How studying a second language helps your kids in school, at home, and beyond.
By: Leah Maxwell www.pgeveryday.com
If you studied a second language in high school or college, you were maybe just hoping to learn enough that you’d be able to ask for a chocolate croissant and directions to the train station next time you happened to be in Paris. While we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of chocolate croissants, research shows that the benefits of learning a second language — and the earlier the better — are much more important and far-reaching than simply knowing a different way of saying the same old things.
Experts agree that foreign-language learning can give kids a leg up in many areas of their lives, both now and in the future, with benefits ranging from academic achievement and career success to better interpersonal relationships. Whether they’re learning a second (or third or fourth) language at home, from a relative, at school, or as an extracurricular activity, research shows it’s helping them become better thinkers, better learners, and better citizens of the world.
Here are the top five reasons all kids should learn a foreign language:
1. It improves their academic performance. Studying a foreign language “strongly reinforces the core subject areas of reading, English language literacy, social studies, and math,” and helps students “consistently outperform control groups on standardized tests, often significantly,” according to a 2007 University of Maine publication that collected dozens of research findings and citations to illustrate the benefits of foreign language education. Simply put, learning a second language can help kids improve their academic performance across the board.
2. It’s good for brain development. One of the main reasons experts support getting kids into foreign languages as soon as possible, rather than waiting until they’re tweens and teens, is based on how it affects brain development. “Studies have shown that the brain of a young child has several areas active in language acquisition, a capacity that is significantly diminished as he or she grows older,” says Bob Hershberger, a professor of Spanish at DePauw University and the father of two soon-to-be-bilingual children. “In other words, young children (ages 2 to 6) are very active receptors of the languages that surround them,” a factor that means they can pick up a new language much easier than they will out of a high school textbook.
“After [age 7], language learning becomes effortful,” says Jodi Tommerdahl, a professor in the Southwest Center for Mind, Brain, and Education at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Furthermore, bilingualism is now thought to prevent cognitive decline in aging, and protects against the early onset of Alzheimers. There is every reason to teach foreign languages to children at the youngest age possible.”
3. It helps them in their native language. I learned more about English grammar in my college foreign language classes than I did in my rest of my career as a student, and research confirms that foreign language study helps kids better understand how language works.
As for those who might worry that foreign language acquisition in young children will make it harder for them to grasp a single language, Raúl Rojas, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who specializes in bilingual development, says, “Commonly held myths of language confusion are exactly that: myths! Bilingual children coordinate and negotiate information across their languages; bilingualism does not cause communication disorders, and monolingualism does not cure them.” The incorporation of a second language can actually improve a child’s grasp of language as a whole.