Bilingualism is credited with everything from improving cognitive skills to better job opportunities. In today’s competitive academic environment, there are also advantages to being bilingual that are hard to see.
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Speaking two languages stacks the cards in your favor in a way that most people do not realize. The benefits I mention here impacted my three children on the path to very competitive programs in medicine, law and graduate school and continue to work to their advantage.
In today’s competitive academic environment, being bilingual stacks the cards in your favor in a way most people do not realize.
In college, you do not need to spend time and money studying a language. Those credit hours can be devoted to content of your choosing. Whether it is an additional major, a third language or more depth in your field of study, it gives you flexibility other students do not have. Remember, if you are truly bilingual and biliterate, list your languages high on your resume. You do not need course work to prove it.
You have access to a wider range of sources as you do your course work. One of the advantages of being bilingual is that you can draw on literature and journal articles in different languages. You can conduct interviews in both languages. Being able to go to primary sources in different languages lets do work you with a more complete and nuanced view and stand out from the crowd.
Upper-level language classes can pad your grade point. Bilingual students can talk to language departments and get access to upper-level courses. The semesters that you have difficult medical school admission requirements, for example, or especially hard classes for your major, add an upper-level language class to your schedule. The homework for the class will take little time and you are ensured a high grade. Of course, having bilingual students in upper-level classes improves the experience for the other students.
You can use study abroad differently or skip it to save money and time. One of the advantages of being bilingual is not having to study abroad to improve language skills. This frees you up to do different programs or direct enroll in universities abroad. If you have traveled extensively or lived abroad, you may choose to skip the study abroad experience to save time and money.
Being bilingual makes you a key player in jobs and internships. As you enter your field, you will be called upon to interpret and do written translation. Using your language skills, you will acquire an understanding of complex issues that you would not have had access to if you did not speak two languages.
Being bilingual gives you better connections. Because you are involved in substantive work, you will get to know individuals in key positions, and these people will get to know you. When you need letters of recommendation for professional school, these are the people to ask.
Language skills let you move between groups. At work and school, you have more friends, more colleagues and more connections. Being culturally competent, you can build trust and establish strong relationships with people of various backgrounds. This is one of the key advantages of being bilingual.
Being bilingual and biliterate makes you the go-to guy. If your writing skills are strong in Spanish, your supervisors will come to you for revisions. Again, this will give you insight into issues that you might not be aware of otherwise and help you build strong connections with people in your field.
Your applications to professional programs are enhanced in key areas that appear unrelated to language. If you have worked as an interpreter or done written translation, the experience will allow you to write knowledgeably about the field in application essays. In addition to the essay, on medical school applications, one of the important criteria is “patient contact hours”. Working as an interpreter or in patient education, you have extensive contact with patients.
Obviously, your talent, initiative and competence in your field will be key to your success, but speaking two languages will let you move through college and into your profession with significant advantages. It is up to you to capitalize on your skills and make the most of your languages to learn about, and contribute to, your profession.
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