The educational environment is becoming increasingly competitive. At the same time, budget constraints are leading to a focus on the core curriculum to the detriment of elective options such as art and music. However, while foreign languages are generally not regarded as core subjects, many educators believe more importance should be placed on learning a second language because of the many cognitive benefits provided by language learning.
Many studies indicate that learning a second language develops important study skills. Listening to and imitating the sounds of a new language, for example, can improve listening skills. The effort required to understand and interpret the new language develops analytical problem solving skills, while putting the grammar and vocabulary of the new language together to produce sentences allows students to develop and practice creative thinking skills.
But learning a second language has an even deeper impact, because it may actually enhance structures within the brain. A study of recruits in intensive language courses at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy found that language learning actually stimulated growth in the hippo-campus and specific areas of the cerebral cortex. Other studies have shown that language learning may enhance intelligence by building denser grey matter, the part of the brain which is responsible for speech, information processing and memory.
The benefits of learning a second language can also transfer to other areas of the curriculum.
Learning a second language improves first language skills. The study of second language grammar improves students’ understanding of the grammar of their own language, helps them to develop reading ability and vocabulary, and enhances communication skills and cross-cultural awareness.
Language study improves analytical problem solving skills which are of great benefit in other areas, such as the study of mathematics. In fact, research has shown that children who learn a foreign language perform better on mathematics tests than students who receive more hours of mathematics instruction but do not study a foreign language. It has also been found that students who studied a foreign language for four or more years score an average of 140 points higher on the mathematics and critical reading section of the SATs and 150 points higher on writing than students who only studied another language for six months or less.
The benefits of a second language also extend well beyond the school curriculum. Once a student has successfully learned a second language, it becomes easier for him or her to learn a third, and perhaps even a fourth language. A student who knows a second language will have a competitive advantage when applying to college or university, and will, in addition, have access to a wider selection of job opportunities in today’s competitive global economy.
But ultimately, learning another language is a process of enrichment which opens up the student’s world. Simply put, people who speak another language simply enjoy more: more enriching travel experiences, more people to communicate with, more entertainment to enjoy, more to read, and more new ideas to explore.