By Annalise Bassett
The bell rings overhead, and students flood out into the hallway, nearly 1100 of them heading to a language class.
Many students all across the state of Indiana learn at least one foreign language sometime throughout their high school career. People all across the country are bilingual. In fact, 20.14 percent of Americans were bilingual in 2016 according to an article by Francois Grosjean, PhD, of Psychology Today. This number has doubled since 1980, when only 10.68 percent of Americans were bilingual.
Learning a foreign language is not only useful for getting a job or travelling abroad, it also affects the brain and its development. According to Whitby, a private school for kids up through eighth grade, “Language learning helps improve people’s thinking skills and memory abilities. Bilingual students concentrate better, ignoring distractions more effectively than those who only speak one language.”
The study Whitby references, conducted by University of Edinburgh psychology professor Thomas Bak, MD, concluded that “…learning a second language can develop new areas of your mind and strengthen your brain’s natural ability to focus.”
Languages help your brain grow not only mentally and cognitively, but also physically and size-wise. A study referenced by Whitby that was conducted in Sweden concluded that the brains of scholars who learned a second language grew, while the brains of scholars who did not learn a second language did not change in size.
Learning a language can help you with skills beyond speaking the new language—it can help with focus, mental clarity, decision-making skills, memory, study skills, and more. Lead with Languages, a program that strives to spread the importance of learning foreign languages, said that studies have shown that when making decisions in a different language from your first, we are more level-headed and can make decisions more clearly. Lead with Languages references a 2012 article written by Boston University psychology professor Catherine Caldwell-Harris, PhD, on Scientific American. Caldwell-Harris wrote that your second language is less emotional, and using a second language evokes less anxiety than your native language.
All 1100 of the students at FC taking a language are affected by these skills, and some of them take more than one language, further increasing the skills that languages help develop. The younger people learn a language, the more effective studying a language can be.
“Children who learn another language before age five use the same part of the brain to acquire that second language that they use to learn their mother tongue,” said a Lead with Languages article on learning early. “Younger learners are also uninhibited by the fear of making mistakes, which is sometimes an obstacle for older beginners.”
Children who learn languages early also have cognitive benefits that those who learn later in life either do not have or have less of.
“Compared to those without an additional language, bilingual children have improved reading, writing, and math skills, and they generally score higher on standardized tests,” said Lead with Languages.
Whether you learn as a young kid, in high school, or as an adult, languages still have large effects on your brain and your ability to communicate with others. It is part of the reason that students are encouraged to take languages, and it explains why 58.8 percent of FC’s student body is currently learning at least one language.