UT professor’s book looks at benefits of bilingualism

Aimée Santillán

There can be economic benefits to learning a second language, according to a UT professor.

Education assistant professor Rebecca Callahan and UCLA professor Patricia Gándara conducted research for a book, “The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the U.S. Labor Market,” that claims there is a negative economic effect to losing bilingualism.

“Bilingual instruction has been [in] decline,” Callahan said. “Our research showed us that there is an economic cost to people that lose their bilingualism.”

According to Callahan, learning a second language could also have psychological and social benefits, and evidence suggests that bilinguals perform better academically.

“Bilinguals tend to be better problem solvers, and they have different perspectives into new ideas,” Callahan said. “They are also less likely to drop out [of high school], more likely to enroll in college, and they are more employable.”

According to Iliana Alanis, associate professor at the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA, Callahan’s research could be used to prove the value of foreign language education.

“This book is timely in the Texas education and politics,” Alanis said. “When we visit legislators, they want to see research and data and the book provides this.”

The research for the book, which will be published in October, was conducted over the span of two years, and included the work of other scholars.

Callahan said the goal of the book was to bring to light the economic advantage of knowing two languages. Callahan said she hopes the findings stand out to politicians, who may then support the teaching of a second language in schools.

“All children need to have their opportunity to develop their bilingual skills,” Alanis said. “This gives them an opportunity to do better in schools.”

According to Callahan, the book presents evidence that bilinguals tend to be more successful in the labor market and are more likely to finish a four-year degree than English monolinguals. One theory for the cause of this is larger social networks.