As a result of globalization, there is greater cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity in our schools. Multilingualism is a growing phenomenon, and schools all over the world are devising strategies to meet the needs of multilingual children. The term multilingual refers to an individual who uses two or more languages, and this is a reality for many of our students.
Most linguists generally agree that there are between 2,500-7,000 languages being used in the world today, depending on your definition of a language, and monolinguals are a minority. It used to be thought that learning two or more languages was detrimental to a child’s cognitive development; however, researchers have found the opposite. Balanced bilinguals and multilinguals, individuals who are highly proficient in two or more languages, demonstrate a higher cognitive proficiency. They usually do better at school, enjoy better employment prospects, and are more tolerant and confident than their monolingual peers.
The acquisition of more than one language promotes intellectual and cognitive development. Research has shown that languages learned at different stages in life are stored in different areas of the brain. As a result, multilinguals stimulate different parts of the brain. Language learners have a better meta-linguistic understanding; they have a greater awareness of meaning and structure in language. They understand how languages are put together, which leads to a better understanding of their first language. Since language skills are transferable, knowing more than one language gives individuals an edge in learning additional languages.
Socially, multilingualism promotes relations between different linguistic and cultural communities. Language is a window into a culture and different ways of looking at the world. Being able to communicate in more than one language means that individuals develop a sense of cultural understanding and a unique perspective available only in that language. This understanding leads to acceptance, tolerance, and a more global perspective.
There are definite advantages to being able to communicate in more than one language. The world is becoming more connected and the ability to communicate effectively and understand cultural differences is an invaluable skill for our global society.