Benefits of Learning a Second Language in School
In my house, and in many homes across the country, I grew up in a two language household. My parents spoke both English and Spanish, and when we mixed the two, we called it Spanglish. When it came time for me to take a second language in high school, I chose Spanish because I already had a basic understanding of the language, and probably because I thought it was an easy A.
In high school, most students are required to take a foreign language class. Whether it’s Spanish, French, Italian, or whatever your school offered, a foreign language class takes up at least a couple of years of your high school life. But more often than not, many people end up forgetting practically everything they learned in those classes as soon as they graduate.
The main reason why most of us forget everything we learn is because we pick a language we likely will rarely get the opportunity to use in real life. If you never plan on going to Germany or Italy, why would you bother learning the language?
But it’s that simple reason that so many people think learning a second language in high school is pointless. If you’re never going to use it in life, just like fractions, why bother learning it? A second language, unlike fractions, is actually an incredibly useful piece of knowledge that helps you beyond just learning to speak a language from a foreign country. From introducing you to new people, to actually protecting yourself from cognitive disorders like dementia, it might be time to give a second look at learning a second language.
A Global Community
Before the Invention of the internet, your world was only as big as how far you could travel. For many young people, it’s likely no further than their hometown or city. But with the creation of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, our world is vastly larger and we can see how other people from other countries live everyday. Plus, we get to see some really adorable animal videos.
But now that we’re a global community, being monolingual is a major hindrance to young people and adults. Business is now conducted in multiple languages everyday here at home and around the world. You can make friends in countries you’ve always wanted to visit but didn’t know the language. Monolingualism shuts the door on these types of opportunities. Simply knowing one more language allows you to speak to millions of new people and travel to new countries, making your community much bigger and better than it was before.
Visit New Places
Obviously, learning a new language has the first perk of allowing you to visit a country you might not have otherwise thought of visiting. While in high school, part of the course when learning a foreign language is learning the culture and cuisine from where the language originated. For Spanish, you’ll likely learn the cultures of Mexico, South America, and Spain. Learning French introduces you to the cultures and festivities from France.
A great teacher will make you hope to one day visit the places you’ve learned so much about. When the day comes you actually get the chance, you won’t be too intimidated about visiting a place where you don’t speak the main language fluently. Thankfully, there are always plenty of places that cater to tourists who can help in case your Spanish, French, German, etc. is a little rusty.
Making New Friends
Of course, visiting a new country opens up the opportunity to meet new people and learn things about a new place. Learning a second language breaks the language barrier between people who might even live in your neighborhood that you could never speak to before. Often times, our communities are bread baskets of different cultures with a couple or multiple languages. When you’re monolingual, interacting with people or understanding the culture can be next to impossible. But when you’ve been given a grasp of the language, you can begin to speak to more and more people either locally or in their own country.
A More Desirable Worker
Knowing more than one language makes you a far more useful and desirable employee for companies versus someone who only speaks one language like English. The logic is fairly simple when you think about it. America is a diverse country with many people who speak a language other than English. If a company has many customers who speak only Spanish, being bilingual and speaking Spanish fluently is a major plus when you’re looking to get a job.
But never settle for speaking just one additional language. Knowing multiple languages makes you a perfect candidate for working at international companies. There may be a chance for you to visit new countries because you already know how to speak the language.
Become Smarter with Every New Language
Of course you’ll be one smart cookie if you learn another language, but it’s actually a bigger deal than that. Bilingual people have been shown to improve your memory and increase your attention span.
Furthermore, bilingual students perform better on standardized tests than their monolingual counterparts and do considerably better in reading, vocabulary, and mathematics. When you can switch between two languages, you become better at multitasking. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also get better at your natural language since learning multiple languages teaches you the mechanics of all languages.
After You Learn One, The Rest are Easy
The first language will always be the hardest. But after you’ve gotten the hang of the first one, any new languages you learn are far easier.
The reason being is that many of the tips and tricks you acquired to learn your first language will also work to learn many other languages. Your brain also adapts to analyze and learn different linguistic structures. Essentially, your brain already knows how to learn a new language without you having to work so hard the second time around.
The process is called “metalinguistic awareness.” It means your brain is able to learn a new language by increasing its awareness of syntax, grammar, and sentence structure.
Strengthen Your Brain Physically and Prevent Disease
When learning a new language, you’re doing far more than figuring out how to ask someone where you can find a restroom. You’re doing more than just making yourself more marketable for potential employers. You’re also preventing diseases that could rob you of your cognitive functions, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Anyone with a family member suffering from these conditions knows the toll it can take on the person suffering but everyone around them.
Learning a second language or multiple languages strengthens the neural pathways of your brain. When these pathways are strengthened, your mind is better at things like memorization, multi-tasking, and problem solving to name a few.
Think of your brain as a muscle. Like all muscles, in order to maintain strength and effectiveness, you need to work out. The same is true for your brain, though instead of physical weights, your brain requires mental stimulation in the form of intellectual exercise. Reading, studying, and learning new languages force your mind to work out and use the various parts that make up your brain. Learning a new language is one of the best workouts you can give your brain and giving yourself the opportunity to use your new language keeps the brain sharp and active.
Not only will your brain become stronger, it will also become bigger in a manner of speaking. In Swedish study conducted in 2012, researchers discovered the hippocampus of the brain, the area responsible for memory, showed a significant increase in size after approximately one week of studying a new language.
And while it’s no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s, people who are genetically predisposed to these diseases can delay their onset by several years, simply by learning new languages.
Hello! Bonjour! Hola!
So, if the thought of being able to visit new countries, meet new people, and maybe making yourself more mentally healthy sound great to you, you might be wondering how to get started. Thanks to the Internet, it’s surprisingly easy to start learning and learn at your own pace.
Services like Duolingo allow you to learn various languages for free. You can either study them at home on a computer, or take classes with you on the go and use their app. If you’d like to learn more about the cultures, consider visiting your local public library. Many libraries have digital services available for free to patrons that may offer courses on new languages or even publications in the language you’re learning.
But never underestimate the power of a conversation. If your family is bilingual and you’ve struggled to have conversations with a grandparent or other family member, ask someone to sit down and teach you the language. They don’t have to give you the technical details of why certain words are pronounced certain ways or how you structure sentences. Sometimes all one needs to do is listen and the brain will take it from there. Learning a language this way will help you to understand the connections that can be made with others when you can speak the same language.