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Multilingualism in Australia: Pluses and Minuses

Multilingualism in Australia: Pluses and Minuses
on August, 19 2013
Being multilingual is generally thought of as an avenue for personal and professional growth as well as better job opportunities. Having language skills pose numerous opportunities for advancement as well as enriching and broadened social interactions. However, in Australia, it has been revealed that being multilingual presents both pluses and minuses.

Aspiring for multiple languages

Aside from the obvious advantage of having the ability to communicate with a more diverse group of people, learning more than one language is helpful to one’s brain. There are published sources saying that there are positive structural and functional changes in the brain of bilingual and multilingual individuals. In children, a study showed better working memory and executive brain functions such as planning, problem-solving, decision-making, learning, and comprehension. Essentially, brain function is boosted when we learn a second or third language.

Multilingual individuals that are highly skilled have an advantage over other prospective applicants applying for the same job. Nevertheless, in Australia there seems to be no concrete advantage in terms of job acquisition for multilingual people. It has been said and (and later, we will confirm with specific incidents) that Australian society is multicultural. But it is not yet multilingual one since English is the sole language that people in the continent assimilate to.

From personal experience

In this global community that we now live in, it is quite advantageous if we can communicate in a language other than our own native tongue. Aside from the cognitive improvements shown by research, social-emotional benefits are also in store for aspiring bilinguals. People who speak two or more languages are found to be more confident and self-esteem, and less prone to developing anxiety and experiencing loneliness.

However, despite the many pluses, there is another side to multilingualism that has been revealed by a couple of multilingual professionals who have chosen to work Down Under. Cultural diversity and multilingualism amongst Australian migrants who are also highly educated is not always an advantage, according to them. Somehow, stereotypes get in the way of progress. In Australia, those who speak English with an accent other than their own can find themselves placed at a linguistic disadvantage. There is a trilingual professional from Spain who speaks English very proficiently but is for all intents and purposes still a foreigner with the “wrong” accent. She would just take advantage of the situation by playing the part of the “exotic” European.

Another bilingual professional said that she received criticism at work for speaking a language other than English during her personal time. (She’s fluent in Mandarin as well). Foreign English speakers in Australia shared that they are not often granted privileges given to native English speakers. They also agreed that multilingualism is useful in customer service, but employers hardly realize the value of this quality, and thus it’s not aptly remunerated.

Evidently, whether multilingualism is indeed helpful or not depends on the very fabric of society where its virtues are exercised. Perhaps in time, the multilingual individuals in Australia who shared their experiences would have mostly positive anecdotes to share.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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