It’s mid-august, and the return of classes is almost upon us. Whether you’ll be going to school in-person, online, or a hybrid of the two, high schoolers and college students alike are preparing for the upcoming semester. You may be deciding what classes to take—and I have a suggestion. I think it’s imperative for everybody to learn a foreign language.
Many colleges have a foreign language requirement, and some high schools do as well. My high school, however, didn’t, so taking Spanish (the only language offered) was optional. And even in college, usually only a couple semesters of a language are required. While studying a foreign language for a year in college is better than nothing, I would encourage you to go beyond the basics. Start studying a language as soon as you can in high school, and continue to pursue it throughout college. Here’s why.
As The Telegraph reports, “Physiological studies have found that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process.”
That is, studying a second language literally makes you smarter. It challenges your brain to negotiate meaning and recognize different systems of communication. This helps you in other problem-solving situations, ones that have nothing to do with language.
People who study and speak a second langue do better on standardized tests.
While I am the first to admit that standardized tests are not an accurate representation of intelligence, there’s no denying that in the current system of education, they are important. You will do better on math, reading, and vocabulary sections if you study a foreign language. And don’t dismiss this perk if you’ve already applied to college; if you pursue any type of education after undergrad, you will have to take standardized tests again!
Ironically, studying a second language actually improves your English!
This is partly why your test scores in language can improve by become bilingual. You are forced to learn about the mechanics and structure of languages. Studying a second language helps you identify the rules of your first language better because you’ve had to learn them from scratch in a second language.
You will also improve your memory and stave of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The mean age for showing signs of these illness in monolingual people is 71.4, while for people who speak more than one language, it’s 75.5. Additionally, your overall, day-to-day memory will benefit, which will be helpful for remembering things like lists and directions.
These are just the educational and cognitive benefits!
Let’s not forget about all the other ways you can use a second language in your life. Learning a foreign language will open up the possibilities for you when you travel. In this day and age, it’s fairly easy to get around as a tourist if you only speak English, but your experience is limited. When you actually speak the native language, you will be able to talk to locals and navigate outside the tourist bubble. You’ll also have opportunities to study or work abroad.
Finally, learning a foreign language is imperative to understanding the world.
Your perspective will be altered forever. Learning a second language allows you to learn about other cultures, people, and places. You can expand your world view and become more open-minded. Studies show that learning a foreign language results in more positive attitudes towards people of other countries, which is something the world definitely needs right now.
Learning a foreign language can be hard, but it is also really rewarding.
There are so many benefits even beyond what I’ve included here. If you want to be smarter, age better, open doors to exciting opportunities, and improve your outlook on the world, I would highly encourage you to pursue learning a second language.
ACTFL: What does research show about the benefits of language learning?
The Telegraph: Why learn a foreign language? The benefits of bilingualism
Eton Institute: To 10 benefits of learning a foreign language