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Head’s blog

The benefits of being multilingual

In a recent interview, I was asked whether we teach EAL (English as an Additional Language) or ESL (English as a Second Language) at the school. At The Mount, Mill Hill International we teach English, but if I were forced to make a choice between EAL and ESL, it would be more accurate to state that we teach EAL since most of our pupils speak English as one of many of the languages in their linguistic portfolio.

Multilingualism is a wonderful thing. Scientific research has discovered that there are measurable neurological benefits to being multilingual. Two or more active languages obstruct and interfere with each other’s processes in the brain, thereby constantly challenging the brain, becoming an unintentional form of brain gym promoting a higher level of cognitive functional skill that monolinguals do not have.

Although the cognitive advantages of multilingualism are impressive, I am more interested in the benefits to society. Working at a school where there are over 40 languages spoken, I am acutely aware of the how the knowledge of different languages changes our perspectives. This is often partly to do with the grammatical structure of different languages but it also demonstrates how intertwined culture and language can be in determining a person’s worldview. If I ask my Italian husband on Sunday morning, “Che facciamo?”, he will invariably tell me what he has planned for our lunch, although my question was more about the vast possibility of activity on a sunny day of the weekend. “Fare” can be translated as ‘to do’ or ‘to make’; that my husband immediately thinks of food when this verb is used is bound up with his culture and his values.

Human thought takes place within language Mindsets; multilinguals have different Mindsets for each language and our students report “feeling like a different person” when they speak another language. Every language gives you a whole new worldview, new shades of meaning and a greater understanding of culture. How great to be at an international school!