I’ve been bilingual my entire life. I learned to speak both English and Spanish at a very young age and never realized the value of growing up using two of the world’s most spoken languages. That is until I left my native country, Panama, for college in the United States. In the US, bilingualism is seen as both a strength and a weakness. An impressive ability to be desired or a badge of otherness that should be hidden or changed. I’ve encountered both perspectives, but I am proud of my bilingualism! Proficiency in a second (or third) language not only teaches you how to communicate better with others, it alters your personality and teaches you life lessons that will stay with you forever.
Here are the some of the top lessons that I’ve learned from being bilingual:
Own It: So, you speak another language, but you have an accent. Who cares?! You might be self-conscious that you don’t sound like a native, make the occasional spelling mistake, or aren’t as fluent as you’d like. Don’t be. Locals will love the fact that you are able to communicate, and will be open to any of your questions.
Practice Makes Perfect: Talk, talk talk, as much as you can! Tell people your story. Make friends and get a chance to learn idioms, expressions, and slang from the language you’re learning. Expand your vocabulary by going into stores and supermarkets, asking questions, and talking about your day. Never let language be a barrier. When I was learning English, my best friend was a girl from Virginia who didn’t speak more than 10 words in Spanish. Who better to practice with?
Immerse Yourself in Media: Learning a language isn’t just about speaking, it’s also about reading, writing and listening. One of the best ways to learn these skills is by watching TV or reading books in the language you’re trying to learn. Sitcoms and children’s stories are especially easy to understand because they are simple and straightforward. Fan favorites when I was learning English were the Clifford the Big Red Dog books and Disney movies (Tarzan, anyone?).
Travel: Being bilingual allows you to easily travel and communicate around the world. Take advantage of it! Learn new customs, explore different cultures, and share your own.
Don’t Stop at One: Once you get the hang of things, and discover that two languages can live comfortably in your brain, you’ll want to learn another! After mastering one, learning a second or a third is a breeze. Especially if they are sister languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, or French.
Your Brain Will Thank You: Bilingualism can improve more than communication skills. Navigating between multiple languages has helped me improve my multitasking abilities and decision-making skills. You’ll add a whole subset of skills to your resume!
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