By Joohan Kim
What does it mean to be bilingual? It means growing up speaking two languages and being able to switch effortlessly between the two. More than half of the world’s population grows up speaking more than one language, and I am one of them. To be honest, I cannot say that I am fluent in both Korean and English because I am still making progress with the latter.
In a world of great linguistic diversity, speaking two languages rather than just one is power of a very special kind. Bilingualism has been shown to have many social and lifestyle advantages; I can connect to a larger community that has experienced similar hardships. Furthermore, it is said that speaking more than one language is beneficial for the brain. For example, new studies have shown that a multilingual brain is quicker and better able to deal with ambiguities. It can even delay Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia for a longer time.
If you only speak one language, you are in the minority. However, this isn’t the case in the United States, where only about 1 in 4 Americans speak a second language well enough to hold a conversation. In the United States, most people seem to believe learning a second language is valuable though not necessarily essential.
For me, being bilingual has made me more conscious of myself and my surroundings. I have the capacity to interpret my world through greater tolerance, open-mindedness, and appreciation. However, one who hopes to become bilingual will soon find out that it is hardly a simple task for most. The process of becoming bilingual is hard. There was no exception for me. Coming to the United States from South Korea, I was labeled as a “FOB” (a term with a negative connotation for recent immigrants who have low English skills). It was the rude introduction that described me in this so-called land of opportunity. I used to try to reject my status as a “FOB” by studying more English, but I became so tired of trying that I have had no choice but to accept my status. I went through some tough times, and I was certain that this difficulty would augment until I reached fluency. Nevertheless, I could not stop pursuing my desire to master two languages because it has been worth it. Bilingualism has helped me to socialize with diverse people for various purposes and understand their cultures with perspective that monolingual people may not possess.
So now, I believe, it is time for the nation to step up and truly realize the amazing benefits of being bilingual. Because the United States is made up of so many different cultures and ethnicities, learning another language besides one’s native one is essential to be successful in this constantly changing state, country, and world.
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