How diversity can be a superpower

If you grew up with more than one language in your life then you are are in a privileged position as you get older.


Did you grow up in a multilingual household? Did your parents speak to you in their native tongue – Arabic, Urdu, Bahasa, Pashto, Turkish – while at school you chatted with your mates in English?

If so, you’re lucky. You might even have a superpower.

Researchers from Western Sydney University and Melbourne University have found that kids exposed to a second language at home, and even foreign-accented English, are better off in many ways – and the diversity of languages can have long-lasting benefits.

For starters, they learn multiple ways of thinking. They learn to understand that everyone plays different roles, has different identities; and that others may speak or look different.

In short, they learn that diversity is normal, that everyone deserves equal treatment and should be taken at face value, not judged because they may sound different or look different.

Children who can speak several languages tend to have higher levels of empathy. They also find it easier to learn languages later in life.

Sounds pretty cool. And useful if you have the yearn to travel and see the world.

Researchers Chloé Diskin-Holdaway and Paola Escudero are trying to encourage more migrant parents to use their native tongue to help their kids.

For instance, they found multilingual exposure helps babies and young children get along with others. Just hearing other languages helps, even if they don’t actually speak it.

And, being multilingual is an amazing workout for the brain: speaking multiple languages throughout your life can help delay the onset of dementia.

It’s good for your mum and dad as well.

The researchers found migrant parents who do raise their children in more than one language report feeling good about passing on their culture to their children, and feel they have given them an advantage in life. They also feel as though their children are more connected to their extended family.

The latest Census data show almost 30 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English, or English and another language, at home.

We reckon if you’re part of that cohort, you could be one of the lucky ones.

Read the full report at The Conversation.