local language, though, merchants are much more likely to assume that you have more experience and less likely to quote the astronomical prices that they would offer a fresh tourist. You can also earn yourself a discount just by being able to negotiate or build rapport.

Even before you say a word, you can eavesdrop on the conversations around you and figure out how things should be priced.

In some countries, especially those where people tend to bargain for goods, knowing the local language can save you a lot of money.

In some countries, especially those where people tend to bargain for goods, knowing the local language can save you a lot of money.

Your Languages

9) Your Other Skills Can Suddenly Become More Useful to People

There are two main parts when it comes to a useful life skill:

  1. Developing the skill (learning, mastering, etc)
  2. Offering that skill to others (selling, marketing, etc)

To gain good returns on your skills, you'll have to learn how hone both of these aspects. Part offering your skills to others is communicating about what you can do and making that relevant to the other person. Speaking more than one language can make certain skills instantly more useful!

For example, maybe you're a good caregiver and that's your talent in life. Most people prefer caregivers who speak their native language. If you speak more than one language, you have access to more clients and maybe even more locations to practice your skill.

The same goes for artistic skills: If you write songs for a living, you can write them in more than one language and market your music to a wider audience as well. Maybe your ideal audience wasn't even in your native country the whole time!

Being bilingual is a boost for the talents you already possess.

10) You Become More Aware of Your Own Thinking

This last one is a bit more abstract, but it's an important one.

Every language has biases that influence the speaker's thinking. Learning more than one can help you see more clearly how your own language has influenced you.

How many things do you take for granted because of the way it's expressed in your language? How many things do you assume?

For example, in some languages there are several words for "love"--each referring to a different kind of highly specific feeling--while in other languages, the concept of certain types of love may not even exist. In some languages, there is only one word for "you," while in others, there are a half dozen, each reflecting the relative status of the listener. In some languages, words can have a gender, while in others they don't.

What kind of things do you believe deeply in your subconscious simply because of the language you speak? How does your language influence your thoughts?

One of the benefits of being bilingual is that you notice your thoughts more. You start to realize that language is programming, and that each language teaches you to think differently.

You might also start to realize how few of our daily thoughts are really our own. Much of them are simply patterns ingrained in childhood. Knowing that, you can start to think more independently.

One of the most important benefits of being bilingual is that it helps you think differently--and be aware of your own thoughts and biases.

One of the most important benefits of being bilingual is that it helps you think differently--and be aware of your own thoughts and biases.

Your Reasons for Being Bilingual

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jorge Vamos

Related Articles