CHILDREN who study one or more foreign languages during their school years reap numerous personal, cognitive and academic benefits.
Through foreign language study, they learn about different cultures and ways of life, and expand their views of the world. In addition, they have higher scores on tests of academic achievement than their monolingual peers. Below are some details about the benefits of foreign language study:
Personal benefits. One advantage of studying a foreign language in school is the exposure it gives students to different cultures, beliefs and ideas, and new ways of thinking. Individuals who can understand, speak and read in more than one language have the ability to communicate with more people, read more diverse types of material, and benefit more fully from traveling in other countries. As students learn about different cultures and different ways of life, they expand their horizons and understanding of the world.
Cognitive benefits. Research indicates that students who receive foreign language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems than those who do not. Additional studies show that students with full proficiency in more than one language perform better than monolingual peers on both verbal and nonverbal tests of intelligence.
Academic benefits. Parents and educators sometimes express concern that learning a foreign language will have a detrimental effect on students' reading and verbal abilities in English. However, the opposite appears to be true. Foreign language study improves:
Listening skills. Foreign language study has been shown to enhance listening skills and memory, and contributes an additional dimension to communication skills.
Reading skills. In the area of language arts, students who study foreign languages show improvement in their reading comprehension in the native language and score higher in reading achievement on standardized tests.
Test scores. During the past several years, achievement test data has shown a definite positive correlation between higher test scores and the study of foreign languages. In fact, each year of second language study correlates to increasingly higher scores. English and mathematics performance levels of students who have studied a foreign language in high school are also higher than for those of students who have not. Additionally, studies indicate that the mental processing skills required to do mathematic problems are also developed by additional language processing demands of foreign language study.
Cultural appreciation. Students who study foreign languages not only develop an understanding of other cultures, they develop a greater understanding of humanity by fostering their appreciation for the various cultures, beliefs, and achievements of people beyond the borders of their own communities.
Career opportunities. Learning a foreign language provides students a competitive edge in career choices in today's highly competitive and interdependent world. Employers all over the country are expressing a desire for workers who can communicate proficiently in at least one additional language.
Foreign language study offers many benefits to students in terms of improved communicative ability, cognitive and academic development, cultural awareness, and job opportunities. Society as a whole also benefits when its citizens can communicate with and appreciate people from other countries and cultures. All parents should encourage their children to take advantage of the many available opportunities and resources for foreign language learning. For those who would like additional information, both of Guam’s phone books list several foreign language schools.
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 22 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner[at]yahoo.com with your questions or comments.