Bilingual, trilingual & polyglot – what’s the difference?

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Let’s get straight down to it.

If you speak two languages, you’re bilingual.

Speak three, and you’re trilingual. 

If you speak more than three, you’re a polyglot. 

And if you’re any of the above, you can also describe yourself as multilingual.

Now for a cool fact: did you know that the world’s population has more multilingual people than speakers of just one language? 

It’s true.

Multi-talented, multilingual individuals are everywhere. And they’re having a ball of a time.

Why? Because there’s so much more to life when you’ve got more than one language to your name.

Want proof? Keep reading and we’ll give it to you! 


Want to become a real-life bilingual, trilingual or polyglot?

You can learn up 12 different languages with Busuu. 

Whether you’re trying to open yourself up to new job opportunities or live like a native on your adventures abroad, we’ve got the tools you need to succeed.

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7 benefits to having a bilingual brain

When we say becoming bilingual – or trilingual, or a polyglot, even – can change your life, we’re not exaggerating.

The benefits to learning a foreign language are numerous and vast; but the way it positively affects your brain is beyond compare. 

The simple act of learning a language can train and develop your mind to retain more information, juggle tasks better and even fight diseases like dementia.

Here’s just a few ways that language learning can benefit your brain. 

(Just so you monolinguists out there know what you’re missing out on – or what you multilinguists have to gain by adding another language to your repertoire!)

1. It boosts your IQ 

That’s right: learning a language actually makes you smarter! 

You see, all bilinguals and multilinguists have a higher density of grey matter – dark tissue found in the brain and spinal cord – than monolingual individuals. 

What this means for bilinguals is heightened ‘sensory perception’ – in plain English, superior sight, hearing, feeling, moving, speaking… The list goes on. 

As you can imagine, all this has a massive impact on your IQ, as a recent study has shown.

The message here is simple: when it comes to IQ, learning a language matters

2. It helps you focus

“What were we just talking about again?”

An awkward situation you won’t find yourself in nearly as much once you’ve got another language under your belt.

Developing stellar language skills increases your attention span by strengthening your brain’s frontal cortex. 

The impact? Bilingual children and adults are more able to extract and focus on useful information, and buckle down to the task at hand. 

3. It helps you multitask

Task- and device-switching – they’re skills you need to survive in this day and age, both personally and professionally.

Luckily enough for bilinguals, multitasking is as good as second nature, thanks to all the time they spend to-ing and fro-ing between one language and another.

So there you have it: languages are the new modern superpower.  

4. It aids better decision-making 

Two words: cognitive reserve. Bilinguals can make better decisions because of it. 

In simple terms, it has been argued that bilingual individuals find it easier to find alternative solutions or ways round a problem than monolingual people. 

Now you know how to prepare for your next life- or work-related crossroad!

5. It delays dementia

We’re not joking around about this one. Learning a language has been proven to delay the onset of dementia. 

By nearly 4 years, to be exact, with the first signs of dementia showing in monolingual adults at an average age of 71.4, and bilingual people at 75.5.

6. It improves your memory

It’s no surprise, really, when you think about all that vocabulary and verb conjugation cramming language learners have to do.

People who are fluent in more than one language have better short-term memories (or working memories) in comparison to those with only one, single language to their name.

7. It makes you more aware of language

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. 

The more you understand the frameworks for and nuances of multiple languages, the more likely you are to notice subtle similarities or differences between them. These are the sort of things monolinguists would have real trouble spotting.

In short, being bilingual – or a polyglot – is the gateway to effective communication, whether that takes the form of dealing with work politics, writing a paper or resolving a family spat.


What about you?

Are you bilingual, trilingual or multilingual? If so, which languages do you speak, and how did you learn them? 

Comment and let us know!


How many languages have you learned with Busuu? Start learning your language of choice for free today.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Native lang. is German (more exactely: Swiss German (Schwyzerdütsch), that is not written).
    2nd lang. is French; started to learn F at secondary school at the age of 10/11 and had F again in later educations (commercial apprent.; Matura/Abitur).
    3rd lang. is English; started to learn it while the commercial apprent.; but above all while travelling later on.
    4th lang. is Italian; started at the Gymnasium at the age of 22. Later on studied It at the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy.
    5th lang. is Portuguiese; started learning by listening, while staying twice over wintertime in Brasil at the age of 27/28.
    “6th” lang. is Spanisch; basic knowledge through travelling in South-America with 18 and 22 and later on using it once in a while in Spain.

  2. Mi idioma nativo es Español (Castellano)
    Siempre en mi vida he intentado aprender y entender Ingles
    Conozco muchísimas palabras, pero no puedo puedo entender y hablar en forma fluida
    Siendo radio amateur, me he comunicado en inglés pero siempre en un nivel muy básico.
    Personalmente, pienso que hay dos modos: Vivir en un país de habla inglesa o tener excelente oído musical. ¡Bueno estoy resignado; dejare esta vida sin hablar y/o entender inglés!

  3. I speak only one language fluently; English. I am learning French by several different means via t.v and internet.

  4. Well, I’d eally like to speak with a native speaker (english naive speaker) . How can I upgrade my english; We live in a francophony country.

    • Hello, that’s not my real name by the way, just keep on studying the way you are and work on spelling + grammar. (;

  5. I know English and Spanish. I am trying to learn Japanese and Chinese. I just turned 13 and I am afraid that I am getting too old to learn well. Scientests have shown that the younger you are, the easier it is for you to learn languages, or learn anything for that matter.
    What is the max amount of languages for a person to study at one time? I want to speak at least 5 languages by the end of the year.
    And what languages (besides Roman languages) are the easiest for a English native speaker to learn?

  6. Im reaching 17 years old and had only started to learn Italian this few month . I can speak and write well in chinese,malay and english . (So,im a trillingual! :)) learning languages as much as i can and becoming a translator had always be my dream since im in primary school , but due to the school subjects and examination i had only plenty of time to learn languages and im also afraid that i cant learn well with my age !

    • Hello hakinoyutaka,

      That’s brilliant. Well done to you! We can learn at any age as long as we put the right effort and dedication into it we will see our progress and improvement in the language we are learning.
      Happy language learning!

      Ciao for now,
      Fabia

  7. Ciao , Fabia !

    Piacere di conoscerti !
    Grazie per il tuo commento !

    Hope that im not typing wrongly , haha .

  8. My native language is Indonesian and Palembang language (region language). I can speak English and knowing a little about Arabic and Japanese. I want to learn French and try to comprehend Japanese. I am interested in Chinese , Germany and Dutch too.

    • Hi Rasyd,

      Great stuff! At the moment we don’t offer Duch course. However you can learn French, Japanese, Chinese and German amongst other languages with busuu.
      Check it out here: http://www.busuu.com

      Ciao for now,
      Fabia

    • Hi Osman,
      Start improving your language skills with our community of native speakers!
      You will see the busuutalk when you hover the mouse over your leaderboard friends or by going to the tab friends and if they are online you will be able to do the busuutalk.

      We hope this information helps any other questions you may have please send an email to team@busuu.com and our colleagues will be happy to help.

      Thank you!

  9. My mother tongue is Chinese and I am fluent in English and now I am learning Russian. My primary goal in the next 5 years is I wanna have my diploma and master the Russian language cuz I love Russian literacy so much. For me, French, Spanish and Russian really put me in dilemma as it ain’t so comfortable to decide the 3rd language to learn.

  10. From childhood, I speak Ingush (mother tongue), Chechen (relative to Ingush) and Russian – so, I’m trilingual.
    English could be my fourth language in being quadrilingual if I was not too foolish running away for games from my granddad, who was an English language professor. I only came to understand how much I lost when I started to study English as an adult.

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