Hola, Bonjour, Hallo. Those are the words for “hello” in the three most commonly taught foreign languages in American k-12 schools (according to a study done by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.)
However, according to a report from The Language Flagship at the Defense Language and National Security Education Office and conducted and published by American Councils for International Education, only 11 states have foreign language as a graduation requirement, and 24 states have graduation requirements were taking a foreign language is an optional choice to fulfill elective requirements. The rest of the states do not require students to take a foreign language in order to graduate.
If you only pay attention to outdated science, then it may seem like it’s near impossible to learn a new language once you pass puberty as your brain has become set in its monolinguistic ways. However, a recent study by Steven Pinker of Harvard University says otherwise, and that people can be proficient in learning languages up until the age of 18, about ten extra years than what was previously estimated, before seeing any sharp decline in ability. While we might not as easily reach the grasp of a foreign language that a child who has been learning it since the age of 10 has, the capability for learning languages that early adults have is still nothing to laugh at.
Many people don’t seem to understand the benefits of learning a second language can have in one’s life, especially when considering the time and work it takes in the first place. However, the benefits it can have in both one’s personal and professional lives are worth the cost.
To zoom in on this photo, visit this link! https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_Official_languages.png#/media/File:World_Official_languages.png
Firstly, personal benefits:
In their scientific review, The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual, Viorica Marian, Ph.D., and Anthony Shook explained one benefit as such: “To maintain the relative balance between two languages, the bilingual brain relies on executive functions, a regulatory system of general cognitive abilities that includes processes such as attention and inhibition. Because both of a bilingual person’s language systems are always active and competing, that person uses these control mechanisms every time she or he speaks or listens. This constant practice strengthens the control mechanisms and changes the associated brain regions.” Which, in science-speak, means that the control mechanisms in your brain are going to be able to move much faster and more efficiently due to their frequent use, similar to a well-greased axle on a racing car.
Knowing more than one language also assists inattentiveness and problem-solving. As stated in the same work previously mentioned, “Bilingual people often perform better than monolingual people at tasks that tap into inhibitory control ability. Bilingual people are also better than monolingual people at switching between two tasks; for example, when bilinguals have to switch from categorizing objects by color (red or green) to categorizing them by shape (circle or triangle), they do so more rapidly than monolingual people,13 reflecting better cognitive control when changing strategies on the fly.”
Basically, as summarized in a New York Times article also covering these benefits, “Scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.”
Being bilingual can also assist in increasing one’s empathy, the emotional ability to relate to people. A study from Amantha Fan and Zoe Liberman from the University of Chicago suggests that people don’t even have to be fluent in a foreign language to gain this benefit, and it can be cultivated just by being frequently exposed to other languages. As the researchers explain, “To understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective-taking.”
Next, some career benefits!
Did you know people who are bilingual can earn up to 15% more money than their monolinguistic coworkers? Bilingual individuals working for the United States Government or Military can earn up to $1000 more monthly as well.
Specifically, according to investopedia.com, speaking Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic, American Sign Language, Russian, German, or Portuguese is nearly guaranteed to put your resume at the top of any company’s hiring list.
So, why wouldn’t someone want all these benefits that are just a few vocab words away?
Usually, it’s because of lack of time, but that’s just an easy excuse. In fact, there are many ways to implement language learning into your daily life without it taking up much, or any, additional time. According to fluentu.com, a good way of doing this is to link language learning to your everyday activities. Make it a part of your schedule or add it to a routine you already have. In their words, “by binding your language practice to repetitive everyday tasks, you’ll turn routine daily chores into powerful language learning tools and get in your half-gallon of language study before you even know it. The power of this technique is limited only by your imagination and the repetitiveness of your daily routine!” Additionally, there are tons of easy ways to access language learning curriculum, and for free. Mobile apps such as Duolingo, Drops, and Babbel are made with the busy worker in mind and are structured to give you free, easy digestible interactive lessons without taking up too much of your time or money.
So, why not start learning? The sooner you start, the easier it’ll be and the more use you’ll get out of your new language in both your personal and professional lives. Ciao!
(2010). Foreign language enrollments in K-12 public schools: Are students prepared for a global society? Alexandria, VA: ACTFL.
Looney, D. (2019). Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Summer 2016 and Fall 2016: Final Report (Publication). New York, NY: Modern Language Association of America. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED590075)
A., D., A., C., M., & N. (2017). The National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report (Rep.). Washington, DC: American Councils for International Education.
(2011, December 15). Should foreign language instruction start earlier in the U.S.? Duke Gifted Letter, 8.
Smith, D. G. (2018, May 04). At What Age Does Our Ability to Learn a New Language Like a Native Speaker Disappear? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/at-what-age-does-our-ability-to-learn-a-new-language-like-a-native-speaker-disappear/
Bialystok E, Craik FI, Luk G. Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends Cogn Sci. 2012;16(4):240-250. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2012.03.001
Marian V, Shook A. The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Cerebrum. 2012;2012:13.
Fan, S. P., Liberman, Z., Keysar, B., & Kinzler, K. D. (2015). The Exposure Advantage: Early Exposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication. Psychological Science, 26(7), 1090–1097. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615574699
Bhattacharjee, Y. (2012, March 17). Why Bilinguals Are Smarter. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html
Can Speaking Two Languages Increase Your Job Prospects? (2020, March 12). https://www.uei.edu/blog/can-speaking-two-languages-increase-your-job-prospects/
Fowler, J. (2020, August 28). Languages That Give You The Best Chance To Broaden Your Career. https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0113/languages-that-give-you-the-best-chance-to-broaden-your-career.aspx
Niels. (2019, March 17). 6 Fab Tricks to Learn Any Language on a Busy Schedule. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/learn-any-language/