The Benefits of Multilingualism in an International Learning Environment

Universities and employers all recognise the additional possibilities students have if they speak more than one language. 

One of the great benefits for students who receive an international education is the exposure they gain to many different cultures and the opportunities for additional language acquisition. Universities and employers all recognise the additional possibilities students have if they speak more than one language.  As a British School in Spain it is wonderful to be able to offer all pupils this great skill. 

However, our understanding of the positive impacts of learning additional languages has changed enormously over time. As recently as the 1920’s there was a common academic acceptance that polyglots were limiting their academic potential. It was believed that students who learned more than one language would never attain the same standard as they would have, if they had just focused on one language. 

This has most certainly not been my experience of working within a multilingual environment and I have always been impressed by the mental agility that our students gain from developing their fluency in two or more languages; it is as though the brain is rewired”.  As students move seamlessly from one language to the other and back again their information processing skills are improved and speed up.  This neuroplasticity is known as enhanced attentional control and it has positive impact upon both concentration and memory.  These abilities are then transferred to their other academic subjects and they are able to acquire knowledge, skills and understanding rapidly. 

It is not to say that learning a new language does not present challenges.  Students of all ages will struggle as they learn to select the right word in the right language in any given context; but this is a “good struggle”.  Children learn how to learn by finding their way through academic problems and accepting that this is difficult to do, but not unachievable.  It just takes time to solve the problem and decide what knowledge, skills or understanding are needed in each situation.   

It is true that our bilingual or multilingual students benefit personally through access to global university offers and careers without geographical barriers.  However, it is important to remember that it is not just the additional languages they gain, but the empathy and understanding of other cultures and languages which give them a profound ability to appreciate and integrate into new situations and environments. 

Amanda Hughes

Principal at Laude San Pedro International College

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