Learning a second language can be one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of your life. In addition to improving your vocabulary and verbal skills, it can give you the opportunity to explore different cultures and make friends from across the globe. Likewise, bilingual applicants are often preferred for jobs in law, health care, social work, business, science, engineering, and more.
It would seem that language skills are useful and highly valued in any society. To compete in an unpredictable global economy and improve America’s strained foreign relations, US students will need to study foreign languages with more dedication and in greater numbers than ever before. But while it may be true that languages are easier to learn during childhood, it’s never too late to try – and here are a few good reasons to.
1. Help your brain!
Modern schools are more competitive than ever before, and students need every advantage they can get. In national surveys, students in foreign language courses almost always lead the pack. Their dominance isn’t limited to linguistics and humanities; a 1988 study of a Kansas City foreign language magnet school found that its students surpassed the national average in all subjects, especially in mathematics.1 Researchers found that these students could better adapt to a variety of assignments and had overall stronger problem-solving skills. Language education courses can improve your understanding of structure and vocabulary in all other languages, including your native tongue; they also provide many underachieving students with an opportunity to learn and develop a unique skill, improving their self-esteem.
2. Help your economy!
A multilingual workforce helps US businesses to compete in international markets and relate to customers from many different cultures. As a result, knowledge of a foreign language often gives employees better chances for promotions or special assignments, as well as a stronger resume. In a survey conducted by the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, AZ, most of the 581 respondents agreed that foreign language skills greatly improved their careers.2 This knowledge gave them a competitive edge within their fields, increasing their job opportunities and salaries; it also provided “personal fulfillment, mental discipline, and cultural enlightenment.”
3. Help your country!
The US admits over 1 million immigrants annually, and few of these people speak English as their first language. Many of us count our classmates, coworkers, friends, and even families among these immigrants, so, naturally, we want to make them feel as welcome as possible. By studying another language, you’ll be more able to communicate with our country’s diverse population and better sympathize with the challenges faced by today’s immigrants. Research has shown that a child’s attitude towards other people and cultures begins to develop between the ages of 4 to 8, and is often fully formed by the age of 10. As a result, exposing your children to a foreign language early in life can make them more curious, open-minded, and eager to learn and explore.3
Studying a foreign language can reap huge personal, political, and global benefits. It can improve your thinking and communication skills, broaden your knowledge of the world and its people, and deepen your love for your own language. The experience of learning a new language will no doubt lead you to many strange and exciting places; it will also help you to become a better student, worker, and global citizen.
- “Benefits of Being Bilingual.” American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. actfl.org.
- “The Benefits of Second Language Study.” Connecticut State Department of Education. sde.ct.gov. December 2007.
- “What Does Research Show About the Benefits of Language Learning?” American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. actfl.org.