Speaking two or more languages is at the heart of the freelance translator’s career. But is being bilingual actually putting you at a disadvantage compared to your monolingual counterparts?
Bilingualism – the advantages
There are some well-established advantages to being bilingual. Working as a freelance translator is of course top of the list, but there is also scientific evidence to show that people who speak more languages can perform other cognitive tasks (known as executive functions) faster than their monolingual peers.
Then there are the social advantages. Travelling overseas and being able to speak the language is a definite plus – it opens up many more options for enjoying cultural experiences. Absorbing films, music and theatre in other languages is also a bonus.
Finally, speaking two languages is believed to delay the onset of dementia by up to four years.
Bilingualism – the disadvantages
However, it’s not all good news. More recent studies have uncovered areas in which monolinguists outperform their bilingual peers, specifically when it comes to metacognition.
Metacognition is described as the ability to have ‘thoughts about thoughts.’ This translates as the ability to judge whether your decisions are right or wrong, which is essential for those working freelance or running their own company. Monolinguals have greater confidence in their decisions, while bilinguals are less insightful when it comes to assessing their own performance.
Further work required
There’s still a vast amount about the brain that we don’t know, including many other ways in which monolingual and bilingual minds function differently. Further studies are underway, with Anglia Ruskin University running a three-year project sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust in order to gain valuable insights into the bilingual brain and map out more clearly the advantages (and disadvantages) that speaking two languages creates.
What is the best aspect of being bilingual? Have you ever felt at a disadvantage because you speak more than one language? Share your thoughts via the comments.