Learning a foreign language is a brave decision on the part of the learner. Learning a foreign language takes time, patience, skills, good study habits and dedication. Although the benefits of learning a foreign language can be immediately apparent -- increased communication and cognitive skills -- there can be a downside as well. Be informed about the pros and cons of taking on foreign language instruction for either yourself or your child.
When children or adults begin to learn a foreign language, cognitive skills are developed, especially in children. According to the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages, children who begin to learn a foreign language in early childhood demonstrate a certain cognitive advantage over children who do not. Research studies that have been conducted in Canada with early learning education have shown that those children who are bilingual develop the concept of object permanence quicker than those who do not. In other words, they learn that objects that have a different name in another language remains the same no matter what it is called and that the object's function does not change. It also gives children better mental flexibility and creative thinking skills than their counterparts who only speak one language.
Building Confidence and Understanding
Children who begin to study and master a foreign language achieve greater confidence as they go along, and gain the ability to communicate with people outside their immediate language group. Children develop confidence over time and can be encouraged to speak a foreign language with less anxiety by addressing a puppet. Children and adults alike will be less fearful of travel and enjoy the ability to communicate with people in their own native tongue as well as their own. Many educational experts suggest that adults and children study their language of choice through listening to songs and rhythmic speaking to build confidence in their abilities.
When small children learn a foreign language, they develop a natural, native-like accent. For both children and adults, learning a foreign language can lead to better opportunities both in college and in their careers. Learning a language as a part of a family activity can also build relationships. Cultural connections are much easier for children and adults who study a foreign language and can lead to rewarding friendships and business associations. Children who learn a foreign language also have consistently higher test scores than their non-learning counterparts.
Time and Testing
There are one or two negative effects for those learning a foreign language. One of the negatives has more of an effect on adults than it does with children, and that is the amount of time it takes to learn a language once your cognitive and reasoning skills are well-established. This ability to learn language easier is called "brain plasticity" and changes as we grow older. Children have an easier time learning the subtle differences in pronunciation such as the "W" in west and the "V" in vest; adults have to spend more time learning the subtle acoustic changes that occur within pronunciations. Thus, academics estimate that for every hour an adult learner spends in a lecture, he should spend at least three hours studying vocabulary, structure and cultural subtitles to make the language easier to assimilate. Research shows that testing children in a foreign language makes tests scores significantly lower when the subject is not language-based, such as math or science.
Students naturally experience anxiety when learning a new thing, whether it be martial arts, language or mathematics. Foreign language students experience a deficiency at being able to speak the language properly for a long time and can experience a great deal of anxiety when it comes to getting it right. Anxiety can be lessened when they learn that they are not the only ones in the classroom having great difficulty picking up a new language. To combat this anxiety, have students talk about their difficulties amongst one another.
- ERIC Digest; Benefits of Foreign Language Study; Jarold H. Weatherford
- Virginia Community College System; Students’ Perspectives on Foreign Language Anxiety; Renee von Worde; 2003
- The Lingua Franca: Why You Shouldn't Learn Chinese
- Southern Illinois University Edwardsville: Tips for Learning Language
- "Johns Hopkins Magazine"; Degrees of Difficulty; Richard Brecht; February 1999
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