One of the best decisions of my life was learning a second language. The benefits of learning an additional language have been tangible, not only for myself but for my children, too.
I once heard someone tell this story about being bilingual:
A mama mouse was leading her three young mice through a house and all of a sudden, as they were turning by a corner, the little ones saw a cat. The fierce cat looked at the mice with hunger and determination in his eyes. The cat walked toward the mice in a slow, threatening way, his sharp teeth exposed. The little mice trembled in fear.
The mama mouse, however, had a plan to protect her mice. She quickly backed up and raised up on her hind legs with certainty. She stared at the giant cat and in a really loud voice yelled: “RUFF! RUFF! RUFF!”
The cat was started and ran off scared.
Proud of herself and very relieved, the mama mouse then turned to the mice and says:
“Now, my little ones, THIS is the power of learning a second language.”
With this cute, funny story, I want to start exploring what research studies say about the benefits of language study. I’ll also share my own experiences with being multilingual and raising bilingual children.
Speaking a second language is a vital skill in today’s world. The benefits of language learning go beyond your ability to communicate and connect with new people from other countries and other cultures.
For this post, I partnered with Sarah’s Spanish School Online. Eliana has been taking virtual Spanish Classes and learning new words and really enjoying it. The classes are fun and effective and geared to children ages 5-13.
What advantages does learning a second language give you?
Bilingualism, multilingualism, and cultural diversity are so important that in 1999, the UN established the annual observance of International Mother Language Day on February 21st. Our world is a multicultural, multilingual world, and expanding above our own mother tongue helps us create a new culture of global citizens.
I made the bold decision to learn English as a second language when I was just 7 years old. I am from the Dominican Republic, so I am a Spanish native speaker. When I was a teenager, I learned a third language: Italian.
Learning a different language at an early age opened incredible doors for me. It created new opportunities that wouldn’t have been otherwise available to me. At only 15 years old, I was teaching ESL at the same center where I had learned it.
It definitely changed the trajectory of my life.
I was chosen for the Work and Travel program because of my academic achievement and being a bilingual person. This unique opportunity resulted in traveling to the United States.
When I eventually moved to this new country, I experienced a lot of culture shock, but I didn’t have to struggle with a language barrier. In fact, this led me to create new career opportunities – like The Positive MOM!
Your family may not live in a slum, as I did, but learning a language has the potential to change your life in subtle and surprising ways.
Let’s explore those benefits!
What are the benefits of learning a second language?
It boosts your creativity because language is a gateway to new literature and works of art. Plus learning a language in itself is a creative process.
It increases your self-esteem as you see yourself capable of learning new skills and moving outside of your comfort zone.
Bilingual individuals are more eligible for more job opportunities than their monolingual counterparts.
Bilingual candidates are also in high demand. They’re offered some of the highest salaries in the job market across all industries.
Becoming fluent in a second language can provide a greater understanding of your own language.
Bilingual students (whether they are elementary school students or high school students) fare better in their school year than their monolingual peers.
You have the opportunity to explore different cultures in a deeper and more meaningful way.
It is easier to make new friends.
It helps you not only learn the specific language you’re studying but makes it easier to learn other different languages.
You become more culturally competent because you familiarize yourself with the culture where the language of your choice is spoken.
Multilingual people are less judgmental of other cultures and adopt fewer cultural stereotypes and prejudice.
You can enjoy traveling a lot more if you speak the local language.
Your language skills improve as you are more aware of the grammatical rules and sentence structure of both the language you’re learning and your first language.
Learning a new language helps you be fluent in non-verbal communication skills.
In addition, your listening skills improve a lot when you are learning a new language.
Studies find a strong correlation between enhanced reading abilities and learning a language that is not your native tongue.
Language learners have different perspectives and see the world in new different ways.
Bilingual people find it easier and faster to learn an additional language.
Learning a new language is an excellent way to increase your vocabulary.
In addition, a Cambridge study suggests that regularly switching between languages improves focus and attention span.
There are some things I learned while attending daily English classes that are priceless to me. I believe that my patience, persistence, and ability to prioritize my time greatly increased.
What happens to the brain when you learn a foreign language?
The bilingual brain effect is one of the most celebrated benefits of learning a second language.
Recent studies about neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt and change) show that as we learn, we create new neural pathways.
This means that learning a new language stimulates your brain and boosts brain function. Learning a new language is like exercising our brain, which makes it stronger.
Neuroscientists say we use the left side of our brain when speaking our native language. However, when we learn a second language, we use both hemispheres of our brain, which increases the gray matter in our brain.
Recent research proves that learning another language helps prevent and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the onset of dementia, and cognitive decline.
And besides the expanded cognitive abilities, learning a language has indirect health benefits because it reduces stress.
How does learning a second language improve your memory?
There is evidence that when you challenge your brain to recall more information, the memory functions of the brain expand. Learning a new language is training and strengthening your memory.
How to Help Your Kids Learn a Second Language
The first step is to demonstrate your emotional connection and enthusiasm for the language you want your kids to learn.
It’s never too late to pursue learning a language. However, young children have the natural ability to learn additional languages. UCLA Professor Susan Curtiss expressed it this way:
“The power to learn a language is so great in the young child that it doesn’t seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way…They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is ripe to do this…there doesn’t seem to be any detriment to….develop[ing] several languages at the same time.”
My daughters are all born in the United States, so they are native English speakers. However, I have made a conscious effort to make sure they are bilingual.
I love that they can stay connected to my roots and my traditions. I’m thrilled that they can enjoy more cognitive development benefits than if they knew a single language. That doesn’t mean they are better than monolingual children, but it’s a great way to give them a better chance to succeed in life.
You can help your kids to learn a new language by giving them exposure to that language – and others.
I have made sure to read books in Spanish to my girls even before birth.
We watch movies in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.
We speak Spanish at home.
And the best way to learn a language is through an immersion program, such as Sarah’s Spanish School. Eliana has been really excited to learn with other kids on Zoom in the live classes. She has loved the fun interactive themes and activities.
I love that they have native-speaking and certified Spanish teachers who are so great with kids!
She’s also enjoyed the replays and classes on demand. It’s very flexible and doesn’t require much time.
Why Learn Spanish?
According to a recent study, Spanish is considered one of the easiest languages to learn. So you can get all the cognitive benefits with less effort!
Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. Hundreds of millions of people speak Spanish across the world.
And with the diverse population in the United States, you don’t have to travel or move to a foreign country to make Spanish part of your daily life.
Are you ready to enroll your children in Spanish classes? Share if your children are already on their way to becoming bilingual or maybe what new research you’ve learned about that supports learning a new language.
© Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOM
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