Why Children Should Learn Foreign Languages

Why Children Should Learn Foreign Languages

Speaking two or more languages has many benefits, especially to the cognitive process / Photo by Sergey Novikov via Shutterstock

 

Many parents are now enrolling their children in foreign language classes, thanks to the popularity of children’s shows that teach other languages. “The popularity of such shows as ‘Dora the Explorer,’ which teaches Spanish, and ‘Ni Hao Kai-Ian,’ which teaches Mandarin Chinese, suggests that parents want to be more proactive in jump-starting foreign language education for their children,” Yani A. Peyton, director of Fun with Foreign language, said.

 

Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

According to an article published in The Telegraph, speaking two or more languages has many benefits, especially to the cognitive process. Whether people learn these foreign languages at a younger or older age, they can reap the same mental benefits.

- Become smarter. Children who study foreign languages become smarter. When they speak a foreign language, their brains are challenged to recognize, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems. This helps them score better on standardized tests, specifically in math, reading, and vocabulary.

- Build multitasking skills. Students who use different languages are skilled at switching between two or more language systems, in terms of speech, writing, or structure. According to a study from Pennsylvania State University, this switching makes these multilingual students good multi-taskers. They make fewer errors in their multiple projects than monolinguals.

- Has a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Those who know and speak two or more foreign languages are at a lower risk of onset memory problems, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. The mean age of monolingual adults to show the first signs of dementia is 71.4, while the mean age for multilingual is 75.5. The risk proved lowest among people who can speak four or more foreign languages.

- Improve memory. Just like muscles, brains also need exercise. Since learning foreign languages means memorizing rules, structure, and vocabulary, the mental muscle is strengthened. This is why bilinguals and multilinguals have better memory retention. They are better at remembering names, directions, and lists.

- Become more observant. Based on a study from the University of Pompeu Fabra, people who speak foreign languages are better at observing people and surroundings. They know when a piece of information is relevant or misleading.

- Improve decision-making skills. A study from the University of Chicago reported that bilinguals make more logical decisions. They use the other language to weigh their options before deciding. They are able to evaluate important matters with emotional and cognitive distance.

- Improve attention. A 2016 study from the University of Edinburgh showed that learning a new language improves mental agility. They assessed 33 students who joined a week of Scottish Gaelic course. They found out that the participants had improved mental alertness when compared to a group who took a non-language course and no course at all.

- Bigger brain. In a 2014 study titled “Age of language learning shapes brain structure,” it was pointed out that the brain gets bigger when a person learns a new language after developing proficiency in their native language.

Also, according to research from the Georgetown University Medical Center, bilingual speakers have more grey matter in the regions of their brain responsible for attention, inhibition, and short-term memory. Grey matter processes information in the brain.

Bilingual parents can easily influence their children to learn both their native language and their second language / Photo by By Orion-v via Shutterstock

 

Best Age to Start Learning a Foreign Language

Experts say that the younger a child learns a foreign language, the better. According to Caryn Antonini, creator of Early Lingo, “A child is born with the ability to learn any language in the world. The older the child gets, certain windows close in terms of language acquisition, but so long as the child learns the language before puberty, the child should be able to speak with a native accent.”

Enrolling children in foreign language classes is the better choice. For parents who cannot afford these lessons, they can introduce foreign languages to their children through books, CDs, and DVDs.

It is also unnecessary for parents to be fluent in a foreign language. However, it is important that parents are available alongside their children so they can interact and apply the foreign language in their conversation.

 

Recommended Foreign Languages for Children to Learn

Bilingual parents can easily influence their children to learn both their native language and their second language. “This is great because it provides the student real-life experience to use the language and gain confidence,” Leslie Lancry, founder of Chicago-based Language Stars, said.

For families who only speak one language at home, the following are what experts recommend for your children to learn. These foreign languages are said to benefit your children in the future.

Spanish - According to the British Council, Spanish is the only major language in the world that is not declining at A-level. It is the second most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese. It is the official language of 20 countries. There are 572 million people who speak Spanish in the world, including non-natives and students.

It is one of the easiest foreign languages to learn, especially for English speakers. The Spanish vocabulary is similar to English. It is also known for being a phonetic language, which means that words are pronounced as they are written.

French - French is the official language in 29 countries across five different continents. It is spoken by about 300 million people in the world, including non-native speakers, making it the sixth most widely spoken language worldwide. It is also the second most studied language, after English.

Learning to speak French would be useful for international business, politics, or travel. It is also the language of choice in the arts, according to Pablo Solomon, consultant to the US Department of Education.

Aside from these two mentioned above, it is also ideal for children to learn Mandarin Chinese, Italian, and German.

There are many reasons why you should let your children learn foreign languages. This will greatly benefit them, especially if they learn these new languages at a young age. Check which of the recommended foreign languages your children would be interested in.