Because English is a very popular language, American students tend to forget other languages may useful in their present and future life. People from Latin America, Asia, and Europe learn English as their second language at a very early age. They start studying it once they get into primary school. But why don’t people, whose mother language is English, get taught another one–such as Chinese or Spanish–when they are young?
Studies show that a large amount out of the 335 million people who have English as their main language never even consider learning another one. They are certain there is no need to do so, because most of the people they meet–even foreigners–can speak English fluently. Even though it is true, English isn’t the most common spoken language in the world. Chinese is, followed by Spanish and then English. But still people from all over the world take the time to learn English. Why don’t those who speak English try to do the same?
High School and College Language Learning
Most high schools offer several years of foreign language–typically Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin Chinese. Sometimes these language classes are mandatory, other times they are electives–but you should take advantage of these courses.
Additionally, many colleges require a certain number of years of a foreign language before you can be admitted–or if you lack that, you’ll be required to take several foreign language courses once you attend their school. At a college or university, even more languages will be offered–oftentimes taught by a native speaker–and you can even major or minor in one of them!
When it comes to learning a second language, the earlier you start the better off you’ll be. Studies have shown that the younger a child learns a language, the better they will both understand and be able to speak it. But just in case your elementary school didn’t offer First Grade Spanish, high school is a great place to start as well.
Your brain also improves a lot once you start learning another language. Psychologists from York University in Canada, discovered that students who learn a foreign language get higher scores in their courses and tests. Specially in categories such as math and vocabulary. This because learning a second language influences on the gray matter of the brain, the one that processes information, getting the student to absorb the information faster.
By learning a second language you open a huge window. If you learn Spanish you’ll be able to talk to to the 414 million people in the world who speak Spanish. If you learn Portuguese, the same thing will occur, with 203 million speakers. It doesn’t really matter what second language you choose; the number of people you will be able to communicate with will grow.
It Provides Opportunity
Communicating with more people is the biggest reward you’ll get from speaking two or more languages, but it will also increase your job opportunities. You’ll be able to find a job by only speaking English, but if your resume says you can also speak French or Italian, it is more likely you’ll get the job. Big companies tend to have business relationships with other, international companies. In order to communicate with those international partners, companies hire workers who can fluently speak a second language.
The Many Benefits of Language
Learning a second language is the best decision you’ll ever make for multiple reasons. It not only increases the amount of people you can communicate with, increases your job opportunities improving your life or makes your brain work faster. It also helps you be more confident, makes traveling easier, gives you the opportunity to study abroad and opens your mind to new cultures. The amazing thing is that you can learn any language and you’ll still get these rewards. Just pick one, maybe even two or three, you want to learn and start studying.
What if there was one thing you could do that would help grow your child’s brain, improve her problem solving skills, help her do better on standardized tests, prepare her for better paying jobs of the future, deepen her empathy and cross-cultural understanding and give her tools to unlock a lifetime of greater connections and richer experiences? You would be all in, right?
Well, these are just a few of the benefits that research shows bilingual people enjoy. And since foreign languages are most easily acquired as a child, giving your child the chance to learn a foreign language is like giving her a gift for life.
Benefits for the brain
Perhaps some of the most interesting research into the benefits of learning a foreign language as a child shows that second language acquisition actually rewires kids’ brains starting from a very young age.
Read 15 Reasons for Kids to Learn a Foreign Language
Neuroscientists have used brain imaging to see that brains in bilinguals have more “gray matter”in the area of the brain responsible for executive control. The mental effort of choosing the right language at the right time is believed to build up this part of the brain. As a result, bilinguals have shown better performance on tasks that require focusing, multi-tasking and creative problem solving.
The mental benefits of learning a foreign language as a child show up in a number of different ways. Children who speak a foreign language perform better on standardized tests in math and English than their monolingual peers.
They also start reading earlier, and are better at understanding grammar.
The mental benefits of learning a foreign language last into adulthood. Studies have even shown that being bilingual can help offset the onset of dementia by 4.5 years, thanks to a “mental reserve” that bilinguals build up.
Years ago people believed that learning a foreign language as a child would interfere with a child’s acquisition of their native language – but science and the experience of billions of bilingual people globally has showed the opposite is true.
Beyond the mental benefits, there are important interpersonal benefits from learning a foreign language. Language and culture are deeply interconnected – and not surprisingly, foreign language learners show increased cross-cultural awareness. Young children exposed to a foreign language show greater empathy in tests where they are required to understand another person’s perspective.
The very fact that the same thing can have more than one name helps children understand that different people can have different ways of looking at the world.
Why do sheep say “baa” in English, “miē” in Mandarin and “beee” in Spanish? Why do English speakers call goldfish “gold”, while French speakers call them “red” (poisson rouge) and Spanish speakers call them “colored” (pez de colores)? Learning another language helps remind us that our perspective isn’t the only one.
Language skills open doors
Being able to communicate with more people brings new opportunities. In a globally connected economy, bilinguals have greater access to jobs and they earn higher salaries. They have access to study abroad programs and even scholarships to help them continue their language learning.
See more about the benefits for kids from learning a foreign language
Language learning brings joy
Speaking another person’s language enables you to connect more closely with them. It enriches travel experiences. And for children, who are intrinsically wired to learn, there is a joy of discoveringnew ways to say things and look at the world.
US lags other countries for language learning
More than half the people in the world speak two or more languages. Sadly, language learning in schools in the US lags other countries. In the US, 18.5%of students are learning a foreign language in school. As a result, economists, politicians and educators worry that the low rates of foreign language education has implications for America’s ability to compete in the future.
Additionally, foreign language education in the US often starts in middle school, which is after the critical period for language acquisition has begun to close. That makes it harder to acquire native-level pronunciation and grammar.
Resources for parents
As parents, we’re always looking for ways to help our children get off to a great start in life and be prepared for the future. Learning a foreign language has lifetime benefits – and research shows starting young is the best way. That means parents often need to find independent approaches to help get their child’s language learning off to an early start. Live one-on-one conversation practice is critical for learning a language, and PandaTree makes it easy with online video sessions. Carefully screened tutors tailor online sessions to each child’s level and interests. And for busy parents, convenient online sessions means no one needs to leave home. Between sessions, games and stories help kids build skills while having fun.
We want to hear from you
Parents and educators, we want to hear from you. There are so many amazing benefits to children from learning a foreign language. What’s the most important reason for you?