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Two languages are better than one for immigrants' health, study finds

Bilingual immigrants are healthier than those who speak one language, according to a new study from Rice University in Houston.

Sociologists at the school rated the English and native-language skills of nearly 5,000 immigrants from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico, then asked them to rate their own health. (The researchers also took into account socioeconomic status, stress and discrimination, among other factors.)

Respondents who could speak two languages well reported better physical and mental health than unilingual immigrants, according to the study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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The researchers attribute the perceived health benefits to a "cultural flexibility" that allows bilingual immigrants to build relationships in a new country while maintaining cultural ties to a homeland.

"It's very important for the immigrants to hold on to their native language in addition to learning English," one of the study's authors said.

"English proficiency gained at the expense of native-language fluency may not be beneficial for overall health status."

How important do you think it is for immigrants to keep cultural and language ties to a homeland? If your first language is not English, have you encouraged your kids to retain their native tongue?

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