We now live in an interconnected world. Different cultures interact and merge together in various locations across the globe and this means that our languages cross paths too. Currently, more than half of the world’s population are bilingual and others are multilingual (individuals who can speak more than 4 languages). Looking at these stats, being monolingual (only being able to speak one language) which most native English speakers are, technically makes you a minority on the world stage.
In order to stay up to date with our hyper-connected world, we need to be able to communicate in a number of different languages. The good news is that learning a new language brings lots of other benefits which make it a worthwhile skill to have under your belt in the long run.
Advantages of learning a foreign language
It makes you smarter
Every language is made up of an intricate system of rules, sentence structures and lexis. So when you learn a second language, you’re teaching your brain how to interpret, use and remember these new words and language patterns. This develops important cognitive skills including critical thinking and problem-solving, both of which help our ability to maintain concentration on tasks. (Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention.) By developing your cognitive skills through a new language, you’ll be challenging your brain and developing your attention span, knowledge and understanding.
All of this will become apparent when you try to learn your third, fourth or fifth language. Once you’ve acquired the cognitive techniques required to learn one new language, you’ll be well-equipped to learn another much quicker. This is because learning a new language teaches you how to recognise and understand the mechanics and structure behind any language, making it easier to pick up patterns and rules in others. This ability to recognise patterns and structures in multiple languages is called “metalinguistic awareness”. Once you’ve learnt one new language, you retain the process in your muscle memory, making it easy for you to understand how to learn another new language. This is also true for your first language – you‘ll then start to apply your new ability to analyse and process different linguistic structures to your mother tongue, making you a better native speaker.
It helps you multitask
People who can effortlessly move from one language to another are particularly good at multitasking. This is the case in people who code-switch especially (shift from one language to another, often mid-sentence or in the middle of conversations). According to a study from the Pennsylvania State University, when code-switching all the languages are active at once in the minds of bilinguals or multilinguals, meaning that they’re constantly juggling these different languages! This cross-language interaction and competition reshapes their brain’s network in order to simultaneously juggle the different languages. And this rewiring and complex brain structure can improve their ability to multitask in other areas too. Overall multilingual individuals are better multitaskers compared to individuals who can only speak one language.
It keeps your brain healthy
Recent brain research has indicated that bilingualism may contribute towards delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. While all patients in the study had similar levels of cognitive impairment, it was found that the participants who were bilingual had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on average around four years later than monolinguists. It’s believed that this is because individuals who are fluent in more than one language exercise the executive control system more. This is the brain network which forms our basis of complex thoughts. By juggling multiple languages, bilinguals constantly exercise this brain system, helping to keep the brain sharp and healthy in the long run.
It improves overall academic performance
Considering all of the benefits that learning another language has on our brain functions and abilities, it’s no surprise that students who can speak multiple languages perform better academically across the curriculum. Bilingual students have been found to score higher on standardised tests than monolingual students. This is particularly evident in sections of English which test punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, style and comprehension as well as Maths. The problem-solving and pattern-recognition skills that pupils develop through learning another language aids their understanding across the board.
The world is your oyster
Earlier on in life, learning a foreign language can make holidays more enjoyable. You can put your new skills to good use on your trip and even if you’re not fluent, your languages can help you to meet new people. It will also make you more confident when travelling, even if you’re going somewhere where you don’t speak the local language. It’s fantastic how much the locals open up to you when they realise you can speak their mother tongue!
All of this goes beyond your Summer holidays. There’s nothing stopping you from using your new language skills in everyday life by moving abroad and experiencing a different culture first hand. Learning multiple languages makes you a citizen of the world, able to move to new and exciting locations across the globe with ease.
Learning a new language creates new opportunities for yourself both personally and professionally. Immediately you can apply for jobs and university places around the world. You can make friends from different countries and network internationally.
Being able to speak more than one language can also make you more creative. Practising and learning new vocabulary encourages you to experiment with new words, phrases and sentence structures which improves your divergent thinking. This is your ability to identify multiple solutions to a single problem. You practice this when you have to come up with an alternative word to use in your second language when you can’t think of the original one you wanted to use. This not only helps with problem-solving but also with creative thinking, that is, coming up with innovative and creative solutions and ideas.
You stand out from the crowd
For future professionals, being able to communicate in a variety of languages is a sought after strength. As mentioned above, the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, which means fluency in a second, third or fourth language is extremely useful in the job market. Thanks to digital technology, we can now interact with different people, businesses and countries in a matter of clicks. Multilingual individuals will be attractive as valuable assets for companies who work internationally or looking to break into new markets. In addition, having multiple languages in your repertoire also demonstrates that you’re hardworking and enjoy learning new skills, which can also set you apart from other candidates.
We understand the value of learning foreign languages, particularly in the world of work today, which is why we’re passionate about giving every child the chance to learn both modern and classical languages. Our students study French throughout their time at Cranmore and have the opportunity to learn Mandarin in Years 4 & 5. In Years 7 & 8, pupils then have the chance to expand their linguistic abilities by learning Spanish, Latin & Greek. This way, our students are well equipped in understanding a range of languages, which they can carry further into their GCSE and A Level studies as well as later on in life.