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Should all students be required to learn a second language?

Language frames our thoughts, powers our brains, and allows for complex communication. The words and expressions we use in our language generally define how we see and understand the world. But is being bilingual, or even multilingual, really that important for students and in general? What’s the point of learning a second language and why is it considered so important in most schools?

There are many obvious benefits to learning a second language, such as knowing how to express yourself better in foreign countries and being able to overcome language and cultural barriers when you travel. However, learning a second language has also been proven to include many cognitive and social benefits, in addition to helping people become open-minded individuals as they learn about different cultures. Therefore, here are some of the benefits that come with learning another language:

  1. Improved memory

The more you exercise your brain to learn new skills, the more your brain’s functions work. Learning a new language pushes your brain to get familiar with new grammar and vocabulary rules. It also allows you to train your memory to retain new words, connect them, and apply them in context. A better memory will also help you in many school subjects where you are required to remember many terms or dates.

  1. Enhanced ability to multitask

Time management and multitasking are two very useful skills for students, and learning two languages allows for further development of these skills because multilingual people have the capacity to think in different languages and communicate in more than one language, therefore, they are constantly multitasking.

  1. Ability to learn even more languages with ease

The more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn more because you’ll be able to find similarities and differences and learn more quickly by making connections and using your previous knowledge to your advantage. It has been shown that multilingual people have trained their brains to learn languages, making it easier to acquire even more new languages after mastering a second or third.

  1. Higher scores on standardized tests

Since bilingual students benefit from better problem-solving skills, improved memory, concentration, and mental flexibility, they have a higher likelihood of scoring well on tests that require these skills than students who only know one language. This is because they constantly utilize these skills to learn different languages, so they are better developed. So much so, that according to data collected by the College Board, there is a direct correlation between studying a foreign language and SAT scores, and students’ SAT scores improved with each year of study of the language.

  1. Improved prospects for college admission

Admissions officers usually need to narrow down the pool of applicants to students they believe will succeed in college, and they’re expected to build a diverse class of students. This means that they base their decisions on more than requisite transcripts and test scores; while those are important, a student will stand out more if they’ve studied a second language. Additionally, since learning a second language helps with higher scores, learning a second language is a win-win situation, as you’ll look more appealing to admissions officers in both aspects.

Of course, some people find it more difficult to learn new languages and consequently might not enjoy the fact that learning a second language is compulsory. If you don’t think you’re good at your second language, here are a few tips to learn a language more quickly.

  • Take risks and speak the language whenever you can: The more you speak the language you’re learning, the more practice you’ll have and the quicker you’ll master it. It’s understandable to feel shy when speaking a new language, but most people will be very impressed once they find out you’re learning two languages regardless of how proficient you are.

  • Read children’s books and watch children’s movies in the language you’re learning: This is a great technique as children’s books contain more simple language and will help you not only test your knowledge but also gain new vocabulary. Meanwhile, movies can help with learning how to pronounce different words in addition to learning new ones. When you read books or watch movies in your second language, write down the words you don’t know and their definitions, as this will help you retain the information and actually remember it in the future.

  • Don’t worry about making mistakes: Feeling nervous about messing up when speaking a new language is a universal feeling, but the more you try to overcome this obstacle, the easier it will get to speak to more people and the better you’ll get at talking to them, which will help increase your confidence. Plus, if you’re worried about talking to native speakers, know that most people will be happy to help you if they see you’re making the effort to speak in their language. A good way to begin talking to others in a new language is to speak in more casual settings so you can apply your knowledge in real-life situations; this way, you will be able to practice without feeling extremely nervous and eventually become more fluent in the language.

Learning a second language is beneficial in so many ways and a fun way to spend your free time productively, as well as to get to know more people around the world. Being able to speak to more people always feels like a great accomplishment once you’re more proficient in the language, and it is a skill valued by many people and companies around the world. Therefore, it makes sense that schools should offer the opportunity for students to learn a foreign language, and it’s important to take advantage of the fact that you have access to this knowledge, as not all schools actually offer this possibility.

Did you know?

Deciding whether to learn a language is usually determined by your mother language more than anything, which is why native-born English speakers are less likely to learn a second language than other people. This is why only 20% of students learn a foreign language in the United States, while in parts of Europe, the percentage is 100%.

While some might see language learning as a waste of time, hopefully, this article helps show just how important it can be not only academically, but also in helping people become more open-minded and appreciative of different cultures. If becoming bilingual comes with this many benefits, why not direct your energy towards learning a new language?


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