Many American cities have welcomed immigrants throughout this nation's rich history, giving rise to generations of bilingual individuals. Other Americans, raised only with English, have chosen to learn and adopt a second language in an effort to better communicate with other cultures of the world. Bilingualism and multilingualism are present throughout the world, and a natural way of life for many, bringing with it various advantages -- and some disadvantages.
More Opportunities for Work
Being bilingual greatly enhances your ability to find work in certain fields, especially where international business is concerned. Also, in areas where particular immigrant populations dominate, knowing that language greatly increases your chances of success in finding a job. Employers want the biggest bang for their buck, so finding an employee who both performs the job function and understands a necessary second language is much more valuable than finding and paying two employees -- one to do the job, and one to interpret.
Greater Access to Different Cultures
As a speaker of two different languages, you have access to two, or sometimes more, cultures. Aside from participating in your native culture, speaking a second language allows you to better experience and understand the culture of the second tongue. For instance, speaking Spanish as a second language opens doors to a variety of countries throughout Latin America and Europe, as well as to Spanish speakers in the United States. With just one extra language, you gain access to an assortment of countries, each with a distinct culture and history. Reading about foreign countries is one thing, but being able to participate in the language and, in effect, in the culture itself, is an entirely different matter.
Better Understanding of Your Native Language
Speaking a second language forces a critical eye onto your mother tongue. Students studying languages at the university level may especially find that acquiring a second language allows them to better understand the grammatical rules of their native language in a way that most monolingual people don't come to understand. Finding links between languages, the shared words and the grammatical differences, is a fascinating foray into modern language.
Good for Your Brain
In 2004 BBC News described research from Canada's York University that suggested people who speak two languages as opposed to one are "mentally sharper" and that the additional languages can even prevent mental decline in later years. Just as frequent brain teasers or mental challenges keep a brain quick, it seems bilingualism provides overall benefits for the brain, which is a good reason to pick up another language.
If keeping one language straight seems hard enough, bilingual speakers sometimes find that they confuse words and grammatical structures from each language. Oftentimes, a mashup of the two languages is used -- for example, some Americans are familiar with Spanglish, the mix of English and Spanish. Younger children might find that using one language at home and another at school adds a degree of self-consciousness if that second language is the weaker, lesser-used tongue.