Have you ever marveled at people who speak a second (or even third or fourth) language as fluently as their first? Many people think that it may be that these folks have a special aptitude for languages. But the truth is, we all have the capacity to learn a foreign tongue. Academically, the benefits gained for doing so are amazing. Below, you will find a list of benefits, academic as well as social.
Learning a foreign language improves memory.
Use it or lose it. How many times have you heard that phrase? It is a simple fact – the more the brain is used, the better its functions work. A new language requires not only familiarity with vocabulary and rules, but also being able to recall and apply this knowledge. Learning a language gives your memory a good work out in the brain gym. This means that multilingual people have brains that are more exercised and quick to recall names, directions, facts and figures.
Learning a foreign language boosts brain power.
Learning a foreign language is a whole new intricate system of rules, structures and patterns. Because of this, when a child learns a foreign language, their brain needs to work out the meaning of the words spoken as well as recalling the words to respond with. This involves key learning skills such as cognitive thinking and problem solving. When a young person learns a foreign language, they develop critical thinking skills that significantly benefit them.
Learning a foreign language enhances the ability to multi-task.
Multi-tasking is very stressful for those who are not used to it or don’t do it well. People who are multilingual and proficient at slipping from one language system to another. People who have developed the ability to think in different languages and move from one to the other become much better multi-taskers, reducing stress levels.
Learning a foreign language boosts cross cultural understanding
With almost seven and a half billion people living on the only known inhabited planet in the universe, it’s important we get along. As any psychologist will tell you, to get along, good communication is key. That gets a lot easier if, at a minimum, you can understand each other’s language. Language and culture are so intertwined that learning a foreign language both builds cultural understanding and provides deep insights into how other people see the world. So, if getting along really depends on being able to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes, being able to speak their language helps us more deeply understand how others see the world.
Learning a foreign language improves the individual’s first language.
Learning a new language makes you more conscious of the nuts and bolts of your own language. Terms such as vocabulary, grammar, conjugation, comprehension, idioms and sentence structure become every day phrases, whereas your own language is probably absorbed more intuitively. In addition, learning a new language makes you a better listener as you are used to having to interpret meaning and judge nuances.
Learning a foreign language boosts standardized test scores.
High school students have found that students who have studied foreign languages perform better on the SAT and ACT. Learning a foreign language provides students with knowledge about root words. If you want your child to ace those tests, encourage her to learn a foreign language.
Learning a foreign language allows you to speak to more people.
At the end of the day, isn’t this why most people learn a second language? When you can speak to people in their own language you deepen connections and understanding. Learn a foreign language as a child and you have a lifetime to benefit from cross-cultural friendships, broader career opportunities, exciting travel adventures and deeper insights into how others see the world. While English has become the language of the world, learning a foreign language (or two) increases opportunities for connection and opens to the door to the many benefits of bilingualism.
Learning a foreign language helps trains an ear for music.
It has been shown that speakers of tonal languages, like Mandarin and Cantonese, were better at identifying musical pitches than speakers of non-tonal languages like English and French. In tonal languages, a word can have different meanings depending on the pitch and inflection of the voice. For example, what happens if you don’t pay attention to the tone in Chinese? Say “ma” with a high-level tone, and you’ve said “mother”. Say it with a falling then rising tone, and you’ve said “horse”. Best not to get the two words mixed up.
Learning a foreign language boosts career opportunities.
With technology, the world has gotten very small. Language education is critical for the workforce of the future and being bilingual can broaden career options. Many jobs in education, healthcare, social work, national security, translation, tourism, and international business require or favor candidates who are bilingual, resulting in more job opportunities for those who can speak a second language. And speaking a foreign language can make it easier to be eligible for jobs, internships and work-study programs in other countries – especially if you have critical skills.
Learning a foreign language connects kids to their heritage.
A big reason many parents want their children to learn a foreign language is, so they can speak to family members in their native tongue. Not only can learning the language improve communication, it comes along with a great deal of cultural insight that can help children appreciate their family’s perspective. As kids get older they often learn they can get away with speaking English, and relatives often prioritize understanding over teaching. As a result, heritage language learners’ language level will often plateau unless they also receive formal education in the language.
“ACTFL.” What the Research Shows | American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows.
Eva Goldstein-Meola, is not only co-founder of Open Tent Academy, but an instructor as well as a former homeschooling mother. She has lived in New Jersey, Florida, Western Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and now resides just outside of Jerusalem. Eva holds a Master’s Degree as a Consulting Teacher of Reading and Writing, IEW certification and a Bachelor’s Degree as an Elementary Teacher. She has also been involved in education since 1986 as a Private Tutor, Teacher, Reading Specialist, Homeschooling Mother, Homeschooling Teacher and Business Owner of an Online Education Consortium. In addition to teaching, Eva enjoys cooking, baking, playing Settlers of Catan, traveling with her husband Jonathan, Broadway Musicals and reading. Eva teaches a variety of literature and IEW writing courses for Open Tent Academy.
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