What Are the Benefits of Foreign Language Learning?
Visiting another country is easier if you speak the language.
An old French proverb says, "A man who knows two languages is worth two men." Speakers of more than one language enjoy wide-ranging opportunities for travel, relationships and employment. Learning a language increases intelligence and opens many doors.
Studies have shown that learning a second language boosts cognitive skills, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Of the dozens of studies it cites, one study from 1994 performed by C.G. Carr found that students who studied a foreign language performed higher in reading comprehension, language mechanics and language expression than those who did not. Another study in "Psychology and Aging" reports that "bilingualism helps to offset age-related losses in certain executive processes," supporting the theory that proficiency in a second language helps combat age-related memory loss.
Learning a language exposes students to the culture from which it is derived, fostering a better understanding of and appreciation for people from other countries. Traveling to a foreign land is more interesting and rewarding when you can communicate with the local population.
Better Language Skills
As students learn the meaning of words in another language, they will find similarities to their own language, or root words they share. Analyzing how sentences are structured in another language leads to a greater knowledge of the structure of a student's native tongue. One language draws comparisons to another, imparting a greater understanding of both.
A Spanish speaker can communicate with more than 300 million other Spanish speakers worldwide. Learn Mandarin and communicate with 900 million people more. Each language learned presents an opportunity to expand your social network and meet culturally diverse people.
Proficiency in a second language increases employment opportunities. More social workers, attorneys, school teachers, physicians and other service providers are needed to communicate with the growing number in the United States who do not speak English. According to Encyclopedia.com, figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2001 showed that 45 million U.S. residents did not speak English. Skilled translators are in high demand in all fields, as well as the government. Knowledge of particularly difficult languages such as Arabic, Chinese or Farsi can qualify you for a job as a foreign service officer for the CIA or State Department, or linguist for the National Security Agency.
When children or adults begin to learn a foreign language, cognitive skills are developed, especially in children. According to the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages, children who begin to learn a foreign language in early childhood demonstrate a certain cognitive advantage over children who do not. Research studies that have been conducted in Canada with early learning education have shown that those children who are bilingual develop the concept of object permanence quicker than those who do not. In other words, they learn that objects that have a different name in another language remains the same no matter what it is called and that the object's function does not change. It also gives children better mental flexibility and creative thinking skills than their counterparts who only speak one language.
Building Confidence and Understanding
Children who begin to study and master a foreign language achieve greater confidence as they go along, and gain the ability to communicate with people outside their immediate language group. Children develop confidence over time and can be encouraged to speak a foreign language with less anxiety by addressing a puppet. Children and adults alike will be less fearful of travel and enjoy the ability to communicate with people in their own native tongue as well as their own. Many educational experts suggest that adults and children study their language of choice through listening to songs and rhythmic speaking to build confidence in their abilities.
When small children learn a foreign language, they develop a natural, native-like accent. For both children and adults, learning a foreign language can lead to better opportunities both in college and in their careers. Learning a language as a part of a family activity can also build relationships. Cultural connections are much easier for children and adults who study a foreign language and can lead to rewarding friendships and business associations. Children who learn a foreign language also have consistently higher test scores than their non-learning counterparts.
Time and Testing
There are one or two negative effects for those learning a foreign language. One of the negatives has more of an effect on adults than it does with children, and that is the amount of time it takes to learn a language once your cognitive and reasoning skills are well-established. This ability to learn language easier is called "brain plasticity" and changes as we grow older. Children have an easier time learning the subtle differences in pronunciation such as the "W" in west and the "V" in vest; adults have to spend more time learning the subtle acoustic changes that occur within pronunciations. Thus, academics estimate that for every hour an adult learner spends in a lecture, he should spend at least three hours studying vocabulary, structure and cultural subtitles to make the language easier to assimilate. Research shows that testing children in a foreign language makes tests scores significantly lower when the subject is not language-based, such as math or science.
Students naturally experience anxiety when learning a new thing, whether it be martial arts, language or mathematics. Foreign language students experience a deficiency at being able to speak the language properly for a long time and can experience a great deal of anxiety when it comes to getting it right. Anxiety can be lessened when they learn that they are not the only ones in the classroom having great difficulty picking up a new language. To combat this anxiety, have students talk about their difficulties amongst one another.