Some people study a foreign language to advance in school, satisfy curiosity or develop a necessary job skill.
However, according to a long history of research, individuals who learn a foreign language gain other advantages as well.
Contrary to popular belief, these advantages are not restricted to early language learners.
Regardless of whether an individual learns a foreign language from birth or from online classes in college, cognitive, academic and professional benefits will present themselves throughout the speaker’s life and career.
Cognitive Effects of Foreign Language
- Better cognitive function. Individuals who speak two languages show evidence of increased cognitive ability and improved executive function. Such skills can make for a strong ability to plan and manage tasks, abilities that are often valued in the workplace.
- Better attention control. People fluent in two languages can focus their attention on the task at hand while ignoring outside influences.
- Improved memory skills. Research shows that foreign language study improves memory. Individuals who are bilingual can store and recall information more accurately than those who speak only one language.
- Greater problem-solving abilities. Individuals who learn foreign languages develop better problem-solving skills than those who study only their native language.
- Increased spatial abilities. Studies show a strong correlation between foreign language study and spatial reasoning ability. This can lead to a superior talent for finding solutions to multi-step problems that occur in fields like mathematics, architecture and the sciences. Research also shows that bilingual individuals exhibit superior skills when it comes to completing tasks like solving puzzles.
- Less age-related cognitive loss. Individuals fluent in a foreign language are less likely to develop dementia or otherwise lose cognitive ability as they age.
Academic and Professional Benefits of Bilingualism
- Improvement in school. Individuals who know two languages tend to perform better on standardized tests. They also achieve better grades and have more self-confidence.
- Better reading abilities. Students who learn a foreign language develop better decoding and comprehension skills. Younger students exposed to more than one language may also learn to read faster than those who are exposed to only one language.
- Improved scientific reasoning. Research shows that individuals who learn a foreign language demonstrate better reasoning and hypothesizing skills, specifically in the field of science.
- Better ACT and SAT scores. Students who study two languages perform better on the SAT and ACT tests. Better scores can improve a student's likelihood of qualifying for scholarships, grants and college honors programs.
- Success in college. Bilingual students are more likely to enjoy academic success in higher education.
- More career options. Because bilingual job candidates can effectively communicate with a larger population than their competitors, they immediately gain an advantage. Furthermore, some professional positions require candidates to speak two languages in order to apply.
Educators have hypothesized about the effects of foreign language study for many years, and the research confirms their theories. Studying a foreign language has been proven to have a direct, positive impact on the learner's cognitive skills, academic achievement and professional opportunities.
Ultimately, knowing a second (or even third) language can lead to greater cultural awareness and understanding, which can in turn promote better communication among people of dissimilar backgrounds.
It’s not too much of a stretch to argue that bilingual individuals hold the key to improving relationships among people and countries from radically different parts of the world.
For younger individuals, studying a foreign language is often a requirement in high school and as part of completing an undergraduate degree. However, people who have already entered the job market can also benefit from becoming bilingual. By taking courses at a local university or enrolling in online education, even a seasoned professional can access all the benefits of bilingualism.
Lindsey Harper Mac is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area. She specializes in writing guest posts on social media and education on behalf of American InterContinental University.
Currently, Lindsey is completing work on her master’s degree.