Researchers at Rice University say immigrants who hold on to their native language, while at the same time learn English, are healthier.
They published a study in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior about their findings.
“Our research suggests that English proficiency gained at the expense of native-language fluency may not be beneficial for overall health status,” said Rice alumna and Stanford University graduate student Ariela Schachter, who co-authored the research paper with Rice sociology professors Bridget Gorman and Rachel Tolbert Kimbro. “It’s very important for the immigrants to hold on to their native language in addition to learning English.”
The study examined more than 4,649 immigrants from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
It is important to note the research showed that the favorable health reported by bilingual immigrants was not impacted by factors such as socioeconomic status, acculturation, family and social support, stress and discrimination and health behaviors. The researchers theorize that the health benefits may be the result of a kind of “cultural flexibility” that allows them to easily integrate with their surroundings while maintaining cultural ties.
“Individuals who maintain native-language fluency while also learning English may be better equipped to retain relationships in their countries of origin and form new ones in the U.S.,” Gorman said. “We believe this can help explain the positive relationship between bilingualism and self-rated health.”
“There are still big questions about why bilingual immigrants are healthier than their unilingual counterparts,” Kimbro said. “We hope our findings will encourage further research of the subject.”
The research was funded by Rice University.
Source: KHOU, Houston, TX