Disadvantages of Speaking English as a First Language

English-speakers are among the least likely to be bilingual

Everyone in the world wants to speak English, and this is a problem. Not for those who want to learn English as a second language – they may have their work cut out for them, but they’re not the ones with the biggest linguistic challenge to overcome. It’s those who speak English as a first language who have the highest mountain to climb. Why? Well, they are the ones who risk remaining monolingual for life.

In the United States, only 25% of the population can converse in another language. The United Kingdom and Ireland have the lowest bilingualism rates in Europe: about two thirds of their population speaks only English. English is the world’s lingua franca: almost anywhere you go you can find someone who speaks English. The unfortunate result of that is English-speakers are a lot less motivated to learn another language. To many, it’s just not worth the effort.

Meanwhile, having basic knowledge of another language is pretty much the norm in most of the rest of the world and more than half of the world’s population is bilingual. It is precisely the need to learn the world’s language of business and pop culture, English, that drives many to become bilingual. However, the benefits of learning another language – any language – go far beyond the usefulness of the language itself.

Research has shown that being bilingual gives your brain a boost: it improves cognitive function in planning, working memory, concentration, and multitasking, among other areas. It can also delay the onset of dementia. Monolinguals miss out on all this and, sadly, those who end their lives as monolinguals, very likely started them as English-speakers.

There is a lot that can be learned from this. If English is your first and only language, know that it is never too late to start a journey toward bilingualism. The cognitive benefits apply well into adulthood. And if you are a parent raising children in a country where English is the majority language, invest in language education, whether that be at home or at school. It will be well worth your while.

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Silvia is a Brazilian journalist, teacher, and mom. She grew up in Canada as a bilingual child, speaking only Portuguese at home and English everywhere else. Throughout her adult life, she has lived, studied and worked in both Brazil and Canada. Silvia thinks that bilingualism has opened so many doors for her and she wants the same for her children.