3 Benefits of Learning a Second Language at a Young Age

In Europe it is normal for students to have foreign language as a part of their core curriculum from a young age. This makes sense in light of the fact that many countries in Europe are roughly the size of the eastern states in the United States of America. In Europe, one could, hypothetically, drive three hours any direction and end up in a country whose language and culture is drastically different from the country they began in.

Because of its size and prosperity, America has never considered learning a foreign language as crucial as other countries have (despite America having no official language). However, the world is not as big as it once was. The internet has made it easier for companies to have a workforce comprised of employees from a number of countries. This has made learning a second language increasingly important, but globalization is not the only reason to teach young learners a second language. What follows are three benefits of studying a second language that has nothing to do with being able to converse with people from a different background.

1. Learning a second language while in elementary school actually changes your brain

An article published by the Georgetown University Medical Center reveals that people who speak two languages have more gray matter than monolinguals (those who only speak one language). According to the article, “...bilingual individuals perform better, compared with monolinguals, on tasks that require attention, inhibition and short-term memory….”

2. Babies from bilingual households show more activity in their executive function, prefrontal cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex

The Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington conducted a study on 11-month old babies, comparing the brain activity of monolingual and bilingual babies as the babies listened to speech sounds. The result: the bilingual babies had an increased sensitivity to the sounds of both languages and a higher functioning executive function, prefrontal cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex. Below is a video that explains the experiment and the conclusions drawn by the researchers.

3. Students who learn a second language at a young age have higher academic achievement than their monolingual peers

According to a study in Learning Languages, third-grade students who were randomly assigned 30-minutes of Spanish lessons three times a week for one semester performed significantly higher on a standardized test than students who did not have any language instruction. This small difference (90 minutes a week) had a huge impact on student performance.  

Not only does learning a foreign language give students the ability to converse with members of their community that they would not otherwise be able to talk to, but it also promotes their brains to develop in healthy ways and leads to higher academic achievement. For these reasons, many experts have pushed for foreign language to become a part of elementary school curriculum. At The Cannon Beach Academy, we have all grades participate in 30 minutes of Spanish per week and we are working to increase the amount of Spanish instruction for the following school year. 

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