University College Tilburg

offers the multidisciplinary program of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In a state-of-the art location at the heart of the campus, a nurturing environment is created that allows international students to develop into critical thinkers and future leaders.

Bilingualism

Author: Ellen Dreezens - Lecturer at University College Tilburg

My roots are in Maastricht, in the south of the Netherlands. There we speak a dialect, surprisingly called ‘Maastrichts’. As a child, I was always afraid that I would not be able to speak Dutch, the official language of the Netherlands, fluently, and that I would always sound too ‘Maastrichts’. Luckily, I was left with a relatively mild ‘Southern’ accent (at least, that’s what people tell me).

If I may believe Language writer Gaston Dorren, me speaking the Maastricht dialect provides me with certain advantages. It makes me bilingual, and that is a good thing.

Advantages of bilingualism

First of all, bilingual people earn more money. An American citizen that can also speak German (or French, or Russian) receives, on average, a 4% higher pay than an American that only speaks English. Next to that, speaking multiple languages makes your brain more flexible. This effect is biggest when you switch between languages during the day. So me speaking ‘Maastrichts’ (on the phone with my brother), Dutch (with most of my colleagues) and English (when I teach) on an average Monday is a good thing! Who does not want a flexible brain?

The third effect is that, while speaking a second (or 3rd or 6th) language, you think more rationally. On the other hand when you speak your mother tongue, you are more creative. So, when visiting the casino, it’s better to go with my colleagues than with my brother. Good to know!

The biggest effect of bilingualism is what Gaston Dorren calls the transformation effect. When speaking a second language, you change as a person. The speaking of a different language makes you learn other things. The second (or 3rd or 6th) language opens a door to another world. It makes you discover that people on other sides of the world might have another idea of reality. Things you find perfectly normal (‘gezelligheid’ in Dutch) might not even really exist in other languages (English, German). Your world literally becomes bigger when you learn a new language.

And then?

Most Dutch people are, with their active knowledge of English, at least bilingual. And most students in our University College are too. But if you want to feel a direct effect of your multilingualism, you have to do more than lean back because you know how to speak more than one language. You could learn a new language, look for a job that requires you to speak multiple languages or teach your mother tongue to refugees (and at the same time try to learn their language). Or, you could move to Maastricht, and learn the dialect!