Being Bilingual: The Pros and Cons
Just about everyone I talk to expresses admiration for those of us who are multilingual.
The Pros - Open Mindedness and Smoother Travel
There are many, many advantages to being bilingual in today’s world and very few disadvantages. Fundamentally, you are able to communicate with a wider slice of the world, and interact with a wider mix of cultures. Australians and Americans sometimes are oblivious of this because English and American pop culture is so ubiquitous, but multilinguists can read more books, watch more movies, and have conversations with more people.
As a result, I think multilingual folks are also more open-minded. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think of multilinguals as a special group of people. We’re not born with any broader mindset – I think anyone who chooses to learn a second language at any point in their lives becomes instantly more worldly and more open to new ideas.
On a more practical note, being bilingual makes travel easier as you are twice (or more!) as likely to find someone you can communicate with, wherever you are. And as the world becomes smaller, in a sense, there are more and more jobs out there for people who can speak more than one language.
The Cons - Are There Any?
I know I should be including some ‘cons’ but, frankly, I’m hard-pressed to think of any real disadvantages. The best I can do for a real con to being multilingual would be the number of times you’re asked to perform free translation or interpreting work. Friends and family know that you ca speak certain languages, so when they need something translated they call you up and expect you to do it instantly!
Most of the time I don’t mind, of course, but every now and then I have to remind my friends that this is how I make my living, that even though I ‘know’ these languages I still work hard at every translation I do. Plus, when you’re doing work for friends there’s an extra stress. If a job I’m doing goes badly I’ve lost a customer. If a favor I’m doing goes badly, I could lose a friend!
Also, sometimes it is frustrating to be multilingual when you cannot adequately express your thoughts in your second or third language; the joy of multilingualism is in being able to communicate in so many more situations, and when your vocabulary or cultural knowledge isn’t up to the task it is a jarring and unhappy experience.
Still, I wouldn’t trade being multilingual for any other talent, and I think you’ll find most other multilingual folks feel the same way.