As part of an officially bilingual country, we are constantly reminded of the importance of learning new languages.
But does it really make a difference?
There are many misconceptions about bilingual learning. People believe that learning another language negatively impacts children’s native language abilities, that learning two languages will divide the learner’s language abilities for each in half.
The reality is that the brain of a bilingual child will have fully developed two functional language centres, each of similar size to that of a monolingual child. Having knowledge of another language can also give you a perspective on the complexities of your native language.
It is well known that students who have studied another language find it significantly easier to learn a new one. Being able to call upon knowledge from multiple languages can help learners to grasp more complex grammatical rules and structures, as well as to learn new vocabulary by forming links with words from other languages.
The improvement of native language skills may also be linked to the positive cognitive traits encouraged by language learning.
The Benefits of Second Language Study 2007 found that learning a second language can improve problem solving, listening and critical thinking skills, as well as creativity, memory, multi-tasking abilities and mental flexibility.
This may be the result of the denser brain tissue and increased activity in areas of the brain related to memory, attention and language found in bilingual learners.
This extra energy devoted to language in the brain does not, however, detract from other types of learning. The positive impact of language studies is not only limited to the language itself, but extends into other subjects, such as mathematics and sciences.
A study conducted through the Culver CitySpanish immersion program showed that after two years in the bilingual program, students maintained the same or a higher level of mathematical proficiency as the English only learners.
This may be the result of the coping strategies that bilingual children learn when studying languages that allow them to better organize ideas, respond to feedback and find structure in new information.
Additionally, speaking another language vastly increases the amount of people you are able to communicate with. The ability to communicate with a larger pool of people from more varied backgrounds can broaden a learner’s world view and open their minds to new perspectives and ways of thinking.
Bilingualism is also shown to be linked with social problem solving among children. A study involving 84 bilingual children from Hispanic homes showed that these children seemed to have a greater ability to solve social problems than their monolingual peers.
These skills, acquired by learning a language, can also greatly influence people’s futures. The ability to speak a second language is held in high regard by colleges, universities and employers.
Globalization is making language knowledge increasingly valuable to employers because of the desperate need for international relation representatives. This can also mean that there will be more opportunities for promotions and worldwide relocation and traveling.
A 2010 study found that, particularly in the fields of marketing, sales and technical support, knowing a second language can increase your wage by 10 to 15 percent.
Canadian studies have also found that bilingualism is linked to a later onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In a study of more that 200 bilingual and monolingual Alzheimer’s patients, the bilingual patients reported showing initial symptoms approximately five years later. Even neurologically healthy bilinguals will experience improved memory and brain function into their old age.
Students in B.C. already receive a basic French education throughout elementary school and are required to take a language course during their high school years.
On top of this, French immersion and other foreign language immersion courses are offered throughout the province, as well as many high school and middle school language courses.
Adult education and online courses are always available for those pursuing a language education later in life.
Being constantly surrounded by the language you are trying to learn is proven to improve your skills rapidly to and help you attain a higher level of achievement.
Bronte Miner is a
student at Maple