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  • Writer's pictureNadav Cohen

Should students learn a foreign language?

Learning a foreign language enriches your entire self. Knowing a foreign language can unlock both cultural and geographical aspects of the world, help you understand your native language better, and teach you to process your environment from a different perspective. Strangely, you'll find that studying the vocabulary and grammar of a foreign language will subtly enhance your understanding of your native tongue, no matter how different the two may seem. Requiring students to take a foreign language comes with numerous benefits, making students better employees, family members, and friends.

Firstly, learning another language allows one to communicate with a whole new culture, expanding one’s understanding of other peoples. Learn Mandarin and you can speak with more than a billion people worldwide. Learn Hindi and you can speak to another 650 million people. Spanish adds another 420 million. If you speak English, you can talk to half of the world’s population! While English has become the lingua franca of the world, learning a foreign language (or two) opens the door to countless opportunities for connections.

In the school setting, learning a foreign language has been shown to boosts test scores in core subjects. Studies of tens of thousands of high school students have found that students who have studied foreign languages perform better on the American College Test (ACT) for both English and mathematics. Even better, additional studies have found that SAT-verbal scores improve with the length of time students have studied the foreign language.

According to countless studies, in the near future, people who regularly speak a second language may be able to delay Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia by 4.5 years. By improving the executive function of the brain, bilinguals develop a “cognitive reserve” which helps delay symptoms of dementia.

Being bilingual creates new opportunities in the workforce, as many jobs in education, healthcare, social work, national security, translation, tourism, and international business require or favor candidates who are bilingual, resulting in more job opportunities for those who can speak a second language. Speaking a foreign language can make it easier to be eligible for jobs, internships and work-study programs in other countries.

Many kids these days are unable to truly communicate with their distant relatives due to language barriers. However, once that wall is broken down by learning the language, these students will be able to share a special bonding experience with their relatives. While many parents aspire for relatives to help teach children their native language, it can be a challenge. As kids get older, they often learn they can get away with speaking English, and relatives often prioritize understanding over teaching. As a result, heritage language learners’ language level will often plateau unless they also receive formal education in the language.

Additionally, it is fun! Sure, there’s a joy that comes from being able to speak to others in their native language, not to mention a sense of achievement. But part of the fun of learning a foreign language is discovering differences in how people look at the world. It’s fun to find out why dogs say "woof" in English, "wang-wang" in Mandarin and "guau" in Spanish.

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