Language Stories

Why learn a foreign language? Studies help educators make their case

Posted by Language Stars on Sep 28, 2017 6:00:13 PM

Cute pupils smiling around a globe in classroom with teacher at the elementary school-967143-edited.jpeg 

The majority of teachers understand the importance of learning a foreign language. However, in many schools foreign language instruction doesn't exist, barely exists or is threatened with cuts due to financial constraints.

This bleak outlook is heartbreaking to educators who want to grow diverse and well-rounded students. Advocating for foreign language instruction can be difficult, but knowing some facts about why it's so important to youth can help you win your argument.

Whether you're an educator facing a skeptical administration, budget cuts from the school board or just trying to convince critical parents, here are some studies that prove the benefits of learning a foreign language can't be ignored.

Academic achievement

Foreign language learning does more than just teach a child to communicate in different ways. It has a real, measurable impact on their academic achievement in numerous subjects. Studies highlighted by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages help support this point:

1. Increasing native English vocabulary recognition through Spanish immersion: Cognate transfer from foreign to first language. Journal of Educational Psychology.

Summary: The findings support the idea that Spanish immersion has English-language benefits and that positive transfer (cross linguistic influence) occurs from Spanish as a foreign language to native English receptive vocabulary.

Our take: Studying a different language can strengthen a student's ability in the English language.

2. Basic skills revisited: The effects of foreign-language instruction on reading, math and language arts. Learning Languages.

Summary: Students in Spanish classes scored significantly higher than the group that did not receive Spanish instruction in math and language on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT).

Our take: In standardized tests, students who study a foreign language may test higher in subjects such as mathematics.

Cognitive benefits

There are numerous studies that show learning a foreign language helps students think differently and interpret information in new, profound ways. From maximizing memory to problem solving, the ACTFL highlights some of these studies:

1. The enhancement of figural creativity through second-language learning at the elementary school level. Foreign Language Annals.

Summary: Second-language learning not only provides children with the ability to depart from traditional approaches to a problem, but also supplies them with rich resources for new and different ideas.

Our take: Studying a foreign language helps students think outside the box.

2. Episodic and semantic memory in bilingual and monolingual children. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.

Summary: Positive effects of bilingualism were found on both episodic memory (recall of personal facts) and semantic memory (recall of general facts) at all age levels.

Our take: Memory strength is supported when a personal is multilingual.

3. Positive effects of bilingualism on science problem-solving abilities. In J. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown University round table on languages and linguistics.

Summary: Bilingual children, given the same instruction by the same teacher in formulating scientific hypotheses, consistently outperformed monolingual children in the quality of hypotheses generated and in the syntactic complexity of the written language.

Our take: Students who study a foreign language are better at solving problems and thinking about solutions through a unique lens.

Cultural awareness

At Language Stars, we know that learning a foreign language helps children become global citizens that understand and embrace diversity. Here are a few studies highlighted by the ACTFL that show how language learning increases cultural awareness:

1. Changes in attitudes of elementary-school pupils toward foreign-speaking pupils resulting from the study of a foreign language. Journal of Experimental Education.

Summary: An experimental group had significantly more positive attitudes toward the Spanish-speaking peoples they had studied than did the group that had not studied Spanish.

Our take: Studying a foreign language boosts a child's appreciation for other cultures.

2. Cognitive and attitudinal outcomes of an additive-bilingual program. U.S.; Washington: ED305826.

Summary: A study compared language skill development and cultural attitudes of second-grade children taught in an additive-bilingual program setting with those of second-grade children from a monolingual classroom setting. The results of the analysis revealed a significant change in attitudes towards Hispanic culture between the fall and spring administrations in favor of the Spanish-immersion group.

Our take: Understanding and embracing diversity is a benefit of becoming multilingual.

Additional research

Curious about more studies that prove the numerous benefits of foreign language learning? Visit Actfl.org for a complete list of studies and reviews to help you build your case.

Ready to bring foreign language classes to your school? Explore the benefits of partnering with Language Stars At School.

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Topics: foreign language, Educator