Why We Should Pay More Attention to Foreign Language Education

There is more evidence than ever that we should be encouraging foreign languages for all grade levels. According to research, humans may be predisposed to speak more than one language and doing so brings significant benefits. The author, Gaia Vince, shares examples of her difficulties in learning a new language and how in some cultures, multilingualism is the norm.

Excerpts from the article in The Guardian, Why Being Bilingual Works Wonders for Your Brain, offer a few reasons why children and adults who only speak one language may be missing out.

  • Could it be that the human brain evolved to be multilingual, that those who speak only one language are not exploiting their full potential? And in a world that is losing languages faster than ever (half our languages will be extinct by the end of the century) what will happen if the current rich diversity of languages disappears and most of us end up speaking only one?
  • Around the world, more than half of people – estimates vary from 60-75% – speak at least two languages. Many countries have more than one official national language – South Africa has 11. People are increasingly expected to speak, read and write at least one of a handful of “super” languages, such as English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish or Arabic, as well. So to be monolingual, as many native English speakers are, is to be in the minority and perhaps to be missing out.
  • …speaking more than one language seems to train the executive system more generally. A steady stream of studies over the past decade has shown that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in a range of cognitive and social tasks, from verbal and non-verbal tests to how well they can “read” other people.
  • Says Psycholinguist Ellen Bialystok, “…it is impossible to examine whether bilingualism improves a child’s school exam results, for example, because there are so many factors. “But,” she says, “given that at the very least it makes no difference – and no study has ever shown it harms performance – considering the very many social and cultural benefits to knowing another language, bilingualism should be encouraged.”

As if cognitive mental fitness isn’t enough of a reason to habla Espanol, the article goes on to suggest that bilingual people have a lower risk of dementia and can recover more quickly from a brain injury or stroke.

The full article is available by clicking here.