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The Bilingual Brain and its Business Benefits

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Bilingual employees

We all know how handy it can be to speak another language. It is also clear to businesses that bilingual employees are a valuable asset to have in the company for international growth and marketing. However, did you know that the bilingual brain actually works differently than a mono-linguistic brain? And that developing and encouraging bilingualism, or multilingualism, is a crucial way to expand the productivity of your workforce?

How The Bilingual Brain Works (and, dare we say, works better):

Constantly juggling two languages in your brain is a workout–literally! The process of going back and forth in one’s head creates a faster, smarter brain that is more capable of multitasking than the brain of a monolingual person. A study at The University of Pennsylvania State found that, “bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals--people who speak only one language--in certain mental abilities, such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information.” This means that bilingual persons are more adept at multitasking and prioritizing tasks. The act of code switching, or switching between languages of thought in a person's head or in speech, creates extra exercise for the same skill set needed for multitasking. While the skill of “inhibition” or the instinct restraint to say the thought in the language of the thought, but rather in the language of the intended audience, develops the skill of being less distracted. So, while a mono-linguistic person practices multitasking when they are multitasking, and inhibition when actively restricting, a bilingual brain is practicing those same skills constantly.

Further studies also show that encouraging the use of both languages, as in the example of a bilingual school system, also increases the executive functioning of the individual. This means that when a company creates a space or attitude that encourages the speaking, writing, listening, or processing of other languages, that the company is also encouraging executive functioning skills, including the ability to switch tasks more quickly and become less distracted.

Benefits of a Multilingual Workforce:

It is clear the benefits of the individualism of a bilingual person as an employee; however, there are many business benefits to empowering bilingual workers.

  1. It’s Good for Everyone: Supporting language growth, through language software, ERG groups, and other language development, creates growth for all workers. Even if you only speak one language, having access to language development and working in a company culture that encourages other language use, leads to increased communication, opportunity, and authenticity in the workplace.

  2. Celebrates Diversity: To empower language is to empower identity. Names and languages are foundational to identity, culture, ethnicity, and belonging. By empowering language use in an organization, you inherently begin your journey on empowering diversity.

  3. Empower Communities: One of the most powerful outcomes of promoting and encouraging bilingualism and multilingualism, is that, by doing this, you are encouraging and promoting communities. Creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) designed in the native language of the group (for example: an ERG to empower Latino communities that utilize Spanish in newsletters, communications, events, et cetera) promotes authentic community and support. ERGs that use bilingualism and multilingualism create safe places for members of that community, and, by extension, create a company that sees the beauty, power, efficiency, and strength of its employees.

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