Only about 20% of the American population is bilingual, while more than 50% of Europeans know more than one language.
Bilingualism has proven to be extremely beneficial, especially if children learn from a young age. American children should be taught a second language to enhance their cognitive abilities and set them up for a successful future.
To begin, learning a second language can lead to well-developed cognitive skills.
“Bilingual people often perform better than monolingual people at tasks that tap into inhibitory control ability,” according to a study by Viorica Marian and Anthony Shook at Northwestern University. “Bilingual people are also better than monolingual people at switching between two tasks.”
Learning inhibitory control from a young age will help children to thoroughly think about a situation and react appropriately. This skill as well as adaptability when shifting between tasks helps develop children into thoughtful, flexible adults.
Opponents argue that juggling two different languages can cause processing difficulties and can lead to communication struggles; however, the brain learns to rapidly activate different parts, helping to develop the previously mentioned skills. Equally important, these cognitive benefits can last well into adulthood.
As noted in a 2012 New York Times article, a study conducted by neurophysiologist Tamar Gollan found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism “were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dementia is a serious disease that can significantly inhibit an elderly person’s quality of life. Although many parents are not often thinking this far ahead, no one wants to watch a friend, parent or child suffer from early-onset dementia, especially if there are preventative measures to delay the illness.
The cognitive benefits of speaking more than one language expand beyond physical benefits in the brain. Bilingualism also sets up children for success in school.
A study conducted by Jennifer Steele at American University revealed, “Dual-language students outperformed their peers in English-reading skills by a full school years’ worth of learning by the end of middle school.”
As a Spanish learner myself, studying the grammatical concepts that apply to another language strengthens my understanding of the English language. Reading and writing are necessary life skills, and excelling in those areas sets kids ahead of their peers on standardized tests.
According to Scott Olsen, analysis of the American College Test scores of 17,451 students “found that high school students who studied a foreign language consistently scored higher on ACT English and mathematics components than did students who did not study a foreign language in high school.”
That test, measuring what students have learned throughout 13 years of school, is key to students gaining acceptance into colleges. These students are also able to retain more valuable information.
Learning a second language can have numerous lifelong benefits such as increases in cognitive ability and better academic performance, leading kids to live more successful lives. To help promote bilingualism, schools should create opportunities for elementary students to learn a second language. Parents can also utilize free educational tools such as Duolingo or YouTube to educate themselves as well as their children.
Let us all work together to increase the percentage of bilingual individuals in America.
Grace Hershey is in grade 12 at Conestoga Valley High School.